THE IT: Celebrating Jie Matar

Story by Leanne Delap. Photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

The other night at the Canfar Bloor Street Entertains fundraiser, I had the pleasure of being seated beside some bright young things. It was great fun—I enjoyed them and wondered at the verve and nerve.

But I was struck by the lack of history in the fashion industry of this city.

More particularly, mention of some of our classic eccentrics, I was struck by how fleeting fame and infamy is in this city. The currently current generation does not have a clear sense of what came before. Good heavens, someone must retain the grand memory of the years Bentley-driving Babs hairdresser Robert Gage wore nothing but white. Oh, except for the half-decade he wore only red.

Which brings me to Jie Matar. I first wrote about the self-professed “God of Hair” in Toronto Life when he opened his eponymous Parthenon on Avenue Road.

The new, reincarnated Jie is not on the bright young thing’s radar; then again, neither is the tale of his scandal and resurrection. Therein lies the tale: Fashion is a fleeting business. Good news is that we forget bad stuff. But bad news is we don’t celebrate the knotty stories that make larger-than-life legends like our embolden-empower American cousins.

I will take this opportunity to opine about the frustrations of working for daily publications in Canada. There is a chewy but stop-sign rule that people/businesses/trends that have been written about recently are already “covered.” That is why I take such pleasure in the vital and unruly internet medium: Dude, you are only as current as your recent tweet. The audience decides with its fingers what is relevant rather than editors judiciously parsing neatly packaged parcels of coverage. I mean, haven’t we learned from the endless explosively hit interest in the minutiae of Lilo’s parambulations that people are not mad at newspapers or magazines that cover the same subjects over and again with only fragmentary new bits of information?

Okay, that is an extreme example. And I agree print publications still exist as the documents of record and gatekeepers of context and prioritization.

But there is no way I could sell a conventional good-news story about the incremental positive rebuilding of a brand and a persona such as Jie.

The newsworthy peg was that he showily flew too close to the sun. The bigger, Schadenfreude feature was the blow-by-blow tale of his fall amid a soup of innuendo.

Heavens, let’s get some perspective: We have Conrad Black to kick around for that purpose! Jie is a hairdresser.

But he is arguably more interesting.

Jie is a writer’s dream. It is his very transparent lack of hubris that gets him into headlines. And that is the best thing about him. From his mouth pours a steady stream of clever and sassy quotes. He can sound arrogant and surreal: “I will Jie you.”

As Shinan Govani quipped: “Jie is the true Sweeney Todd. Johnny Depp was miscast.”

Jie charged New York rates here, and the experience was Vogue-worthy service and glamour. He has a patented Jie cut: wherein he takes your hair, pulls it forward into a ponytail and lops it off with electric decisiveness and scissors pulled from a Louis Vuitton pouch. Notwithstanding the chop was always perfect, people would bridle at the 400 plus tag at the time.

Jie collected a very loyal clientele of the city’s shiniest monied heads, men and women. He was the go-to guy for celebrities who came to town in the building years of the film festival. He drew fire once again for tooting his own horn.

This is a critical point: People were uncomfortable with a Canadian who was a gloriously gleeful self-promoter.

They missed the point—more on this later.

The massive salon failed and it is how Jie coped that tells the real story of his character. People thought he was too flash, and they relished his comedown.

Jie carried on. He rode out the untangling of his business affairs with a salon back where he began in this city, on Davenport. When he was free to officially start again, he put a little sign out that says Jie Privé.

He is much more himself again in the new space, and a gorgeous space it is. The guy has crazy good taste. My favourite touch is the array of vintage perfumes outside the powder rooms at the bottom of a spiral staircase.

Jie never stopped dressing the highest profile heads, celebrity and Bridle Path. He has a small, very chic staff now.

And what you can see from these pictures (taken by Brendan Adam Zwelling, another bright young thing; it was a huge pleasure watching Brendan  work with a pro personality as powerful as Jie’s and I think he got some terrific diva-deconstructed shots) is that Jie is a helluva lot of fun.

That is the point. His skill is never in question. People swipe at you when you charge movie-star prices.

What you also get from a day at Jie Privé is a full mood-altering experience. I defy anyone to not lose their crap mood and baggage after an hour at the salon.

Because Jie, for all the bluster, is completely genuine. He was born in Beirut. He trained at Alexandre in Paris. He is so crazy exuberant it can come off to a jaded eye as bragging.

Let’s instead encourage him never to change. He went through a business failure with great class and aplomb. His loyal customers grew more loyal.

I sat one morning with a lovely woman named Ophira Sone. After Jie’s ministrations she said, “Ah I feel like myself again.” She told me each of her kids were allowed to come to Jie when they turned 14. And I listened to a heartwarming story about her daughter studying in New York going to a Jie party there.

See? Jie never stopped being Jie. The stage didn’t get smaller. What we can learn from him is that we each determine how big our own stage is and how we deal with how other people see us.

So this is a note to the next generation that they’ve lost without the full stories good bad and ugly: Sticks and stones, baby.

Below, the author with the man himself.

Read more of The It here!

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