On the Scene: Hairstylist Paul Brown looks back at a storied career in Hawaii
San Francisco born-and-raised Paul Brown was 12 when he cut his hair and discovered he was good at it. Now, he’s in Hawaii with his own salon.
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San Francisco born-and-raised Paul Brown was 12 when he cut his hair and discovered he was good at it. Before long he was cutting his brother’s hair, and his friends’ hair soon after that. At 15, Brown was making several hundred dollars a month doing hair in his parents’ garage, and so he went to beauty school after high school instead of college. After graduation he was hired by the Glemby Co., a leader in hairstyling and hairstyling salons, and based in New York. Brown worked with celebrity hairstylist Mr. Kenneth and was introduced to the highest of New York’s high society.
Glemby sent Brown to Honolulu for a year as its Hawaii representative. Rotated back to New York, Brown’s next assignment was going to be Paris. He decided he’d rather live in Hawaii. He returned, this time self-employed, and opened his salon.
It was in Hawaii that Brown met American writer and philosopher Susan Sontag. Their friendship is described in Benjamin Moser’s definitive biography, “Sontag: Her Life and Work.” Brown, 71, got advance notice from Moser shortly before the book hit stores last month.
Were you surprised to be mentioned in the book?
Yes. I had six interviews with Benjamin. He wanted (to know) everything, but I didn’t know how much he was going to use.
How did you meet Susan Sontag?
Her parents were living here and her mother became my client. Her mother introduced us and I did her hair. I knew she was famous, but I did it for her mother.
What are your most vivid memories?
One is the first time I took her for a ride on my Hobie Cat (catamaran). We smoked a joint on the way over to Kailua — she had it (with her) — and she’s wearing this bathing suit that looked like they got it at Goodwill or something. So I got her on the Hobie and we’re going out. She’d never been on a wave and I’m “catting around” on this 14-foot Hobie, and she was just loving it, so she started talking to me. “What do you think about…” all these things I’d never thought about. Finally we were talking about AIDS — this was when it was called GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) — and she asked me if I thought it was a God thing. I said, “I don’t believe in God. I’m a recovering God person,” and from them on we became friends. Every time she came here she wanted to go out on the Hobie Cat. Another is in 1989 — she’d written a book, “AIDS and its Metaphors.” I was doing a hair show in New York and I went over to her place on the Hudson River, and the book was dedicated to me.
What was your most difficult job for a client here?
One of my first clients in Hawaii — she literally brought me into the society here, she was really cool and I loved her a lot — had asked me to do her hair and her makeup for her open-casket funeral. I did it for her because I loved her so much, but it was very, very difficult. When we finished it looked like her, but I’ll never do that again.
Can you go to a social event without critiquing the hair?
No (but) it’s not like I’m critiquing them. I’m thinking about what I would do to make them look better. There are times I want to go somewhere and not think about that, but I still do. It’s just who I am.
If President Donald Trump asked you to be his hairstylist, what recommendations would you make?
I would just have his hair slicked back. Have you ever seen him when he has a baseball cap on and then pulls it off and his hair is just slicked back? He looks good.