Jeff Hafler's Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum is hardly the biggest or most glamorous museum in Southern California. There are no programs or organized exhibitions, no admission fees other than the optional donation, and getting there requires a rugged drive down a dusty dirt road off of Twentynine Palms Highway.
But the collection of historic objects and artifacts housed within three pastel-colored trailers in Hafler's backyard is unlike any other. In fact, it's made up of the stuff Hafler says most people consider trash: old beauty products, salon equipment and antique hair styling tools.
His museum and home-salon, located about ten miles northeast of Joshua Tree National Park, is a shrine to all things hair: antique curling irons, cheap plastic combs, gaudy wigs, ancient powder-blue hair dryers, hair-growing Barbie dolls and about a dozen vintage salon chairs that are scattered outside amongst the astroturf and dirt.
“The history of it was just being thrown away, stuff that was considered garbage, really,” says 41-year-old Hafler, a self-described “hairstorian” who's been cutting hair for more than half his life and collecting hair products ever since he discovered ebay when it was founded in 1995. He didn't own a computer at the time and had to do his bidding from a West Hollywood Internet cafe, where he purchased about three or four items from ebay auctions every week for several years.
“Nobody was bidding against me, so I got everything super cheap,” he says. “I accumulated maybe 20 or 30 things and I thought, you know, this is really interesting and nobody else is preserving it.”
See also: A photo gallery of the museum
That initial collection of vintage beauty products eventually found a home when Hafler opened his own hair salon, named for his home state of Ohio, in West Hollywood in 2001, just six months before 9/11. “It was a terrible time to have a business,” Hafler says. Besides that, he had recently visited a friend in Joshua Tree and fell in love with the openness of the desert. Knowing he needed to get rid of his West Hollywood salon but unsure of how to do it, he visited Joshua Tree one weekend and saw a shooting star.
The next week, when a former colleague asked to buy Hafler's business, he immediately sold the salon and drove out to the desert with his beauty products to start a new life at what would eventually become the Beauty Bubble. It's a series of events that he refers to as “instant manifestation,” the kind of synchronicity that he believes is cultivated in the desert.
Part of the joy of living in unincorporated San Bernardino County is that Hafler was able to finally achieve his lifelong dream of owning a home salon, which isn't permitted in most cities, including West Hollywood. “Ever since I saw Steel Magnolias, I thought, well that's just the ultimate! I want to have my beauty parlor attached to my house,” Hafler says.
The salon is open four days a week, and most of his business comes from the nearby marine base. “I didn't really consider that clientele at first, but we get a lot of the officers' wives, the generals' wives come out here,” says Hafler.
He also does hair styling and cuts and colors for women attending the annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball every November. The only hair style he refuses to do? Perms. “I tell people I'm allergic,” he says. “I just don't like them. They give me anxiety.”
His longest-running client, Pat Flanagan, a septuagenarian who organizes nature walks at nearby 29 Palms Inn, was the first to receive a haircut (a short, white pixie cut) at Beauty Bubble Salon back in 2004 and she'll be honored this Saturday at Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum's 10th anniversary party. Hafler's own band, the Wonder People, will perform on-site in addition to visiting Hollywood drag performer Lorayne Love.
Hafler says the anniversary party is just one of many exciting projects on the horizon. He's in talks with an author and cultural historian with whom he plans to publish a book about his museum, curate a traveling exhibition of his collection, and even pitch a reality show about beauty shops across the country.
His ultimate goal? To retire from hair cutting for good, turn his museum into a nonprofit organization and move his massive collection of beauty products into a hair-dryer shaped dome of a tourist attraction in Palm Springs.
“Over the next several years I think this ball's just going to keep rolling. It's going to get better and better,” he says. Thinking again about synchronicity and the magic of the desert, he adds, “Yeah, I like to dream big.”
See also: A photo gallery of the museum
The Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, located at 5444 Moon Way in Twentynine Palms, California, is open by appointment only. The 10th anniversary party and potluck is this Saturday, April 5, at 4 p.m.
Visit Facebook.com/BeautyBubbleSalonAndMuseum for more information.
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