Weekly Ritual : An Early '90s Trend Could Be a Return to the Salons, for Styling and Relaxation

ONCE A WEEK, like clockwork, a Hollywood press agent leaves her bustling office, climbs into her BMW and heads for a standing appointment with her hairdresser at Los Angeles' Elle salon. One hour and $30 later, her unruly mane has been tamed--stylist Justin Suh has spritzed it with just enough lacquer to keep it from frizzing--and she is on her way back to work.

This is hardly a scene from "Steel Magnolias," in which the wash-and-set hour is as much coffee klatch as hair care. Today's once-a-week clients don't book time for hobnobbing. Most are in the salon for one of two reasons: to save time by letting a professional dress their tresses or, simply, to relax.

After 20 years of wash 'n' wear haircuts, salons throughout Southern California are reporting a new trend: Working women are making weekly beauty pilgrimages, just the way their mothers did in the 1950s.

And women with hard-to-manage hair say that going to the salon often saves time. "I would spend 30 minutes a day trying to get it to look decent--and I can't do it as well as Justin does," the press agent says. Adds one Beverly Hills-based journalist who also pays $30 to have her curly brown hair smoothed into soft waves: "If I were really rich, I'd go twice a week--the time I save is worth the price."

Semiweekly appointments--that's the hair secret of many celebrity clients, says Hugh York, whose inconspicuous Sunset Boulevard salon has a back entrance for publicity-shy customers.

Hair is a major part of stars' images, he says. "They're seen, so their hair is seen. It has to look good, so they come in frequently."

At York's salon, some clients will pay their $45 bill and leave with wet hair. They're so busy, he says, they have no time to have their hair dried. But even a 30-minute visit can be relaxing, York says. "Many of my clients are working women who don't find time to relax during the day, so they come in just to have a half-hour shampoo, condition and scalp massage. They want the pampering," he says.

W. Denis Hand, editor-in-chief of Salon Biz, a trade journal, says salons are emphasizing the stress-reduction aspects of regular hair care--and increasing their standing-appointment business because of it.

Once-a-week hair care may have physical benefits, too, says Michael Bernstein of Beverly Hills, who specializes in the health of hair. "Washing less frequently and exposing the scalp to less intense heat from the dryer will help control oil production and keep the hair from drying out," Bernstein says.

At the Umberto Salon in Beverly Hills, owner Umberto Savone says his weekly clients are typically either socialites or working women, all heavily scheduled. "They don't have much time to waste, so many of them come in for simultaneous hair styling, makeup, pedicure and manicure," Savone says. Such clients are often ushered into one of three private suites in the two-story salon, where three beauty specialists zero in on hair, fingers and toes. When the hair is near completion, a makeup artist takes over. As the stylist puts the final touches on the hair, less than 90 minutes have passed, and a $125 bill has accrued.

The standing appointment is not only available at pricey salons, however. For $15, Marianna Lucido of Lucido's Hair and Image Design in West Los Angeles provides a head massage, wash and blow-dry.

Nor is the trend limited to the Westside. Newport Beach's Hampton Salon and Orange's Orange Hills Hair Co. all report that 20% to 40% of their clients are now on a seven-day hair-care cycle. Ditto at Papillons in Studio City and Flora Hills in Corona del Mar.

Many of the weekly clients at the Lemaire Hair salon on Robertson Boulevard are asking that their hair be set on rollers again--not to achieve the structured styles of the '50s and early '60s but rather to create full, natural-looking hairdos with softer curls and waves than can be achieved with brush, blower and perm.

Does this trend signal the end of the minimum-maintenance hair that Vidal Sassoon introduced in the early '60s? No way, says Jackie Summers, executive editor of Modern Salon, a trade journal for stylists. "Weekly appointments aren't something most women under 35 can afford, so they still want low-upkeep styles," she says. "But for women over 35 in Southern California, the pampering aspect is reason enough--the hairstyle doesn't figure into it." However, as more women return to the salon for relaxing, time-saving service, complex styles may be easier to accept. And that may result in yet another trend of the '90s.

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