A Cowboy cut

Special to The Times

Dec. 22, 2003, 3:45 p.m., Borders Books & Music, Hollywood -- A striking scissors-toting man in a cowboy hat is escorted out of the ladies’ room by two bookstore employees. An attractive brunet in her 20s, clad in a black salon cape, trails sheepishly behind him. Guerrilla hairdresser Kanu Saul has once again been busted. The only evidence he leaves behind is a small, neat pile of locks on the bathroom floor.

An odd scenario to most, it is commonplace for the 35-year-old stealth stylist and his ad hoc clientele. Referred to by some Hollywood locals as “The Hair Cowboy,” the “Homeless Haircutter” and “The Picasso of Haircutters,” Saul politely approaches people in bookstores, restaurants, bars, clubs and on the street offering to cut their hair on the spot for $20. He’s got more charm than training -- he apprenticed for a hairdresser in Zimbabwe at age 16 -- but he persuades plenty of people to take a chance. “He’s good-looking. He’s got these piercing eyes and he knows style,” says Annie Shirinian, a client he met at the Pig ‘n Whistle restaurant in Hollywood.

Saul carries his own cape and makes his volunteers stand for the duration of the dry cut (anywhere from seven minutes to three hours). Unlike traditional stylists, he does not trim straight across. As his client holds still he pulls hard in the direction of hair growth and snips at an angle using the lines of the face as a compass. Little hair comes off but the hairdo appears healthier and more stylized. “It’s an interactive cut in that I can’t get it without the person holding strong,” Saul explains.


Exiled to the street outside Borders, the toffee-skinned Saul coaches his latest client to do just that, as if he were chanting a mantra: “Hold strong! Hold strong!” He approached 25-year-old actress Jessica Kate Meyer (“The Pianist”) while she was sitting with a friend in the bookstore cafe. She hesitated at first but now she is standing in the middle of a courtyard in a cape getting a haircut, as well as incredulous stares. “I feel like we’re rebels fighting for our right to have haircuts outside,” she jokes.

Other celebrities have fallen prey to Saul’s endearing persona as well. He boasts that he once cut the hair of one of the musicians in the Rembrandts (of “Friends” TV theme fame). He also recounts being summoned for his services to the home of shaggy-haired rocker Marky Ramone (of the Ramones) by the drummer’s wife.

He had initially approached “Mrs. Ramone” at the Highlands club in Hollywood. He has been known to corral customers at other nightspots such as Ivar and Star Shoes. One bartender at the latter admits, “He gets us into trouble sometimes because he’s doing it in the bathroom when it’s busy.” She recalls having had to clear the small lavatory on one occasion as four women crammed inside to wait for Saul to cut their hair.

“Cutting hair has opened a lot of doors,” says Saul, who admits that his true calling is acting. “I’ve met so many different genres of people here in L.A., everywhere.”

Born in New York to an interracial couple, he has lived and cut in South Africa, Germany and France. In the latter, says Saul, “I played a musician in a popular television show called ‘Helen and the Boys.’ ” He apparently managed to squeeze in some haircuts for cast members, and to do a little modeling for clothing designer Jean-Paul Gaultier to boot. “I came back to New York [in 2001] and I went from being a star in France to being nothing,” he says, dejected.

Eventually he returned to cutting hair. It was in Washington Square Park that he first tried his special technique. He describes the scene: the client’s waist-length tresses blowing in the wind, like some urban Botticelli painting. A year later, Saul moved to Los Angeles, where his capricious cuts suit the city’s pie-in-the-sky fantasies. “I don’t want to be a mommy anymore,” says 29-year-old Setta Casillas, as he chops her hair in the private bathroom of Pig ‘n Whistle. “Make me a rock star!”


Like some “Midnight Cowboy,” Saul came to L.A. with a knock-’em-dead smile and lofty dreams. Still, some might prefer that he wake up from his contagious reverie. Rick Lopes, a spokesman for the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, seems intent on seeing Saul get a license.

“There are some serious health, safety and sanitation concerns here. If we have to take actions to get him to stop, we’ll do that,” he admonishes. But even urban cowboys need sheriffs. They make the fight worth fighting.


Kanu Saul

Nicknames: “The Hair Cowboy,” “Homeless Haircutter”

Rumor: Madonna wrote “Beautiful Stranger” about him.

Numbers: He charges $20 for an on-the-spot cut, $100 by appointment.

Haunts: Ivar, Star Shoes, Borders Books & Music in Hollywood, the Burgundy Room, Melrose Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard between Ivar and Cahuenga

Contact: (212) 502-1164