Anybody can cut hair with scissors. Mary-Lou Green has done it with a laser. (Happily, the customer survived.) Mary-Lou, 36, is considered one of the premier stylists in Vidal Sassoon’s army of hairdressers, a skilled professional whose attention-getting stunts often cause shudders in the Sassoon company boardroom. “I can’t just cut hair,” says Mary-Lou. “I have to do it in bigger-than-life situations.”
That explains why she chose Las Vegas for her electronic extravaganza last September. Before a crowd of 7,000 at the Aladdin Hotel, Mary-Lou aimed a 600-pound CO2 laser and melted four feet of hair from the head of a model in 34 seconds. “I felt I was making history,” says Mary-Lou. The price surely did: $9,000 for the equipment, film crew and pretesting.
Green, who has worked for Sassoon in London, Paris and Munich and is now in Manhattan, performs best outside the salon—for instance in the back seat of a limo rushing a celeb to the airport. “In the salon there’s no pressure,” she has found, “just pure satisfaction.” Mary-Lou’s natural exhibitionism has made her a favorite with punk musicians like Deborah Harry of Blondie and David Byrne of Talking Heads. Last year she cut six inches off Deborah’s mane (using mere scissors) in order to expose her neck. “Her fiancé wanted a completely new look,” Mary-Lou says, “so he could get at his favorite spot.” Another assignment took her from Toronto to Montreal, San Francisco and New York to trim jazz-rockers Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Between air fare and overtime (Mary-Lou was doing them while a 52-piece band waited in Madison Square Garden), her gig ended up costing the trio $6,000. “It wasn’t meant to be a stunt,” she says, “but it was.”
Mary-Lou’s salon manners are almost as unorthodox—she sometimes wraps her legs around a client’s waist while snipping away. Recently she introduced the upside-down haircut, which by her testimony is already popular in Japan. She developed the style during a session with Michael Cotten of the Tubes, as an experiment. “I was trying to defy gravity,” says Mary-Lou, who now literally cuts and perms her customers while they lean forward in the chair, heads bent toward the floor. The result is a looser curl and a narrower shape.
Over the years Green has coiffed the likes of Joanna Carson, Rod Stewart and the Trudeaus (both Pierre and Margaret) and in 1976 convinced Eartha Kitt to give up wigs and go natural. With favored clients, Mary-Lou often passes on a few haircutting tricks: “I teach them how to survive until I can get back to them” (e.g., emergency trims in areas around the eyes or neck).
Born in Toronto, the daughter of a professional gambler, Mary-Lou grew up nicking at neighborhood children’s hair with her scissors and tucking rollers onto the tummies of cocker spaniels. She left ninth grade at 15 to go to hair-dressing school, won the Canadian coiffing championship and at 17 placed 14th in world competition. A romance a few years later with a married Toronto businessman produced a child, daughter Tami, now 17. “The whole affair was another stunt,” sighs Mary-Lou, still single, who began dyeing Tami’s brown hair blond when she was 8 months old.
Reptiles have always intrigued her (despite their lack of hair). When she moved to San Francisco in 1976, she kept a five-foot iguana and a pale-faced, red-tailed South American boa constrictor in her apartment. “They cut down on your social life,” she admits, but she feels comfortable with snakes. “They don’t ask for anything. They don’t smell and they only defecate once a month.”
Based in New York for the past three years, Mary-Lou hangs out at the Mudd Club or plays pinball at Beefsteak Charlie’s with her boyfriend, rock guitarist and producer Robert Fripp. Recently she began skydiving on weekends and is training for—of course—the first free-falling trim. Next she’s thinking about an underwater haircut-ting exhibit in a Florida pool. And then? Graceful aging is not an option. “I want to become an eccentric older woman,” she says firmly. “When you are my age and act bizarre, you’re considered too off-the-wall.”