RIDGWAY - “So tell me, truly, how do you feel about your hair?”
So begins a session at Ridgway’s newest salon, Bernard’s. The stylist is Ernst Baer, who has been asking this question of clients since he began his career as a hairstylist in his native Switzerland in an apprenticeship with his father years ago.
“I had no choice; I was standing behind the chair before I was born,” he quipped. As a child growing up in the business, he wanted nothing to do with it. He was more into electronics, and was the self-appointed repairman at his parents’ salon empire, fixing the heating elements of broken blow-dryers.
“If I didn’t have enough work, I would sabotage something,” he said with a crooked grin that is still boyish. “But my dad said to me that I could go see the world if I have good hands. And that’s all it takes. Even if you don’t know the language.”
Baer’s career has spanned decades, continents and 24 employment relationships with top salons. While working in European salons from Zurich to Champs-Élysées, he styled tresses for the likes of Mia Farrow and Audrey Hepburn.
Moving to the U.S., he had stints in Bermuda, West Palm Beach “where they had a jar full of rocks (i.e. diamonds) that clients forgot,” and New Orleans – where he established a lifelong friendship and working relationship with renowned stylist John Jay – before opening Crazy Horse International in Boulder and later shifting to Durango. There, he had a progressive salon for over 24 years, and developed two lines of hair products, while teaching and guest-styling worldwide. More recently, he built a home in Silverton out of cinderblock, concrete, glass and steel – his modern take on a Swiss chalet – where he operated Elevation Salon, and became a father for the first time.
“I’d lived long enough in Victorian houses and was never comfortable,” he explained.
In the aftermath of divorce, he embraced Ridgway as his new home, bought himself a condo and fancied himself to be retired. But old and new friends kept coming over, he said, drinking his wine and inevitably, convincing him to take out the scissors again. He realized it was important to keep working, for the sake of his son.
His newest salon, located at 167 North Cora St. in Ridgway in a space most recently occupied by Dèja Vu Salon, is named for 6-year-old Bernard, who lives in Wisconsin with his mom but often comes to visit. A few choice works of art adorn the walls, and the XM radio station is tuned to jazz as Baer, skinny and fit in jeans and close-cropped gray hair, clips away at his client’s hair and laments the recent passing of Dave Brubeck.
Bernard’s is not even “officially” open yet, but already, the salon is busy with clients (men, women and kids of all ages) streaming in to get their Ernst-do. He specializes in haircuts that need little maintenance, wear longer and look better than the stuff you see in style magazines.
Wielding freshly sharpened scissors made of Japanese “Samurai steel,” he stands ready to once again transform a mop of bushy, neglected tresses into a sleek coiffure, or a lion’s mane, or a rock-star pixie crop – whatever it is that he sees in his client that needs to be enhanced or released.
“I look at bone structures and postures,” he explained. “When a client comes in, I say, ‘How would I like to see that person? What do I think would look best on her?’ And I claim to have a gift for that. To see that and analyze it.”
Baer is a shine advocate who thinks healthy hair is sexier and more beautiful than tired weaves and stripy highlights “that look like you fell into a bleach pot.” Besides, he hates the idea of all those chemicals going down the river. He uses gentle, natural products whenever possible.
“But I do listen,” he’s quick to add. “I teach myself to listen to my clients. If someone tells me ‘Don’t cut it short, and I want my highlights, and I want it this way and I want it that way,’ I have no problem with that.”
Styling hair comes down to a combination of artistry and technical skill, Baer said. “The artist is when you look at someone and see what you want to achieve. The rest is technical aspects. Discipline.”
Baer hopes to eventually train someone or take on a partner at Bernard’s. But for now, it’s just him. He’s glad his friends kicked him in the butt and got him out of retirement and back on his feet. “I totally missed it,” he admitted. “I love it, what I am doing.”
For an appointment, stop by the salon or call 970/626-4363.
Samantha Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @iamsamwright