A Cut Above

We canvassed friends and associates in search of Chicago’s top stylists and then sent anonymous “clients” of every hair type to test their skills. The stylists profiled here earned the best ratings.

Sine Qua Non in Andersonville


Brad Hough
5057 N. Clark St.; 773-649-0101, sinequanonsalon.com

The tester: A low-maintenance 22-year-old from Printers’ Row whose curly hair falls flat without texture and layers. We sent her to Hough, a 29-year-old Rockford native who trained at the Aveda Institute in Chicago, with Bumble and Bumble in New York, and with Laura Boton, owner of Sine Qua Non, before landing at Boton’s Andersonville salon.

The experience: Our tester paid $56 for what she calls “easily the best haircut I’ve ever had. Brad just cut tons and tons of layers, which allowed my hair to better maintain body and shine—two things I’d been missing for a while.” Helpful hint: Book in advance. It took three calls to set up the appointment.


Women’s Classic
Fantashia Hauss
41 E. Oak St.; 312-640-0101, mariannestrokirk.com

The tester: A 30-year-old style writer in search of a polished cut suitable for high-profile events. We sent her to Hauss, 32, who works for the venerable downtown stylist Marianne Strokirk. Hauss trained under Strokirk herself for a year and a half, so she offers all the know-how of her mentor at a lower price ($88 versus up to $380).

The experience: The tester expected the Oak Street salon to be “uptight and unwelcoming,” but Hauss made her feel comfortable. “Before she did anything, she made sure I was on board. I’ve had plenty of cuts in the past where the scissors start flying too soon. She gave me the exact cut that she described—that has never in my life happened before.” Helpful hint: Ask for styling tips. Hauss taught our tester how to properly straighten her hair.


Men’s Classic
Charlie “Devyn” Benson
17W580 Butterfield Rd., Oakbrook Terrace; 630-916-8868, charlesifergan.com

The tester: A 29-year-old male accounting manager from Humboldt Park who wanted to upgrade his classic look without going too crazy. We sent him to Benson, a 26-year-old stylist at Charles Ifergan.

The experience: Our tester— a self-proclaimed Super Cuts guy—had never experienced texturizing shears, which Benson used to thin extra volume from his thick, wavy hair. The result: a modern twist on a traditional style that’s clean on the sides, messy on top. “My hair looked amazing leaving the salon. It was also very easy to re-create the next morning. I received several compliments on how nice it looked.” The 30-minute appointment cost $45. Helpful hint: Get directions or you may drive past the salon.


Long and Layered
Stevie Cook
715 N. State St.; 312-482-9800, josephmichaels.net

The tester: A 24-year-old Gold Coaster who chronically straightens her long, wavy hair with a flatiron. We sent her to Cook at Joseph Michael’s in River North. A 30-something Detroit native who has been in the hair biz since 1988, Cook spent five years at the celebrity-catering Allen Edwards salon in Los Angeles.

The experience: The tester paid $80 for her cut and left the salon with sleek, “weightless” hair. “Stevie spent a lot of time talking to me about my hair, the texture, and how I style it. She definitely encourages me to wear my hair wavy—how it naturally is—but since I like it straight, she obliges me with the flatiron. She really listens to what you want.” Helpful hint: New clients should book a few weeks in advance to get a slot.


African American
Willie Malone
1020 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-386-9311, lilliandion.com

The tester: A 40-year-old African American woman from Hyde Park whose weekly workout regimen requires a low-maintenance ‘do. We sent her to Malone at Lillian Dion Salon, who has a particular knack for repairing damaged hair. He trained at the Chicago salons It’s Only Hair and Chez Charles before going to Lillian Dion last year.

The experience: Malone decided that our tester didn’t need a haircut, so he introduced her to new styling techniques to create the volume she wanted for her thick, heavy hair. “He offered great suggestions, including hair vitamins that would be good to take,” she says. “He showed me how to put curls on the top of my head and used two or three different sizes of flatirons to give me bigger curls.” The tester paid $65 for her styling session. Helpful hint: Our volunteer loved this salon’s super chatty staff, but less talkative clients could feel overwhelmed.


Hipster (Guy)
Ben Mollin
952 W. Newport Ave.; 773-857-3525, clandestineindustries.com

The tester: A 38-year-old art director and musician looking for a creative cut to tame his unruly locks. We sent him to Mollin at Clandestine Industries, a new punk rock salon owned by Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz. Mollin, 32, connected with Wentz after finding fame on Bravo’s reality styling competition Shear Genius.

The experience: Our tester gave Mollin free rein and ended up with a short, tapered razor cut and asymmetric bangs to show off his curls. The cost: $100. “Ben was great—really down-to-earth, considering his recent fame. The vibe was very laid-back. It wasn’t so overly cool and young that I felt out of place as a man in my 30s. Everyone at work commented on my ‘cool’ new hairstyle.” Helpful hint: Mollin cuts at Clandestine only one day each month—and the salon sees only one client at a time—so expect a long wait list. The rest of Mollin’s time is focused on Bang Bang, his salon boutique in Griffith, Indiana, slated to open in June (112 N. Broad St.; 219-513-8858).


Hipster (Girl)
Michele Lynn Minale
1315 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-786-1200, michelelynnhairstyling.com

The tester: A 27-year-old from Logan Square whose straight, boring ‘do didn’t fit her rocker personality. We sent her to Minale, a vet of Mario Tricoci and London’s Tony & Guy, who in February opened her own South Loop salon. Creativity is the 31-year-old stylist’s strong suit, so our tester consulted the photo book of original styles and allowed Minale to craft “a vision” for her hair. A cut costs $69, but Minale offers a 20 percent discount to first-time clients.

The experience: “When Michele told me the plan for my cut—asymmetric in the back, and adding asymmetric bangs—I was concerned because she wanted to reverse my part. I have the world’s strongest cowlick, and I told her I thought that would be difficult. But because of her skills, it didn’t end up being a problem.” Helpful hint: Weeknight parking is scarce. Take a cab or plan on circling.


Jeremy Jernigan
835 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-751-2216, sassoon.com

The tester: A 34-year-old from the West Loop who’s finally ready to chop her long hair. We sent her to Jernigan, 32, at Sassoon. A Sassoon lifer, he graduated from the Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica, California, and has spent the past seven years at the Chicago salon.

The experience: The tester brought Jernigan a photo of Kirsten Dunst’s bob, and he zeroed in on what she liked about it. “He was very patient and really took time looking at my hair, my face, and my jawline,” our tester says. She paid $88 for her blunt cut with graduated layers—a variation on the classic Sassoon bob. Helpful hint: The salon is located on the third floor in the back of Water Tower Place.


Photography: Kendall Karmanian



6 years ago
Posted by lag1815

I wanted to add a name to your "cut above" group. Rochelle Binik at Salon Buzz is a curly haired persons dream stylist. I have been lucky enough to be a client for over 20 years. In those twenty some years, I have never had a cut I didn't love and I have worn my hair both long and short and every length in between. As a stylist she is not afraid to try new things with my hair and I always feel like a queen when I leave the chair. Rochelle exudes confidence and enjoys listening to the suggestions of her clients, who might want to try something different. Of course, when I walk in and say "surprise me" she handles that equally well. Dealing with curly hair is an art and I am glad to have found Rochelle.

5 years ago
Posted by RaVen

Thank you for including a black hairstylist in your article. Willie seems great, but you didn't give us a review for a haircut, which is what I really need.

4 years ago
Posted by chastity

I went in for a haircut at Vidal Sasson downtown Chicago at the Water Tower Place with a stylist named Lori Potochnik. It was one of the worst haircuts I have had in my life. She not only didn't know how to cut thick curly hair, she continued to gossip about her personal life and kept going on and on about all sorts of drama in her life. Who cares?? I was bored out of my mind and wished she would just get a life. I almost felt sorry for her for a bit until I realized how much I had to pay for a crappy haircut and a forced therapy session. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands to hear all about this woman's overly dramatized life, I recommend finding another stylist.

4 years ago
Posted by jkarr

I would really think twice about going to Charles Ifergan. You will be walking amongst thieves. Whatever you do hang on to whatever you bring in there...your purse, coat, whatever. I went there and spent almost $700.00 over 2 visits. I had my hair and make up done the second time and went into the restroom to change. I mistakenly left my ring on the sink in the ladies bathroom. A very sentimental $4500.00 ring. My fault I realize but I went back 10 minutes later (just enough time to get down the elevator and realize I left the ring). I went back and it was gone. I asked the manager Joe Conforti to speak to the owner and he wouldn't let me. I also asked if he could email a $1000.00 reward for the ring to his extensive client email list. He also refused. I realize this was my fault but not to offer any kind of help. Not to put up a sign in the launch room or send an email?? Nothing? I would never go back there again. He doesn't know how to run the salon or deal with the public. You don't just blow off someone who is clearly upset and act as a buffer between me and the owner. He phsyically stood between me and the 10 feet to the owner. What an idiot. Nope not for me...never again. And bad Karma can be a mother.

4 years ago
Posted by A Devoted Fan of Lori Potochnik

Dear Chastity,

Your criticism of Lori is so far off the mark, that you must be joking. Or you yourself must be a joke. Yes, that seems more likely. You are a joke.

A Devoted Fan of Lori Potochnik

PS: Yes, I created an account just to post this reply.

2 years ago
Posted by Sassoon

No body can cut like Lori Potochnik! Straight..curly...short...long...doesn't matter...she looks at you and listens to you! She brings out the true beauty in her clients.

2 years ago
Posted by Sassoon

Okay beautiful people...I am not so savvy.. Tried picking a password that was pertinent to my topic. Long time customer and fan, of Loris didn't realize would post as if Sassoon.

2 years ago
Posted by SS

I have been a loyal client of Lori Potochnik since my recommendation to her in 2004. I have long curly hair, which has always been difficult to manage; either too much volume or not enough style. Lori has shaped my hair into long lovely waves without the dreaded curly hair poodle effect. I have enough trust in Lori's skills as a stylist I recommended her to my best friend and fellow coworkers. Beyond her fantastic cutting skills, she is a lovely individual who listens to her clients wishes and concerns.

2 years ago
Posted by J Morris

Lori Potochnik has cut my hair since I moved to Chicago over 20 years ago. What I appreciate about Lori is that at the beginning of every haircut, we have a conversation about what I am looking for in my haircut that day and long range what direction I would like to go with my hair. Lori has taken me short, grown it long, then short again. I have wavy hair and Lori has taught me how to work with it and what products to use to keep it healthy and under control. I have found Lori to be the consummate professional. She has educated me regarding the Sassoon philosophy of cutting hair for which I have great respect. I would heartily recommend Lori to anyone for a stylist who takes great pride in her work and great care with her clients.

1 year ago
Posted by Ronizetti Runyon

I may be late to this party - but - I also will not tolerate that (way) off base assessment of Lori's skill and talents; I have been a customer of Lori's (and Sasson) for now 25 years ... by chance/fluke I stumbled upon Sasson at the Watertower on a whim and found Lori (a new stylist at the time) as my stylist - I received the best cut of my life and have been driving 3 HOURS EACH WAY for 25 years to get my haircut by Lori. I'll allow myself to look like a beatnik bum going without a cut for months if I am unable to get to Lori - I've tried a 'few' times to get my hair cut locally out of desperation, but NO ONE has the skill and artistry that Lori possesses. PERIOD. I leave her capable hands feeling like a new person, revived and poised to conquer the world - ALSO, one of the things that additionally attracted me to Lori, she's intently focused on her work/art and does NOT talk up a storm ... often I nearly fall asleep due to the calm she brings to the process - Lady, (commenter above) not meaning to judge you or your experience; but you've got it wrong and I'm CERTAIN this experience was in fact a reflection on you, not Lori.

In the future, please discuss your displeasure at the shop/salon - they'll make it right - but this was certainly not the correct method; your attack is purely uncivilized; remember what your mother said; if you can't say anything nice ...

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