When you go for a haircut with Michael Motorcycle, it's only the beginning. "It ain't just a haircut," says the Dallas stylist, whose real name is Michael Koler. "It's much deeper than that. You get feng shui'd. I realign you with the universe. I give you a new beginning on life. I change your soul."
Welcome to the world of Motocycle, a philosopher, Zen practitioner and curly hair expert who cuts hair according to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui. To him, that means determining your dominant and passive elements -- in the Chinese bagua there are five: fire, metal, water, wood and earth -- and creating a cut and color that fits your lifestyle. The right cut, he believes, can enhance your positive energy and bring back harmony in your life.
Motorcycle counts clients such as Jerry Hall and her model daughter, Elizabeth Jagger, as well as many of Dallas' executives and society dames.
"Michael gets rid of all your negativity and sorrow when he cuts your hair," Hall has said of a Motorcycle haircut.
Motorcyle is the pioneer of a growing movement, with a small number of hairdressers around the world incorporating Zen philosophies into their salons. Feng Shui hairdressing promises not only to create the perfect 'do but to balance your "yin and yang."
L.A. hairstylist Billy Yamaguchi, for example, wrote "Feng Shui Beauty." And Benu spa and salon in Dallas asks clients to fill out a questionnaire to be analyzed using elements of the bagua. From the answers, the stylist determines if you're going to need a blunt or a funky cut, highlights or lowlights. Christo of Christo Fifth Avenue had a feng shui consultant help him design his New York salon. And Austin stylist David Moreno compares cutting curly hair to cutting a bonsai tree, looking at positive and negative space as he creates a shape.
In its original form, feng shui -- meaning wind and water -- is the Chinese art of arranging buildings and interiors to maintain spiritual equilibrium. feng shui hairdressing works on the principle that your hair should be styled in harmony with what it reveals about the roots of your personality.
How Koler came to become a feng shui hairdresser is a long and exotic tale, stretching from a Las Vegas air force base to a hippie commune outside Chicago to the tony salons of Paul Mitchell and Vidal Sassoon, to the beaches of Mexico to the foothills of Tibet, to a posh Dallas neighborhood.
Motorcycle first considered cutting hair after graduating from high school 40 years ago. He opted for the Air Force instead and studied electronics and hydraulic at a base in Las Vegas. While working there, he met girls going to beauty school and thought he'd like to do that. But again, he put the idea on the back burner.
After a brief stint in college, he got a job a large industrial company. When he was fired by a jealous foreman, he says "it was time to get off the merry-go-round." Friends took him to a commune outside Chicago, where he "dropped out. No credit cards, no suits, no Cadillacs." After he was arrested for a misdemeanor, he was given a choice -- get a job or go to school.
He opted for beauty school, and hasn't looked back.
"I loved it," he says. "I never missed a day and became obsessed with it. I drove my teacher crazy. I'd ask so many questions that he'd lock himself in the office."
To learn more, he trained with Paul Mitchell and Vidal Sassoon. After working six months at the Chicago Vidal Sassoon salon, he was recruited to open up a salon for the famed stylist in Dallas in 1973.
He left Vidal Sasson to work at Aki, a salon with Japanese owners. It was there that he Motorcycle got his first taste of Oriental philosophy. He read books on Taoism and Zen, which he says "gave me new eyes and ears and showed me a new reality. It's better than any drug." He studied Tao Chi in the foothills of Tibet at the Palace of the Heavenly Dragon and studied Tai Kwon Do with the masters.
A life-changing moment was when he decided to sell his beloved motorcycle. Within 60 seconds after making the decision, he says there was a knock on the door from somebody offering to buy it. Michael Motorcycle was born. He used that money that helped him open his current no-frills salon on Travis Street in Highland Park, where he has been cutting hair for the past 25 years.
These days, he's made curly hair a major focus.
"It's a very sacred thing, cutting curly hair," says Motorcycle, who wears is salt-and-pepper hair down his back.
"Curly Girl" author Lorraine Massey taught a class at his salon, and he has adapted her technique with his own unique philosophy.
"Sometimes I cut it dry," he says. "Sometimes I wash it. I pull it down over their Chakra points to determine where to cut it. I follow the grooves of your bones."
He considers the shampoo sink to be the place where one lets go of their hatred and pain -- the first step in the journey.
After a lengthy head and neck massage, he reads the client's hairline. Motorcycle, who has written a book called "Hairline Lifeline," believes hair growth patterns correlate with personality traits. He says he can tell if someone is analytical, intuitive or sensual by looking at the way their hair grows.
"I read the follicle and how it comes out of the pore. I bring it all together in tune with the shape of the face, the direction the hair grows. I find out what your hair wants to do and let it do just that."
He may ring a Tibetan "mindfulness bell" several times during a haircut to remind the himself, and the client, to breathe and to stay present. Clients also are instructed to look at their former selves in the pile of hair on the floor.
Motorcycle's unique philosophy has captured the attention of hairstylists around the world. He has been written up in papers as far away as England and India. Earlier this year, the La De Da salon in Dayton, Ohio flew him out to teach his techniques to area stylists. More than 20 hairdressers gathered for the five-hour workshop.
Writer Alexandra Marshall wrote about her own Motorcycle haircut in the July 24, 2005, New York Times Magazine.
"His method is affably hands-on: after an intensive massage and meditation at the shampoo sink, he leads me to a chair and starts poking around my hairline, discerning from the way it lists to the right above my forehead that I like to procrastinate. (No argument there.) Two cowlicks at the base of my neck say I'm ' big-time ideas person.' Once he has read my personality, he then starts cutting to rebalance any natural asymmetry and heighten my personal energy flow, obsessively combing my hair flat and then performing a fairly standard snipping and layering technique around the recesses of my sinus cavity, my jawbone and a few inches below my shoulders."
Marshall came away a believer.
"Who would argue that a haircut often symbolizes a new beginning? That this beginning is ushered in with the loud ring of a bell is really window dressing, so to speak. Good stylists have always been part psychic, part shrink and part magician -- and frankly, we could all do with a little less hatred and pain. Whether we let it go at the shampoo sink, or an hour later, in a burst of joy over a good haircut, it's a job well done."