In a rose-colored suite 12 stories above 57th Street in Manhattan sit eight women awaiting transformation. Tall and short, stocky and svelte, plain and pretty, they have come to David Kibbe’s Metamorphosis salon with but a single dream: to be beautiful. “What is your glove size?” Kibbe, 32, asks a tall brunette slouching nervously against a wall. “How big are your feet? Now pull your hair back so I can see your face.” He stares, furrows his brow and delivers his judgment. “Think of yourself,” he purrs, “as the physical equivalent of the Chrysler Building.”
It’s not your average beauty tip. But then Kibbe, as he is quick to point out, is no garden-variety make-over artist. “I’m not just another ditzy beauty person saying, ‘I think you should do this, dahling,’ ” says Kibbe, whose new manual, David Kibbe’s Metamorphosis, will be available next month. “Most beauty consultants work by correcting your presumed flaws, but I believe there’s not one thing about your appearance that isn’t absolutely perfect for the individual you are.”
If that were all there were to it, of course, Kibbe would be out of a job. But his philosophy goes further: Human beings, perfect though they may be, are hopeless at recognizing what they look like (the Chrysler Building, say) and then capitalizing on it. “What I can do,” says Kibbe, who estimates that he has already performed 6,000 “head-to-toe” renovation jobs, “is help you discover your potential.” He has certainly been discovering his own. In addition to producing his beauty manual, he has appeared on Today and Good Morning America, and is now checking locations for a string of salons in Beverly Hills, Dallas and Miami.
At his New York salon, clients pay $230 for a daylong group session with the master. He scrutinizes each woman, then assigns her to one of 13 “Image Identity” categories, each with its own evocative title—among them “Soft Dramatic,” “Gamine,” “Romantic” and “Flamboyant Natural.” Thus pigeonholed, each client is given specific makeup, hairstyle and clothing advice. For example, a woman designated a “Theatrical Romantic” is told to wear shoulder pads, hats with veils, lacy gloves and other accoutrements designed to heighten her “air of mystery…elegance.”
Though he democratically prides himself on “appealing to everyone,” most of Kibbe’s customers are professional women. Author Alexandra (How to Make Love to a Man) Penney sought Kibbe’s services because “deep down, you always hope you’re going to find the lipstick and blusher that will change your life.” For tax accountant Mickey Stein, the hope seems to have proved well placed. “David is fantastic,” she says. “I changed the colors I wore, my makeup, everything.” Broadway actress Loretta (Dreamgirls) De-vine dropped by once (“I thought David was cute. Expensive, but cute”), and this year’s Miss Illinois came in for some New York polish.
The really big names have been harder for Kibbe to snag, but that hasn’t stopped him from offering some unsought advice. Madonna, he proposes, “really is a Marilyn Monroe or Jean Harlow type. She should wear her hair longer and fuller. With a little old-fashioned glamour, she could be a huge movie star.” Fergie, the Duchess of York, “is trying to be Miss Fashion in those short skirts and peplums,” he complains. “She should have that heather-on-the-hill look, like a Ralph Lauren ad.” And America’s First Lady, says Kibbe, “wants desperately to be a Grace Kelly classic type, but she’s actually saucy and kittenish. Those Adolfo suits are too boxy,” he sniffs. “I can’t tell you how many people come in and say, ‘I just don’t want to look like Nancy Reagan.’ ”
Kibbe has been helping women get dressed for as long as he can remember. The son of John Kibbe, a smalltown Missouri attorney, and his wife, Barbara, a chemical engineer-turned-homemaker, young David regularly went into his mother’s closet “and picked out shoes for her to wear.” He majored in drama at Texas Christian University, made the rounds in New York as a struggling actor and inevitably found himself pondering what separated those who got parts from those who did not. “I saw people who were less talented get jobs all over the place,” he says. “Everyone would say they had charisma or presence, but I could see it—they just had their look together.”
The scales having tumbled from his eyes, Kibbe began offering makeup and clothing advice to actor friends for their auditions. In 1981 he left the theater—and waiting on tables—to set up his own shop in Manhattan. Now, he says, he “dramatically changes the lives” of 25 to 30 women a week.
Today, Kibbe and his fiancée, actress Susan Slavin, claim to have “taken the Image Identity system into our life-style.” To wit, they have decorated their New York City apartment in a Theatrical Romantic style. Kibbe says he wanted the place to look like the penthouses Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire danced through in their movies. It’s all in a day’s work for Kibbe, who says he cannot imagine growing tired of his calling. “I’m dealing with people’s feelings about themselves, with using their outsides to express their insides,” he says. “It’s like watching flowers bloom, and I love it.”