Remembrance of Things Past: Celebrating Paul Mitchell


Remembrance of Things Past

We lost Paul Mitchell 26 years ago this month. Here, those he left behind remember a gifted hairdresser, a good friend and a loving father.

So here are a few things you may not know about Paul Mitchell: His real name was Cyril T. Mitchell (the “T” stood for Thomson, his mother’s maiden name); his father was the chief engineer at Buckingham Palace; he was a vegetarian when being one raised a lot of eyebrows; and he was an environmentalist who was committed to solar energy. He was also a deeply spiritual person with a strong interest in Eastern philosophy and mysticism. His funeral on the Big Island of Hawaii, where he was laid to rest, was performed by Yakzan, a Sufi sheikh and personal friend. “When we become aware of the effect that we as individuals can exert on the planet, we can connect with the ranks of the Great Ones, who have changed history with their personal achievements,” he said. “At that moment we transcend the personal and bridge the gap between individual and planetary consciousness. Paul was one of these powerful links, and he left us a legacy of creativity and conscious growth that we will endeavor to continue.”

“His death was crushing to me,” says his son Angus, who was only 18 when his father died. “He was such a healthy person. He used to joke that he’d live to be 150. The hardest part for me was that he was my best friend.” Angus, whose parents divorced when he was a boy, lived in New York City with his mother, an actress whose credits included a role on the popular soap opera Days of Our Lives. “Growing up in New York, I was told to wash my hands every five minutes, but when I visited my dad in Hawaii, he’d take me out walking and tell me to jump into a puddle and feel the mud between my toes,” he says. “As you can imagine, I was horrified.” While it seemed that Angus might follow in his mother’s footsteps—“Acting was my passion,” he says—he decided to enroll in beauty school after his father’s death. But while acting and singing came naturally to him, hairdressing did not, and his teachers at Vidal Sassoon in Santa Monica, CA, were hard on him. “I felt like I was carrying a cross,” he says. “My father was a hard act to follow.” Still, he persevered. “I felt like I was honoring my dad by sticking it out.”

John Paul DeJoria was working as a sales rep for Redken in 1971 when he met Paul for the first time. “We were at a trade show at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami,” says DeJoria. “Eva Prang, who managed a chain of seven salons in Clearwater, introduced us, and we became best friends.” It took another nine years before the two went into business together, coming up with enough money between them ($700) to launch Paul Mitchell with three products: Shampoo One, Shampoo Two and The Conditioner, which they sold from the trunk of their car to salons in Encino and Sherman Oaks, CA. “For the first nine years we were in business, we worked very hard, and during the last three years he was alive, Paul was able to enjoy some of the financial rewards, although he remained a good, humble guy,” says DeJoria, who is convinced that his friend’s spirit is still with those who loved him. “We still have the Awapuhi Farm in Hawaii where his ashes are buried. His mom’s ashes are there. So are my mom’s. I go there sometimes to reminisce a bit.”


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Jeanne Braa, who was Paul’s stage partner during the 1980s, remembers him praying before every show and every meal. “He was very spiritual and humble, and he was environmentally aware before it was popular,” she says. “He reused paper towels. I thought it was the Scot in him, but now I realize that he really cared about the planet.” Braa recalls Vidal Sassoon telling her once that Paul could never quite conform. “He was a hairdresser who loved to think outside the box,” she says. “He’d take hair and cut it in a way that nobody ever had.”

“The last haircut Paul ever did was on Jeanne,” says Robert Cromeans, JPMS global artistic director. “It was on March 13, 1989, at the West Coast Beauty Show in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to be onstage with both of them that day. And now I’m onstage with his son.”

Roz Rubenstein, who was hired to handle public relations and advertising for the company in 1981, met Paul in 1970 when he was running the Beauty Floor at Henri Bendel where she was an accessories buyer. She described his look as “cross-over Bond Street and American hip.” She also recalled that “customers melted around him—the rich, the famous, the beautiful people and the Misses, Mrs. and Ms. that blew their week’s lunch money to have their hair done by Paul Mitchell.”

Shirley Lord, who was the beauty director at Vogue when Paul died, wrote of his passing, “What an extraordinary innovator. As Paul sat in my office at Vogue in the cold, cruel month of February, he warmed up the atmosphere with his incredible enthusiasm for his work.” Ultimately it’s the passion he had for hairdressing that Paul Mitchell will be remembered for when all is said and done. Alfred Morris, who owned The Alfred Morris School of Hairdressing in London where Paul was a student, remembered him as a “skinny young fellow who didn’t waste any of his time. He was determined to succeed and knew what he wanted.” But we’ll let his mother, Jenny, have the last word. “Being rich isn’t what I say his greatest accomplishment has been,” she wrote after his death. “I say it was happiness in what he did, hairdressing.” ✂ —Marianne Dougherty