It was a match made in big hair heaven. "Ken and I are soulmates—he had me at 'Hello,'" jokes Jessica Simpson
, who has trusted stylist Ken Paves since 1998, when he created a look for her first CD cover. Eight years on, the encounter has served both well. He has given her among the most envied tresses in Hollywood, while she has proved to be more than a muse: This fall Paves, 34, and Simpson will unveil Hair Do, a line of home-use extensions (priced under $300) on which they collaborated.
Factor in their close friendship—since Simpson's split from Nick Lachey
, Paves (pronounced PAY-ves) has been her steady escort—and it looks as if the stylist's schedule is fully booked. Good thing, then, that he needs only four hours' sleep a night, what with his two salons (Pavé in Clinton Township, Mich., near his hometown of New Baltimore, and, as of June, Ken Paves in Beverly Hills), his self-named hair-care line, plus all those appearances on Oprah
In fact, Paves, who speaks in the mile-a-minute rhythm of someone who doesn't like to slow down, is so in demand that even celebs like Eva Longoria
teasingly complain that Simpson tries to keep him all to herself. Longoria did manage to book Paves for May's ALMA Awards, at which he created 10 different looks (from updos to flowing tresses) for her; Avril Lavigne
and Brittany Murphy are among the others who have snagged coveted appointments. For Murphy, "he is today what Vidal Sassoon was in the '70s," she says. Further explaining Paves's appeal, Mary Atherton, editor of Modern Salon, a national trade journal for stylists, says, "He doesn't overdress the hair. Sometimes it's a fresh updo that looks as if he just twisted it and stuck a single pin in. He's very simple—that's the unique thing about him."
But not the only thing. In an industry dedicated to vanity, Paves tries "to balance out the work that I do." Inspired by his nephew Ryan, who died at 15 months from a congenital disease, Paves donates time to many charities, including Operation Smile. (Simpson is now an ambassador for the group, which arranges operations for children with facial deformities.) Another karmic equalizer: Although the wait-list for Paves's services—which can run as high as $500 a cut—is 600 names long, cancer patients needing wigs during chemotherapy get to jump the queue and never have to pay.
As a boy, Paves developed his eye for glamour watching how his 4′11″ Filipino-Portuguese mother, Helen, would break from the drudgery of housework (and the limp ponytail that went with it) to get "glammed up" for the holidays. "To me, she turned almost into a superhero," says Paves, one of three children. And Helen liked to turn her magic powers on her son. "My mom would perm her own hair and then perm my hair," he recalls. "I was in sixth grade, and my nickname was Ogilvie Home Perm!"
After graduating from beauty school in 1994, Paves lobbied hard for a $75-a-week job assisting star stylist Oribe in Miami and relocated with longtime partner Fred Geiger, 34. For extra income, he did strippers' hair until 4 a.m. When a few of his night clients showed up during Oribe's regular business hours—on Rollerblades, mind you—Paves's boss got a look at what he could do: big, beautiful hair.
Soon he was traveling with Oribe to Paris to style models for the runway, and after he moved to Oribe's New York City salon, celeb clients started booking him. So why the decision in '02 to open his first salon (run by Helen and Paves's father, Gary, a retired auto worker) in a New Baltimore strip mall of all places? "I don't want it to be super-exclusive. That's not who I am," says Paves, who dropped the accent over the 'e' in his name that his grandmother favored. "I'm not that fancy!"
Not super-exclusive? Try telling that to his fans, who can be almost as passionate as Simpson's. Not long ago, Paves was stopped in an airport. Did the woman want the latest on Simpson's love life? No, he explains sheepishly. "She said, 'I've been waiting months to get an appointment to see you!'"