Hair To A Fortune...

The Sun Herald

Saturday August 21, 1993

Deborah Tarrant

AT 9am on a mid-week day in Joh Bailey's chandeliered hairdressing salon, upstairs in Double Bay, magazine publisher Ita Buttrose was gazing into an elaborately etched mirror as her blonde hair was generously teased and combed to distinction.

In the next cerise taffeta chair but one, Vogue's Karin Upton Baker was having her mid-brown locks tended by the ineffably charming, chatty Bailey, while she mused over life's essentials-the possibility of a very long fringe, poached salmon for lunch and an evening fashion show.

She would finish with Bailey's latest signature look-"long, glamorous, not hairdressed". Well, not much.

Immersed in the detail of their own mirror images, the noteworthy Bailey clients failed to exchange pleasantries with each other on departure. It was, after all, just another day and one expects to see somebodies in Bailey's.

And in places where there are somebodies and Somebodies, selective myopia is a known affliction. These are the ways.

"The thing I hate most is when people start fighting over me. You know, 'I should be done first because I'm more important than you'," lamented Bailey, who has learned discretion is the better part of hairdressing, although happily this had not been the case with the above.

In the past decade Joh Bailey, 31, a compact Adonis with wit, who understands parties are a natural part of life, has emerged as the celebrity hairdresser, latest in a long list with names which have included Xenon, John Adams (to whom he was originally apprenticed), Lloyd Lomas (with whom he finished his apprenticeship and eight months later left behind), Caralyn Taylor and Edward Beale.

Bailey tames and tussles the locks of Elle Macpherson when she's about and has been close to the scalps of the Duchess of York, Joan Collins and Rachel Hunter. For a magazine shoot, Annita Keating was made over with straight hair by Joh and social page habitues Harry Miller, Deborah Hutton and Amana Finley are also regularly reflected in his mirrors.

Barry Humphries is memorably shorn by Bailey, while Dame Edna has used his services to rearrange wigs on location. "You have to talk to Dame Edna about her wig rather than Barry. When he's got the wig on he's Dame Edna and when he hasn't he's Barry and he refers to Dame Edna as another person."

Bailey and society couturier Jonathan Ward have become the double act at major weddings and social events around the country. Like perming lotion in the eye of his Victorian counterparts, the Pratts and the Smorgons of Melbourne flew Bailey in for big family weddings. This hairdresser is flown to Hong Kong and the US by women on business trips-testament to his talent and an easy personality.

And on the big dates of the Sydney social calendar, Bailey's salon is a-twitter.

"A lot of my clients know each other. They come in and they say 'What did SHE have? What's SHE doing? I don't want what SHE'S having or how dare you do HER hair like that when you knew that's how I wanted MINE."

(Not a problem, apparently with last week's Royal Sydney Golf Club centenary, where Bailey observed that almost to a woman the guests went uniformly straight, blonde, shoulder-length, establishment).

"I actually don't know what it is that I do that is so attractive to people," he said, bemused. "It's just a gift that comes out of me, if you know what I mean."

The frequently-photographed David Jones publicist Skye Macleod, who has been a client then a friend for six years, suggests his honesty is crucial.

"He knows what you want or should want and he's not afraid to say what he thinks. He's great fun and absolutely divine to look at.

"The first time I saw him I couldn't believe anybody could be so good-looking. Women just drool. My 72-year-old mother was bowled over. He's very manly and very sexy."

The equally photographed Amana Finley pinpoints his eagerness to accommodate the needs of the socially frantic.

"Nothing is ever too much trouble for Joh. He started young and determined to establish himself and has worked very hard. He comes to your house, comes out on Sunday nights. He does his job 140 per cent. He says 'It's bad for me if your hair isn't looking good'."

HOWEVER, in the respite that comes after "the working girls" appointments and before the ladies who lunch, the lunchtime lull and the afternoon madness, the hairdresser to the fabulously famous settled in an alcove in the 21 cafe, pondered whether 10am was too early to eat chicken and explained that becoming fabulously famous himself was no happenchance.

"I actively headhunt people. I've really pushed myself on the party circuit and I pick people up, if you know what I mean, in a non-sexual way. I say 'I could make you look better'. I don't tell them they look shocking now. Then I get involved in other ways. It becomes more personal and I see more of them."

The grievous hazard of running arguably Australia's most fashionable hairdressing establishment, he suggested, was "keeping the wives and mistresses out of the salon at the same time".

"It's quite common. I've had some disasters. They've all left in one piece, but then you get the phone call. 'It's either her or me'. I say 'Well, look, I can't work out where your husband puts it. It's up to him'. But you're expected to know and you have to try to keep them apart.

"And you must be very careful what you say to each and tell them about the other."

Bailey punctuates his conversation with a slightly maniacal laugh as if regarding his world with detached amusement. It's a precarious line he treads daily as a gossip monger.

"Because they tell you things, they expect to hear something back. If you let out too much you lose the client who told you.

"It's like a soap opera because I see a lot of my clients more than once a week. You keep hearing the next instalment. And you hear plenty you'd rather not hear."

Tact is the all-pervading essential, it seems.

"I advise clients against their wishes all the time. If they're adamant about how they want to look, I'll do it or probably compromise.

"I wouldn't make somebody look hideous, ever. I'd rather put my foot down. Sometimes people are happy with the way they look, even though others may think they're a bit silly.

"I've been abused and I offer to fix it, but usually it's by unhappy people, the sort who go out for dinner and are offside with the waiter before the first course. They go to hairdressers, too |"

In 1985, Bailey, a grand junior who never wanted to wash hair or sweep floors, left Lloyd Lomas, his nearest rival down the road, to set up business with a client, Marilyn Koch (as equal partner), in a room with one assistant above a Double Bay shop.

The business took off primarily by word of mouth and due to Joh's allure. "I'm very ambitious. There was no doubt that this salon would be the best."

Today in larger, more glamourous circumstances, they employ 20 (including 12 other hairdressers) and will expand with a city salon and one in Melbourne later this year.

This will remove the ball-and-chain effect which Bailey, who colours, cuts and teases six days a week, finds the downside of popularity, necessitating regular respites in Hawaii.

No longer a driver after his last three cars met "sticky ends", he lives in a reportedly palatial penthouse with chandeliers and chintz where he entertains and parties.

THOUGH Double Bay is not what it used to be - "there's absolutely nothing to buy here anymore," he exaggerated wildly, "just hairdressers, restaurants and florists" - his business with his personal rate of $55 for a cut and blow-dry has never waned.

"People who used to spend $2,000 on a dress are having their hair thrown up for a new look for the night instead; although we're certainly not doing the big events we used to."

Such is life for the boy from Beecroft, graduate of James Ruse Agricultural High School who never wanted to study again after school.

"The HSC nearly killed me," he moaned. "I suppose I leaned towards the fashion industry. I decided to become a hairdresser one day when I had the paper spread out in front of me and I saw an ad.

"My family could never work out how I got from wool science to hairdressing.

"I think looks are really important, the most important.

"I'm a very visual person and you can't deny that beautiful people have the edge, don't they? Not that it makes you a winner but it certainly helps," said the chameleon, who may metamorphose from today's conservative in Ralph Lauren tie, navy trousers and crisp white shirt into tomorrow's rock star facsimile in "leather and danglies".

Asked who he admired, Bailey, who sits in international hotel lobbies watching the rich and fashionable, unfalteringly and unabashedly named Ivana Trump.

Why? "I like people who scratch and claw their way to the top like that,"he said, seriously. "People with guts who dress the way she does. I'm not saying it's a great look, but I like her ballsiness."

Insisting he enjoys the trappings business has brought but his true satisfaction is in making someone beautiful - "I love weddings because it's the day women look their absolute best" - he could hardly be accused of artistic pretentiousness.

"I'm not arty at all. As far as the arts go, I tolerate them. I'm more facile that artistic. I like glamour," he cooed. That was plain.

© 1993 The Sun Herald

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