Haute Hair-Drying: The Latest Beauty Craze

It's just past the ladies-who-lunch hour at the Pacific Palisades outpost of Drybar—Los Angeles's first high-end blowout-only chain—and manager Melanee Lindahl is surveying the coifferati. Six women have just come in and paid $35 to have a trained professional wet and dry their hair. "That's Tricia," Lindahl says, pointing to an attractive blonde in her mid-30s. "Last month she literally came in every day. Now she's down to about two or three times a week." Then she points to another, also blonde, in her mid-30s, ultra-thin, and attractive in a Dallas sort of way. "She's here a couple of times a week as well. Usually right after yoga." According to Lindahl, such devotion isn't unusual: Most of her clients are happy to outsource their blow-drying needs at least a few times per week.

It's a far cry from the old days, when wealthy female Angelenos faced a daunting choice: They could wash, blow-dry, and style their own hair at home—quelle horreur!—or go to a fancy salon like Chris McMillan, where blowouts start at $85. While that may seem like a steep price for a service that basically amounts to having someone blast hot air through your tresses while brushing it, discount operations such as Fantastic Sams didn't quite jibe with the 7-Series crowd. "There was a definite hole in the market here," says Drybar co-founder Alli Webb. "L.A. has a lot of people who are very focused on their appearance, and they care about beauty."

Webb realized the demand for a more modest third party blow-drying service after her Los Angeles-based mobile blowout business, Straight-at-Home, took off in 2008. She figured the blowout-only concept could work in brick-and-mortar form and enlisted her brother, marketing executive Michael Landau. At the time, the blowout-only model was still in its infancy. In 2005, Blow opened in New York City and helped champion the cheap blowout as an indispensable part of one's beauty regime. (It opened a second New York location in 2008.) While a similar outfit, Blo, sprouted in Vancouver and Toronto, Los Angeles remained an untapped market.

Last February, Webb and Landau established the first Drybar in Brentwood—the epicenter of what they refer to as the "yummy mummy" set, their base clientele. The store opened with a simple concept: Customers could choose from one of five styles (ranging from "messy and beachy" Mai Tai to the "sleek and smooth" Manhattan), then sip a glass of complimentary champagne while watching How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days on a flat-screen TV—all for $35. After 30 minutes, customers would be audition-ready—or at least ready to meet their friends at Fred Segal. Soon Drybar was doing between 70 and 90 blowouts a day. "At our price point, it becomes addictive," says Landau. "We make up in volume what we're losing in margin."

After conquering the yummy mummies, Webb and Landau began opening locations throughout the city during 2010, each targeting a different demographic. The Pacific Palisades boutique was intended to lure the "hot tennis mom"—a woman "in her early 30s, definitely married, and wants to look better than the other moms at awards dinners," explains manager Lindahl. The West Hollywood store was opened to attract the hip and famous—Zooey Deschanel, Emma Roberts, and Maria Shriver have all recently popped by—and even includes a VIP room. The Studio City outpost is geared toward those with actual day jobs who want to look good for important meetings. "Before we expanded, I had this moment where I thought to myself, 'You know, maybe this is just a crazy Brentwood woman thing,'" says Landau. "That hasn't been the case."

Instead, Drybar has ushered in the halcyon days of the quickie blowout trade. Each boutique, averaging 10 chairs, currently does between 2,000 and 2,500 blowouts a month, and the chain is on target to have annualized revenue of around $5 million by the end of 2011. "I hate to say this, but it's true—your day is better when your hair looks good," says DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson, who averages one blowout per week. "It's an empowerment thing." Actress Rose McGowan agrees. "When I'm done, I feel and look better," says McGowan, who liked Drybar so much she became an investor in the chain. "It's a lot cheaper than therapy—and a lot more fun."

Yet Drybar's success has led to a veritable blowout war on the streets of Los Angeles. Canada's Blo just opened a salon in Hollywood and is planning a second location in West Hollywood. My Blow LA set up shop in Beverly Hills last summer and is currently scouting for new locations. Bubble Blow Dry, which opened last May in Brentwood, recently launched pop-up blow-dry shops in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood to take advantage of the Oscar season surge.

For now, Webb and Landau are focusing on emerging blowout markets. In the last two months, the company has opened franchises in Dallas and Newport Beach, Calif. Next month the company is unveiling a satellite location in Scottsdale, Ariz., with New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta shops in the works. "You're going to see these be successful wherever you have women who are focused on beauty maintenance," says Blow co-founder Julie Flakstad. "Certainly it helps to be in places where the climate is conducive to maintaining a blowout." Sorry, women of Seattle. You're on your own.

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