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A Day in the Fabulous Life of Chaz Dean

Chaz Dean

A reporter gets the celebrity treatment at the Chaz Dean Studio and accepts a coveted invitation to the gay hair stylist's holiday party.

In an unassuming neighborhood in the heart of Los Angeles, there's an ivy-wrapped wall reminiscent of the fairy-tale enclave in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. On a recent Saturday, families line up across the street at After-School All-Stars, a nonprofit that provides programs for students from low-income homes. The Hollywood sign floats in the background.

There is no sign on this particular corner. But those in the know and who have the right code can open a door, part the vines, and step into the Chaz Dean Studio. The space was founded in 1993 by Chaz Dean in order to create "a safe-haven for my clients" from prying eyes and paparazzi, notes the celebrity hair stylist on his website. Charlize Theron, Ben Foster, and Nicollette Sheridan are just some of the high-profile figures who have walked through this portal.

Dean himself has achieved a certain level of celebrity. His profile and luxurious locks appear on billboards advertising his studio across the city, including one placed prominently in the heart of the West Hollywood gayborhood. Television viewers may have also seen him on QVC to promote his line of hair products, Wen, as well as on Bravo's Flipping Out alongside interior designer Jeff Lewis.

Once upon a time, Dean, now 43, lived in this studio. He's also expanded the number of bungalows from one to three over the years, to create a compound, which was designed with the collaboration of Lewis. Inside the wall, it feels like a temple. There are square stones threaded with grass on the ground as well as the soothing burble of fountains and a koi pond. And the buildings -- filled with the bustle of stylists, their assistants, models, and a chic clientele -- still look like homes, although Dean since moved. A peek inside one of the bathrooms reveals a still-functioning shower.

An enthusiastic photographer escorts this reporter up the stairs to Dean's office in order to receive a "before" portrait prior to a hair treatment and blow-out. What's your diet?, he asks with a bit of concern. No restrictions, I say. This product has honey in it, he warns, before rubbing it in the tips of my hair, wanting to create the best shot possible. Some "before" shots can look so dramatic and tragic, we agree.

Dean is not present at the studio. But lining one wall are pictures of the stylist beside his beloved Labradors -- Hunter, Riley June, Bella Lune, and Spencer, who, as I would learn later, recently passed. These pooches often greet patrons of the salon, although not today. The office, at the moment, has been partly converted into a photo studio. I stand in front of a blinding light before a white wall, and model the front, side, and back of my honey-tipped hair.

In between poses, I also receive a crash course in Wen, which is akin to a faith practiced at the Chaz Dean Studio (even Dean's dogs are groomed with it). The Wen cleansing conditioner was created by Dean as an alternative to shampoo -- you can't say shampoo without "sham" and "poo," the photographer jokes. The cleansing conditioner is made up of a "5-in-1 formula" that "takes the place of your shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioner, detangler and leave-in conditioner," according to the website. It lacks the sulfates found in most shampoos, which "strip your hair of natural oils." The goal, says the photographer, is to achieve "day 3" hair by "day 1" -- a reference to the time between a normal shampooing and the day hair that looks its most luxurious hydrated.

Wen helped launch Dean to fame and fortune. Alanis Morissette, whose hair was styled by Dean for the 1999 Grammy Awards, endorsed it, which "helped to jumpstart the products," Dean remarked on his website. The name "Wen," by the way, is Dean's creation, the result of "many hours putting up three letter words to a mirror to see what looked right," he told A&U magazine. He was seeking a word that was "zen-like." In addition to rhyming with zen, Wen is also "new" spelled backwards.


Wen has also led to some controversy. In 2015, Dean's company was the target of a class-action lawsuit from customers complaining of hair loss. The company settled out of court in order to "put this behind us so that we can focus on delivering quality products," according to a statement at the time.

I'm about to be the recipient of some of these products -- a sampling of more than 500 available under the Wen brand, which fills an onsite store in front of a small waterfall. I'm led through the garden to another bungalow, where I'm handed a refreshing drink that combines lemonade and cucumber. I sit down and lay my head back into a sink, while a chair mechanically massages my back. My hair is rinsed, and then the light cleansing conditioner is applied. It tingles.

Afterward, I'm guided to a drying station, which is not your average salon hair dryer. It is circular and rotary, and orbits overhead like a halo. A handsome man who may be a model sits next to me. It turns out his partner is actually the model in the family. We strike up a conversation, and he gestures to a tall and beautiful blond across the room. She appears on QVC with Dean to promote his hair products, he tells me. Each year, Dean flies her out for his holiday party, which is scheduled for later this evening.

After 20 minutes in the chair, I'm led back to the sink for another rinsing and more product applications: the 613 cleansing conditioner and sweet almond mint treatment oil. I then meet my stylist, a friendly Angeleno named Rigo. We discuss the gay Oscar hopeful Call Me by Your Name ("beautiful") and the tradition of stylists wearing all-black clothing (begun in the 1960s by the Sassoon Salon).

Before I know it, my blow-dry is complete. It's a beautiful transformation -- long and straight. The blow-dry has picked up some of my hair's natural highlights, and the color is a few shades lighter than before. He used several products for styling: a leave-in cleansing conditioner and replenishing treatment mist in the fragrance mandarin italian fig as well as styling creme (winter red currant) and smoothing glossing serum (pomegranate).

Hair envy, says the photographer, after the treatment. Day 3 hair at day 1, I respond, before modeling the "after" shots.


Later that night, I arrive with my new do at Dean's holiday party, which is at only "one of his mansions," according to the publicist's invite. The dress code is red, black, and/or metallic color. I oblige with a black blazer, a silver watch, and a red turtleneck, which is completely unnecessary in the warm L.A. December, but lends a festive air.

An Uber drops my partner and me off at the base of the Hollywood Hills. A shuttle takes us the rest of the distance -- up the winding road, which is not far from the Griffith Observatory glowing in the darkness. Dean's residence is at the end of the street. On the driveway, we pose for a photograph on the red carpet. The actress Brittany Snow breezes by. Dean's annual party supports the Love Is Louder nonprofit cofounded by the Pitch Perfect actress, to help "anyone feeling mistreated, misunderstood or alone."

She is not the only Pitch Perfect star in attendance. Shelley Regner and Kelley Jakle, from the upcoming Pitch Perfect 3, as well as American Idol's Rayvon Owen, are there, preparing to sing holiday hits for the crowd near the pool in the backyard. The property, we soon learn, is made up of not one mansion, but several properties that Dean has acquired, which are linked by steps winding through a descending lawn. The guests who stroll through them are a well-heeled and -coiffed mixture of models, Dean's employees from the studio, and members of the entertainment industry. As we grab a plate of short rib and salmon from a food station, a group nearby chats excitedly about another upcoming holiday party thrown by Real Housewives star Adrienne Maloof.

And then there is Dean himself. The man of the hour takes the stage to introduce the singers. He also takes a moment to acknowledge the passing of his dog Spencer as well as the recent death of the actress and minister Della Reese, with whom he had been friends for over 20 years. He calls her a "spiritual guide" and the "epitome of love," recounting how, on the set of Touched by an Angel, she would hug every actor and crew member. Reese was "someone who inspired me to be and live the life that I live," Dean says.

Afterward, there is applause, and singing, and good cheer. And on the way out, each guest receives a bag full of Wen.

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