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In Fairfax, Bikinis and Buzz Cuts

Mike Blot, co-owner of Paradise Cuts, with employees from left, Kamen Leung, Sheryl Cubbage and Elizabeth Ferrer.
Mike Blot, co-owner of Paradise Cuts, with employees from left, Kamen Leung, Sheryl Cubbage and Elizabeth Ferrer. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Chris Kirkham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 2, 2006

Mike Blot and Rudy Lilly were fed up. They wanted decent haircuts but hated the available options.

It was either endure the modern unisex hair salon, with its flowery smells and complicated gels, or put up with the cigarette-smoking barber down the street.

Their solution: Girls in bikinis, cutting hair in a beach-themed salon.

"Life's too short for an ugly barber," Lilly said.

When their Paradise Cuts salon opens later this week in Fairfax, Blot and Lilly, both 43, hope it solves a problem that is enticing entrepreneurs in cities nationwide. They think men want the same pampering as women -- whether it's a pedicure or a body wax. But they don't want it done in mixed company or in an atmosphere that's too feminine.

The result has been a boomlet in salons designed for macho appeal. An evolution beyond the corner barbershop and the one-size-fits-all metrosexual boutique, they range in tone from sports kitsch to boardroom serious. The bikini-clad stylists at Paradise Cuts are a variation on the theme found at Knockouts, where men get trimmed in a boxing ring by women in boxing shorts and can channel-surf in the process. Sport Clips as a locker room theme, widescreen televisions and women stylists trained to make sports-related small talk. The Grooming Lounge, which has two locations in the area, features leather couches and free liquor.

The salon and barbershop industry, ranging from high-end lounges to bargain-franchise operations like the locally based Hair Cuttery, was worth more than $28 billion as of 2002, according to U.S. Census estimates.

On a recent Saturday in Fairfax, Paradise Cuts stylists wearing pastel bikini tops and flowing sarongs chatted with friends at an open house. The styling mirrors hung from surfboards. A mural of a Hawaiian beach scene with palm trees and dunes decorated the wall.

Stylist Sheryl Cubbage leaned against the faux-bamboo haircut station. "Men like visuals, so why not have a good haircut and a . . . good conversation," said Cubbage, 36, who also plays guitar in a local rock band. "It's about being pampered. Women get it all the time, so why shouldn't men?"

Aside from atmosphere, many of the services in these male-centric businesses are identical to those offered by high-end salons that cater to women. They offer pedicures, waxing, highlighting and massages, along with haircuts. Prices range from $20 to upward of $50 for a simple cut. There's a discount for children.

"What's still happening for men is that we want vestiges of our old barbershop, we want the feeling of other men being around us, but we want the goods and services of what's being offered in a wider array," said Gregory Fairchild, a former fashion industry employee who is now an assistant professor at University of Virginia's Darden Business School. "They still want to have the male-bonding experience in a comfortable way."

Like the other male-focused chains, Paradise Cuts has franchising in mind.

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