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A chick-lit novel that's one great (pony) tale

In "Beyond the Blonde," Kathleen Flynn-Hui  writes about the hair-raising antics in a hip New York salon. Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

In Kathleen Flynn-Hui's novel, “Beyond the Blonde,” star colorist Georgia Watkins tends to the hair of socialites, actresses, models and moguls at Jean-Luc, New York's hottest salon of the minute. She finds herself highlighting dogs' hair to match that of their owners', making house calls to the Hamptons and barely batting a well-groomed eyelash at a thousand dollar tip. The novel proves to be a true example of life imitating art as Flynn-Hui is the star colorist at Salon AKS and wife of acclaimed stylist Kao Hui. Flynn-Hui was invited on the “Today” show to discuss the book. Here's an excerpt:

Why Pay Retail? Or, A Hair-Raising Event
I would have to say that it all began — or, rather, it all began to end — the morning Faith Honeycomb passed out on the floor of the Salon Jean-Luc. Up until then it had been a busy day. As in crazy busy. I was thirty-four years old, but in nearly a decade as a senior colorist I had rarely seen the salon so completely insane. The frenzy was brought on by that crowning event in the New York City social season: the Pink and Purple Charity Ball. This particular ball spanned all age groups: Park Avenue dowagers bought their thousand-dollar tickets and invited their granddaughters, who took the afternoon off from Spence or Brearley or Dalton to get their hair done. Socialites arrived by chauffeured Mercedes sedans starting the moment the salon opened, and we were slightly understaffed because some of the stylists were out making house calls.

All up and down Fifth Avenue blow-dryers were being plugged into wall sockets and hair was being washed in bathroom sinks. Manicurists were spreading towels across laps and dipping bejeweled hands into bowls as telephones rang and little dogs scurried underfoot.

“Darling! Where are you?” Pause. “John Frieda? Really.” This “Really” would be a drawn-out sigh, a pity party for the poor dear who had to be ministered to in public. “Moi? At home, darling. With the marvelous ... What is your name, honey? Oh, never mind. A girl from Jean-Luc who is a genius with the blow-dry.”

A house call from a junior stylist at Jean-Luc cost a minimum of five hundred dollars, and a senior stylist could run you a thousand. But some people will pay a lot for their privacy. Like, for example, if you've had a face lift, otherwise known as having work done or taking a quick trip to Beverly Hills. Some people will go to great lengths to make sure nobody sees the scars.

Anyway, back to poor Faith Honeycomb. What with all the ladies in for their preball primping, there was no indication — no frisson in the air (frisson being an expression that the ladies who frequented the salon loved to use, along with chérie, pourquoi, and mon Dieu) — that an ambulance would screech to the curb and a squad of EMS technicians with their equipment and squawking radios would invade the plush taupe-and-burgundy inner sanctum of Jean-Luc.

I was working on Mrs. H at my station. It was ten forty-five, and she was already my third head of the day: a double-process with a chestnut base and golden auburn highlights. Tiffany, my assistant, had wheeled a tray next to me, with tail combs and clips, cotton, extra gloves, and three pots of L'Oréal color, one of which I had a feeling was there by mistake, left over from Mrs. G's Scandinavian blond highlights.

“Tiff, could you check this?” I asked, pointing to the bowl of thick white bleach that would — if I hadn't caught it — have turned Mrs. H into a punk rocker instead of the Park Avenue matron that she was. And that would have been a catastrophe. Let me explain: There are all sorts of reasons why women pick one colorist over another. Some will go to you if you have the same kind of dog or because they like the way you look. Some will go only to a man, because they want to feel a man's hands on them. Then, of course, you have the editorial mongrels, who will go only to whoever is in this month's Elle or Allure. But no matter what brings them to you in the first place, they'll drop you cold if you're not a good colorist.

Which means no mistakes. Not ever. Brain surgeons are allowed more mistakes than hair colorists. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that what I do is brain surgery or in any way important. Between you and me, it's just hair. But a certain kind of woman cares about her hair. A lot.

Anyway, that crisis was averted. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Tiffany dump the bleach and mix Mrs. H's color. She had been out late the night before. It was the birthday of one of the assistants, and they had gone club hopping. I could see her hands shaking as she opened one of Mrs. H's foils. I made a mental note to talk to her. She was younger than me, and I could see all the pitfalls, the mess her life was going to be if she wasn't careful. Assistants came and assistants went. I mean, the pressure was on, and they made, like, no money. They lived on their tips, sometimes for years, hoping and praying that one day they'd hear that magic word: promotion. It was hard. All any of them dreamed of was one day having their name printed on a Jean-Luc announcement and placed by the vase of freesia by the front desk: We are pleased to announce that [insert name here] has been promoted to junior stylist. I should know. I had been one of those lowly assistants myself.

“Sorry, Georgia,” Tiff whispered over Mrs. H's head. Not that Mrs. H would have noticed. She was deep into the latest issue of British Vogue. I peered over her shoulder and saw that she was reading about the new generation of skin creams. “No problem,” I said.

No, it wasn't easy being an assistant — especially being an assistant at Jean-Luc, the salon of the moment, the epicenter of beautification for all Manhattan women — or really all women of the tristate area. Come to think of it, geography was meaningless to the Jean-Luc customer — dozens of women flew to New York for the sole purpose of having Jean-Luc himself rake his elegant hands through their hair and pronounce: This isn't working for me ... it is too [fill in the adjective] fluffy. How you say ... shaggy. You are a beautiful woman. Bee-you-tee-ful. And with a blandishment of his famous scissors, a toss of his own long dark mane: And now, we will create a new you ... yes?

I had three clients waiting on the banquette in their burgundy robes (burgundy for color, taupe for cuts and styling) and two others who had just checked in and were getting changed. Jean-Luc had instructed the front desk to book clients for me every fifteen minutes, and even by midmorning there was a bottleneck of waiting ladies. Ladies who weren't used to being kept waiting but waited nonetheless. Patiently. Sometimes for hours. Somewhere in the rules of etiquette it was written that one never, ever, got huffy with one's colorist or stylist. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, and stockbrokers could all be yelled at — and easily replaced — but we at Jean-Luc were golden. They needed us. Mrs. H's formula (and Mrs. P's, and Mrs. B's, and Ms. A's on the banquette) was my little secret, locked in my file box — a small metal box where every single client's formula was recorded on index cards. What each of them would have done for their formula! They would have gone six months without Botox. A year without self-tanner. Please, Georgia, they'd beg, I'm going to be in Aspen all month. What will I do? And part of me was tempted to give it to them. It didn't matter, really. I mean, I could write down their formula, but the minute they gave it to some Colorado hairdresser, it would just turn to shit. It was how the formula was applied that made all the difference.

I saw Mrs. P on the banquette check her gold Cartier watch. She definitely didn't have the primo appointment of the day. That would have been more like four o'clock. That way, there would have been plenty of time for all those beautifying — but hair-mussing treatments: the Tracie Martyn electric current facial. A salt scrub at Bliss and then a massage from the divine Rebecca at Exhale Spa. And then, after the oils and the electric currents, the blow-dry.

Let me give you an idea of the perfect pre-charity ball day in the life of a Jean-Luc woman. For argument's sake, let's make her one of the youngish ones, who lives in a twelve-room apartment on East Seventy-something Street. First, she would require a very strong cup of espresso at Via Quadronno, the café on East Seventy-third that feels like a quick trip to Milan. This, of course, after dropping the children off at All Souls preschool or the 92nd Street Y. This drop-off is, in equal parts, guilt induced (the nanny does everything else for the rest of the day) and an important social networking opportunity. Where else do movie stars, wives of minimoguls, heiresses, and the occasional scruffy-but-successful artist dad all mingle together but in the halls of their children's school? After the espresso, back home for a two-hour private yoga session. A shower, hair left undone, then a quick dash to the shrink to discuss said guilt about neglecting children and the ongoing question: To Prozac or not to Prozac? After the shrink, feeling that mental lightness unique to yoga, psychoanalysis, and an empty stomach, a quick stop at Barneys. Damage: three-hundred-dollar jeans, a six-hundred dollar knitted poncho (so Bohemian!), and a pair of antique diamond earrings. Later, the guilt comes roaring back (will have to hide bill for earrings from husband), and she makes her way over to the Salon Jean-Luc. We are her church, her temple, the place where she will be undone, then done. Restored. Brought back to her perfect, radiant self.

Excerpted from “Beyond the Blonde” by Kathleen Flynn-Hui. Copyright © 2005, Kathleen Flynn-Hui and Dead Aim Productions, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by Warner Books. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.