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Take a Seat, and Dr. Connell Will Erase All Those Years

December 24, 2006|Shawn Hubler | Shawn Hubler is a senior writer for West.

Years ago, on a subway in Paris, Dr. Bruce Connell conducted an informal experiment. He discreetly examined each passenger's face, mentally measuring from the edge of the eye to the hairline. Then he tried guessing each person's age from that one bit of skin.

Each temple (pink or brown, taut or wrinkled, narrow or--most tellingly--broad) was a trove of data, each centimeter a clue to the mystery that has driven Connell for almost 50 years: What makes one face look young and another look aged? Where, specifically, do the years mark us?

And how much would one man--say, one curious plastic surgeon--have to alter so that a youthful heart might acquire a countenance to match it, or so that beauty might always greet the eye of the beholder? And then what would it take to erase the hand of the doctor as well? In a career spent troubling over these questions, Bruce Connell quietly has become one of the preeminent gurus of an American obsession: the face-lift.

For decades, colleagues have flocked to his sold-out seminars and stalked him at medical conferences. Other surgeons have pestered him to work on their own faces. Textbooks and scholarly papers have detailed his techniques for elective surgeries in every imaginable niche of the burgeoning market, from women whose necks sag to bald men who want brow-lifts. His former apprentices, known as Connell Fellows, gather regularly from around the globe as the collective Connell Society to learn from one another and their mentor.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 24, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Grooming credit: In today's West magazine, a grooming credit was omitted for the photos accompanying a profile of Dr. Bruce Connell. The groomer was Robin Glaser for Celestine Agency.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 07, 2007 Home Edition West Magazine Part I Page 5 Lat Magazine Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Credit: The groomer for the photos accompanying a profile of Dr. Bruce Connell ("Take a Seat, and Dr. Connell Will Erase All Those Years," Dec. 24) was Robin Glaser for Celestine Agency.

"I met him 30 years ago at one of those little alumni receptions," says Dr. P.G. Arnold, a professor and former chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Mayo Clinic, "and I knew who he was before he walked in the door."

Critics rail at what they view as the Orange County surgeon's outsized place in the profession even as the invitations continue to pour in. His spring calendar has him addressing societies of plastic surgeons in Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, New York, Idaho, Berlin and Las Vegas. In reporting this article, I heard his peers, otherwise serious people, babble like groupies, comparing him to Einstein, Hawking, Balenciaga, Baryshnikov and a Swiss watchmaker, not counting the references to assorted Renaissance masters. (A detractor stuck with the metaphor, too, referring to Connell as "an attitude artist.")

"What Michelangelo was to the Sistine ceiling," Dr. Richard D'Amico, president-elect of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, says in a typical homage, "Bruce Connell is to facial aesthetic surgery."

It's a level of reverence that would verge on eccentric (face-lifts are up there with God and Man touching fingers?) if cosmetic surgery weren't such a big business--if Americans hadn't spent more than $9.4 billion on it in 2005.

But stick around long enough and anything can happen, Connell jokes. He, for example, is almost 80. Tens of thousands of years have been removed by his hand from thousands of faces, and still there remains this matter of time.

"You have to admit, she's a good lookin' woman."

Connell has walked into the room carrying a copy of Cosmo. It is midweek, and thanks to a canceled European speaking engagement, the doctor is in.

I've come to talk about aging, given Connell's expertise. Only 30 of the more than 6,000 members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons are over 75 and still practicing, which means that very, very few have been fending off sags and wrinkles for as long as he has. I tell myself that's all there is to it: Cosmetic surgery is for actors; the way to go is to grow old gracefully, etc., etc., but whatever. Something in me--possibly something that's starting to sag and wrinkle--is very interested in meeting this Michelangelo of plastic surgery.

But the Michelangelo doesn't want to talk about age. He wants to talk about beauty.

"Look," he says, gesturing at the dark-haired model on the cover. She is indeed lovely. She is also, as it turns out, unbelievably out of whack.

"See, this side of her face is longer. It has a different contour, a different bone structure. And if you look closely, this side of her mouth is wider--if you need a ruler I can bring you one."

He rummages around for a ruler, still talking. "And this eye is not on the same level. And this ear is much lower than the other. Yet put it all together, you have a beautiful woman."

But her beauty is--

"Asymmetrical."

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