Samurai Stylist Suga Got a Wedge in with Dorothy, and Now He Clips Candy, Faye and Marie
Over the years Suga's philosophy has appealed to Bianca Jagger, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Jackie O, Gloria Vanderbilt, Cher and Princess Grace. A cut by the master in his salon at New York's ritzy Bergdorf Goodman department store costs $75. (When the IRS recently investigated Suga for not reporting tips, he archly advised the tax agency that he never accepts any. Even so, the IRS has socked him with a penalty notice. "I may pay," he says, "rather than fight.")
With his client loyalty, he can afford to. "When Suga cuts my hair," says Cheryl Tiegs, "I never worry." Concurs Faye Dunaway: "Suga to hair is like sushi to Japan—essential." Though he grooms models for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Town & Country, Suga (pronounced Sue-gah) does not limit his ministrations to women. He grooms male models and last month gave Donny Osmond a body wave in his Detroit hotel suite before the singer's performance at the Republican convention.
He often travels for longtime customers. Every eight weeks or so he flies to the city where Hamill is performing in the Ice Capades and trims her wedge. When Marie Osmond calls from Provo, Utah, Suga hops on the next plane. He doesn't complain when he has to ride the service elevator on Park Avenue house calls. Nor did the 5'7" Suga (whose friends call him Yusuke) mind the indignity of standing on a box to cut the flowing tresses of Veruschka, the towering German model with a Russian name.
Suga was born in a Japanese colony near Peking. His mother ran a restaurant and his father, Isao, who died in an accident when Yusuke was 10 months old, was a photographer. With his mother, older sisters and brother, Suga moved to Gifu, Japan, where for 16 generations all the men in his family except his father had been Shinto priests. Food in postwar Japan was scarce, and Suga developed a taste for powdered milk from the States. "I admired anything American," he says. "The idea that somebody could have blue eyes fascinated me. I loved chocolate kisses and Bazooka bubblegum."
An artistic child, Suga became an actor at 10 in spite of his mother's disapproval. (By then the family had moved on to Tokyo.) "I had to take the train myself and go to the studio alone," he remembers. "I wanted to be famous and make a lot of money." While singing on the radio when he was 13, his showbiz career ended abruptly. "I had to sing in a commercial, and no one told me about voice changes. I quit in a panic."
After graduating from high school in 1962, Suga, whose older sister, Yasuko, worked as a hairdresser on movie sets, decided to learn the craft too. "Mother was very unhappy," he says. "She wanted me to do something white-collar." Instead he went to Tokyo's Yamano Beauty College and by the mid-1960s was honing his talents in a salon that catered to bar hostesses. "I also had to sweep the floor," he remembers.
Suga packed his electric rice steamer and emigrated to New York in 1965. There he camped temporarily in a small, leaky room in a Buddhist temple on Riverside Drive and quickly discovered that the best hairstylist in the city was Mr. Kenneth. Within 10 days he had wangled an interview at Kenneth's lavish East Side salon. "They kept bringing me model after model to do," he remembers. "I never even met Kenneth. Finally they said, 'Okay, you're hired.' I was in heaven." Three years later he struck out on his own. "We have a saying in Japan that if you sit on a rock for three years something may happen. So I stayed exactly three years," he explains mysteriously. (Asked about his complimentary copy of the new book, Kenneth replied stiffly, "It was very nice of Suga to send it along to me.")
Suga flies home to Japan twice a year to look over Studio V, the string of salons and boutiques he owns there with designer Hanae Mori's son, Kei. This summer Suga is shuttling between his Manhattan penthouse and Fire Island retreat. Why did he decide to write a book? "For the ego trip," he admits. "I've done only hairdressing in my life, and someday I'll have to stop—and then what'll I have to show for it? After all," he sighs, "hair grows."