Friday, November 9, 2012

Hair Stylists Relocate Uptown After Hurricane

A MANHATTAN woman and her blow dryer are not easily parted.

It was Oct. 30, the day after Hurricane Sandy blew through the region, and Matt Fugate, a stylist at Sally Hershberger on West 14th Street, found that not only had the salon been shuttered because of the power failure, but his clients were anxiously trying to reach him on Facebook. In messages and posts, they pleaded: could he somehow squeeze them in for a quick trim? 



Blow, a blow-dry bar on West 14th Street, was closed by the power failure.
Credit: Erin Baiano for The New York Times


There was no electricity to power anything south of 34th Street, let alone the amp-sucking hair dryers and flatirons that have become part of the 21st-century urbanite’s arsenal, so Mr. Fugate invited the restless clients to his apartment near 100th Street on the Upper West Side. By midday, his bathroom was crowded with women who paid as much as $200 for a cut, some accompanied by boyfriends who camped out in the living room, charging their laptops. One client even popped the cork on a bottle of wine. 

“It was a party,” Mr. Fugate said. “The Upper West Side had become hip. I’ve never seen so many skinny jeans and biker boots up here.” 

While many people were surveying the damage done to their houses last week, a privileged few of the fashionable downtown crowd were fussing over who would coif their locks. 

Jennifer Fuller, who lives on the Lower East Side, has been seeing Mr. Fugate for two years and said she usually had to beg him to squeeze her in at the salon. “I’m incredibly loyal to Matt and wouldn’t dream of going someplace else,” said Ms. Fuller, 29, who works for Butter Beans, a company that makes healthy school lunches, and was thrilled to learn of his availability. “Why not take advantage and do something for myself?” 

Other salons, like Frédéric Fekkai, let downtown stylists set up shop at their uptown locations. And on Sunday and Monday, Bumble and bumble opened its Upper East Side studio (usually closed those days), specifically to tend to displaced habitués of the company’s 13th Street salon. 

“People are totally desperate,” said Eric Mancuso, the salon manager at Fekkai’s flagship salon at Henri Bendel. “It has been a challenge to accommodate them all.” 

Erin Baiano for The New York Times
Matt Fugate, a stylist at Sally Hershberger downtown, working in his uptown apartment as others took advantage of the working electricity.
“Desperate” is a relative term. But while much of Manhattan stayed home (or decamped to the apartments of charitable friends and family) after the hurricane hit, many uptown cultural institutions were back to normal operations by midweek. 

As a result, working stylists were forced to play catch-up with eager customers who still had plans to go out. Carrie Hill, who works at Bumble and bumble on East 56th Street, said nearly half the people she saw in the past week were clients from Bumble’s downtown salon, including three men on Saturday morning. “Our male clients are particular about their hair,” Ms. Hill said. “They are looking for a specific haircut. It was a bit of a challenge.” 

Several people who had rushed to have their hair done were reluctant to discuss it with a reporter, worried that they would seem superficial. But there seemed an obvious self-soothing element, as well as a sociable one, in returning to the normal grooming ritual. 

At Fekkai’s Henri Bendel salon, Mr. Mancuso said stylists there had a 25 percent increase in business from Wednesday to Thursday of last week, many of the new customers being from downtown salons or tourists forced to spend extra days because they missed their flights. They also had a 15 percent increase in people asking for manicures and pedicures, Mr. Mancuso added. “I think people were so crazy from being cooped up in their apartments doing nothing,” he said. 

That salon, as well as the Fekkai studio in the Mark Hotel, which has a loyal local clientele, also made room for the company’s SoHo stylists who needed to see their clients. And some made house calls, Mr. Mancuso said. 

Many salons struggled to reach clients after power and cellphone service were knocked out, and resorted to updates on Twitter or Facebook. At Butterfly Studio, a chic salon on Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron district, managers could not access their database to see which clients had scheduled appointments. Adlin Palencia, Butterfly’s general manager, said the salon was forced to send daily e-mail status updates to its 4,000 customers instead. “We didn’t want to be insensitive,” she said. “Some people might not think hair was that important right now. But all we had was e-mail.” 

Indeed some clients chafed at the daily e-mails (some of which were quite effusive) and have opted out of receiving them entirely, Ms. Palencia said. And with a closed salon (Butterfly stylists, many of whom had left their scissors at their stations, were barred from entering), customers sought help at rivals. “One client called and said she booked elsewhere,” Ms. Palencia said. “She felt bad, but what else could she do?” 

The biggest losers, though, seemed to be the blow-and-go salons that have proliferated downtown in recent years, specializing in cheap blowouts. Alli Webb, the founder of Drybar salons, which offer a $40 blowout and see as many as 100 clients a day, said her company’s stylists in New York City could not see clients last week. Not only were the company’s Manhattan salons closed because of Hurricane Sandy, but even if they had remained open, many of Drybar’s stylists do not live there and could not have gotten to work, Ms. Webb added. At one point, Drybar considered sending stylists to clients’ homes. “But it was difficult to get around the city,” she said. “What used to take 20 minutes was now two hours.” 

But Mr. Fugate turned the transportation foul-ups into a kind of reverse house call. On Halloween, two days after Hurricane Sandy landed, a friend who had stayed at his apartment the night before offered to drive downtown clients to Mr. Fugate’s apartment uptown, free. Several happily agreed. 

“He brought them to me,” Mr. Fugate said with a laugh. “It doesn’t get better than that.”



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