Hair way to stunning

Wendy Simone teases hotness into
anyone's locks

Maybe Van Gogh never tried making art with a hairbrush. But no matter. Wendy Simone creates masterful art strand by strand, curl by curl, a follicle at a time. Women lucky enough to be her clients waltz out of her studio glowing—pretty masterpieces. They look and feel sizzling hot.

Wendy Simone

Simone's haircutting trajectory started some 30 years ago in San Francisco, went to New York and Mill Valley then settled in Sebastopol for the past decade. "Having a salon in Mill Valley took me over the edge," Simone says. "I left to look for a simpler lifestyle. But the hippie thing isn't my clientele," she says, laughing. "People who were going to the city to get their hair done found me." Her business thrived.

When she was barely 19, Simone wondered: "What can I do to make money that's legal without fluorescent lights or a time card, and wear what I want? Hmmm. Guess I'll be a hairdresser. I wasn't planning on it as a career. I wanted to be an interior designer. But here I am."

She went to beauty school and got a license. "Then you find a salon that will train you," she says. Until the 1980s, most hairdressers were men. Women reclaimed the industry and opened spas. "Pampering!" she says. Most hairdressers specialized in haircuts or chemical treatments.

"I wanted to do chemicals," she says. "It was more lucrative, and in those days hair color was loud and garish. I wanted to create a more natural, beautiful look," she says. When she was in her twenties she made more than $35,000 a year while friends struggled with debt from college. "It was great. It was fun! I could call the shots. Maybe it was angelic intervention, but I did well right away."

"They looked like old ladies. I knew I could help them look great and feel good."

Simone sought a particular clientele: women in their fifties and sixties. In those years that was considered an old person. "They looked like old ladies," she recalls. "I knew I could help them look great and feel good. Now you're not even counted until you're fifty! It totally worked for me. It's been a wonderful career, a way I could have these fabulous women raise me. It was lovely. There's a wonderful bond that happens when you're helping someone look great."

She works almost exclusively with women. "Men are not as much fun," she says. "Men like everything to stay the same. Women like to keep it fresh. People come to me to look different, not for a trim."

Wendy Simone scissors

Most clients recognize her artistry and give her free rein. "I don't do the coolest looking work," says Simone, who used to do hip, urban styles. "You can look hip, groovy and attractive. Or you can look pretty, look great, like the best you. I am really good with pretty. It's different ways of framing art."

"I can look at anybody and know I can make them look great," Simone says. "I see the beautiful parts of a person that might go overlooked. I see something I can highlight. It's like finding a treasure at an archeological dig."

Other stylists might give up on some clients, but not Simone. "No, that woman can look beautiful," she would say, and then magically manifest the inner gorgeousness. "If they're willing. A lot of people don't want that," she observes. "They fear being attractive."

In the rural culture of the North Bay, a sanctuary of former hippies and commune members, Simone finds reverse peer pressure where women collude in minimizing their physical beauty, choosing to look "natural" rather than enhancing their attractiveness.

"You see exposed yellow curly toenails here. The natural thing is big."

"It's wild," she says. "People don't present themselves in a way that says they care about how they look. You see exposed yellow curly toenails here. The natural thing is big. They would love to wear their diamonds and beautiful clothes, but they don't want people to think they're not spiritual. They'd love to wear lipstick, but then they're not natural. It's not OK to be beautiful."

A client told Simone she did not want to color her gray hair even though it made her feel old. The woman wanted to act as role model for her daughter: it was OK to get old and gray. "That's really beautiful," Simone says, "but every daughter wants her mother to look pretty. Let her see you take pride in what you have! Everybody wants to be attractive. We are all trying to attract somebody, even if we already have them."

Her goal is to get women to do their hair, and wear nail polish and makeup, even in the country. "In cities, there's a lot of concrete. People and buildings are the beauty, the art," Simone says. "In Manhattan, everybody is fully whoever they are. Everybody has their own look. In Mill Valley, everybody looks the same. If white tennis shoes and white T-shirts are in, everybody wears that. If there is a certain car, a BMW, everybody has that. People don't want to be themselves. There's a lot of that going on here—people don't want to stand out. They're afraid to look fantastic. Everybody blends in, but the land is stunning!"

Many hairdressers eat while standing, or even eat when they pee. Some dehydrate themselves so they don't lose time going to the bathroom.

Cutting hair punishes the body. To be fashionable, Simone stood on concrete floors in high heels, murdering her feet. "There's body pain that goes with the job. It's wacky. Some people it's their back. You raise your arms over a shampoo bowl." Many hairdressers eat while standing, or even eat when they pee. Some dehydrate themselves so they don't lose time going to the bathroom, causing kidney and bladder problems. "You don't drink water because that will ruin your schedule." Many people drawn to hairdressing last only a few years.

Others work after ingesting mind-altering drugs. "It was a very fun but unhealthy profession," she says. "The industry has cleaned up considerably."

During the past five years she has operated a second business selling anti-aging products with a company that uses a network marketing business model. The products fit well with her clients. "It's a way to earn income without standing behind the chair," she says, "even when I'm sleeping."

While many hairdressers run chronically late, Simone has a knack for time management. She carves her day into 15-minute units, and graciously trains her clients to come on time. "What do you do with someone who is sobbing because her husband just left her? You have three other women who have to pick up their kids," she says. "How do you manage that? If you're responsible, it's a very lucrative business. People know I run on time. Are you late when you take a plane to go on vacation? Pretend I'm the plane. I'm efficient, no wasted movement. I give someone my attention, think about how to make her gorgeous, have a connection with her, feel what she wants, and stay on time."

Clients share gossip and spill their deepest secrets while in her chair. "We have to be steel traps," holding confidences that could destroy lives, Simone notes. "It's a lot of life. In one day, a hundred years can pass through. Everybody is passionate. We are the confidante, the priest taking confession. Conversations can be intense. This is a fun but intense thing to do for a living. Some people don't need their hair done. They come for that emotional hit. I was raised by a mother who could heal us with her hands. I have a little something extra going on."

"I changed a frumpy brown-haired woman into a redheaded vixen in an hour and a half. She started sobbing."

Every salon swirls with emotions, sometimes trauma. "If your hair doesn't look good, it destroys your life. A lot of crying goes on in a salon," Simone says. "The most confident person becomes a mess. Once I changed a frumpy brown-haired woman into a redheaded vixen in an hour and a half. She started sobbing. She could see she looked really beautiful, but could not handle it. A redheaded nun used to torture her when she was a kid, used to beat her. She could not look at herself in the mirror. People feel beautiful sometimes for the first time ever. That's scary and wonderful."

Hair as art changes daily as it moves through the world, involving variables not faced by Van Gogh and other artists. A client's look can be affected by weather, mood, illness, new shampoo, minerals in her well water. "All sorts of stuff affects everything," Simone says. "This is her vanity, her hopes. Hair is a moving object that's round and living and breathing, versus painting a picture. It's human. It's amazing that anything ends up looking good!"

Simone stands up to have her own picture taken. Her hands fly to the sides of her head and she laughs. "How's my hair?" Of course, it's perfect. Rembrandt did her hair.

—James Dunn
Click for more job profiles