Salon Stylists

“Hairdressing was the furthest thing from my mind,” smiles Birchler. Originally from the East Bay, Birchler ran in a tough crowd of professional boxers and kick boxers. Yet every time he visited his girlfriend at work he was inspired by the dynamic energy and creativity in the salon. With her encouragement, Birchler applied to beauty college in Sacramento. “I didn’t tell anyone,” he says.
While waiting to be interviewed, he bumped into the wife of a trainer at his karate school. Sensing his embarrassment, she let him in on a secret; not only was her husband a hairdresser, his mother owned the school. “Here was this mean, 6’3’, 215 lb, aggressive tough guy,” he says. “To realize this black belt instructor I respected was also a hairdresser completely changed my perspective.”

Darin was hooked from the first snip. He found a creative release he had never experienced having come from an athletic background. After working in Sacramento for a year and a half he slid into an apprenticeship at the “rebel black sheep of salons,” Architects and Heroes, in San Francisco, where he remained for eight years. “The artists had more freedom there, it was a looser structure,” says Birchler. “And they were turning out architecturally beautiful work.”

In the mid 90s, Birchler loaded up a U-Haul and struck out for Los Angeles with nothing more than a dream and a wad of cash burning his pocket. He landed a job at a Beverly Hills salon and in less than a year, Los Angeles magazine named Birchler “L.A.’s Hot New Up-and-Comer.” After 10 months, Birchler left the “restrictive salon environment” in pursuit of freelance work on photo shoots, commercials and music videos. “I wasn’t feeling the unity I was used to in San Francisco,” says Birchler. “The kids in San Francisco were artists, they loved what they did and they fed off each other’s talent.”

He teamed with friend and colorist, Amanda in an artist’s loft with panoramic views from the 11th floor of the old Asahi building. Word-of-mouth swept the city and soon Birchler’s reputation for architecturally genius cuts earned him a fierce following running the gamut from actors and musicians to college students and housewives. Within five years he had outgrown the space and began searching for a new location to expand his vision.

It was important to Birchler to hire the right staff in order to create a unique family environment where the artists could thrive and the clients would feel welcome. He encourages his staff to get to know everyone’s clients, not just their own. “No one’s going to walk in and feel judged by the staff. Some salons buy into that, they want the cattiness,” he says. “That’s not going to happen here. That’s why 18 years later I still love what I do.”

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One of the things Chase loves most about what she does is watching a client transform in her chair. Rather than generating a “signature look,” Chase prefers to customize each cut to suit her client. “Not just the bone structure and hair texture,” she says, “but fine-tuning it for each personality.” For Chase, form and functionality are paramount, which makes perfect sense given her background.

In 2001, Chase graduated from UCSB with a Bachelor in Fine Arts. She went on to work in Product Design for Modern Architectural Inc until 2008 when she decided to swap budget restraints and creative restrictions for her first love, hair. Having cut hair on the side for friends and family since college, she decided to formalize her training at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica. After graduating, she went on to work at the Vidal Sassoon Salon in Beverly Hills until 2011.

Chase loves building one-on-one personal relationships with her clients. Her roster is divided equally between men and women. “With men, it’s about attention to the finer details and creating a strong, masculine silhouette,” she says. “With women, it’s about the bigger picture. What kind of mood are we going for? Something sexy and beautiful? Or more functional?”

Relying on a strong sense of composition, Chase is inspired by fashion, design, furniture and architecture. She feels a beautiful haircut is akin to a beautifully tailored suit or couture cocktail dress. “It’s about suitability for the client,” she says. “And by the end of the hour when you can see them transformed – happier, more confident, more like the person they want to be – I feel an immediate sense of gratification that I have never experienced with any other art form.”

Chase joined Chop Chop in February 2011.

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“No matter what texture you’re born with, your hair shouldn’t be part of what stresses you out in life,” says Irene, who’s seen too many people spend their lives “hating” their hair. “Wash and wear hair can be for everyone once you understand how to work with it.”

Irene knows firsthand what it’s like to have challenging hair. She explains that her mom didn’t have the first clue about working with her curly hair when she was a kid, which motivated Irene to learn how to “tame the beast” on her own. She eventually decided to further her natural talent for hair mastery at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica where she graduated in 2003.

Though music and fashion history both influence Irene’s creativity, the real keys to her success lie in being a great listener and making sure that her clients can reproduce their look at home. “I see a ton of beautiful cuts, but they’re not always suitable for the wearer,” she says. “As a stylist, you have to remember that you’re an artist, but your work is more of a commissioned piece than your personal masterpiece.”

Apart from talent and taste level, what catapults Irene from being a good stylist to a great stylist is her ability to genuinely connect with people. Warm and approachable, she enjoys developing close relationships with her clients. “I take what I do very seriously,” she says. “But when you’re spending an hour together, I like to keep things fun and really get to know each other.”

Irene joined the team at Chop Chop in April 2013 and looks forward to working with you.

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Lauren has loved playing with hair for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until her hair stylist told her about Vidal Sassoon that she considered cutting hair herself. When she turned 17, Lauren sent off a perfunctory college application “just to make people happy,” but had her mind set on the Vidal Sassoon Academy. After graduating in 2008, Lauren landed a chair at the Beverly Hills salon. She remained there for three years before seizing the opportunity to move to Chicago where she worked in the salon and taught at the Academy.

“It was an incredible adventure,” says Lauren. “I’m so glad I took the opportunity to live somewhere completely new and different.” But after three years in the bitter cold, Lauren knew she belonged back home in California. She returned to the Beverly Hills salon for two years before joining ChopChop in April 2015.

Lauren comes to ChopChop with a masterful flair for working with her clients’ natural texture to accentuate their beauty. Her primary focus is on making people feel good inside and out – “even if someone wants to look like a crazy, robot alien,” she laughs. “I can make that work, too.” Both her skills and colorful sense of humor are no doubt responsible for turning clients into long-time friends. “It’s not just work to me,” she says. “It’s like hanging out with your friends all day long.”

Inspired by the welcoming, artistic vibe of the salon gallery, Lauren is excited by the diversely talented, close-knit group at ChopChop. “We work well as a team,” she says. “It just feels right.”

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