IMG_3480

From left, Melissa Knapp, Vidal Sassoon and Connie Best at the grand opening of Sassoon's academy in Santa Monica in 1987. After 38 years, local stylist Knapp is hanging up her shears.

TBC

Her last client was Kim Kitsch. “Her” is Melissa. The last name is Knapp, but that's unnecessary if you were a client or a friend — and clients were usually both.

Knapp, 56, is leaving Studio Bliss downtown and retiring from cutting hair after 38 years. The collective gasps and sobbing are from her clients. The fashion clock is ticking. Hair is growing, graying and going thin and now, no Melissa.

As with the very best hairdressers, Knapp was the keeper of dreams. The keeper of secrets too.

“Secrets”: What your hair color really was. How you felt about your teenage children. How much you missed your father.

Don’t be surprised if there aren’t a band of women chasing Knapp’s moving van down the highway on her way to Vacaville. If so, Linda Etienne might be one of them.

“Melissa was a friend, and, as all hairdressers tend to be, a confidante and fairy godmother as well,” Etienne said. “Who doesn't secretly expect her to be able to transform them into someone absolutely breathtaking? For some of us, that takes more effort than others.”

When Knapp graduated from BHS, her grandmother, Alice Carden, offered to send her to Federico’s Beauty College so she could become a hairdresser.

“I didn’t want to do it, but looking back, I can see it was the perfect thing,” Knapp said.

“The perfect thing” had her working at Panache, Protege, Glitz, Styles (which she owned for 10 years), Hair West, the Plaza and Studio Bliss, her last and favorite.

“The perfect thing” had her training at Vidal Sassoon Academy 24 times and enabled her to amass a client list that topped 100, many of whom have been with her 20-plus years. No one leaves Melissa, you just hope you don’t get fired.

However, for Knapp, this has been more than a profession and more than a way of making a terrific living.

“Hairdressers are replaceable, but relationships aren’t,” Knapp said. “These are clients and friends with whom I have shared life.”

That life including stories of adoptions, raising children, saying goodbye to parents and more.

In addition to people (including Wes, her husband, and children Marik, 21, and Savannah, 24), Knapp has always had other interests. She is an outstanding photographer and passionate traveler (she travels with clients) — Cuba, Central and South America, France, England, Italy, India, Africa and many others. Knapp has also studied meditation and yoga at The Chopra Center in Carlsbad.

“Melissa has an insatiable desire to learn. She doesn't just dip her toe into her chosen hobby; she becomes a master at it,” said Laurie Paulson, a 30-year client.

It’s been a month. Tears flowed when Knapp told clients she was leaving. She has been busy placing them with other hairdressers including her assistant, Jacqueline Hernandez. Already she has been offered a job up north, but has declined it.

“I want to leave happy and with a grateful heart,” Knapp said. “I want to stop while I’m doing good work.”

Happy and at the top of her game, a place she’s been for quite a while. She’s seen women through their best and most harrowing moments.

“One day, I walked in for my regular appointment with a picture of Reese Witherspoon from the movie 'Sweet Home Alabama' and informed Melissa I wanted my hair to look just like Reese's," Etienne said. “Melissa tried diplomatically to talk me out of it, but I insisted that's what I wanted, and I walked out of the salon as Reese-like as I'm likely ever to get."

Two days later Etienne realized restoring Reese-ness to her hair was impossible without professional intervention.

“This was a true Hair 911, so I phoned Melissa. Within hours, and without a hint of 'I-told-you-so,' the mess I'd made of my hair was gone. That was 15 years ago. I've listened to her ever since.”

A week ago she packed up four boxes filled with curling irons, blow dryers, flat irons, combs and brushes. The only thing she is keeping are three pairs of her beautiful, $600 scissors. You never know.

A friend might call. A friend might visit. A friend might have a problem that only a friend can fix.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.