Since 2006, I've only had two stylists - when I find somebody I like, I stick with them. Mercedes at the Gene Juarez salons was the girl who cut my hair when I got back from England the first time, and I stayed with her until I moved out to Bournemouth. Kelly was at the salon just down Gervais Road, a two-minute walk from Bourne Chambers, and managed to recreate the look Mercedes and I had figured out years earlier. I wasn't really sure where even to start here in London - West Norwood has a handful of haircutting establishments, but most cater exclusively to those looking for weaves or cornrows. (Just look at me go, being all PC...)
I went online to have a gander, and was reminded of my friend Ben and his Kramer-hair incident. ;) (I knew Ben back in high school, and he ended up coming out to London, back when I was in Bournemouth, to work in one of the Indian communities) A friend of his noticed that a local salon school was offering free haircuts for those willing to let their students work on real heads of hair. In his case, he ended up looking like Kramer (though, to be fair, he has massively curly hair which, if left untamed, quite literally becomes an afro). I was intrigued, though, and went online to learn more.
London has quite a slew of top-end salons which train up new proteges - amongst the more common to recruit amongst those looking for a cheap haircut include the Vidal Sasson salon, as well as a couple of Toni and Guy salons. Unfortunately, all of these seemed to require you to submit to one of their hairstyles being practiced that week: usually a straight or graduated bob. Since my hair requires texture and layers, this wasn't up my alley. However, whilst skimming gumtree (the UK version of craigslist, only slightly less skeevy), I noticed an ad looking for volunteer heads, for students at a super-posh independent salon in Mayfair. The Vidal/Toni and Guy ads all said to book over a week in advance; I sent the guy at Ozzie Rizzo a text, and he replied back almost instantly - "I have an opening at 2PM today, would you be available?"
Considering my plan for the day was to call and harass time2move some more and/or stay inside out of the rain and watch movies, I decided to be *wild and crazy* and wander on up to Mayfair. :)
Why don't you go where fashion sits...
I turned on my ipod, which amusingly enough started playing "Here Comes the Sun" as I stepped outside my door... right into the pouring rain. :) But comme ca, neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor... something I'm forgetting - wind? would deter my from my goal. I walked up to the rail station, bought a return ticket to Victoria (£2.70), hopped almost immediately onto the Southern train, and twenty minutes later was sweeping across Victoria Station... to stand in a queue. ;) Several minutes later, I was the proud owner of an Oyster Card -
(What an Oyster Card might look like...)
Which allows for pay-as-you-go travel on London's buses, trains, or - huzzah! - the Tube! It is a very odd fact of my life that I am horrifically claustrophobic - I get fantastically nervous in elevators/lifts, have to be medicated on long airplane rides, and had to leave Mary King's Close early, because I couldn't stand being under the ground as we were. However, I *adore* the Tube, despite it being essentially a smaller airplane body going whizzing away through narrow tunnels, several, several feet underground. The only logical explanation I can give is that, given my absolute and UTTER lack of directional skills, I like the idea of having a sprawling city laid out in grid form, easily understood by colours and directions. Either that or - coming from Seattle - I'm in constant awe of a mass transit system that actually works. Take your pick.
A single hop Northbound on the Victoria Line (royal blue), and I was at Green Park station, heart of Mayfair. How did I know I was in Mayfair? Let's just say the Starbucks sitting next to the Rolls Royce showroom gave it away, rather...
By this time, however, the sun had broken free of the rainclouds and - in the same vein as the old cliche that requires rain for there to be rainbows - I remarked to myself that everything seems so much more glorious after a good, hard rain: the air was fresh and clean, everything was shining in the sunshine, and the golden leaves that littered Berkeley Square looked to be made out of pure spun gold.
Obviously, not my picture - imagine, however, all the leaves on the trees as bright yellow, the ground covered with the dropped shiny foliage, and Bonnie standing in the middle absolutely delighting in the hustle and bustle of the busy, cold, gorgeous day. This was the London I fell in love with all those years ago, and I couldn't help smiling as I remembered why I came back. (As an aside, I just about drove myself crazy trying to remember what bird it was that "Sang in Berkeley Square" - I kept thinking it was a Bluebird, but kept reminding myself that the Bluebird was busy being Over the White Cliffs of Dover; the square itself offered no help - the only birds on display were pigeons - *extremely* tame pigeons. And, I can't really think that any romantic, angsty song would involve pigeons)
A moment's searching just now turned up that it was, in fact, a Nightingale which supposedly did the honours. Mustn't have been his shift, right then.
In any case, at a little before 2PM I dutifully checked into the salon and was brought to my seat by Shuj, who talked with me through what I was looking for, what he recommended, and explained that Ozzie - the owner and Creative Director - would be over shortly. Ozzie Rizzo looks like every fantastic New York Italian stereotype you could ever imagine - except, of course, without the pin-stripe suit and/or large gold medallion. He is an *utter* perfectionist, and demands the absolute best from his students; he is brusk, to-the-point, and obviously has been doing this for a very long time with a very great love of his craft. He came over, and immediately began assessing my old haircut (long since grown out and shapeless); he told Shuj to hold the mirror up and show me what my hair looks like going in - that way, if I get frustrated by a bad cut thanks to them having to work with a bad cut I had coming in, he can't get blamed. He pointed out the thick hair lying shapeless on my neck, the choppiness of the layers - he took a step back and said, without any emotion, "I can see what they were going for - but it was the wrong choice!" He began playing with the hair, explaining to Shuj about how to make the shape of my hair work with the shape of my face: "Look at her face - he has a very large forehead." Sounds rude, but something about the matter-of-factness with which he said it made me laugh. "Oh good, she knows it at least" (to me, as an aside, he said, "Don't worry - it's a lovely forehead; but we are going to cover it up, don't worry") Everything he said sounded just like what I was looking for, so I breathed a sigh of relief to know that I wouldn't be walking out with a fauxhawk or shaved head. The style in place, Shuj and I headed over to the sinks to get my hair washed and head massaged.
Getting my hair cut well is something I don't mind splurging on - most things in life I'm quite frugal with (I don't go out clubbing, I generally get my theatre tickets through friends, I don't eat a lot [and rarely eat out], don't mind putting on a sweater if it gets chilly), but I consider getting my hair done well to be a small form of therapy - no matter how crappy I'm feeling, no matter how "out of control" life seems to get, I know that - for a half hour or so - I can get my head massaged in warm water and nice smelling shampoo, have someone play with my hair while I sit on a chair and feel pampered, drinking a warm cup of tea, and leave feeling young and pretty and fabulous - seriously, it's worth a little more every couple of months to have that momentary control on life. :)
Ozzie left us to it while he started on one of his clients - I was amused, throughout the day, to notice his accent change depending on who he was talking with. Not excessively - he may or may not have noticed he was doing it - but with his students and me (essentially, the manniquin head) his Italian accent was quite noticeable - he spoke quickly and forcefully, with a commanding presence, and the Italian overpowered his English accent. His first two clients were middle-aged German women (or, at least, had strong German accents); with them, his English accent came back into play - he was quiet and passive, letting them speak, and only occasionally interjecting with more somber, dulcet tones of a West Londoner (Posh, without being too Uppity - yes, those are highly technical linguistic terms). The third client he worked on had an utterly delightful RP accent (she actually sounded EXACTLY like Harriet Walters in the Lord Peter Wimsey TV movies, but I can't find a clip on Youtube - so here's dreamy James McAvoy and the little Troglodyte speaking RP in Atonement), and - oddly enough - his Italian started to play up again, but in a way that quite honestly made him sound like he was doing a Christopher Walken impression (it was so spot-on at times, I nearly started giggling, despite the pair of very sharp scissors next to my chin).
All this reminded me of a link I'd seen on fark earlier today - saying that Irish had overtaken the French for "Sexiest Accent". (Check out what The Daily Mail had to say about this here) Now, I'm not going to deny that a good, strong brogue is pretty damn sexy, but I must call shenanigans on Scottish being placed at number 3 - seriously people, NOTHING is sexier than a Scots accent. No amount of Daily Mail surveys will ever convince me that this (doesn't actually start until about 50 seconds in) is less sexy than this. (Ah, Father Jack, you old foul-mouthed git...)
In any case, I was utterly delighted to find out that getting my hair cut by a student takes away my least favourite part of getting my hair cut: the small talk. I don't know what it is - I have no problem with small talk anywhere else in the world, but you set me down in a barber's chair and I find I have nothing to say; we ended up sitting/working in awkward silence, as all the other people around us chat comfortably. With Shuj, however, we had some lovely small talk about Seattle and London and weather and all those easy topics whilst washing my hair, then he apologized as I sat down to get cut, explaining that he wasn't good at talking and concentrating together - "no problem!" I replied: I got to space out, writing my blog in my head, eavesdropping to my heart's content on the other conversations, and just generally going to sleep with my eyes open, without feeling obligated to tell my life's story to a stranger.
His fingers were a bit shaky starting out - he had Ozzie come over to get him started, then would mimic what Ozzie had done on one side on the other. Ozzie would come back over, brush the hair around, comment on how it wasn't "perfect", and have him keep working at it. Once one section was "perfect" enough, Ozzie would start a new section of layers, showing him how to work the hair, then leaving him to work. Ozzie worked on his own client on the next chair over, occasionally looking over to check in. He reminded me quite a bit of Don - very much in control, occasionally getting frustrated that this new student couldn't pick it up immediately. Ozzie obviously had his "Lessons" - I got to overhear the "If You Want to Learn, You Must Listen, Not Talk" lesson, as well as the "Attention to Detail Makes the Difference Between a Good Haircut and an -eh- Haircut" (which led into the "My Customers Have Been Coming Back for 30 Years - WHY?" Lesson). Not to say that that last lesson was wrong - his customers that I got to "see" and "hear" were all quite loyal and absolutely adored him, and it was evident in his dealings with this student (and, consequently, with my hair) that would accept nothing less than 100%.
My hair proved to be a bit of a "challenge" (I'm sure Grandma Esther had a good laugh at that comment) - first of all, Ozzie pointed out to Shuj that my skull is asymetrical - it "bumps" slightly differently in the area diagonally up and behind my ears on both sides; as such, he informed Shuj, you have to cut the hair slightly differently on either side, in order to make them both look the same. Also, with hair as fine as mine, "You HAVE to make every layer completely blend into the next - you CANNOT have any bumps or cuts showing. Even the smallest mistake will show up on hair like this. You must work extra hard on hair like this, because it MUST be perfect!" I couldn't help but delight in hearing, "Hair this fine, it will lie flat pretty much no matter what you do. So, you MUST make it look beautiful, even if there is no product in it, even if she does nothing to it. That way, any work she puts in later is a bonus, but the hair looks beautiful, even when she rolls out of bed in the morning". Anal Retentive or not, the man is a miracle-worker with hair (Yes, at one point, he was describing the scissors as a paint brush, and later told Shuj to "See the hair. Feel the hair. Love the hair". Not kidding) and, true to his word, the style looks great, even dry and flat - the layers blend together beautifully, the back blending down to the neck is sculpted beautifully, the bangs nicely cover my enormous forehead ;) , and the cut around the face was specially cut by Ozzie, in order to curve nicely around my cheekbones, despite the fact that this hair is generally tucked behind the ears ("Doesn't matter! It needs to be perfect anyway!"). Dried naturally, the style looked cute and fresh - Ozzie, however, wasn't done with either of us yet and demanded that Shuj then damp the hair back down, mousse it up, and "finish it" - "because a good haircut is a good haircut, but it is the finishing that makes you a stylist; your customer doesn't necessarily know it's a good cut, unless you can make it beautiful for her before she leaves". Shuj went to work, spending probably 20 minutes roundbrushing, then redampening bits and roundbrushing again, then smoothing parts down and drying them again (while I watched on, grinning delightedly); Ozzie, however, decried this work and dampened it all down again, redoing it for me while Shuj and the other students watched - "we must bring out the beauty of this cut! She knows how it looks normally, she knows how she styles it, so show her something different to do with it - have some fun! Make it amazing!" He slathered a whole pile of gels and products in his hands, crafting and sculpting the hair every which way, showing me about five different styles in about 20 seconds, while Shuj looked on and laughed, remarking, "She's smiling!"
But, let's go back to that Project Triangle, shall we? Obviously, it's a great haircut, done in an expensive salon in the heart of Mayfair (I overheard Ozzie telling one of his clients that a cut and half-head dye job in the salon cost £120) by an obviously very talented artist, so check that one off. It was also cheap - the price listed as the post title covers the cost of the train and tube ride to get up and back: as a student, Shuj wasn't allowed to take a tip, and the haircut was free as I'd provided "student resources". (He did, however, mention before I left that he was about to graduate to a stylist position within the salon, so the next time I needed my hair cut, I would know where to find him -hinthint-) So, cheap and good... quick, here, was the sacrificed element.
As I stated before, I had no other plans for the day, and had no problem filling in for as long as it took. My description of the haircut, however, may not have given you a good grasp of the time scale involved. I entered the salon at 1:50PM. I left at 5:20PM. That's right, three and a half hours. Three and a half hours. I entered the salon in the sunlight of the early afternoon, I left when it was dark out. For comparison sake, I have never had a haircut last longer than 25 minutes - and that was when Merecedes was first styling my hair. I don't really have a lot of hair to cut - it's thin, it's short, and I'm generally not that picky to a millimetre level. Between Shuj having to check in with Ozzie, Ozzie's perfection, and Shuj's anxiousness to please, however, I had a haircut that lasted three and a half hours.
The even bigger shame is that I can't really get a good shot of the back - the front looks lovely and fine, though it doesn't really show how meticulous and beautiful a cut it really is - the layering work in the back is truly beautifully done, yet all my attempts to capture it on film or laptop are laughably blurry and off-centered, looking for all the world like I've finally managed to capture footage of the Sasquatch. (Shame on you, blogger, for not recognizing our beloved mountain-beast as a proper word!)
In any case, I strutted out of that salon into the crisp London night, streets packed with tourists and Londoners headed home. I caught my tube to Victoria, then jumped almost immediately on a train headed back home to West Norwood - I had a happy moment when I realized that my train journey would only be 20 minutes, accustomed as I'd become to heading back to Bournemouth (which takes a little over two hours instead). The full moon was shining in the sky, the London Eye was lit up with white and purple lights, and one of the Thames bridges we passed was covered in white Christmas lights, which shimmered in the river beneath. I hiked home in the cool night air, smiling to myself as I was walking up the hill with the others who had been on the same train as I had been - slowly but surely, people peeled off from the unspoken group and went into their homes, or headed off down side streets, and I inwardly waved them good night as I pulled my keys out of my bag and came back home.