March 17, 1997 12:00 PM

LONG AND LUXE, HER GOLDEN locks enchanted moviegoers in films like Emma and helped win the affections of Brad Pitt. But when Gwyneth Paltrow read the script for the romantic comedy Sliding Doors, she felt her character needed a lighter, more playful look. So, anxious but determined, Paltrow called on the man to whom trendy Hollywood trusts its tresses: stylist Laurent Dufourg, known to his fans simply as Laurent.

“She said she wanted to go short,” recalls Laurent, 46, who used a stylist’s razor on Feb. 6 to transform Pal-trow’s lengthy mane into a layered, collar-grazing do. While Laurent did the 45-minute trim, fiancé Pitt sat nearby holding Paltrow’s hand. “She was so nervous,” says Laurent. “I think Brad being there calmed her.”

Laurent’s reputation surely helped too. Best known for his swingy styles, both long and short, he has a reassuring way with the scissor-phobic. “Women say he makes them feel very serene, very relaxed,” says his wife of 17 years, salon manager Fabienne, 46.

Since opening his Prive salon on tony Melrose Place in 1995, Laurent, who charges $100 a cut (“I don’t believe in the $300 haircut,” he says), has become hairdresser—and friend-to the stars. In October he escorted Teri Hatcher to the Fire and Ice Ball and was Paula Abdul‘s date at last month’s American Music Awards. Last year he even introduced client Sharon Stone to his best friend, Guess? honcho Michel Benasra, and managed to stay pals with both after their brief romance ended. “I sit in his chair and I have no worries,” says Abdul, who has been paying weekly visits to the salon while growing out her cropped do. “He’ll take care of me.”

The salon’s soothing atmosphere—chestnut wood, soft music and butter-yellow walls—is also a draw. “Most salons have a lot of hustle and bustle and loud music,” notes Abdul. “When I walk in, it’s like a breath of fresh air.”

The eldest of three sons of Jean Dufourg, a golf pro at a country club, and his wife, Andree, a homemaker, Laurent got into the business by accident. As a teen growing up in Biarritz, France, he played in an R&B band and dreamed of a music career. But when he needed money to buy a new drum set, a friend set him up. in a summer job as a shampoo boy at a local hair salon. “I really enjoyed being creative and knew I could do something with this,” he recalls.

After working his way up to stylist, he moved to Paris in 1968, then to the resort town of Marbella, Spain, where he opened two salons and married Evelyn Dechorgnat, the mother of his son Shelby, now 21. The couple separated when Shelby was a toddler, and when Evelyn and several of Laurent’s friends were killed in an auto accident in 1979, Laurent decided to make a fresh start in life. With Shelby and Fabienne, whom Laurent had met that same year in his salon and married a month later, he moved to Los Angeles, where he became partners in a salon with famed hairstylist Jose Eber.

Laurent spent the ’80s working with such stars as Victoria Principal and Sophia Loren at the Eber Beverly Hills salon but soon came to dislike Eber’s fondness for drastic style makeovers. After a bitter split in 1995, Laurent opened the hipper Privé.

Although he owns a contemporary home in Beverly Hills with a stunning city view and drives a silver Bentley convertible, Laurent’s schedule doesn’t leave him with much time to enjoy either, or to attend his beloved Lakers’ games. And with the planned opening later this year of Prive branches in New York City and Las Vegas (Shelby, now a stylist in Paris, may run one of them), he’ll be spending much of his time shuttling between salons (his L.A. staff includes six stylists and three colorists). But Laurent, who recently took the test to become a U.S. citizen, isn’t complaining. “A lot of French people come here, and they’re very snotty about America,” he says. “I don’t like that. This country has been very good to me.”


ANNE-MARIE OTEY in Los Angeles

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