On the first Monday in May for the last decade or so, Vogue editors could be seen revolving through the doors of Bergdorf Goodman, bound for the penthouse floor where John Barrett and his salon would smooth hair and day-of Met Gala anxieties with an updo or black-tie blowout. The more junior employees, meanwhile, were tended to in a Vogue conference room—it was like a John Barrett flash mob, twisting, braiding, and pinning the hair of our magazine’s lucky staff.
Suffice to say, Mr. Barrett has much to do with the party of the year. This time next week, he will see a whole new crop of editors (perhaps attempting a “Camp” coiffure?) at his newly relocated salon. After a brief stint on Bond Street, this John Barrett 2.0 is just a couple avenues away from Bergdorf Goodman, in the mezzanine level of the monolithic 432 Park Avenue tower—so clean, its square-windowed façade looks like an endless ream of graph paper.
When I saw Mr. Barrett last week in his still-opening salon, I’m sorely overdue for a cut. I’m not yet settled in his consultation chair before he pings back with his intended alterations. Surprisingly, it’s not my hair that’s most in need of attention—it’s my eyebrows! Mr. Barrett understands his haircut can only go so far with eyebrows in disarray (and believe you me, they were). “You’re going to like your new haircut,” he assures me, explaining only that he won’t take off too much length before I’m whisked off to get my hair washed.
Those familiar with the old salon know its railroad-style layout. One room unfolded into the next, so walking to your chair was like a promenade through Bergdorf Blondes getting blonder; among them, Hillary Clinton, Martha Stewart, Dame Judi Dench, and most of the Upper East Side. (Though patrons could be ensconced in a screen should they want the privacy.) The color scheme was warm with chocolate-colored woods; milky white orchids floriated the space, and the lighting was mostly artificial, though the windows proffered lovely views of Central Park.
Here, John Barrett regulars will first be struck by the light; it seems of endless supply, pouring in from vast floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto 57th Street (perhaps the wider, two-way street allows for more sunshine). Emphasis on the light continues when you cast your glance upwards, where Barrett opted for squiggly light fixtures that are playfully scattered overhead. “This salon is meant to speak to my own personal tastes,” says Barrett. “It’s decorated like my own home.” There’s red terrazzo-like flooring glinting with a subtle sparkle. An open, Apple store–like floor plan is adorned with branchy floral arrangements, crinkled wooden chairs that seem like someone pulled an Eames out of the dryer too soon, and perhaps most surprisingly, exposed pipes overhead—a taste of Brooklyn’s industrial chic for the John Barrett crowd.
I enjoy the hair-wash room’s views of the Four Seasons Hotel before I’m back at my chair, which is sat at a circular table shared with three other ladies who are mid–cut-and-color. It feels delightfully communal, like a posh co-working space. Despite the whirring of blow-dryers, conversations are possible. The woman to my left asks my age, hoping to set me up with her son; another (a well-known fixture on Broadway) swings by to say hello to Mr. Barrett, who is now balletically hacking away at my hair with Nureyev-like vigor. “Tell her what I told you the moment I first met you!” Barrett prompts her. She responds, laughing, “‘The red hair has got to go!’” And because a critique (even if unsolicited) from John Barrett is hair law, she’s now blonde. He also tells me he recently gave hair advice to Mary Boone, the art gallerist just sentenced for tax fraud, as she will not have access to a John Barrett colorist for two and a half years, per the Federal District Court in Manhattan.
As I near the end of my cut, Mr. Barrett explains what else is in store. He’s in talks with Assouline and Rizzoli to create a reading room of sorts for the women happily quarantined at his salon, and there will soon be food available: light fare from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. Expect more skin-care and beauty products—Trinny London and Nannette de Gaspé are currently on offer—and eventually, a collection of jewelry.
He is remarkably speedy with my cut, but I don’t feel rushed by him—only that he has accurately sensed his new client is the one who is pressed for time. A day spent at the salon is a relic of the past; in this post-Drybar world, efficiency rules. With the help of a second blow-dryer, my hair is now cut and blown out; it’s voluminous and flippy without looking like I’m in a hair commercial. Finally, Mauricio Ramos arrives to examine my brows. They’re thick and disobedient, but Ramos snips and shapes from below without removing too much of what is probably today’s second-most treasured resource (the first being eyelashes).
I head back to Mr. Barrett so he can assess his and his team’s hard work. He seemed more than pleased. “Can you show me a picture of your Met dress?” I present a photo of a dainty Carolina Herrera ball gown. “Hair up. Out of your face and pulled back so you can swing it to one side.” I’ve been taking notes throughout my visit, but this I wrote in bold.