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October 29th, 2003 Elizabeth Dye | Fashion
 

A Cut Above

New niche salons prove less is more.

     
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If you're at all follicle-forward, you've probably noticed Portland's recent salon boom.

Now, it's not so much that there's been a spike in the quantity of local hair haciendas. I'm talking about the all-out war for supremacy among our city's uber-cool, architect-designed salons, where black-uniformed stylists alternately badger ("You cut your own hair? Well, only this $60 egg-yolk serum will make it grow again!") and pamper clients with a surfeit of services and perks.

It seems it's no longer enough to get a trim on your lunch hour anymore. Now nothing less than lymphatic drainage, a coriander cuticle massage, and a glass of chilled Chardonnay will do.

If all this fashionable fuss makes you want to run straight to your corner Supercuts, I'm here to tell you about two salons that still embrace the basics of beauty.

The Parlor is anything but posh--and that's part of its appeal. Located in an airy studio in an industrial Southeast building, it's owned and operated by Bianca Grace. The centerpiece is a '60s era bamboo styling chair (salvaged by a Division Street vintage store), and the rest of the decor follows its lead. Slatted shades and potted palms screen the ample sunlight; a nubby red sofa slumps casually along one wall. Just like at a lot of other salons, you can get a glass of wine and an earful of music. But you're more likely to hear Adam Ant or Jacques Brel than 21st-century techno. "I don't think I own any music made after 1990," Grace jokes.

Still, the Parlor is something better than cool--it is comfortable. A former punk rocker who shaved many a mohawk before going to her first "real" stylist in her mid-20s, Grace is something of a maverick in the salon world.

"I never wanted to be the 'typical hairdresser' with five colors in my hair and leopard everything," says Grace. "I've worked in salons where everyone gabs about how hard they partied the night before. It wasn't for me."

Instead, Grace's shop is a refuge where one-on-one attention and reasonable rates ($20 to $25 for a haircut) rule. It's even quiet--if you don't count the trains barreling past the windows.

At the other end of the brush is Celeste Trapp's HairM Grooming Salon. HairM is more exclusive--50 percent more, to be exact, as it's Portland's first men-only modern salon. But banish those visions of a barbershop full of stag magazines and Spike TV broadcasts.

Even though it sounds like a haircutting version of Hooters, HairM is all class.

The salon recently settled into its new Waterfront digs in a former nightclub. Designing the reception area as a bar (serving draft beer and wine), Trapp has also suspended satellite televisions at each station to display can't-miss sporting events. And yes, there are men's magazines to flip through at this stripper-ish-sounding salon--but nothing spicier than Maxim.

"Almost all salons target women, with their decor, their atmosphere and their services," says the 32-year-old Trapp, a former vice president of business development for a marketing agency. "The environment just isn't appealing or comfortable for most men."

HairM, by contrast, is styled in moody neutrals, with exposed brick walls, floors varnished to a Brazil-nut brown, masculine glass and chrome accents. Private rooms for nail and waxing services, including a red-and-gold curtained booth for pedicures, keep the more intimate grooming rituals private from prying eyes. The products available for sale--Paul Mitchell's Tea Tree line, eShave creams and salves, Nioxin shampoos--are decidedly male in focus and formula (hair loss, anyone?).

"We'll tell our clients if we can see scalp," says Trapp, in contrast to the darling-you-look-fabulous drool you get at many high-concept salons. "We want to build real relationships with the men who come in here. This place is about teaching men the value of pampering and caring for themselves."

But what's being touted as a new idea is really a return to an old one.

Taking a page from one of the many men's mags placed all over the salon, Trapp puts her place into sharp focus: "What we're calling the 'metrosexual' today is what they used to call a gentleman."

And if a gentleman's coiffure parlor can thrive in Portland, could the return of sanity and civility to salon life be far behind? Don't count your egg yolks 'til they hatch.


The Parlor

107 SE Washington St., Suite 202A, 445-4997.

HairM

818 SW 1st Ave., 226-6066, www.hairMgrooming.com .

The King's Cut comes complete with a neck rub, steam towel facial, scalp massage, shampoo, cut, style and razor trim for $35.

 
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