When you walked into the Louis-Guy D salon for an appointment in the 1960s or ‘70s, there were two things you could count on: a transformative haircut and a glamorous clientele.
But most important, the salon, co-owned by Louis Gignac, offered women freedom from the time-consuming and often chemical-intensive maintenance that their previous haircuts and ‘dos had required.
Gignac became one of the most sought-after hair stylists in New York, cultivating a luxurious environment in his salon on Manhattan’s East Side and attracting socialites and celebrities like Gloria Vanderbilt, Elizabeth Taylor and Catherine Deneuve.
He also styled women’s hair for magazine spreads in Glamour and Mademoiselle and collected his advice in a book, “Everything You Need to Know to Have Great-Looking Hair” (1981).
“He could talk a girl with waist-length hair into a chin-length cut,” said Andrea Quinn Robinson, the former president of beauty at Ralph Lauren and a longtime women’s magazine editor who traveled cross-country with Gignac casting college students for makeovers.
Gignac, who kept his salon open into the 1990s, died at 89 on July 7 at his home in Miami Beach, Florida. His death, which was not widely reported at the time, was caused by pancreatic cancer, his wife, Johanna Stella, said.
Fern Mallis, a fashion industry consultant widely credited with organizing New York Fashion Week, remembers going to Louis-Guy D in the 1970s, when she was an editor at Mademoiselle, and immediately sensing the glamour of the place.
“It was somewhat intimidating looking at all these beautiful people around,” she said. “You felt like you were on the cusp of something really important happening there.”
Gignac (pronounced jeen-YACK) was born on March 8, 1929, in Brittany, France. His father, Leon, owned a bakery, and his mother, Antoinette, was a homemaker. Louis attended school through the seventh grade and worked in the bakery, mixing colors for pastry decorations.
At 15, he left home for the South of France, where he took a job in a ski patrol. His girlfriend at the time was a hairdresser, and she inspired him to learn the craft himself.
Moving to Paris, he apprenticed with the stylist Pierre Jacy in cutting and coloring hair, and in 1954 Jacy invited him to join him at a salon he owned in Manhattan.
“He gets off the boat on the West 57th Street pier,” Stella said. “All he has to do is get to East 57th Street, but he gets in a cab, where they proceed to take him over three bridges.”
After spending his only $100 on the roundabout ride, Gignac resolved to spend the night in Central Park. When it started raining, an officer took pity and allowed him to sleep in a police station.
“That was his welcome to the United States,” Stella said.
His luck quickly turned around. Within two years, Gignac had begun his own business with a partner, Guy Hoffman, calling it Louis-Guy D Salon. They eventually brought in a third partner, Gregory Schaedle.
The salon, also on East 57th Street, was small and L-shaped, but the architects John Fülöp and Justin Lamb designed its interior to shoehorn as many styling chairs and sinks into it as possible. The décor scheme, of primary colors and metallics, projected the kind of optimism clients want to feel when they walk into, and out of, a hair appointment.
“It’s like sunshine all day,” Gignac told Interiors Magazine in 1974, “even if it’s pouring outside.”
In the 1960s and ‘70s, when many women relied on chemical treatments to manipulate their hair, Louis-Guy D salon offered a smoothing technique that involved large rollers, tissue paper and a hairnet. He promoted unfussy blunt-cut wash-and-wear styles and offered a self-serve counter, where women could style their own hair after a trim.
Unusually, Gignac was a believer in having the client stand while having her hair cut, though many preferred to sit.
“You can’t just look at a woman from the neck up,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1967. “You have to get the right proportion.”
His 1981 book on hair styling was a bible for many young women. Patricia Reynoso, the copy director at Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, recalled leafing through it as a preteen girl.
“It helped build a framework for what beauty writing is and beauty writing should be,” she said, describing the book as a highly readable marriage of art and science. “I felt like he was one of my mentors.”
In addition to Stella, Gignac is survived by a son, Jean-Michel; a stepson, Jason Mann; a sister, Denyse Gray; and two grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.
Gignac moved with Stella to Florida in 1994. The couple, who married in 2015, had met in New York in the 1980s during a business meeting with Revlon. She was also a colorist, and once they settled in Miami Beach, they opened Stella Salon and ran it for 13 years.
At Stella, Gignac played a behind-the-scenes role that stood in contrast to his maestro-like position at Louis-Guy D. In a 2016 interview with Town and Country magazine, model Carolyn Murphy shared her memories of watching him work while her mother got her hair cut.
“Louis, a slight Frenchman with jawbone sideburns and a leonine head of curls, would stroll by, comb and scissors in hand, and admonish his glamorous clients to flip their heads over in front of the mirror and shake out their dazzling tresses.
“On any given Saturday morning,” she continued, “half a dozen upside-down socialites would be lined up in front of Louis’s mirror, shaking their heads wildly as Donna Summer cooed, ‘Oooh, love to love you, baby,’ on the sound system. You had to see it to believe it.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.