Kristoff Ball. (Robert Ulrich )
Kristoff Ball is known for his rock star hairstyles but he can also fix a car, drywall a house and grow a delicious tomato. Long before he gained fame styling celebrities — including Pink, Ashley Tisdale, Brad Pitt and Gwen Stefani — he learned the power of communicating with his hands, fixing VWs, playing the guitar, working construction and cutting hair in his neighborhood.
"The best way to make friends is to cut their hair," Ball, 45, says of his youthful enterprise — he taught himself at age 15 and charged his neighbors $5 a cut while growing up in the dicier areas of Paramount and north Long Beach. With a smile, he adds a caveat: You have to cut hair well. "Once, I messed up some guy's Bobby Brown, and he broke down my door."
"Where I grew up, you had to do everything," he says, whether it was fixing engines or doing construction. He worked as an apprentice and journeyman helping build the Museum of Tolerance and the Getty Museum. There, he learned how to drywall and weld, skills he would later use to build his own salon.
Barely graduating from high school, he says, reading at a third-grade level and struggling with problems at home, he thought he would have to be rich to go to beauty school. It wasn't until he showed up at the College Park Church of God after a night partying that he discovered otherwise. The pastor asked the congregation if anyone had a gift from God, and Ball announced he had a gift for cutting hair. After the sermon, a friend loaned him $75 to enroll in beauty school.
After years of hard work, he graduated from Cerritos College and got his cosmetology license. Returning to his Long Beach roots, he was hired as a stylist at salon Trabuco and played guitar in his rock band in his off-hours. His band once opened for Sublime and No Doubt, giving birth to a long-lived collaboration with singer Gwen Stefani. However, it was famed hairstylist Laurent Dufourg of Privé Salon who gave Ball his first big break.
Focused on visual mechanics and grateful for the opportunity to move up in the world, Ball studied others diligently. When he worked at Privé, he watched renowned stylists Andy LeCompte and Byron Williams, gleaning as much as possible from their techniques. As he grew more successful, the beach and rockster edge he brought to the salon made him popular.
"All my life I tried to get out of the ghetto, and they liked me more for it," he says, shaking his head.
Today, Ball puts the skills he learned along the way to good use, with his 2-year-old Kristoff Ball Salon in Malibu and a second salon he opened this year on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills that he designed and renovated himself.
The new salon is an eclectic combination of rock 'n' roll edge, laid-back beach style and what he calls "a mixture of soft and hard," an apt description for Ball himself, as well as a reflection of his tumultuous past and the enthusiasm that ultimately got him out of the hood. And since he designed and renovated the space himself — with the help of his eldest son and band mate, Noriel — it's no surprise that it reflects so much of his personality.
A sculpture by Peter Gronquist of a deer with antlers shaped into the YSL logo greets guests as they enter the salon. Stations are separated by partitions beautifully crafted by Ball from reclaimed wood he had shipped from France. A relic from dumpster diving serves as a cart for hairstyling tools, while the top-of-the-line Zurich beauty chairs are tagged with the salon's logo, hand-painted by Ball.
He chuckles when pointing them out, and admits to having tagged trains in his youth. (Instead of writing his real name — Christopher Ball — he used the moniker Kristoff. The name stuck.) A piece by graffiti artist Banksy (cheekily signed by client Paris Hilton) embellishes a partition, and two rope swings hanging from metal frames (inspired by the Chrome Hearts Factory and welded by Ball in his backyard) add whimsy to the space.
"It's still a work in progress," he says, and one gets the sense he is talking about himself as well as the salon.
The salon continues to evolve as Ball experiments with the setting, trying to find the right balance for his clients. It's the same philosophy he applies to styling hair, and this willingness to learn and evolve on the job has garnered him a roster of loyal celebrity clients. His collaboration with Gwen Stefani started at the beginning of both of their careers. He notably created the signature platinum locks she still wears today. But it was during an exercise in experimentation that he gave Stefani the fuchsia hair that earned him plaudits as the next up-and-coming hairstylist in many magazines. Stefani has remained a friend, telling HarpersBazaar.com in a posting this month, "He's my homey; he's got my back."
Ball's journey has taken him from cutting hair in Paramount's Gundry Blocc to Beverly Hills. Looking around at what he has built with his own hands, he says he feels a sense of accomplishment. Whether it's making pizza with tomatoes from his garden in the Helms Bakery District, drywalling his salon or styling hair, Ball infuses the same energy and creative vision into each one.
And he hopes to keep doing so for the next 40 years.