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Lee Rizzuto stood before a ballroom of his beauty-industry colleagues. “I think we put more smiles on people’s faces than the dental industry,” the senior vice-president of the Conair Corporation announced, strutting across the stage in a broad-shouldered white blazer, his thick black hair, gelled back into an impermeable coiffure.
It was the 21st annual Beauty Ball & Charity Gala, and Rizzuto, the night’s honoree and chairman, was presiding over the affair: a $250-a-plate fundraising dinner prepared by celebrity chef and Batali partner Lidia Bastianich. No mere prom for hair stylists, the Beauty Ball—held in conjunction with the massive annual International Beauty Show at the Javits—was a meeting of the industry elite. Suit-and-tied finance guys mingled with dyed, highlighted, and otherwise elaborately preened hairdressers—the business’s creative sector, who seemed to have never seen a gel or bleach they hadn’t tried on themselves first. Every type of hairstyle was represented: straightened, scissored cuts with chunks of highlights; elegant chignons with not a strand out of place; Annie Lennox crops, bleached snow white; scraggly billy-goat goatees. At a table in the back, a group of mostly-blonde women dressed up in sparkling, Vegas-showgirl-like ensembles wore their long locks sprayed up into gravity-defying, almost movement-impeding sculptures. Walking advertisements for the holding potential of White Sands Infinity finishing spray, some had waterfalls of hair lifted a good foot above their heads. Two of them, hypertanned college students from Miami, attested to the products’ greatness. “You can just brush it out, and it’s so smooth.”
Somewhere between the main course and dessert, Rizzuto took the stage again. Proceeds from this year’s ball would benefit Katrina victims and Locks of Love, an organization that provides donated hair to children mostly suffering from alopecia. Rizzuto called haircutting luminary and Paul Mitchell artistic director Robert Cromeans to the stage, since he had hosted a well-publicized fundraising effort at the IBS Convention for Katrina. The utmost eccentric in a room full of them, Cromeans, in an all-black ensemble that included a floppy black leather hat, opaque sunglasses, and a Medieval-looking pouch hanging down over his crotch, looked like a Hobbit with a leather-bar fetish. Not everyone was a fan.
“He’s all like, ‘C’mon, feel it, do it for the people'” sniped one hairdresser from the open bar at the back of the room. “Then when we sit up in those classrooms, he’s like, ‘You should charge $300 per haircut. Isn’t it funny that we make so much money, and no one’s bidding on anything? The guys in ties—they’re the ones who make the money.”
The silent auction, at least, did not seem to have the takers that one would have hoped. Some offerings, like a quality meat smoker, didn’t tempt the crowd as much as the auctions of a basket of Kiehls’ products or Tweezerman supplies. Not that many attendees stuck around for the 70s disco dance party, which included a performance by Martha Wash, one half of the singing group Two Tons of Fun.
The ballroom cleared out after dinner, with a few notable exceptions. At an almost-empty table, romance-novel cover boy Fabio lingered. Fabio said he was attending as a personal friend of Rizzuto’s and spokesmodel for Conair’s Satin Smooth body wax. “See?” he said, pointing to an ad for Satin Smooth in the event program, an image of a woman in a negligee, sitting on what looked like a gigantic container of oozing Satin Smooth wax. Her legs were quite smooth.
On the cover of romance novels, Fabio usually sports the wild mane of a lioness, but tonight he modeled a more subdued, straight chin length bob and a tux cut to fit over his hulking, broad shoulders. Our usual shyness eased by the night’s generous open bar, we wasted no time with the questioning. “What is the hardest part of your body to wax?” we asked. “My bikini line,” he joking replied, looking a bit self-consciously over at his date for the evening, a beautiful raven-haired model-type with an enviable hourglass figure and a sweet Mandy Moore face. “No,” he confessed, “perhaps around the nipple.”