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Miles of Style 

From buzz to snip, from follicle to tip, meet the North Bay's hair experts

click to enlarge SARA SANGER

Some guys want to look like Jesus, and some girls want to look like Crystal Gayle, and that's fine. The rest of us need to get our hair cut, and unless we're still chopping away with Fiskars by ourselves in front of the medicine-cabinet mirror, we walk through the doors of a barbershop or salon every once in a while, sit down in a relaxing chair and pay someone to take care of the moppy mess atop our noggin.

For this year's fashion issue, we check in on these artists of hair. By a scientific process, we've pinpointed the number of barbershops and salons in the North Bay to be exactly 25 bazillion, and so we've whittled our profiles down to a manageable cross-section representative of different areas of expertise. You'll read about the barber in training cutting friends' hair for free in his living room on up to the $85 cut-and-style at a high-end salon in Marin—something, as they say, for everybody.

A recurring theme in speaking with these masters of the scissors was that of human connection. Barbershops and salons are where the rejuvenation happens—not just with hairstyles, but with camaraderie and conversation. For many, a hairstylist is also a therapist, a storyteller, a sex-advice columnist, a business adviser, a tour guide, a bartender, a political analyst, a confidant and much more. The community wouldn't be the same without them.

Look inside, and meet a handful of the area's best.—Gabe Meline

All photos by Sara Sanger.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Barber-in-Training

Jerry de la Cruz, Maya Beauty Academy

Living in punk houses in the '90s, Jerry de la Cruz was always the roommate with the clippers, ready to cut his friends' hair. Instead of the barber's chair, though, he spent the next 20 years working behind counters—coffee shops, sandwich delis, record stores and lunch joints, always wishing he'd been able to go to barber school and live the dream of running a basic neighborhood barber shop. Every time he tried, though, his mom talked him out of it: "She wanted me to go to a real college and be some kind of a businessman or something," he shrugs.

This year, de la Cruz quit his job to start making his dream come true, but he found that the nearest barber college was all the way in Vallejo. To stay close to home, he enrolled at Maya Beauty Academy in a 12-month full cosmetology program; he's been the only male for most of the time he's been there, and in addition to hair cutting, styling and coloring, he's learning makeup, manicures, pedicures, perms, lash tinting, skin care and other things he might not use in a simple barber shop. The course is costing him $16,000. "As soon as I finish and get my license," he says, "I'm gonna need to start working immediately, 'cause I'm really worried about running out of money."

An important skill required of a barber is the ability to talk to virtually everyone, and de la Cruz's years of slinging coffee have more than given him that talent. Passion for the job should be no problem, either, planted in him by an old shop on Santa Rosa Avenue he used to frequent as a kid, and a genuine interest in hair. But mostly, de la Cruz is just looking for the simple things. The vibrator on the shoulders, the straight razor on the neck, the game on TV, what's in the paper. "Just being friendly and talking to people, that's all that someone who's cutting your hair does, really. You just chat," he says. "That's kind of, like, how I want to grow old."

Haircut: currently free, to friends and family, in his living room.

—Gabe Meline

Maya Beauty Academy, 1030 Center Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.526.4962.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Old School

Gene McAdon, Cougar's Den

When Gene McAdon started cutting hair 51 years ago in Los Angeles, a haircut cost about $1.75. Now it's $20, and long hair is extra. But McAdon's style never changed, even when he bought the Cougar's Den in 1974.

McAdon might just be the oldest barber in the North Bay. McAdon started cutting hair in 1961 at Hollywood Barber College, right out of high school. "I graduated on Thursday," he says, "and started barber college on Monday."

McAdon specializes in the "regular haircut," as he puts it. He calls his style the "isometric method," a phrase he's coined to mean "even all the way around." He cuts mostly men's hair, though women come in on occasion. "I cut one gal's hair who got her hair cut like a man," says McAdon. "I haven't seen her in a while, though."

Working in Southern California, he did give haircuts to celebrities like Roger Miller and Slim Pickens, but the better story is when he gave a hundred cuts in a single day. Working once a week on an Air Force base, he cut the hair of an entire platoon for an upcoming inspection. Regular cuts, too—not just a shave. "That was a 12-hour day," McAdon says. "And I had the flu that day."

While a barber's chair may be the best place for gossip, this shop is mostly quiet, save for the buzz of clippers, the low drone of talk radio and occasional remarks about McAdon's recent 18-day trip to Israel, his first time out of the country in his 71 years.

McAdon is friendly and an interesting conversationalist once he gets going, but while reticent, he uses his words effectively. When asked what it is about Ronald Reagan he admires—there are several glossy 8-by-10s on the wall—he shrugs. "Politics, I guess."

Haircut: $20

Long hair ("Must be clean"): $30

Seniors: $18

—Nicolas Grizzle

Cougar's Den, 528 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati. 707.795.1183.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Kids

Stephanie Zaharin, Xclusive Kidz Kutz

If there's one thing that defines Stephanie Zaharin's Xclusive Kidz Kutz in downtown Santa Rosa, it's the frog.

"He's outlived horses, trucks, racecars and an elephant, I think," Zaharin explains, running a finger along the scratches and grooves in her seat-shaped amphibian's aqua paint. She bought her plastic mascot—a rideable frog, like the kind you'd find on a grocery-store merry-go-round in the '80s, attached to a salon stool—at a West Coast Beauty Supply consignment sale 20 years ago. He's never been named, but he's been with her ever since.

Xclusive has deep Sonoma County roots, but the D Street children's parlor went under the name Just Kidz Kutz until 2009. Zaharin owned the business, but, busy with adult clients in the adjacent Xclusive Salon, she says she let the atmosphere stray from her original vision.

"It became like a Supercuts," she says, explaining that between crying children, stressed parents and a walk-in environment, keeping hairdressers long-term at the kids-only venue became a challenge. After 18 years, she shuttered the studio and reopened it in 2011 with fewer hairdressers, a commission and an emphasis on appointments, so the stylists can pay closer attention to their eight-month- to 14-year-old clients.

Now, Xclusive's current incarnation is what Zaharin wanted when, pregnant with her son, she opened Just Kidz in 1992. Lately, she says, the studio's been cutting a second generation of children's hair, as kids whose hair was cut at the first salon bring their offspring to the second. Xclusive also provides stations with screens so the kids can watch movies or play games, and sugary treats for post-grooming. And of course, there's always the frog.

Basic cut and style: $20

Buzz cut: $10

Bang trim: $5

—Rachel Dovey


Xclusive Kidz Kutz, 312 D St., Santa Rosa. 707.544.2766.

click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Classic

Shawn McConlogue, Barber Shop

Working at the insurance company sucked, and on one particularly lousy day, Shawn McConlogue escaped the office to get his hair cut. There, in the barber's chair, "it just kind of hit me that I should be thinking about working in an environment that I like every day," he says. "Six months later, I enrolled in barber school."

That school sat on the rough intersection of Sixth and Mission in San Francisco. Working with greasy, gnarled hair was one thing, but drug deals, fights and junkies nodding off mid-haircut were a near-daily occurrence, too. "It was entertaining," McConlogue deadpans.

McConlogue's small building has been a barber shop since the late 1950s. Today, a black-and-white checkered tile floor, a chess board, a touch-tone desk phone and a leather strop that's still in use for authentic straight-razor shaves are just a part of the timeless atmosphere. Most of it, McConlogue says, is the clientele.

"We get everybody from judges to guys that the judges have just sentenced. Professionals, blue-collar guys. We get the whole political spectrum, guys who are really far right, really far left. There's interesting discussions in here, sometimes kind of heated even. It really paints the whole spectrum of the community."

With Bobby Williams on the chair to his right, McConlogue's got a sidekick who also fled the same insurance company. Together, they keep an American tradition going. "It seems like barber shops are coming back a little bit," McConlogue says, "but there's a lot of them where you get the sense that they're kind of trying to celebrate something that's old but doesn't exist anymore. But we do still exist. We're not trying to be a retro or throwback thing; we're just doing what we've always done. That's rewarding to me."

"The Usual": $20

"The Unusual": also $20

Straight shave: $25

—Gabe Meline

Barber Shop, 103 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.396.8452.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Gateway

Melissa Williams, Daredevils Barbershop

Opened just 10 months ago, Daredevils Barbershop in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square has the usual accessories of vintage barber chairs, hanging clippers and a classic-looking cash register. But there's decidedly updated, ungrizzled touches as well. Instead of photos of bygone NFL stars, the walls host portraits of current pro cyclists. Instead of a shared whiskey flask from the cabinet, visitors are offered complimentary beer. Instead of baseball, it's usually softball on the flatscreen TVs, and instead of old men, young women, mostly, cut the hair.

"We have one guy! We have our token man!" jokes Melissa Williams, 30, who affirms that, yes, curmudgeonly men looking for a good ol' boys place have walked in and walked right out upon seeing a row of women at the semi-salon-like barbershop.

Williams, working a thoroughly modern style on a client's hair one recent Saturday, says the unisex salons of the '80s redefined the standard mass-produced men's cut. In some circles, barbers became thought of as hacks. "You know, we've got a reputation of doing the old military cuts, and you'd be surprised at how much the barber industry has transformed," she says. "I mean, we had to step it up."

Barbering was a family trade for Melissa Williams. Her mother, her grandfather and three of her aunts are all barbers, and she got her start in the family shop in Cotati. When Travis Kennedy, owner of the adjoining Daredevils & Queens Salon, decided to expand and open a men's barbershop, Williams was a natural fit.

In addition to the shop's embrace of the gay community, what does Williams like most about the job? Her answer mirrors even the oldest veteran of the barber pole. "I like getting to know people," she says. "I've always been social, I've always been a talker. You've got to have the gift of gab."

Haircut: $25

Straight shave: $45

—Gabe Meline

Daredevils Barbershop, 122 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.575.5123.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Napa Know-How

Leilani Slack, Bloom Creative Hair Design

When Leilani Slack took over a friend's salon on Napa's Main Street eight years ago, the perfect name came to her: Bloom. With its evocation of metamorphosis and transformation—two things that a good salon should do very well—bloom captured perfectly the positive, artistic spirit of Slack's popular salon and art gallery.

"I love working with people and seeing the transformation," explains Slack. "When they come in, they might not be in the best mood or might not be feeling the best about themselves, but doing something so simple as trimming their bangs or shampooing their hair can bring them so much."

Considering Slack's knack with scissors, it might come as a surprise to discover that the Napa native originally wanted to be an architect. But during a break from school, cosmetology school beckoned, and it was there that Slack discovered a passion for hair. "I loved it so much, there's no way that I would choose to be in another field," she says.

Twelve stylists—trained in current styles and cuts, in addition to color and keratin treatments—now work at the salon. The vibe is more artsy than chic; in fact, the rose-colored walls of the salon serve as a gallery to showcase the work of young local artists.

"It's not a typical upper-class salon where it's sterile," says Slack about the vintage feel of the space. "I feel like we're more down-to-earth. People feel really comfortable here, but it is up with the times, it's not old-fashioned. It's not a beauty parlor."

Slack's community involvement extends beyond the salon walls. This weekend, she's looking forward to her 12th annual volunteer gig at a grad night for Napa seniors, setting up a booth where kids can get wacky hairstyles to show off to their friends. "We do fun, crazy hair styles," says Slack. "We make the guys hair spiky or Mohawked—stuff that you would never be able to do in any other situation. It's a fun night."

Haircuts: $30–$65

Color services: starting at $65 —Leilani Clark

Bloom Creative Hair Design and Art Gallery, 1146 Main St., Napa. 707.251.8468.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Multiculturalist

Drea Kobus, Essence Hair Studio

One might think all salons are cut from the same cloth, but take Essence Hair Studio in Rohnert Park, a salon specializing in multicultural hairstyles, such as the basic flat press and iron, sister locks, cornrows and weaves. Here, those with hair density and texture that might be considered "difficult" by other stylists find all their needs addressed, from style to cut to color.

Drea Kobus, a stylist here since April, attended cosmetology school at Lytle's Redwood Empire Beauty College. A few months back, Michelle Kitchen, who co-owns the salon with Angela Franklin, recruited Kobus to work at Essence; with so few multicultural salons in the area, they had a large clientele and needed more stylists to keep up with demand. The clients come from diverse backgrounds and races, including African-American, Latino, Puerto Rican, Samoan, Fijian and Eritrean.

"With multicultural hair, it's almost a necessity to go to the salon to get it done," says Kobus. "To make hair manageable, you're basically going to be there every two to three weeks, depending."

At Essence, the stylists know exactly how to style thick, dense and textured hair; stylist Lucy Rangel speaks fluent Spanish; and they carry a range of products, including Mixed Chicks, which bears the tagline "Tired of defining your race instead of your curls?"

"What makes Sonoma County unique is that a lot of us actually, including myself, come from very diverse backgrounds," says Kobus, whose father is white and mother is black. "You go around and nobody knows how to do your hair. I felt like we were kind of cast aside, walking around with big, fluffy, curly hair and not knowing what to do with it.

"There's a huge need for stylists in this area to do this type of hair," adds Kobus. "This population is underserved."

Basic flat press and iron: $55 —Leilani Clark

Essence Hair Studio, 1 Padre Parkway, Ste. F, Rohnert Park. 707.670.3732.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Fifth Avenue Style

David Barnett, Brush Salon

David Barnett of Healdsburg's Brush Salon is a fourth-generation hairdresser. His U.K.-based father, great-aunt and great-great-aunt were all employed in the styling sector, and his lineage helped nudge him toward what he considers a service-oriented trade.

"My dad always talked so highly about the industry," he says. "You can meet so many amazing people and have the opportunity to get into circles you otherwise wouldn't if you weren't offering such a personal service. It opened so many so doors for me."

Those doors include New York Fashion Week, the MTV Music Awards and the 2010 Grammy awards, all of which featured Barnett's work. But following a post as the educational director at the John Barrett Salon at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, he and his wife Nicole Barnett, a former National Artist for Redken 5th Avenue, decided they'd had enough of city living. After repeated weekend trips to Healdsburg, they chose the town as their new home.

"It was really sophisticated without a boutique or high-end salon; it wasn't New York—it really just ticked all the boxes for us," Barnett recalls. "We felt confident that we could build a local clientele."

The couple's strategy was to take the rigorous customer-service standards of the area's other hospitality venues—restaurants, hotels, wineries—and apply them to hair. Along with top-notch cuts, colors and 'dos, the salon offers a host of other amenities that Barnett calls "magic ingredients," like espresso and complimentary scalp massages. So far, it seems to have worked; Barnett estimates that roughly 85 percent of Brush's clientele are locals.

Since moving to Sonoma County, the couple's other goal of starting a family has been accomplished as well. Along with a 20-month old son, they welcomed a newborn daughter into the world just last week—a potential fifth-generation hairdresser.

Haircuts: $50–$75

Color: $65–$130

—Rachel Dovey

Brush Salon, 105-C Plaza St., Healdsburg. 707.431.1400.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The Colorist

Kerri Valentine, Elle Lui

Like any good punk rocker, Kerri Valentine started dying her hair vivid and wild colors at the age of 15, even though her parents hated it. Subsequently, at the age of 23, she decided to get serious about hair, beginning as an assistant to a master colorist before attending beauty school in Napa. More than 10 years later, Valentine is a certified hair colorist at Elle Lui salon in Santa Rosa with a long roster of dedicated clients, who are her favorite part of the job. "I get to interact with clients on a one-to-one basis and meet really neat people," Valentine says.

Valentine takes her job seriously, and it shows. She passed the American Board of Certified Hair Colorists master exam on the first try (a significant percentage fail), and she teaches coloring classes to up-and-coming hair stylists. Yet she's still excited about working with clients everyday. "It's like, really, I get paid to do this?" Valentine says with a laugh, taking a break between appointments on a Friday afternoon at the bustling Railroad Square salon.

With her tattooed arms and sleek, black bob, Valentine looks like she could be in a band. Music, not to mention musicians' style, is a big inspiration when it comes to creative hair color. "I feel inspired by DIY stuff," says Valentine. "Sometimes, when you don't have boundaries, you can do whatever you want and that gets me thinking, 'Wow, I never thought of that!'"

With coloring, finding the right tones for each individual person while figuring out exactly what will make the client happy is key. Valentine's face lights up when she describes working with people, learning their life stories and seeing them walk out of the salon happy. "Communication is a really big part of it," she adds.

In the end, Valentine's approach is all about joyful creativity mixed with expert knowledge. "As much as you can imagine," she says, "you can do."

Haircuts: starting at $50

Coloring: starting at $60

—Leilani Clark

Elle Lui, 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 707.575.1474.


click to enlarge SARA SANGER

The High End

Yureesh Hooker, diPietro Todd

On the outside, diPietro Todd might seem intimidating with its upscale design and stylists, but in reality the clientele runs the gamut from schoolteacher to world-renowned artists, says Yureesh Hooker, stylist at the Mill Valley salon for the past eight years.

"There's not a type of client that I don't get here," explains the New York transplant. "It's definitely not about a snooty attitude."

Hooker is a perfect example of diPietro's embrace of the creative mindset. He spent part of the early '90s drumming in the Casualities, a hardcore East Coast punk band whose fruit-colored Mohawks could be pegged as his inspiration to eventually style hair, but Hooker maintins it was his training as a graphic artist and illustrator that eventually led to his vocation.

After moving to California, Hooker began work as an assistant at diPietro Todd in San Francisco, followed by study in the salon's world-class development workshop, essentially a graduate program for hairdressing. Soon, the freshly trained stylist was placed in Mill Valley, where he has built up a strong clientele. Hooker eventually became an instructor at the diPietro Todd academy for continuing education, a role that he relishes since it keeps him in a fresh approach. "I love it, I'm constantly inspired," says Hooker.

When asked what he enjoys most about the work, he talks about the lost ability to make connections in society. "In a world where everybody's emailing and texting, I think the value of sitting down with another human being for an hour straight, person-to-person, is becoming more rare and more special," explains Hooker. "To me, that's become even more essential for us as human beings as time progresses. The job I have is particularly unique in that regard. I'm a part of that move toward connection, and not a part of people growing apart."

Cut and style: starting at $85

Coloring: starting at $90

—Leilani Clark

diPietro Todd, 250 Camino Alto, Second Floor, Mill Valley. 415.388.0250.

  • From buzz to snip, from follicle to tip, meet the North Bay's hair experts

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