Barbara Walters, Willow Bay I Going to Great Lengths for Breast Cancer Awareness

Lunch At Michaels

LunchAtMichaelsThe power-lunch season is in full swing as the overflowing Wednesday crowd poured into Michael’s. There were plenty of  hard working PR mavens (Peggy Siegal wielding not one — but two — cell phones at once, while she waited for her date to arrive) and famous faces (Barbara Walters and the ageless Willow Bay) among the sea of usual suspects.

I was joined today by Ouidad (Yes, she goes by one name like Madonna and Cher) the renowned hairstylist whose celebrity clients include Minnie Driver, Sean Lennon and Jordin Sparks. The tireless and incredibly exuberant industry icon is considered the “pioneer of the curl” among beauty business insiders since she launched her eponymous business in 1984. Ouidad tells me she’s “all about the curl” — while shaking her own impressive tresses for emphasis — whether she’s cutting and styling clients at her Manhattan or Santa Monica salons, training stylists (600 in all!) across the country on her signature techniques (the “rake and shake”), or formulating her own product line designed to enhance the health and appearance of the manes of her curly-haired customers. “There is such freedom in letting your hair be!” she told me referring to the fashion set’s obsession with the flat iron (guilty as charged). “This is all about empowerment. I love helping women be free to be who they are. It’s my mission,” she said.

Diane Clehane, Leslie Stevens, Ouidad and Kate Boothby
Diane Clehane, Leslie Stevens, Ouidad, Kate Boothby

Ouidad’s other deeply personal mission is her commitment to raise breast cancer awareness and funds. A breast cancer survivor who lost her own mother to the disease, Ouidad told me the experience was life changing both personally and professionally. After her bi-lateral mastectomy in 2002, she had a newfound respect and understanding for women struggling with the disease and felt deeply connected to her clients who came into the salon facing the difficult diagnosis. “Before I’d try to tell my clients, we can try different wigs, do different things,” she recalled. “Now I’d never say that. Being behind the chair listening to them and having had my own experience, I tell them, ‘Yes, this is awful, but it’s not a death sentence. We’re going to get through this together.'”

Working with her husband, Peter Wise, Ouidad established KRLY Kids, a pink ribbon collection benefiting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) through her Curls for a Cure program, which the couple established in 2002. The program has donated over $475,000 to BCRF since its inception, matching customer donations dollar for dollar. Beginning this month, Ouidad will donate $1 for every KRLY Kids purchase made on to BCRF year-round. When I asked Ouidad why she chose to work with the BCRF, founded by the late Evelyn Lauder, she told the decision was an easy one. “Of all the breast cancer charities, the BCRF gives the most money to the cause — 91 cents of every dollar go to research and that was very important to me.”

It’s amazing to realize how far breast cancer awareness has come since Lauder and Alexandra Penney, then editor of Self magazine, launched the pink-ribbon campaign back in 1993, setting a template for literally hundreds of campaigns that have been co-opted by companies all over the world. For Ouidad, it’s not a marketing strategy; it’s a call to action to help women everywhere. “Our mission is to eradicate this disease in our lifetime and it can be done,” she told me. “It’s about awareness and education.” Speaking of awareness, when Ouidad saw that Barbara Walters was sitting at the next table she told me, “I went to the Breast Cancer Research Symposium and Awards at the Waldorf last week where Barbara was being honored and she was great.” It was reported that during her remarks, Barbara revealed she’d had a lumpectomy. On a much lighter note, she told the crowd she was glad the afternoon was coming to a close because “I’ll never forget this lunch because my bra is too tight!” Said Ouidad: “I loved that she said that. How funny.”