In the late ’60s, in a salon marked only by a red ankh symbol on its door, blow-dry pioneer and Manson-family victim Jay Sebring reinvented the technology of the men’s haircut and the very image of a hairstylist. With a fine-tuned sense of fashion and social trends, not to mention a celebrity clientele to rival no other — Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty, who used Sebring as his inspiration when he wrote Shampoo — Sebring turned his hair salon into more of a swank speakeasy.
Now in the same Fairfax Avenue space that Sebring once inhabited, many of L.A.’s most influential producers, actors, artists and rock stars have their tresses tended by another charismatic stylist with a very different fashion sense. Tattooed, laid-back and usually sporting a hood-up black sweatshirt, 30-something Jay Diola runs the salon Goodform.
“I got the name from some chairs in my office. I liked it because it doesn’t sound like anything — not a hair salon, anyway. This girl named Georgeanne Deen did the logo.” (Deen is, of course, an international art star and one of Diola’s clients.)
Diola, who grew up in Santa Cruz skating, surfing and listening to punk rock, stumbled upon his natural talent early. “My sister taught me how to cut my friends’ hair when I was, like, 13 or 14 — as a scam,” he explains. The two would say to their friends, “Tell your mom you’re going to Supercuts, and instead we’ll take the money and go to the movies.”
After holding down jobs as a pizza guy and a mechanic, a close friend who had an empty couch described a job opening at an L.A. salon and suggested Diola go to beauty school so he could come south and fill the position. “I went to hair school just to see what would happen. It was really hard — I had no idea, with the curling iron and stuff. I was the only straight guy out of, like, 50 girls,” he recalls.
But after he got his haircutters license, the salon job didn’t work out. “When I met one of the owners, she didn’t like me. My friend said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you a job on this movie I’m working on — Swingers.’ I got a job as a PA and slept in the production office. It was a humbling experience.”
The director, Doug Liman, was so taken with the ambitious hairdresser he cast him as part of Skully’s crew (remember the rumble in the parking lot?) and later put him in the pilot for the failed TV show. “Like what everybody does here,” Diola admits with a smile. “It was silly.”
He eventually found salon work with the infamous Jonathan Antin (subject of reality TV’s Blowout), and even won over the original salon boss and in her shop built himself a station out of a discarded makeup counter. Five years later, she offered him the business. Diola explains, “She said, ‘Either I’m going to sell it to someone I don’t know, or I’m going to sell it to you, and I’ll let you pay me off for it.’ Basically, it was like buying a Mercedes, but I was 25 and living in my car. At one point I was sleeping on a dog bed under a pool table at somebody’s place on El Centro. I rode my skateboard to Fairfax every day through the tranny neighborhood.”
Persistence has paid off for Diola, who currently tools around town in a black new-model Volvo with tinted windows, and is building his first house — himself, of course. Like his swinging-’60s predecessor, he too befriends his longtime clients, watching movies at home with Marilyn Manson and advising Jon Favreau as he writes new characters.
When I visit Diola, the art installation in the salon had changed to photographs by Scott Caan. Rumor has it that the ghost of Jay Sebring still haunts the space. Or maybe the brutally honest look of horror on Diola’s face is directed at me — it’s been way too long since I’ve come in for a trim.
Photo by Kevin Scanlon