Wigged Out? Worry Not!

updated 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

WHAT DO GLENN CLOSE, EMMA Thompson, Mariah Carey and Helena Bonham-Carter have in common? Fame, fortune—and frizzy hair. Now they share something else: John Frieda, the third-generation British barber who has put an end to their bad-hair days with a slick syrup called Frizz-Ease. The product—which, claims Frieda, turns troublesome tresses into spun silk (at $9.99 for a 1.6-oz. bottle)—may appear, to most consumers, no different from any of many high-priced, high-hype hair glops. And yet, insist fans such as Bonham-Carter (who had to dispense with Frizz-Ease while filming Howards End because her hair was supposed to look frizzy), there is a difference: This stuff works. "It's not a spoof or any-thing," says the actress. "It really is amazing. I don't know why anybody didn't invent it before."

Inspiration for the stuff came to Frieda, 41, four years ago when he was working in London, preparing models' hair for photo shoots. "I had tried everything on the market and couldn't find what I wanted," he says. So he commissioned a local lab chemist to make him what he wanted. The mixture is now the basis for five Frieda products that bring in $10 million a year—a good reason, he says, to keep the recipe "locked away."

Frieda's tonsorial talents run in the family. His grandfather Samuel Frieda was a Polish immigrant with a Fleet Street barbershop, where he shaved and scissored the press baron Lord Beaverbrook. Samuel's son, John Sr., turned to women's hairstyling and coiffed Ava Gardner, Eleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill's wife, Clementine. Young John and his three siblings grew up visiting his father's shop, which "we loved," he says, "mainly because it was behind a candy store."

Initially, Frieda intended to break from family tradition and study medicine. But at 16, he says, he "got distracted by girls, cars and fun." He turned to Dad for a job, but John Sr. refused. "He hadn't sent me to private school to become a hairdresser," says Frieda. So young John opted to take up with Vidal Sassoon protégé Leonard Lewis. As top assistant to Lewis, Frieda fussed over supermodel Jean Shrimpton and the Beatles as well. "I was nuts," he says. "I polished all the equipment, anticipating exactly which comb would be needed and handing it to Leonard just so."

In 1976, Frieda married a client, the pop singer Lulu ("To Sir with Love") and, along with a partner, opened his own salon. He will never forget till afternoon in 1980 when he answered a mysterious call from British Vogue asking him to rush over to Lord Snowdon's home. There in the kitchen, he recalls, "peering through her bangs," he first glimpsed the 19-year-old who would soon become his most famous client: Lady Diana Spencer. Fixing her hair for a glamor shot, he says, "I found her quite shy but steely sure about what she didn't want."

A stylist from one of Frieda's three London salons now goes to Kensington Palace to cut the hair of Princes Wills and Harry. These days, though, Frieda does most of his clipping—at $200 a head—in New York City, where he opened a salon in 1990. Amicably separated from Lulu last year, he now hangs out with their son, Jordan, 15, in rented digs in Scarborough, N.Y., while building a new home on Connecticut's Candle-wood Lake. Though he is enjoying prosperity from his Frizz-Ease profits, Frieda is not about to give up hands-on hairstyling. "There's a certain moment with a client when you know that she knows that she looks great," says Frieda. "That's a moment I always want to have."

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