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Can Any Haircut Be Worth $200?

It would take a trip to the Trump salon to find out.

Illustration: Kelsey Dake

Two things I believe to be true after receiving a $200 haircut (not including tip) from Anthony Cristiano at his namesake salon in Trump Tower:

1. I will go to my grave without ever again forking over that much for a cut.

2. It was the best damn haircut I’ve ever had.

I know what you’re thinking: There’s no way any men’s haircut is worth that much.

So let’s rewind to the cut itself—and the reason for it. I’d heard that Cristiano was the power haircutter in town, handling the dos of the kind of people who wind up on this magazine’s Power 100 list. What did they know that I didn’t? What would $200 (not including tip) get me in the way of a cut? I had to find out.

A longtime stylist for fashion magazines and red carpets, Cristiano has been charging these rates ($350 for women) and plying his craft at Trump for two years now, despite the obvious risks of associating haircuts with the Donald. He tends to the coifs of CEOs, hedge fund managers, wives of underperforming Bears quarterbacks, freelance writers for Chicago magazine.

He’s got a perfect Italian name for the job, but he’s one of us: born in Cicero, spent the first part of his childhood in Lombard, been married to a woman from Elmwood Park for 23 years.

And, most important, he understands the relationship between my hair and my bone structure better than all the previous people who’ve cut my hair (barbers, stylists, mom) combined. You see, I have a square jawline, which, given the nature of my cheekbones, means my hair should—

OK, I can hear you sniggering. C’mon, tell me you didn’t fall for that nonsense. To which I reply: You just don’t get it.

Look, I was once like you. I bounced from barber to barber, salon to salon. Sometimes I’d pay 15 bucks, other times 35. Sometimes I went to places that offered a three-second head massage; other times I was offered the Dum Dum of my choice upon payment.

The results were nearly always the same and usually pretty good. After all, I have a great head of hair. (Cristiano told me so.)

This time, I swear, was different. This time I left feeling more than good; I left feeling like there was a direct link between my hair and what the rest of me could achieve, including driving home from Trump in my 2006 Nissan to straight-up nail making boxed mac ’n’ cheese.

As Cristiano says of the so-called power haircut: “It’s not looking like Gordon Gekko. It’s how you feel with it. Put on an amazing suit that’s tailored—that’s a power suit. It’s the same with a tailored haircut, customized for you.”

Cristiano won’t say much about the powerful people who’ve sat in his chair. Stylist-client privilege, you know. He will drop the names of a few celebrities—Jenny McCarthy, Chicago P.D. star Sophia Bush, the aforementioned Kristin Cavallari—that he’s worked with. Bulls power forward Pau Gasol came in for a less expensive cut from one of Cristiano’s junior stylists. They are all very nice, nothing to see here, please move along.

I’d be lying if I said anything complex or ornate happened to my hair during the 60 minutes it spent with Cristiano. If anything, the whole process was just the opposite: deceptively simple, as they say—or, to use a favorite word of Cristiano’s, “effortless.”

That begins with the look and feel of the joint. Once you get past the waiting area, where French shampoo is sold, nearly everything is white and modern: the chairs, the sinks, Cristiano’s Italian-made comb.

“The comb was put in my hand by a dear friend 20 years ago,” he says. “He was just like, ‘Hold this comb,’ and I was hooked the moment I put it in my hand, the balance of it, the way I combed through hair with it.”

Cristiano wears a tailored suit, and his gelled-back, slightly curly salt-and-pepper hair (which, like the rest of him, will turn 50 in June) is fabulous, maybe even nicer than mine.

And when he sits you down in his chair, the view overlooking the river and, beyond that, the plebeians at Corner Bakery is pretty awesome.

In other words, you—and by “you,” I mean me, since I’m the one who got the $200 haircut (not including tip)—feel pretty special even before the first snip.

The appointment takes about an hour. There’s no ridiculous paraffin wax hand treatment, no chamomile tea. Just a man and his ergonomically-designed-in-Japan scissors. If you’re expecting an over-the-top stereotype of a high-end stylist, you’ve come to the wrong place. Cristiano is calm, understated. Like they say about the world’s best athletes, the game—or, in this case, the haircut—seems to slow down for him.

One thing Cristiano doesn’t ask: How do you want me to cut your hair?

“That’s my job to know,” he says. “I find out some of the things they’re looking for, [but] the client is expecting me to tell them what will look best.”

But does all that justify the $200 price tag (not including tip)? Cristiano offers an analogy. There are a lot of inexpensive restaurants you might love, but sometimes you want the experience that only a place like Alinea can provide. Why shouldn’t the same be true with something as important as your hair?

I buy that analogy. I buy that haircutting is a craft, an art, even a science, and while there might be some expert branding coupled with an indescribable status thing going on here, the proof ultimately is in how you look and feel. And I feel like my hair has never looked better. (See the final result here. And if you e-mail me, we can set up a time for you to run your hands through it.)

Plus, Cristiano believes my hair can look even better.

“Lots of times if a client comes in for the first time and there’s a history on their hair that I have to work through, it may take three to four haircuts before I can get full ownership of it,” he says.

Does he have full ownership of mine?

“I would like to cut you at least one more time.”

Anthony, if only I could swing it.

 

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