Thursday, March 7, 2013

Power Beauty Salons Become a Networking Opportunity

The New Seats of Power

Joshua Bright for The New York Times

At La Boite a Coupe, the owner and stylist Laurent DeLouya, standing, with Kenneth Lerer, a founder of The Huffington Post.
On a recent Monday, Gary Ginsberg, a senior executive at Time Warner, walked into an unremarkable office building on the corner of 57th Street and Sixth Avenue and took the elevator to the eighth floor, entering a windowless door for a 2 p.m. appointment. A couple of hours later, Kenneth Lerer, a founder of The Huffington Post, followed.

They were there not for some mysterious media convention, but to see Laurent DeLouya, the amiable proprietor of a hair salon that over 50 years has amassed a following that is kind of a cultural Core Club. It includes the playwright David Mamet; Peter Martins, the New York City Ballet’s ballet master in chief; Richard Plepler, HBO’s chief executive; and Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner’s chief executive. 

Mr. DeLouya, a native of Casablanca, Morocco, who grew up in Paris, began cutting hair at 14 before moving to Manhattan when he was 22 to work in salons including the reputable but now defunct Cinandre. He eventually opened his own operation, La Boite a Coupe, in 1977 out of his father’s clothing shop on West 55th Street. 

“I’d walk over hot coals for Laurent,” said Mr. Lerer, who has been Mr. DeLouya’s client for nearly 40 years and followed him through several relocations around the city, including to this one in 2011, a four-chair establishment with a simple manicure-pedicure station and a couple of hamsas for d├ęcor. He considers Mr. DeLouya practically family and has brought his own to the salon, including his son, Benjamin Lerer, a founder of the Web site Thrillist, for his first haircut at age 3. 

Although he highlighted the barber’s skill (Mr. Martins called Mr. DeLouya “an artist”), Mr. Lerer said he kept going back because “it’s one of the few places in the world that I can get away.” 

“Laurent has a calming presence and personality,” said Mr. Lerer, who prefers to go when the salon is empty. “He’s a wise man who you can talk to and you know it never goes beyond him. He’s a total mensch.” 

While Mr. Lerer prefers the escape, for many other clients, Mr. DeLouya is a kind of ringmaster. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people through Laurent,” said Kenneth Zimmerman, a fashion consultant and a client since 1971. “If I come in complaining about how I’m having a real headache, maybe with some lawyer who’s giving me trouble, Laurent will say, ‘Let me call a couple lawyer guys I know.’ And then wow, you look at the two names and those guys are big shots.” 

There was a time when power lunches or breakfasts were where deals got done in New York, but with expense accounts dwindling and everyone on a different diet, don’t count out the hair salon as a crucial networking site, the very opposite of the online kind. 

Fern Mallis, the consultant who built her name at IMG Fashion, has been spending “quality time” at Stephen Knoll salon on Madison Avenue, where she has had her coif cut and colored for over 15 years. 

“When you go to certain salons, you have this trust because it’s like everyone has the same point of view,” she said of the scene, which can include the clients Ian Schrager, Cindy Crawford and Maria Shriver. Ms. Mallis often runs into fellow fashion industry clients, but also “people you can’t get on the phone sometimes,” she said, adding: “You can send hundreds of text messages or Facebook all you want, but nothing is better than seeing somebody eye to eye. It short-circuits things. Instead of e-mails, it’s like: ‘Let’s talk. Give me your number,’ or ‘I have a project I want to talk to you about.’ ” 

Indeed, according to Lisa Pomerantz, the senior vice president for global communications and marketing at Michael Kors, certain salons have emerged as important forums precisely because everything else has gone virtual. 

Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

“It’s one of the few things you can’t do online,” Ms. Pomerantz said of hair maintenance. Like Candice Bergen, Christie Brinkley and the Spanx founder Sara Blakely, she both colors and schmoozes at Sharon Dorram on the Upper East Side. Another longtime client of Ms. Dorram’s, the jewelry designer Carol Brodie, said the colorist (whose intimate shop is within the Uptown location of the larger Sally Hershberger chain) is especially attuned to movers and shakers, for whom she’ll direct impromptu introductions and even arrange salon seating to foster connections. “Sharon can do the suburban blonde and Park Avenue blonde — so you do have those girls in the room — but she gravitates to certain people,” Ms. Brodie said. “She loves the power blonde. So you’re going to get the editors and business people.” 

Ms. Pomerantz said, “She understands how valuable an exchange is.” 

 Enough so that Ms. Brodie, who formerly worked in public relations at Harry Winston, says Ms. Dorram played a key role in getting her line Rarities: Fine Jewelry on HSN off the ground. If certain celebrity agents and retail rainmakers were mid-appointments, “Sharon would literally call me and say you need to be here right now,” Ms. Brodie said. 

Ms. Dorram seems to relish her role as queen bee of this hive. “There is something about New York women,” said Ms. Dorram, who has worked previously in Los Angeles and London and says that she found clients there fickle or closed off. “Once you’re within this inner circle of powerhouse women, we share and give and look out for each other.” 

While Ms. Dorram may actively link alliances, others are subtler. After 21 years in business, Mr. Knoll himself provided introductions (“I give out all sorts of recommendations, from a plastic surgeon or dermatologist to travel suggestions,” he said), but as a policy, only when asked. 

As for Mr. DeLouya, “If I see two people and I think I can help, I’ll introduce them,” he said with a shrug. But, he pointed out, “my clients come to see me.” 
Though barbershops and beauty parlors, to use the old-fashioned parlance, have been networking hubs for decades, it’s not clear if a generation raised with their noses in their smartphones will find them as useful. At Michael Angelo’s Wonderland Beauty Parlor, the archly named pink palace of hair in the meatpacking district, a litter of models and young actresses like Brooklyn Decker, whom Mr. Angelo took from blond to brunette in October, often chat in the chairs. 

Overt back-scratching is frowned upon. “We have a much softer touch than the Uptown salons in general,” Mr. Angelo said. “I’d never strategize an introduction. It feels so mercenary.” 

“But there is a bit of magic that happens from time to time when the right folks happen to be here at the same time,” he said. “I’ve seen love, careers and even pet adoptions blossom because of kismet.” 

This being New York, kismet, assisted or by association, comes at a price. A men’s cut with Mr. DeLouya costs $125, if you can get an appointment, while a shearing by Mr. Knoll costs $450 for women and $235 for men. Nor is coloring any bargain. Mr. Angelo’s services start at $200 for a single process, and Ms. Dorram’s clients pay $300 and above for their flaxen highlights. 

Ask the clients, though, and they’ll tell you the experience is worth it. 

“Sharon is not just a colorist,” Ms. Brodie said. “When you’re in her world, you get authenticity and friendship. It’s never a contrived meeting. It’s like dominoes: one good thing after another can happen.” 

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