When a star needs to get her head together before a new film or after a broken love affair, she is almost as likely to call on John Isaacs these days as her shrink. Isaacs, 35, is the latest London hairdressing luminary to hit Beverly Hills. His specialty is drastic restyling, and his clients include Julie Andrews, Britt Ekland, Elizabeth Taylor and Suzanne Pleshette. Isaacs also regularly returns home, where his firm is still the royal tease, clipping and back-combing Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, Princess Alexandra and the Duchess of Kent. “A haircut,” contends Isaacs, “can make more of a difference in your appearance than anything else—including plastic surgery.”
Client Ekland is a classic case who came to Isaacs’ “michaeljohn” salon for personal as well as professional reasons. Britt not only was tired of the long, raggedy mane she wore during her years as Rod Stewart’s lady, but also needed something “cosmic” for her role in ABC’s Battlestar Galactica. Isaacs cropped her hair and then clapped lookalike wigs on her 19 clones in the cast. “For Britt to have such short hair was really a big thing,” says Isaacs. (But, keeping a foot in both camps, John still plays soccer on Wednesday nights with English rockers like Stewart.)
Another Isaacs transformation was Julie Andrews, who came to him just before shooting her upcoming release, 10. Her prim Mary Poppins bun or postpostulant Sound of Music bob wouldn’t work for a part in which she beds down with her lover. So Isaacs created for Julie a sexy new soft perm. In April she had to be totally recoiffed to play the wealthy widow Amanda in Little Miss Marker, a remake of the 1934 Shirley Temple classic. “You can’t just lift a style from a history book and expect the star to be comfortable with it,” says Isaacs. So he researched dozens of possibilities before coming up with a ’79 update of the ’30s marcel wave. Marvels Andrews: “He makes my bone structure look like a million dollars.”
The Mod look was just aborning in London back in 1959 when Isaacs, a high school dropout, found his calling as a sweeper and shampoo boy in a local parlor at $3 a week. John moved on quickly to Dumas, then one of the town’s toniest salons, and in 1962 to the even more exalted Raphael Leonard. Through all those years he lived at home (his father was and is a taxi driver) to save money to found michael-john in 1967 with Leonard colleague Michael Rasser. It was an instant hit. Recalls Isaacs: “We had models, movie stars and the girl next door.” Within two more years the story had a still more heartening follow-up: They were successful enough that Isaacs married his love, Susan Sherman, another Leonard hairdresser, and retired her.
A michaeljohn outpost in Beverly Hills seemed the logical next conquest in 1978. But they had made one Vidal mistake. “We were flabbergasted that our names didn’t mean anything,” recalls Isaacs, who was also paying Beverly Hills rent and feeding three new mouths (all daughters). “It was the most depressing and lonely place in the world,” he says. Then, just as suddenly, michaeljohn west clicked and, as with earlier triumphs, Isaacs handled it levelheadedly. He declares flat out he won’t turn producer like Jon Peters. “For an Englishman,” he says, “Beverly Hills is a bit like being on the moon.” But there are some advantages. The royal ladies that his partner deals with every week back in London don’t carry money and never tip.