Knowledge Is Power Hair

The 1000-Year Cut

Last minutes of epoch. Time to clear slate, review past both immediate and distant, undertake important changes to herald next 1000 years. What to do first? Make five-year plan? Take fearless moral accounting? Consolidate debt? Rearrange sock drawer? Wait. First things first. Cut hair. ¶ Astor Place barber? No. Astor Place feng shui lousy. Chi veritably sluiced down stairs to clump on floor with mounds of David's $19.99 wash and cut? No. Inauspicious, tonsorial version of buying tube socks in bulk. Nick's venerable barber on upper Broadway, site of possibly last remaining Manhattan barber pole? Alas, Nick dead, buried under mounds of adoring newsprint. clippings. Jean Louis David's $19.99 wash and cut? No. Inauspicious, tonsorial version of buying tube socks in bulk. Nick's venerable barber on upper Broadway, site of possibly last remaining Manhattan barber pole? Alas, Nick dead, buried under mounds of adoring newsprint.

Money draws money, claimed fortune cookie at dim sum parlor. Throw heap over millennial hump. Some may return. Resolve at once to book at Frédéric Fekkai, where rich mother of good friend once spent a fortune getting trim from master himself.

That kind of money for haircut? Ridiculous. Strictly for fools, kept women, and Wall Street wizards. Instantly change mind. Irresolution, however, bad augury for new millennium. Superstitiously return to plan for power hair. Telephone Fekkai salon, discover that only cuts personally supervised by Fekkai cost $290. Session with ordinary junior stylist a mere $90. That, of course, before tip to coat check, shampoo girl, café attendant, stylist. But, wait, getting ahead of self.

Frédéric Fekkai's French twist
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Frédéric Fekkai's French twist

Arrange appointment for Tuesday. Somewhat amazed to obtain slot. Fekkai current king of Manhattan hairdos. Regular in shelter books, society columns, fashion magazines. Gets around town in chauffeur-driven BMW sedan. Separated from wife, now seen in company of supermodels. Think Warren Beatty in Shampoo but minus the shag. Fekkai salon five floors in Chanel building on 57th Street. Chanel majority owner of Fekkai empire since August 1996. Empire now encompasses New York, Beverly Hills salons, spa, makeup, and hair-treatment lines. Resolve in next life to be reborn as ultrasexy French coiffeur. Why not aim high?

Day of appointment escort self to Midtown on chauffeur-driven Madison Avenue M4. Assume look of entitlement as attempt to slip past desk guard in lobby of Chanel. Guard unimpressed: "May I help you, sir?" Mumble something about appointment. Guard gives directions to elevator: "Press T-1."

Whisked skyward, find self moments later at epicenter of delicious late-stage capitalist excess. Fekkai salon virtual hive of activity. Harp and flute music hangs in air. Authentic 18th-century Provençal fountain tinkles. Manolo Blahnik heels click discreetly across limestone floors. Find self thinking about human vanity, hopefulness, delusion, fear of mortality, etc. Also find self contemplating beautifying rituals throughout the centuries: ancient Egypt, France in the age of the Louis, Emerald City makeover scene in The Wizard of Oz. Realize am blocking elevator egress. Screw up nerve to approach appointment desk. Anticipating Uptown attitude with Gallic topspin, am shocked to find everyone . . . nice.

"I see you've got a three o'clock with Fabrice," says sunny receptionist. "Just give your things to the coat check and they'll give you a robe."

Feeling of Frédéric Fekkai salon part Cistercian monastery, part hedonist's lair, part Swiss tubercular clinic circa Sarah and Gerald Murphy. Reception floor dedicated to beauty counter, small café where waitresses in maid's outfits serve cappuccino to highly pampered persons for whom only relevant Marx is Groucho. First floor where customers haul money in mink wheelbarrows and fling it over reception counter. "You've got the shampoo du jour, the hair mask with shea butter, the toning formula, the pure gloss lip pencil, the brow definer, the eye soother, the cream powder makeup, the youth powder," says cashier, totaling what appears to be this woman's average purchase: 20 products, $775.

** Exit on T-3 to hiss of blow dryers and scene of murmurous quiet. Imagine space modules sound like this. Chevron-shaped ranks of stations occupy central area, four stylists per chevron. Colorist sinks along window walls. Men and women in blue or white robes, and with towel-wrapped heads, resemble nuns in Margaret Atwood fable. Everywhere clients in helpless postures submitting to arcane treatments.

Woman with head tipped back and encased in plastic has right hand submerged in suds cup as manicurist buffs nails on left. Woman with head swathed in foil sits beneath rotating halo dryer. Woman in ungainly vinyl bonnet stuffed with cotton wads appears to be taking treatment for dire new malady, perhaps follicular cancer. All incomparably docile, placid. Comparison to backstage scene at Westminster Kennel Club dog show unavoidable.

"We are pleased to announce that Fabrice Gili has been promoted to Hair Designer," reads sign at station where writer's millennium-greeting power clip is to occur. "As of January 18, 2000, his price will be $135." Huge wave of relief that calendar still indicates fin de siècle.

Before arrival of Fabrice Gili comes Ronnie Castro, shampoo girl. Castro young, lovely, with Jumeau-doll arch to eyebrows. Running water, Castro tilts chair, massages writer's head with rinçage de cidre, and explains that cosmetology license requires 1000 hours of training in out-of-date dos, like serving time except that very few people wear finger waves in jail.

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