The Rosanne Ullman
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Opposites Attract

Rosanne Ullman

An industry trailblazer shifts gears and starts his own salon in laid-back San Diego.

They seem like an unlikely pair at first—Jason Brandler and San Diego, California. Brandler is British, big-city, dynamic and trendy; San Diego is a laid-back, cozy beach town into fish tacos, not tea and crumpets.

Brandler was a major player in the revolutionary 1970s London hair scene, when he and his brother, Simon, founded the famed Jingles School. In the decades that follow-ed, he worked with Joico, Wella and Schwarzkopf, taught in academies in New York and San Francisco, developed and then sold a Jingles product line, and traveled the entire world for inspiration in sophisticated women’s styles.

Several years ago MODERN SALON named the Brandler brothers among the 75 most influential educators in the history of hairdressing. San Diego is hardly the obvious match for Jason Brandler. It steps aside to let L.A. and San Francisco share the limelight of the catwalks, preferring instead to serve as a simple hometown to casual girls who wear their overprocessed locks long and expect their hair cutters to also do the blowdry.

As odd a joint venture as they might be, the modish stylist from England and the provincial American city on the West Coast are getting to like each other.

A U.S. citizen since 1996, Brandler wanted to make a big splash in a mid-size market. He took a job with a San Diego salon four years ago, choosing the town for the weather and the wide-open field. Although respected hair stylists like Robert Cromeans have cleared the way by introducing San Diego gals to trendier looks, the market isn’t by any means saturated with hair star power.

In January 2002, Brandler felt ready to give it a go and launched Crimson Chic, a seven-chair salon on West Market Street. “This is a tough town,” Brandler says with a sense of accomplishment. “When I first came here, people were very wary of anyone trying to make a quick buck and then leaving. They would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you go to L.A.? You’d be more suited to L.A.’ But I wanted a town where I could start fresh and make my mark. I cooperated on six articles for the local newspapers, did some local TV and got into national magazines as well.”

Adds Brandler, who serves as the salon’s publicist, “I’m a good self-promoter!”

As a result, Brandler notes with distinct pleasure that his business is flourishing in direct proportion to San Diego itself.

“Being in downtown San Diego is like touching something that’s about to happen,” he beams. “We are getting walk-ins like you wouldn’t believe, and people are willing to pay good prices for hair cuts. Yet when I started building a clientele here four years ago, the downtown was full of homeless people, and no one wanted to come down. Now it’s booming, with upscale shopping malls and high-rise residences. We have a broad clientele—older ladies and young women, too.”

Brandler and partners Shaun Alley and Martha Siragusa decorated their salon in pale yellows, light wood tones and touches of steel. They describe it as having “a Zen-like feel, further accentuated with plenty of natural daylight streaming in the windows.”

The trio purposely plans to hire slowly and carefully in order to hand-pick the staff they want. They’ll start them out as independent contractors and transition to a commission-paid salon. Eventually the owners hope to offer classes on Sundays and Mondays to local and traveling hairdressers. A Crimson Chic product line of about six products is a future goal.

In keeping with San Diego culture, the owners are positioning Crimson Chic as a salon with an emphasis on easy-to-maintain, wash-and-wear cuts in line with current trends, as well as a center for creative, multi-dimensional hair color. Brandler’s talent for both innovative and classic cutting complements the highlighting/lowlighting skills of Alley and Siragusa. Not wanting to rush its easygoing clients, Crimson Chic books up to 90 minutes for a cut, shampoo and blowdry.

“My philosophy has always been that you can’t pick and choose your clients,” says Brandler. “Trends come and go, but we want to do work that suits all types of lifestyles and build a clientele of good clients who’ll stay with us. Hairdressers don’t even realize the magic we have—amazing magic—to make people feel good about themselves. We are doctors of the mind in some ways— psychiatrists—and people love that.”

Throughout his long career, Brandler’s studies of hair, and people and business have spanned several continents and more than 40 years. He’s been in the game this long because, he says: “I still have my health, and I still have the need to create something. I still have what I call the sense of urgency.”

Although his experiences are complex, Brandler’s ideas are surprisingly simple.

“If you look at the hair salons that last forever, they’re good, solid, hardworking salons,” he observes. “They may not get a lot of press for being trendy, but they’re solid salons.” A press release Brandler wrote himself states: “Good service, a clean environment and excellent artistry are the keys to success, along with a little luck.” The hairdressing veteran hopes to have all of that in the city of San Diego.