Sally Inc.



IT was a hot wet Wednesday, altogether too swampy for anything but the briefest outdoor interlude, so the tour of Sally Hershberger's prodigious penthouse balcony quickly came to what is so often the point: real estate.

  Ms. Hershberger, the hairstylist famous for giving Meg Ryan her shag and for driving the price of a haircut to a dizzying $600, pointed to the penthouse apartment next to hers. ''That's for sale,'' she said. ''I almost bought it.''

Annie Leibowitz, who had come to Ms. Hershberger's for dinner, asked, ''How much?''

  Ms. Hershberger said, ''One point nine.'' The apartment she really wants is an adjacent one, which belongs to a fashion stylist, Barbara Dente.

  ''How old is she?'' Ms. Leibowitz asked.

  Ms. Hershberger flashed a small naughty smile from her small naughty mouth, which showed her straight white teeth to great advantage. ''She looks good,'' she said. The women threw their arms around each other's backs and chuckled.

  Anyone who can sell a haircut for the price of airfare to the opposite coast has magic powers, and Sally Hershberger, who presides over salons in New York and Los Angeles, now hopes to bring that magic to other realms. In June she introduced a line of skin care products at Sally Hershberger Face Place, a new shop above her West 14th Street salon. A clothing label, Shagg Downtown -- a collection of butter-soft cotton Henleys, saucy T-shirts and jeans that are part Sid Vicious, part Laird Hamilton -- made its debut this month at boutiques like Maxfield's in Los Angeles and Jeffrey in New York.

  Ms. Hershberger is the latest stylist to try founding an entire brand on a reputation for wizardry with scissors and a blow-dryer. Others included Frederic Fekkai, who in the 1990's branched out from a salon in the Chanel building in Midtown Manhattan to stamp his name on sunglasses and handbags; and Kenneth Battelle, who is famous for creating Jacqueline Kennedy's bouffant and who started a cosmetics line in the 70's. Ms. Hershberger may be the most ambitious of all. She envisions a world dedicated to the merchandising of Sally's Favorite Things, which include perfect little T-shirts (one celebrating a famous lesbian club in Paris), rockabilly bangs, tight jeans, the no-makeup look, surf movies and simple beet salads. Of course there is a book in the works: ''Shagg,'' which will cover everything from entertaining to her favorite movies to ways to crash a party. It is scheduled to be published next year by Regan Books.

  Turning a life into a livelihood requires more than talent and business acumen. The track record for stylists turned lifestyle gurus is not promising. Mr. Fekkai terminated his spinoffs when they did not sell well. ''At the end of the day,'' a spokesman for his company said, ''Frederic's main expertise to the public is in the hair-care arena.''

  But Ms. Hershberger, who enjoys a kind of cynosure status among many of her friends, may be well positioned to make her favorite things your favorite things. ''There is a Hershberger cult,'' said John Barrett, who runs a competing hair salon in Bergdorf Goodman. ''People in society are always looking for direction. Sally clearly sees that and is not frightened to have her own image, but also to just say, 'I'm so cool, you guys have to follow me.' People are totally willing to do it.''

  Back on the balcony Ms. Leibowitz clearly had arrived thinking dinner-casual, and when she noted the presence of an interloper, armed dangerously with a camera, she said, ''What are we doing here?''

  Ms. Hershberger explained the book concept. The idea of the dinner party was to capture her entertaining, Hershberger style, with Hershberger friends and Hershberger food for the book.

  ''Are there going to be pictures?'' Ms. Leibowitz asked.

  Ms. Hershberger said, ''Just a few.'' This did not appear to be an entirely welcome surprise.

  MS. HERSHBERGER was first propelled to It-girl status by the shag cut she gave Meg Ryan for the 1995 movie ''French Kiss.'' ''The Farrah Fawcett, the Meg Ryan and the Rachel are the three hairstyles of the last 30 years that affected pop culture,'' said Ms. Hershberger's friend Jeanine Lobell, who founded Stila cosmetics. ''That's pretty cool. You could kind of go home after that.'' Ms. Hershberger's other celebrity clients have included Naomi Watts and Tom Cruise.

  Less well known is her role in helping to develop the Sheer Blonde line in the 90's for John Frieda Professional Hair Care, which soon brought in $50 million of the company's $120 million annual revenues, said Gail Federici, the former president of the company.

  In some circles Ms. Hershberger is thought to be the model for the character Shane, the skirt-chasing hairstylist on ''The L Word,'' the Showtime drama about chic lesbians in Los Angeles. The evidence is circumstantial. Ilene Chaiken, the creator and executive producer of ''The L Word,'' and Ms. Hershberger used to socialize. Shane, like Ms. Hershberger, favors jeans, scuffed boots and bed-messy hair. And both have a tendency to hold their petite bodies in a sexy, C-shaped slouch.

  But Ms. Chaiken says that Shane is not really Ms. Hershberger. ''The Shane character is a completely fictional character,'' she said. And Ms. Hershberger finds preposterous the notion that Shane might be based on her. For one thing Shane is a struggling twentysomething, while Ms. Hershberger has three homes (in Beverly Hills, Calif.; East Hampton, N.Y.; and the West Village in Manhattan) and is of an age she won't disclose. ''I'm anti-age,'' she said. (In 2001 she told Harper's Bazaar she was 40.)

  ''She's not successful and she's kind of a wreck,'' she said of Shane. ''Here's the bottom line: When there's going to be a show, it will be mine.''

  Ms. Hershberger has long surrounded herself with a coterie of friends and admirers, people who focus on her and cater to her: the ''Hershberger cult'' that Mr. Barrett referred to. Peggy Lipton, a star on the old television series ''Mod Squad,'' once brought her to a meditation center in upstate New York, where Ms. Hershberger came to Ms. Lipton in tears one night.

  ''She was crying, 'Why haven't you been by my side, taking care of me?''' Ms. Lipton recalled. ''Sally had a lot of friends. People who were there for her, and people who did things for her. In that way I wasn't going to cater to her. And I didn't. She had this wake-up.''

  In 1990 the two women went to an ashram in India.

  ''You go someplace like that and your heart opens up and you cry for all the years you haven't cried,'' Ms. Lipton said. ''It's your heart breaking open. Then every once in a while, she'd throw in a haircut.''

  Whether the acumen Ms. Hershberger has demonstrated in the hair business will carry over to skin care and clothing is an open question.

  ''She might be a good haircutter, but skin care is not a field you can just go into and be successful,'' said Morise Cabasso, the president of Mario Badescu skin care. ''We're not into hair because in my opinion and experience, hair and skin are two different issues.''

  Clothes are a third issue, and the Shagg Downtown collection, which she is starting with the help of a surfing buddy, Steven Antin, and a stylist, Lori Goldstein, is heavy on denim, a market that is hot but crowded. Today there are over 1,000 major denim brands, up from eight 30 years ago, a recent report by Legg Mason, a financial services company, indicated.

  Shagg Downtown jeans will retail for $170 to $240, the most crowded niche in the market. ''The stereotypical jean now is a blue jean with some kind of treatment for $175 to $210,'' said Scott Morrison, the president of Earnest Sewn jeans. ''There's so much product out in the market now that to really do well, it's tough.''

  But Ms. Hershberger's confidence is as high as her prices.

  ''It's not my nature to fail,'' she said. Besides, ''Frederic doesn't wear purses,'' she added, referring to Mr. Fekkai's defunct handbag line. ''I wear my jeans and T-shirts. I use incredible products on my skin. This is me.''

  SHE spent her early childhood in a 14,000-square foot house in Wichita, Kan., the daughter of an extravagant, resolutely optimistic mother and an obsessively athletic father, who struck oil in his 20's, appeared on a box of Wheaties in his 50's and in his heyday hobnobbed with Gerald Ford and Bob Dole.

  Ms. Hershberger's parents divorced when she was 3, and a few years later she moved to Beverly Hills with her mother and her two brothers: Jimmy, who died of a drug overdose, and Michael, who was killed in a car accident.

  ''I was a bad girl,'' she said over a late lunch at Pastis. ''I always thought I was going to get all this money. Then my dad lost it all, when oil crashed, you know. Sandra Bernhard used to say to me, 'God bless the child who has its own.''' She rolled her eyes.

  The loss of her father's fortune had more to do with his conviction in 1990 on 25 fraud-related counts. It is a topic Ms. Hershberger is loathe to discuss. The family maintains his innocence. He served five years four months at a minimum security prison in Leavenworth, Kan. Ms. Hershberger said she neither visited nor wrote her father in this time.

  ''He wasn't in there long enough,'' she said, preferring to look on the bright side. ''His time there was necessary in a spiritual sense. This was a man who had everything. It was humbling. It made him nice. He would listen. He used to never listen.''

  Airy empires of style like the one Ms. Hershberger now envisions have risen -- and fallen -- before. Mr. Battelle closed his cosmetics business after five years. ''I wanted to be rich and famous,'' he recalled. ''I lost five to ten million dollars. It took a long time for me to come out from under that, but I did, haircut by haircut.''

  He still works three and a half days a week at his salon at the Waldorf, where cuts cost from $105 to $155.

  ''I hope she makes it,'' he said of Ms. Hershberger. ''It's a fleeting fame, so hurry up, Sally.''