Talking with A renaissance man who knows hair

Name: Mitchell Field
Age: 65
Occupation: Hairstylist, actor, radio host

Mitchell Field today

J.: You’ve owned your salon in Marin County for 20 years, but you grew up outside of London in the 1940s and ’50s. How did you start working for the late, great British Jewish hairdresser Vidal Sassoon?

Mitchell Field: I went to Sassoon’s and became an apprentice. It was for three years — that’s how the business worked in those days. I only did two years of my apprenticeship because they made me a hair stylist — the salon was growing so fast and they really needed hair stylists. I was a stylist after two years, but was paid as an apprentice for three. (Laughs)

J.: Why is Vidal Sassoon so famous?

MF: He was the Bill Gates of the hair business. His genius was that he changed the direction of hairstyling in the 20th century. Before Vidal, women wore their hair all teased up in big, huge styles. Vidal’s idea was to cut it in a shape where you could wash it and blow it dry and it moved and you didn’t have to spray it. He set the trend for the next half-century. 

J.: Do trends start with the salon rather than customers?

MF: The public isn’t always ready for new styles. At first things can look a little scary. An example would be spiky hairstyles. When they first came out, many people thought they were ridiculous. But then their kids started getting them and then the parents started getting them.

J.: What are some of the trends you’ve seen in your 50 years in the business?

MF: The ’60s had the geometric hairstyles, and the ’70s had more of the disco hairstyles. And then punk rock. And then glam rock came along in the ’80s. The punks were the most interesting. I learned about hair color during the punk era. Doing green Mohawks was a lot of fun.

Mitchell Field, circa 1966

J.: You must have worked on a lot of famous people’s hair.

MF: I had two big salons in L.A. in the ’80s and we did lots of musicians. We did Billy Idol and Adam Ant, and Alice Cooper and Michael Schenker from the Scorpions. We did Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crüe — all of the hair bands.

J.: You were the person who created Kramer’s frizzled, upright hairstyle on “Seinfeld.” What’s the backstory on how you came up with that?

MF: Michael Richards [who played Kramer] was a client of mine for a long time in L.A. I actually did his hair before he started on “Seinfeld.” He was on a show called “Fridays,” and that’s when I started doing his hair.

J.: After working in London you owned shops in Montreal, moved to L.A., and since 1994 you’ve owned Mitchell Field in Fairfax. Why did you come to Marin?

MF:  I was in Los Angeles for 12 years. L.A. is tiring. (Laughs) The music was coming out of L.A. in the ’80s and that was the clientele that I went after.

I’m a big hiker. I like the open space. I like the people. You have a very well-educated population in Marin County. The people are smart and it’s such a beautiful place.

J.: What’s made your Marin business such a success?

MF: A lot of the people I do today I’ve been working on the whole 20 years I’ve been here. I try to constantly update what we do. No one wants to wear the same thing for 20 years.

J.: Like Vidal Sassoon, you grew up Jewish in London. What was that like?

MF: I’m culturally Jewish. I like the food. I haven’t been in a synagogue in 30 years, but when someone invites me for latkes I’ll go over and eat them because I like them! My parents were both ninth out of 10 children in their families. They lived in the Jewish area of London before [World War II]. After the war, the Jewish neighborhood had been pretty well destroyed by the bombings. The Jewish community dispersed from that area all over London. My parents moved to South London, an area with a smaller Jewish population. We were kind of cut off from the community.

J.: You host “Field Trip,” a show on Radio Sausalito, and you’ve acted on stage and in a few independent films. How did you get into entertainment?

MF: I got into acting by chance. I was leading a hike on Mount Tam about 15 years ago and we were going past the Mountain [Play] theater where they have a show at the top of the mountain [every] summer. Some wiseass said, Oh, they’re doing “My Fair Lady” — you should be in that, you’re English. And I said I’m going to audition. I did a cold audition and the director liked me and gave me a part. And that led to another role and another and another. I did some commercials and print ads. I’ve never had an agent; I just keep getting hired.

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