Style counsel

Three local shops treat hair like an artistic medium. Why settle for less?

I DON'T THINK PACKING is the worst thing about moving somewhere new. It's not even so bad trying to get friends to take the ratty card table and nasty dresser with one drawer handle missing. To me, the crappiest aspect of the geographical heave-ho is leaving behind someone you spent years, maybe even a lifetime, searching for: your hairdresser. If you can't find a good one in your new hometown, perhaps it's an omen that you shoulda stayed put.

As a rule, dentists and gynecologists can come and go. Really, it's not hard to find someone to capably use modern technological advances in whitening, and damn if my female doc doesn't make her office visit fee simply by agreeing to see me for roughly 10 minutes once a year. But as anyone who uproots can probably tell you, it can take five, maybe even 10 years to find a hairstylist who leaves you feeling like a hundred bucks instead of a two-dollar lot lizard. Move once every two years and it's a challenge just to find someone who remembers to shave that birdlike down off the back of your neck.

Salon Samsara at The Fenix

315 Second Ave S, 625-0507

Spin's

5415 Meridian Ave N, 547-9667

Scream

819 E Thomas at Broadway, 861-8468

When I first moved to Seattle, I was the worst kind of broke—broke and vain. Desperately in need of a cut and some highlights, I booked an appointment at a popular franchise's training salon. Six hours and two parking tickets later, I emerged looking faster, dumber, blonder, like a bored Louisiana high school student. From there I began the transplant's hit-or-miss search for style. This is not to imply I needed a slice of Soho and a fancy Neapolitan-ice-cream collection of dye. I just wanted to stop paying $40 for haircuts that my roommate could have easily done at home with his Jethro-style clippers. Pretty soon, I was having my roommate clip my now-forlorn Dorothy Hamill bob with his backwoods attachments (sometimes they were so dull they would pluck, rather than cut, the hair). A nice gesture, but it was time to continue the search.

I spent the next two years in and out of Rudy's, Supercuts, and various ghetto setups in friends' apartments. I answered by lowering my standards: No more bleach, no more color, no more fancy angles. I gave my hair no more thought than whether or not it was time to buy a new kitchen sponge. And it was all fine, just fine. But I'd never joyously yelped at my own reflection until last month, when I found a superstar hair stylist who did something to my hair I never thought could happen—she actually made me claim it as part of my own body. I can't tell you who she is, because I want her to myself. But here are three cutting-edge hair shops that are taking Seattle's oft-unforgiving options and giving 'em a good ol' Bellevue bitch slap.

SALON SAMSARA WAS launched about a year ago by self-proclaimed style divas Chris Springer and Artemis. A small parlor tucked in the lower level of the Pioneer Square club the Fenix, Samsara's hours are more conducive to the working stiff. Open from 6pm until "late" (Springer says she's often snipping well past the club's closing time of 2am), it ends those days of sneaking out of the office at lunchtime or rushing to make the last call at an overcrowded shop. When I walk into the Fenix's bar to meet Springer, she waves hello and asks, "Do you want a cocktail or some espresso?" Hell, yeah. She puts a hot Americano in my hands and leads me down the stairs to her shop, where the first positive sign is a stack of alternative arts and culture magazines. "I refuse to carry women's magazines," she explains. "They're so cheesy."

A tall woman with dark-purple-and-black ponytails, Springer moves gracefully in her tiny quarters. As she's washing my hair, she explains that she can't take walk-in appointments because she had some problems with drunken frat boys wandering in during shows at the club. She works a long schedule; some nights, she books private parties (Amazon.com is a frequent client), others, she's doing makeovers for band photo shoots or fashion shows. In her spare time, she's a comic book artist, and a love for electric blue and fire-engine-red inks shows in her portfolio. With garage rock fuming from her stereo, she puts me in the chair and proceeds to meticulously balance a lifetime's worth of layering, chunking, and growout. "Do you mind if I take some of the straight edges out?" she inquires. Exactly what I was hoping for. While she's combing and thinning my rancid edges, her phone rings repeatedly. As Seattle's first late-night salon, Samsara is filling a void for people wanting bleach jobs at 5 o'clock on a Friday night. For me, it feels like I'm in my favorite bar, only I'm starting to look better instead of worse as the night wears on.

NEXT STOP IS SPIN'S, a youthful barber shop in Wallingford that opened in late 1998. Owner Spyridon "Spin" Nicon got his first pair of clippers in eighth grade and buzzed locks all through high school—at three bucks a head. He continued the tradition while he earned his bachelor's degree at Western Washington University in Bellingham. "I was pretty rich for a college student," Spin says with a laugh. "Friday was haircut day for all my friends, and by the time I wanted to go out, I usually had $75 collected." After graduating from Western, he realized cutting hair made him truly happy, so he attended beauty college. His shop is a neatly arranged update on the traditional barber's layout. Mambo music plays from the speakers, and the wall is filled with local business cards. Red leather banquettes fill the waiting area, and on crowded days customers are welcome to hang out next door at the hot dog shop or at the Honey Bear Bakery.

The black-and-white tiled floor is coated with the remains of a customer's newly shorn head. Spin hands the gentleman in his chair a mix tape. "Here, Andy, I made this for you so you can have an intro to hip-hop," he tells him. "You'll like it once you get to know it." The customer, who looks to be in his 40s, says he's been trying to bridge the generation gap and that he comes to Spin to further the cause. "For me, this job fulfills a social and creative void," Spin says. "Anyone can give a good haircut, really. But if you don't do it with flair, you're screwing them." The personable stylist cuts hair from "11-ish to 7-ish every day," and also rents out two chairs to other hairdressers.

THE NEWEST ENTRY on the crowded Broadway hair scene is Scream, a colorful mishmash of candy, beer shampoo, and punk rock haircuts (or "buzz cutz," as they put it). Michelle Hamilton also owns the Michelle Hamilton Salon and Laughing Buddha tattoo and piercing parlor on Broadway, and she opened Scream barely two months ago. With three stylists and flexible hours (open till 8pm except on Mondays), it's a welcome option for those accustomed to waiting over an hour for someone to simply shave their head. For those seeking rainbow dyes and something a little more subcultcha, this is a great spot to try before the masses arrive. Hamilton has filled the spacious room (which was previously occupied by Dakota) with blue leather chairs, crimson walls, and an affordable but neither foo-foo nor assembly line atmosphere.

 
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