Knowledge Is Power Hair


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.

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.

** Return to stylist chair to await Fabrice. Amuse self by surveying room and identifying work of local plastic surgeons: Count three Gerald Imber noses, five Daniel Baker eye jobs, and a number of gently tautened face-lifts that could be anyone, but most likely are the work of Sherrell Aston.

“So what are we going to do for you?” asks Fabrice Gili, boyish 32-year-old with feathered forelock smacking of early Camelot. “It’s the millennium. Should we go for a different look?”

Writer not quite ready for different look, however. Will be bringing same look has sported since seventh grade into new millennium. Drawing from extremely limited stock of phrases used by men to indicate beauty needs, writer says dully, “Just clean it up.”

Popping Certs from utility drawer, Fabrice explains that, at Fekkai, “we’re not like these hairdressers who just do one kind of cut, like a signature. Some people get worried that we don’t have the presence or the attitude of a hairdresser, but, you know, we’re very low-key and organized. We like to talk to people, but not like in France, where they talk about the clients, in a mean way.”

Descended from a three-generation line of stylists, Fabrice explains that he has been in business 14 years, most recently at Jacques Dessange. “My old price, which is still current,” says Fabrice, who claims 1000 clients, “is $90. I’ve been promoted to $135. For some people it’s a lot of money, but, you know, for a lot of people here it’s not. It’s an interesting place to work for that reason. Everybody here kind of knows everybody else. They’re all kind of from the same class.”

Faces, of whatever class, Fabrice goes on, change according to mental state. “So I try to determine what’s best for a client. It’s a study called morphopsychology, morpho meaning soul. We look first at the face and then at the hair. It’s about trying to learn from someone’s state of mind.”

The face, Fabrice explains, as fingers section locks for surgical snips with German scissors, “is divided into forehead, eyes, and lips. You don’t want too much mass in any one place. According to your type of face, if you’re the sort of person with large eyes, you’ll need a visual before a makeover, a picture. If you have large ears, you probably need to have it explained. If the mouth is large, you want to talk it out. That way you can go in a good direction.”

One obvious way to go in good direction is trusting Fabrice’s capable and highly expensive hands. Another way? Sipping champagne offered by woman circulating through salon with crystal flutes. Thus client perhaps avoids noticing that haircut—at an average of $135 plus modest $10 stylist tip, $5 for shampoo girl, $2 for coat check, and without purchasing any product—costs approx. $8 per minute. “A haircut is very intimate,” says Fabrice, echoing the brilliant Fekkai philosophy that “simple is the most beautiful,” as well as the most profitable. “The result has to be nice,” says Fabrice. Nice equals confident equals unwarranted sensation of power. Ephemeral, true. But probably cheap at the price.