Hair stylist and salon owner
Born c. 1961, in Wichita, KS; daughter of an oilcompany executive.
Hairstylist in the salon of Arthur Johns, Los Angeles, early 1980s; stylist for magazine editorial shoots with photographers such as Herb Ritts; portrait photographer for Vanity Fair and other magazines, early 1990s; executive style director for John Frieda salons; opened Sally Hershberger at John Frieda salon, Los Angeles, March, 2000, and Sally Hershberger Downtown in New York City, July, 2003; launched Sally Hershberger FacePlace skin-care line, 2005; launched Shagg Downtown, a clothing line, 2005.
Sally Hershberger built her hair-salon empire upon the widely copied shag cut that she gave film star Meg Ryan in the 1990s. Hershberger is one of a handful of hairstylists who have earned a measure of celebrity over the years, but among those select ranks she is the first woman to achieve such success. With salons in both Los Angeles and New York City, Hershberger cuts the heads of a long list of famous clients, but is perhaps best known among the public for elevating the price of a haircut at her digs to a stratospheric $600. "People pay that much all day long for purses and shoes, " she told the New York Post about the price. "You wear your hair 24 hours a day and people look at it more."
Born in the early 1960s, Hershberger spent her earliest years in Wichita, Kansas. Her father had earned a small fortune from his oil-exploration business, and was friendly with Republican Party heavy-hitters such as former president Gerald Ford and Kansas senator Bob Dole. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler, and Hershberger moved to Los Angeles with her mother and two brothers. "I was a bad girl, " she told Erika Kinetz in the New York Times. "I always thought I was going to get all this money. Then my dad lost it all, when oil crashed, you know." The same journalist noted, however, that Hershberger's father had run into financial and legal difficulties that ended with a five-year, four-month stint in prison. Compounding her family troubles were the deaths of Hershberger's two brothers, one from a drug overdose and the other in a car accident.
Hershberger experimented on her own hair as a teen, but her decision to become a hairdresser happened almost by accident, as she told Lisa Armstrong in the Times of London. "It was never a passion, " she explained. "It was more like, you're 18, you can't hang out any more. Go get a job." By the early 1980s, she was working at the Sunset Boulevard salon of Arthur Johns, a stylist for pop singer Olivia Newton-John. When Johns fell ill, Hershberger was tapped to replace him on Newton-John's tour for her hit Let's Get Physical LP in 1982. Thanks to that job, Hershberger was introduced to fashion photographer Herb Ritts, who liked her work enough to hire her for his magazine editorial work.
Hershberger went on to work with a number of esteemed fashion photographers, and eventually ventured into photography herself. Her portraits of celebrities appeared on the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair, while she continued to cut hair in Los Angeles. It was her snips on the famous blonde head of Meg Ryan that launched Hershberger as an emerging new stylist; Hershberger gave Ryan a choppy shag that was actually the emblematic coif for stylish West-Coast lesbians, and after it debuted on Ryan in the 1995 romantic comedy French Kiss, Ryan's look became the second-most widely copied cut of the decade following Jennifer Aniston's "Rachel" coif, named after Aniston's character on the NBC sitcom Friends.
Other big names who considered Hershberger the go-to person for a new style included Michelle Pfeiffer and Tom Cruise, and she even styled Hillary Rodham Clinton when the First Lady appeared on the cover of Vogue. She also began working with British-born hairdresser John Frieda, which came about thanks to a 1990 trip to India. "I went there to get a blessing for my new career in photography, " she recalled in the London Times interview with Armstrong. "But [her yoga guru] kept talking about John Frieda. I'd never heard of him—he hadn't launched his products then. And then she introduced us."
Hershberger worked with Frieda in developing his Sheer Blonde and Beach Blonde lines, which became some of the best-selling hair care products on the market when they were launched in the late 1990s. Her first eponymous salon, Sally Hershberger at John Frieda, opened in March of 2000 on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. The space included an indoor pool and even a waterwall, and she followed it three years later with a second location in New York City's trendy Meatpacking District. It was here that Hershberger introduced her $600 haircut, an amount that surpassed what the top Manhattan hairdressers—Frederic Fekkai and John Barrett among them—were charging at the time by at least $100. Part of Hershberger's decision to set her rate so high was to allow her to stay in the salon, which she preferred, rather than on location doing editorial or film-set work, which could net her as much as $4, 500 a day. "I love working in a salon, " she enthused to W writer Patricia Reynoso. "There's a certain freedom there that you can't get from a shoot. There's no one telling me what to do."
In 2005, Hershberger launched a line of skin-care products, as well as Shagg Downtown, a line of T-shirts and jeans similar to her classic workwear. She was also in the process of writing her own style bible, tentatively titled Shagg, thanks to a contract with Regan Books. Somewhat of a cult figure as an epitome of casual L.A. chic, Hershberger was rumored to have been the inspiration for the hairstylist character Shane on the hit Showtime series The L Word about a group of Los Angeles lesbians. The show's creator and executive producer, Ilene Chaiken, was a longtime friend of hers, but Chaiken claimed there was no truth to the rumor. Hershberger also dismissed the idea, noting that the Shane character was "not successful and she's kind of a wreck, " she told the New York Times's Kinetz. "Here's the bottom line: When there's going to be a show, it will be mine."
New York Post, November 10, 2003, p. 33.
New York Times, March 19, 2000, p. ST 1; September 25, 2005, p. ST1.
Times (London, England), February 7, 2000, p. 36.
W, July 2003, p. 50.