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Blow-and-go hair salons are taking root

The new businesses cater to busy professional women who want a quick, low-cost wash, blow-dry and style between more expensive haircuts, colorings and perms.

August 06, 2012|By Shan Li | Los Angeles Times
  • Lorena Soria blow-dries the hair of Gina Tennen as she works on her iPad at Drybar in West Hollywood, one a growing number of salons that specialize in so-called blowouts.
Lorena Soria blow-dries the hair of Gina Tennen as she works on her iPad at… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Inside some of the busiest beauty salons in Los Angeles, you won't find scissors, hair dye or perm solution.

What you will find is women packing the shops as early as 7 a.m., clutching cups of coffee and dressed for the office. After a quick wash, their locks are brushed and styled amid the steady hum of blow-dryers. Half an hour later, coiffed to perfection, they rush out to start their workdays.

"I like to either start my workday in this salon chair or end it here," said Lauren Levin, 31, a regular at Drybar in West Hollywood, where 10 chairs were all filled on a recent Tuesday morning. "I used to style my hair on my own, but it never looked very good. Coming here saves time, and my hair ends up looking much more professional and polished."

Hollywood actors and wealthy socialites have long hired pricey professionals to achieve camera-ready hairdos. Now a new breed of beauty salon is offering affordable styling for the Average Jane — at about $35 a pop.

In Southern California and across the nation, so-called blow-dry bars are popping up to service women (and a few men) on the go. There is no cutting or coloring. These speedy places specialize in washing, drying and quick-styling only.

It's a 21st century spin on the old-fashioned beauty parlor, where women once went weekly to maintain elaborate hairdos. Some women now see "blowouts" as part of weekly beauty routines, along with manicures and waxing.

Unlike traditional salons, these specialty shops cater to busy professionals: Open seven days a week. No appointment needed. Equipped with free Wi-Fi. Stylists are as efficient as assembly line workers, getting clients in and out in less than an hour.

Women often zip in before a business meeting, a girls' night out or a special date. A new reality TV show even revolves around a San Fernando Valley blow-dry bar.

"If you go to your regular salon, sometimes you can't get the appointment, especially if you wait until the last minute," said Gretty Hasson, owner of MyBlow LA in Beverly Hills. "Here, even if all the stylists are working, you can wait 15, 20 minutes, and they can squeeze you in."

Chains and independent businesses are opening in big cities nationwide. Analysts say they're the latest offshoot of a $40-billion salon industry shaking off recession.

These specialty shops are reaping the benefits of a stagnant economy as women forgo highlights or haircuts in favor of "cheaper luxuries" such as blowouts, said Caitlin Moldvay, an analyst at research firm IbisWorld.

"We want to get you between haircuts," said Dahlia Eshaghian, who recently opened Blow Angels in West Los Angeles. "Sometimes in the middle of the day women want to take half an hour or an hour just for themselves."

In cities dotted with pricey stylists and uber-luxe spas, blow-dry salons seek to stand out by calling themselves "bars" instead of "salons."

Many have the pastel decor of a girls-only clubhouse. Some serve cocktails. Most offer a set "menu" of hairstyles from which customers choose. Instead of making money on high-margin services such as color and straightening treatments, these places survive on high volume.

At the Los Angeles chain Drybar, customers order from a menu of seven $35 looks named after classic drinks. There's the Manhattan ("sleek and smooth"), the Mai Tai ("messy, beachy") and Southern Comfort ("big hair, lots of volume.")

Hairstylist Alli Webb founded Drybar two years ago after seeing demand grow for at-home blow-dries. Today, Drybar has 15 locations in five states.

"In California, we see a lot of women requesting Mai Tais, which is a hard look to achieve yourself, sort of the Gisele look," Webb said, referring to the loose waves of supermodel Gisele Bundchen. "In New York, the Straight Up, which is a basic blowout with a little volume and body, is popular."

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch is a fan. The 43-year-old said she used to battle her wavy hair because she couldn't afford the pricey blowouts at traditional salons, but now she goes to blow-dry bars at least once a week.

"It's like therapy. I can relax and also get some work done before the day starts," said the Westwood resident, who taps away on her laptop while her hair is being styled.

The quickie salons have attracted a celebrity following, including former "Charmed"actress Rose McGowan, who has been getting her hair blown out every three days for more than a decade. Before converting to blow-dry bars, she frequented an L.A. salon that charged $80 per blowout.

"It's a time saver for me. And $35 — my parking tickets are more than a blow-dry," McGowan said.

It has even spawned a reality television series on the bilingual, youth-oriented cable network Mun2. The show "Chiquis 'N Control," which premiered last month, revolves around the struggles of a Latina opening a blow-dry salon called Blow Me Dry in Encino. The featured tag line: "This chica's taking over … one blowout at a time."

One of the early chains was Blo. The Toronto company is betting that blow-dry bars will become as common as nail salons and now has 21 "blo-cations" in North America, including ones in San Francisco and Hollywood.

Blo plans to open three more California salons, in Porter Ranch, Tarzana and San Diego, spokeswoman Hilary Chan-Kent said. "We want to be the Starbucks of hair."

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