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Tabatha Coffey of 'Tabatha's Salon Takeover' talks about her life, work and being a tough cookie

February 19, 2011 |  7:01 am

A strained voice apologizes for its husky tone. While she was hosting a hair show, the mike went dead and guttural vociferation became the last resort. For Tabatha Coffey, improvising, keeping cool and mending split ends is the norm. A sore throat is a minor injury compared to some of the war wounds she’s dealt with.

 “Tabatha’s Salon Takeover,” her blunt, fast-paced show on Bravo, gives the reality star one week to pull hair-Houdinis when there’s anything but magic in the foundering businesses she remakes. “I’m well aware that some people refer to me as the Gordon Ramsay of hairdressing,” she says, referencing the British chef and his “Kitchen Nightmares” show. “Certainly, we’re both really passionate about what we do, we’re both direct and sometimes politically incorrect… But I couldn’t be him any more than he could be me.... I just want to help struggling salons turn themselves around.”

ItsNotReallyAboutHair h1 That is one of many insights also included in  Coffey’s new memoir, “It’s Not Really About the Hair.” (Another reason for the husky voice — she’s been on a book tour.) Through the chapters -- a mix of autobiography and tough-minded self-help -- an unusual life is revealed. Coffey — a hair stylist and salon owner who first came to national attention when she was voted “fan favorite” on the first season of “Shear Genius” — has been tight-lipped about all things personal until now. Be prepared for some shockers: late night pow-wows with drag queens and transvestites at the strip clubs her parents owned (she was 6), mingling with a notorious mob boss and the breast enhancement nightmare that almost killed her. This book is genuinely not all about the hair!

All the Rage: Your life has been filled with wonderful ups, but after reading your book, the amount of downs is staggering. How have you stayed so strong?
TC: I think it’s about a great support system. My mother was an incredible influence. Growing up in the environment I did at such a young age, I saw people who were true to themselves. Life deals some hard knocks and you have to hold your head up and walk through them. You can’t let anything bring you down. At such a young age this was instilled in me. Yes, some of the things later in life have been hard to hear and go through. But again, I hold my head up and know that as long as I’m true to myself and can go to bed at night happy with the choices I made, then really, the hell to everyone else.

All the Rage: Are you content with who you are today?
TC: I’m really content with where my life is now. That doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for a new incarnation or something different. I like to push myself and never rest on my laurels. I have a lot of drive and I’m very hard on myself.

All the Rage: You’re known as a tough cookie. How do you find the middle ground between being nasty and being constructively critical?
TC: Being nasty is just rude or hurtful. I think there’s a difference between being honest with someone and honest with yourself when trying to be helpful. Look, I can be a bull in a china shop ... but the sensibilities behind the things I’m saying, it’s never done in a way to hurt anybody. I’ve had enough hurtful things said to me to my face and behind my back that I don’t want to do that to anyone else.

All the Rage: How did you feel about your first reality show experience [on “Shear Genius”]?
TC: As I mention in the book, I was apprehensive about going forward with the show. The implications of leaving my business, staff, home.... I wasn’t sure if it was really worth it. It was a good experience because it was interesting. It’s so out of any comfort zone. It’s difficult to leave your life and go and live with 11 people that you don’t know, in surroundings you don’t know and have absolutely no privacy.

All the Rage: Speaking of no privacy, since you are a recognizable face and people see you as such a tough gal, do you get faced with confrontation off camera?
TC: I have to say I’m so overwhelmed with how supportive everyone is. People come up to me, since I am recognizable, and are very positive. They seem to respect my being tough.

All the Rage: What do you see as the current style/trend and attitude toward hair? And, since you’ve been styling for decades, are there any looks that you miss or wish never happened in the first place?
TC: What’s interesting with hair now is that we’re so celebrity-driven. It’s not realistic. They have extensions added or teams of people tweaking them. In a way, it’s killed trends a bit because in days when people used to cut their hair off, like Twiggy, they started a revolution. We don’t have those moments anymore. I’m happy people like Emma Watson and Michelle Williams cut their hair off. It sends a message that there are still some celebs taking risks. As for the past, I think we all look at some of the ’80s hair and you look at those moments and go, “What the hell were we thinking?”

All the Rage: Do you ever want to go up to women/men on the street and do a “Tabatha’s Street Takeover”?
TC: Yeah, of course! I’m a hairdresser, so there are times when I look at people and I think, “You could look so much better ... I wish I could help you.”

“It’s Not Really About The Hair: The Honest Truth About Life, Love, and the Business of Beauty,” by Tabatha Coffey with Richard Buskin, is available now at a variety of bookstores and via the Web. Publisher, It Books. Hardcover. $21.99.

-- Julie Neigher

Photo: The cover of Tabatha Coffey's new book. Credit: Harper Collins/It Books

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