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French Touch: A day at Dessange hair spa
"Sorry. Can’t respond. Am too busy SEETHING WITH EXTREME HAIR JEALOUSY.” It’s not often that I get this kind of email from our beauty director, Vanessa Craft. I had taken a day off from covering the spring/summer collections in Paris to spend time at the Dessange hair spa, and I needed to confess an all-too-common beauty sin: I had just engaged in a tonsorial tryst, and if there was one woman who would understand that turn of events, it was Vanessa.
Jason le Carrour had me the moment I walked into the flagship Dessange salon. I arrived feeling distracted and embarrassed because the strap on my Pierre Hardy shoe had just broken. Should I fess up to my problem or try to gracefully shuffle my way through the day? Jason, who had noticed I was having a quiet meltdown, discreetly asked me to remove my shoes
and handed me some flip-flops. He then arranged with my host from L’Oréal Paris to have my shoe repaired. As the salon manager, he’s clearly a pro at handling suchfashion emergencies. “Come with me,” he said. “I’ll show you the salon and then take you to the hair spa for a treatment.”
The “spa” is an oasis in a separate area at the back of the salon. I took a seat, and Jason gently rested his hands on my shoulders. “Now, let’s talk about your hair,” he said in a serious, empathetic tone that made me think I could tell him all my troubles and he would kindly listen. “I will also make a proposition about what we can do with your cut and colour,” he told me. “You know what they say: Men propose, and women decide whether to accept.” I hadn’t planned on getting my hair cut, and I told him I felt a little guilty about being unfaithful to Victor, who has been my Toronto hairstylist for 15-plus years. “You mean you’ve never had your hair cut by a Frenchman?” he asked incredulously, as if this were a beauty rite of passage I had been denied. “No, you’d be my first,” I replied, feeling a little flushed. “It is good to have someone look at you with fresh eyes and see something in you that may have been forgotten or missed,” said Jason. “He will understand.”
They don’t come with Jason, but the at-home products (Salon Color Restore, Solar Blonde Naturale, Oleo Miracle and California Blonde collections) can help you recreate some of the Dessange experience. The 14-piece range sells for $13 to $14 each (at Shoppers Drug Mart, shoppersdrugmart.ca).
After examining my hair, Jason applied a custom-blended mix of essential oils to my scalp and began the most heavenly 30-minute head massage. “Your scalp is stiff,” he said. “You’re stressed. We’ll work on that.” After the massage, Jason left for a moment to mix a bespoke “care treatment” based on his analysis of my scalp and hair. “We don’t call it shampoo,” he said. “It’s more than that. It’s a unique mix of essential oils and minerals from the Dessange salon line.” I then floated over to the shampoo station (or altar) and sat down on the white leather lounger connected to the sink. “This isn’t a chair; it’s an experience,” said Jason. “Lie back and enjoy.” The “chair” did indeed come to life, gently giving me a shiatsu-like neck-to-toe massage. Now that I had told Jason my life story, I wanted to hear his. “Really?” he said, as he started washing my hair. “Yes,” I encouraged him. “Start by telling me when you knew you wanted to be a hairstylist.” He smiled and then began to recount a charming tale about growing up in a village in Brittany and knowing, at age seven, that hair was going to be his life’s work. His father—a fisherman—was puzzled by his son’s intentions, but his mother understood, said Jason. One Christmas, he begged his parents to buy him a Barbie so that he could do her hair. “I spotted this beautiful box under the tree, and I was so sure it was going to be my doll,” he recalled. “I opened it and burst into tears. My father had agreed to get me a doll—but it was a Ken doll with plastic hair! I said ‘You don’t understand that I want a doll with hair because I want to be a hairdresser!’ Days later, my mother came home with a Barbie Styling Head and makeup kit. I said ‘Bye-bye, Ken’ and became the master of hair in the neighbourhood.”
At 15, Jason landed his first job at a Dessange salon near his home, and he has been with the company ever since. “It’s a beautiful task to make someone feel happy,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 35 years, and it’s still amazing.” What followed was also rather amazing. Instead of rinsing the conditioner—I mean “care treatment”—from my hair, Jason filled a blue glass vase with water from a bubbling glass cauldron located beside the sink. The water, which is “purified and distilled,” is kept at room temperature and removes impurities and ensures that the shaft of the hair lies flat. “Do you know that scene in Out of Africa where Robert Redford is washing Meryl Streep’s hair by the river?” Jason asked me. “This reminds me of that. It’s beautiful, no?” Oh, the French—they do know how to charm a woman.