“I put my head in his hands just once and I experienced not only the afterglow of his wondrous haircut skills but his wellspring of humility.”
So said Irish Echo contributor Frances Scanlon about John Barrett, the Limerick-born New York hairdresser to celebrities, who died at NYU Langone Hospital on Wednesday of last week at age 66, following a battle with blood cancer.
“To place one’s head into John Barrett’s hands was to know the Divine,” she added, “He was exempt of beauty salon horse manure and consummately focused on his client’s inner and outer well-being. He was rightfully and regularly on the Best Heads/Top Hits List.”
“Limerick’s loss is Heaven’s gain,” Scanlon said.
The New York Times in a detailed obituary described him as a “hairdresser whose relaxed wit, scissor-sharp style and long line of A-list clients put him literally on top of the luxury fashion world, with a salon spanning the penthouse level of the Bergdorf Goodman department store.”
It continued: “New York has no shortage of places where clients can spend $200 or more on a snip and a blow dry. But for more than 20 years — from in 1996, when Mr. Barrett opened at Bergdorf, to 2019, when he left to open his own salon — his aerie overlooking Central Park was the destination of choice for the fashionable elite, whether they walked over from Park Avenue or flew in from Miami, Los Angeles or London.”
“He did hair for attendees of the annual Met Gala, the leading ladies of the British stage and all three female leads of the television show ‘Friends.’ Princess Diana, Ethel Kennedy and Hillary Clinton were regulars. He was the unofficial stylist for the staff of Vogue magazine; as a welcome gift, the editors would buy new hires a makeover at Mr. Barrett’s salon.”
The Times said, “Friends were made, gossip was traded, interviews were conducted. You might find yourself seated between the columnist Peggy Noonan and the homemaking expert Martha Stewart — though a few sensitive regulars, like Mrs. Clinton, might opt for the semi-privacy of wheel-mounted screens.”
“If anything, people think I haven’t changed them enough,” he told the British newspaper The Independent in 1998. “But I can give them the best cut in the world and it will last longer than the one they had.”
He was born on Jan. 10, 1957, in Limerick, Ireland, the son of John Barrett, a laborer, and Philomena (Maroney) Barrett, a homemaker, according to the obituary.
Barrett himself said on his website that he was the fifth of 10 children. He traveled to London in his early teens looking for work.
“When I was 14, 1 didn’t know where I was going to sleep at night,” he told The Irish Times in 2002. “It was absolute luck that I didn’t get involved in a criminal life.”
“He found his calling after answering a want ad for an assistant at Michaeljohn,” the New York Times said, “a relatively new salon whose regulars already included Mick Jagger and Liza Minnelli.”
He moved to Los Angeles for several years in the 1980s, then back to London for a period before settling in New York in the early 1990s.
Barrett is survived by five brothers, Gerry, Pat, Michael, Eddie and Joe, and a sister, Kathleen Dillane. Two brothers, Jimmy and Christopher, and a sister, Peggy Tierney, died before him.