Personalities

Alex Chases, the Perfectionist

By Catherine Bigelow

With exuberant warmth, stylist Alex Chases — his lanky six-foot-four frame impeccably dressed in a crisp white button-down and perfectly creased black trousers — graciously welcomes this reporter into his impeccable San Francisco aerie. The mostly white decor is punctuated by pops of color via his artwork and red bloom-filled vases.

Alex Chases in action by Spencer Brown.

It’s stormy and gray over the Bay on a Sunday — one of Chases’ only days off from his in-demand salons tending the top female tresses in town and, further south, in Silicon Valley. Popping into his pristine kitchen, Chases, 50, a vivacious host, fires up a batch of chocolate chip Carolyn’s Cookie Co. dough balls.

While swathed in a dressed-down ensemble with tennies (but nice ones, I swear), I notice Chases’ feet seem to be shod in black leather loafers. Instantly, I regret not texting a “casual Sunday” dress-code advisory. More troublesome: my mist-attracting mane has gone AWOL as I shrink abashedly beneath the keen, aesthetic gaze of this coiffure king.

Chases laughs, promising my locks look fine while insisting his footwear is merely slippers and wearing a perfectly laundered shirt on Sunday is his normal. But when he weekends in Sonoma, where he recently completed a Legorreta-inspired design of his new residence, Chases swears he embraces board shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.

This “Town & Country” theme mixed with his mirthful laugh and meticulous manners is a hallmark weaving throughout the professional and personal life of stylist Alex Chases.

“EVEN AFTER 19 YEARS, MY SALON STILL FEELS NEW. EVERY DAY, I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY WORK.”

A native of La Jolla (San Diego County), Chases says he grew up surrounded by, and studying, the best blondes — a subject he much preferred to UC San Diego courses. So he pivoted to cosmetology school.

Following a fun-filled San Francisco weekend, Chases moved here in 1989, landing his first gig in the former salon at Saks Fifth Avenue. Chases thrived under mentors like former style consultant Therese Post. Four years later he was recruited by Rose Marie Bravo, legendary CEO of the former I. Magnin, across Union Square Park to that swank salon populated by the city’s most stylish swans

Chases’ website lists glowing reviews from just three clients who lent an early hand to his burgeoning business: philanthropist Carrie Schwab, animal rights activist Vanessa Getty and protocol chief Charlotte Shultz. Chases values privacy as much as beauty and never dishes any details about his fine-feathered flock.

However, jet-setter Denise Hale has released Chases from his vow, allowing him to share his memory of their first appointment.

“I will never forget the elegant women at the I. Magnin salon. Mrs. Hale was one of the salon’s most important clients, and when she swept in, everyone got nervous,” he shares. “I was the new kid on the block and didn’t even know who she was. But through Rose Marie, Mrs. Hale became my first Magnin’s client and a friend.”

In 2000, inspired by his mother, Catherine Speyer, Chases established his eponymous Union Square salon at 166 Geary Street. In 2009 he extended his scissors down the Pen-insula at Rosewood Sand Hill, the luxury hotel favored by tech titans.

“Silicon Valley wasn’t as established then,” recalls Chases. “But I already had Atherton clients who faithfully traveled to San Francisco so I decided to try Rosewood.”

With just six chairs there, Chases averages around 70 services a day — a staggering number for a salon that size even if one client has three treatments.

“I love working in Silicon Valley, there’s an incredible sense of style. My clients arrive dressed to the nines, in heels and dresses, working away on their laptops,” says Chases. “In the city, there’s a natural daytime elegance. But San Francisco ladies really dress up for the evening, whether it’s a gala or dinner.”

Chases is renowned for his cut-and-color skills. His services include makeup, brow maintenance, lash and keratin treatments. He also employs balayage, a free-hand painting technique to sweep hair with highlights. And Chases loves to pamper his clients with catered lunches or package pick-up service from nearby boutiques.

Ironically this storied colorist forgoes all hues in his work uniform: white shirt, dark pants and black shoes: “Minimalism makes me happy. At the salon, I’m in the background. It’s the client in the chair that’s the focus, the star.”

A monochrome palette also defines his glass-windowed San Francisco salon, where he employs five full-time stylists and residencies for industry leaders.

“My clients enjoy the amazing views. But for me, this 12th-floor space is all about the natural light,” explains Chases. “That’s allows us to determine our client’s best, true color.”

Chases works six days a month (every Monday; every other Tuesday) at Rosewood. But having long reigned as one of the most coveted beauty appointments, new clients better plan ahead to partake of Chases’ tonsorial ministrations: His website advises booking one year in advance.

“Actually we’re booking 2020 now,” he warns. “While my clients text photos of their sunny summer vacations, I’m at a desk San Francisco for five 12-hour days plotting out this puzzle.”

Eschewing all digital apps, Chases’ schedule is crafted by hand, with pencil and paper.

“When you make schedule edits, you’re setting yourself up for a mistake,” he explains. “With by-hand books, you can quickly erase and rewrite versus computer prompt glitches.”

On average Chases attends to 10 clients per day and maintains three copies of “The Book” — two at his homes, one in the salon.

“My life is scheduling,” he says with a laugh. “I start my day at 5:45 a.m. with emails. Before and after work, I update the schedule. Yet even after 19 years, my salon still feels new. Every day I’m passionate about my work, my clients and learning new techniques.”

Chases’ life has been blessed by beautiful, intelligent women, most especially his late grandmother, Mary Chases, a Southern belle, impeccably dressed in pink or white ensembles, always accented by pearls. But within a family of law-yers and real estate moguls, it took courage for Chases to finally tell them he want-ed to be a hairstylist.

“As a kid I was anxious to grow up and develop relationships with women revolving around their beauty,” he recalls. “When I finally told grandmother, she said, ‘Oh, darling,’ and paused. ‘Well, I’m sure you’ll be the best at what you do.’”

However there are things Chases is not fond of doing, such as specific styling requests like the Rachel.

“I’d want to know more about how the client perceives that look, then consult on what best suits her features and personality,” he says, with great tact. “But it’s equally important for me not to impose myself on a client’s sense of self.”

Fortunately Chases’ skill inspires clients’ trust, allowing him to gauge that appropriate style.

“I do love making a big change,” he enthuses. “But it’s only going to be a success if she can style it herself, daily, at home.”

But no matter who’s in his chair — from royalty or fashion icons to blue bloods and tech titans — Chase is never nervous. He possesses an intuitive knowledge of his clients’ desires.

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