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Paul Glick's Toughest Make-over

He didn't need a new look. He needed a new life.


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On May 12, 1989, when word got out that Paul Glick was closing his prestigious Michigan Avenue salon, chaos erupted among his employees. Hairstylists normally poised and sophisticated began scurrying from one work station to another, cursing and complaining. "That son of a bitch!" one screamed. "I knew it I knew it I knew it! How can he do this to us?" Another young stylist gazed out the window down onto the Magnificent Mile and quietly wept. One of the shampoo ladies sobbed openly. "This isn't right; this just isn't right," she repeated over and over.

Some stylists immediately began cleaning out their lockers, stashing scissors, clippers, combs, and other tools into bags. Others helped themselves to supplies belonging to the salon. Bob Harty, an outspoken critic of Glick, was shocked too, but he also was delighted. He already had persuaded several Glick stylists to join him at the new Robert-Lucas Salon, which he would be opening soon with Gary Lucas, Glick's former business manager. Harty knew that if he could stall everyone just a few weeks, he could hire them all. So he immediately canceled all his appointments and began calling other salons until he found a temporary workplace for everyone. While he was at it he also called Crain's Chicago Business and Michael Sneed at the Sun-Times, gleefully reporting the demise of the Paul Glick Salon.

Meanwhile, Paul Glick was walking the streets of the near north side, oblivious to the scene at the salon but reeling from his own inner turmoil. For almost 16 years he had maintained his salon as a bastion of style and sophistication. When he opened it in the fall of 1973, Chicago had never seen anything like it. The floors were covered with oak planking, and a large fireplace crackled in the center of the room. Instead of dowdy gowns, the customers wore stylish kimonos designed by Noriko, a well-known Chicago designer, and ate lunches catered by George Jewell.

Glick himself was considered one of the best stylists in the business. "He was a fabulous hairstylist," said Richard Holden, who worked at the Glick Salon from the time it opened until the day it closed. "He had a wonderful eye and a fantastic sense of line. There was nobody like him."

But gradually Glick moved from hairstyling to image consulting, offering advice on dress and grooming. Unlike other image consultants, he did not impose a "look" on his clients. Instead he tried to coax out a style that expressed the client's personality. Like a therapist, he would ask probing questions about each person's ambitions and anxieties. He often delved into sensitive areas, such as sexuality and personal beliefs, in an effort to get clients to analyze themselves honestly.

In effect, Glick started doing heads in a different way. The consultations he conducted often were intense and deeply revealing. Some clients left in tears, upset by his questions and his blunt observations. But many left the salon profoundly changed--inwardly as well as outwardly. The expression "I've been Glicked" entered the local lexicon.

Glick became a celebrity. He wrote a column for the Sun-Times called "Being Your Best," and appeared regularly as an image and style expert on the Channel Five news. Attracted to wealth and power, he developed friendships with chief executives, socialites, and celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, who has had him on her program several times. "He has the most incredible style I've ever seen," she maintains. "When I'm having dinner at his place, I want to ask him, 'Can I see your closet?' But his style goes so far beneath the surface--that's what fascinates me."

Everything changed, however, in May 1988, one year before the salon closed. That's when Glick came down with cancer of the lymph glands, and began to examine his own aspirations and anxieties. Suddenly, being rich and famous didn't seem so important anymore.

"I always thought happiness was being well-known and well-liked, and making a lot of money--gaining approval, in other words," he said, reflecting on his life before he got sick. "But happiness is getting in touch with your passions and your dreams--that's where you find your authentic self."

Glick decided that if he survived, he would no longer spend his days managing the salon. He would continue to do the image consulting, since that made him feel he was making a contribution to others, but he would also get back in touch with a passion he'd put aside long ago--art.

He did recover, and he immediately arranged for two new partners to operate the salon for him. Those plans collapsed at the last minute, however, when one of the partners pulled out. Unable to find other investors, and unwilling to commit his own time, energy, and money to sustaining the business, Glick simply let go of it.

On the salon's final day, as Glick walked the streets wondering what to do, he could have been portrayed as the victim of a Greek tragedy--a hero brought down by a tragic flaw. But Glick's story is more like a tragedy in reverse. His bout with cancer, combined with his penchant for introspection and self-analysis, had helped him identify and repair some potentially tragic flaws, and put him on the road to a new life.

So when faced with the demise of his salon, which had once been his primary source of identity and pride, he was able to let it die. Jeana Tracy, a hypnotherapist he was dating at the time, encouraged him. "The dream had been fulfilled and was becoming stagnant," she said of Glick's salon, "so I began to suggest that he dream a new dream."

That is precisely what Glick has done. Since closing the salon, Glick has pursued a dream, deferred since college, of becoming an artist. First he considered opening a gallery, where artists he hired would work together in a large studio, producing art he commissioned. But he also returned to art school, quickly reviving his eye for line and shape and color. With the encouragement of an art teacher, he has decided to create art himself. He has rented a house in Santa Fe, and he draws or paints there every day. At the age of 50, he is living a new life, and he owes it to the ability he has long cultivated in others--the ability to change.

"I have purported to be an expert on change, so after I closed my business, I said to myself, 'OK Glick, let's see you take on change,'" he recalled.

In short, Paul Glick set out to become his own make-over; this is the story of how he did it.

Actually, Glick's entire life can be viewed as a make-over. Starting with very little, he built a lucrative business out of intelligence, ingenuity, and hard work. He transformed himself psychologically too, using diligent self-analysis to transform a lonely, demoralized adolescent into a supremely confident man radiating style and taste.

When he was born in Chicago 50 years ago, Glick was named Paul Skurie. Four years later, his father, a truck driver and a cabbie, died suddenly at the age of 40 from a heart attack, leaving his son, daughter, and wife with very little money. Paul's mother got a job in a dress shop, and the three of them moved into a one-room studio in Rogers Park.

The poverty gnawed at Glick, and at the age of six he reversed his family's fortunes. Glick's sister, Charlotte Zandberg, who lives in the northwest suburbs, recalls the episode vividly.

"We were in the elevator with Mr. Glick, who lived on our floor, and he was crying," she said. "Paul said, 'Why are you crying, Mr. Glick?' and the man answered, 'My wife just died.' A few days later our mother needed a hammer to hang a picture, and Paul said, 'I'll go to Mr. Glick and get a hammer.' He came back with Mr. Glick, who hung the picture for us. Then Paul put a record on the record player and said, 'Why don't you dance with my mother?' Then he said, 'Why don't you marry my mother?'"

And a few months later, Mr. Glick did. Little Paul and his sister had a stepfather, and Mr. Glick was able to move his new family to a nicer neighborhood.

It didn't turn out to be an idyllic life. "Mr. Glick's position as a parent was to be strict and punitive," Glick recalled. "I would be punished for saying something the wrong way, or walking into a room without knocking, or coming to the table without being fully dressed. I got punished for everything, which confirmed my belief that I wasn't good enough. I know what it's like to feel that you don't look good, that you don't have worth, that you don't have value."

As a teenager, Glick became aware of the near north side, where people seemed glamorous and artistic to him. He also discovered he could enter that world by adopting the right image.

"I could dress up and walk down the street looking good and no one knew I was worthless," Glick said. "I hid behind clothing and appearances."

By the time he enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Glick had developed a dashing, artistic style for himself. He studied art and earned a degree in advertising design, quickly landing a job in New York after graduation. But when the advertising agency he worked for laid him off, Glick could not find another job. Reduced to eating Jell-O for dinner, he reconsidered the advice offered a few weeks earlier by his sister's friend, who thought he could be successful as a hairstylist. Glick had dismissed the idea as soon as he heard it.

"First, I had a college education--you don't go to college and then become a hairstylist, right? And hairstylists were either gay, or older women who worked in their home. There was no place for me in the business."

But when he walked past a Manhattan hairstyling school--Ingrid's School of Hair Design, as he recalls the name--he impulsively went in and enrolled. To his amazement, he displayed a flair for the work, and soon won a student styling competition. He got a job as an assistant at a fashionable salon, and then moved back to Chicago, where at the age of 23 he won a major midwestern styling competition. He and his sister loaded the six-foot trophy into his convertible and cruised around town for several hours. "For a guy who had the lowest possible self-image, it was simply extraordinary," he said.

Glick moved from one salon to another, building a clientele and a reputation. He moved into an apartment on Lake Shore Drive, quickly transforming it into a showplace. "I remember he had tomato-colored walls in the living room," said his sister. "I know that sounds strange, but it looked wonderful. And the furnishings were so beautiful."

Glick also became engaged to a woman who owned a cosmetics studio. "They were a knockout couple," said Betty Sacks, director of services at the East Bank Club and a friend of Glick for 25 years. "She was tall and stylish--I remember she wore capes. And Paul was always so dashing." (The relationship eventually wound down; Glick has never married.)

Despite the self-confidence that Glick now projected, he continued to feel like a little boy who couldn't do anything right.

Then he went to see the 1969 movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, about two couples who, in an effort to get in touch with their feelings, go through an encounter session at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

"I was amazed by what I saw," Glick said. "I came out of the theater wondering if such a place really existed, so I went to a pay phone, dialed directory assistance for California, and asked for the number for Esalen."

Glick made several trips to Esalen, where he participated in encounter sessions and got to know some of the heavyweights of the human potential movement, such as William Schutz, author of Joy, and the legendary Fritz Perls, who pioneered Gestalt therapy. Over the years, Glick also attended numerous workshops, lectures, and seminars aimed at making participants more acute observers of themselves. He did est training; he took classes through More U, dedicated to the enhancement of sexual pleasure; he took up meditation; he subscribed to LogoNet, an expensive computer network that promotes the ideas of Fernando Flores, who stresses the power of language to influence the way we think.

Through all these workshops and seminars, Glick was trying to bolster his sense of self, and gain insight into the dynamics of his own personality, but at times his quest seemed to verge on an obsession.

"Some people become what we call workshop junkies," said Asa Baber, who conducted the "New Warrior" weekend retreat that Glick attended recently. "They really need them, and so they overdose on them. I think Paul went through a period like that."

But through these workshops, Glick made a major discovery--lots of people were tormented by insecurities and faulty assumptions about themselves. Many of his clients, in fact, were trying to overcome feelings of inadequacy by adopting a fashionable appearance.

"When people would come in to get their hair done, I could tell that what they were after was a much deeper change," Glick said. "So I began to bring what I was learning in all these workshops and seminars to the chair. I began to believe I could help people feel better about themselves--not by helping them put on a mask, but by bringing something out of them."

One day Robert Wright, a therapist waiting to have his hair cut, overheard Glick. "You're really a good therapist," Wright told him. "You ought to pay more attention to that." Wright's wife Judith, a therapist who eventually conducted seminars with Glick on style and presentation, was equally impressed. "Paul was interacting with clients in ways that were therapeutic," she said. "He was creating rapport. As a therapist, I've worked hard to hone that ability, but Paul was doing it naturally."

At first Glick dismissed the Wrights' observations, but gradually he spent more time talking with clients in an effort to help them find a satisfactory style. Soon he abandoned hairstyling altogether and devoted himself to private consultations, which he conducted in a small room within the salon.

Glick's consultations were not gentle lovefests designed to bolster the client's self-esteem. Often Glick applied a bit of shock therapy to shake people out of their habitual ways of thinking.

When Dann Gire, the film critic for the suburban Daily Herald, was hired to do film reviews for WFLD TV, he made an appointment to get "Glicked." He wanted a new hairstyle, and some advice on which colors to wear on TV. Maybe Glick would even have some pointers on how to apply makeup for the camera.

After a few preliminary questions, Glick suddenly became silent and stared at Gire. His dark eyes traveled up and down, fixing on Gire's shoes, his posture, his shirt and sweater, his mustache.

Finally, Glick spoke. "So what qualities do you want to project, Dann?" he asked.

"Well, I want to look knowledgeable, approachable, and slightly irreverent," Gire responded.

Glick slowly shook his head in amazement.

"What a contradiction!" he said.

"What do you mean?"

"Dann, you look like a nerd. You walk like a nerd, you dress like a nerd. Yet when you speak, out comes a very strong, powerful voice with all this intelligence and self-confidence behind it. We have to find a way to reconcile that contradiction. We have to develop an image that matches your voice."

Gire was stunned by what he was hearing.

"Well, how do we do that?" he finally asked.

"We don't accomplish that by trying to make you into something you're not," Glick said. "Being a nerd is part of who you are, and that's not bad. A nerd is a term I'm using to describe a personality type, someone who lives slightly oblique to the mainstream. A lot of people are nerds and are very successful at it, like Senator Paul Simon with his bow ties, and Walter Jacobson with his suspenders--now there's someone who has parlayed the brat/nerd/misfit/little boy look into a very successful image. I think we can come up with an image for you."

Glick leaned toward Gire with a look of satisfaction on his face.

"Boyish charm," he announced. "We'll transform your nerdy qualities into boyish charm so they work for you. I think your best image role model is Pee-wee Herman--someone playful, lovable, exuberant.

Gire was thunderstruck. "I've always wanted to look like Sean Connery as James Bond in From Russia With Love," he said later, recalling the ordeal. "And here this guy is telling me to model myself after Pee-wee Herman!"

But Glick was right--those who know Gire describe him as playful, lovable, and exuberant, and Glick recognized those qualities.

"Be a character," he advised Gire. "That's your strong suit."

By the time Gire left the salon, he was reeling with change. His new hairstyle was casual and neat, making him look like a high school student. His eyebrows had been plucked to accentuate their mischievous arch. His mustache was gone. So were some cherished notions about his appearance. Gire had been dissected by a man whose eyes cut right through to the core of his character. He had, in short, been Glicked.

Glick admits he can be brutally honest with clients. And some of the hairstylists who worked in his salon think he was too brutal and too honest at times. Behind his back they called him the "Charles Manson of the hair industry."

"I think he got carried away sometimes," said one. "I mean, people would leave in tears."

But Glick says he is only trying to push people to the edge of their "comfort zone."

"Sometimes, if we don't get a conk, we don't hear what people are trying to say to us," he explained. "But I've never hurt anyone. I read their body language--I watch the way they're breathing; I see when they start to flush around the neck. I can tell when I'm moving into an area they don't want to deal with, and I've never taken anyone too far."

Most of Glick's hairstylists tried to emulate the way he would draw style out of people. "Paul was a very good teacher," said Ken Covers, a stylist who went to work at the Giacomo salon in One Magnificent Mile after spending nearly a decade with Glick. "That's why the stylists who came out of his salon are a breed apart. No one does image consulting like Paul Glick does."

Even Bob Harty, who never tires of deriding Glick, admits to a certain admiration and affection for the man. "In a way, I think of him as a father--a father who showed me how to dress, and who taught me how to behave," Harty said. "I loved him more than my own dad, and that made me feel guilty. Paul was the dad I wanted--sophisticated, worldly, stylish, knowledgeable."

Even clients who became extremely upset during their interview with Glick claim the experience was beneficial.

One artist, for example, came in for a consultation wearing a jumpsuit, bright makeup, and bold earrings. She thought she looked funky and artistic, but Glick had a different assessment.

"Your appearance screams out 'Fuck you,'" Glick told her. The woman was furious. "Who are you to pass judgment on how I dress?" she yelled. "Look at you with that silly beard and that stupid bow tie . . . " And then came the tears. But before she left the consulting room, she realized that he was right--she was sending a hostile message with her appearance--and she decided to do something about it.

"I had the clothing consultant he recommended come out to my house, and she had me throw out almost everything in my closet," the woman said. "Then she took me shopping on Michigan Avenue. It cost thousands of dollars, but it was worth it."

The result was a new look full of all the color and zest befitting an artist, but a look also sophisticated, mature, and inviting. Glick had effected a change in the woman's image, but not by issuing rules for her to follow. Instead, he helped her gain insights into herself; after that, changes in her style and presentation flowed naturally.

Glick's reputation as an image consultant was at its peak when he awoke one morning too weak to walk. His doctor diagnosed lymphoma, and Glick began chemotherapy immediately. But he also pursued unconventional methods of healing, such as the ideas of Dr. Bernie Segal, who argues in the book Love, Medicine and Miracles that attitude has a pronounced effect on the immune system. Throughout the ordeal, Glick stubbornly maintained a positive attitude. The six chemotherapy treatments were devastating, according to his sister, who accompanied him to each one, but he never became discouraged. "He'd be so sick, but he'd give me a hug and say, 'Well, we got through another one,'" she recalled.

Glick, normally trim and lithe, lost weight, but characteristically he still paid attention to his appearance. He obtained some herbs in Chinatown that he says prevented him from losing all of his hair. He bought clothes to fit his shrunken body, and continued to exercise at the East Bank Club. "He pushed himself," said Betty Sacks, who saw Glick frequently at the club. "He didn't feel well but he always exercised, and he never looked sick. He looked thin, but not sick, and he never had much hair loss."

Glick showed up at the salon every day except for the day after each chemotherapy treatment, but his illness took a toll on his business. According to the stereotype of hairstylists, some people assumed Glick had AIDS and was about to die. To make matters worse, a hairstylist named Paul did die of AIDS, prompting a widespread, persistent rumor that Glick was dead. Within six months, half of the salon's 18 stylists left, and others were planning to leave, taking their loyal customers with them. The business was sinking rapidly.

In earlier days, Glick admitted, he would have been devastated by the failure of the salon, but the illness changed his attitude.

"I am not the Paul Glick Salon," he said shortly after closing his business. "My life is not over. I know what it's like to think life is over. My life is not over."

Indeed, these days Glick feels like his life is just beginning. "I am an artist," he says with confidence. "And I stifled that most of my life because I didn't think I could make enough money at it."

Glick needed several months to come to this new opinion of himself. First he signed up for a beginning life-drawing class at the American Academy of Art, and picked up a sketchbook for the first time since college. Paging through that book, now full of sketches, is like watching a powerful talent awake from a long slumber. The clumsy lines on the first few pages quickly yield to clear sketches. Soon, full figures emerge, caught in poses so dynamic that the tension in their muscles is almost palpable. The final pages contain sophisticated charcoal drawings complete with subtle shadows that give them depth, roundness, and texture.

Glick also started painting, producing abstract designs that pulsate with color and energy.

But it wasn't until he visited New Mexico that he decided to give himself over to art. "I spent five hours a day on three consecutive days doing landscape paintings," he said. "The work that came out surprised me. I thought, 'If this can come out of me now, what would happen if I gave it some time?' I showed the work to my teacher, and he said, 'Glick, you've got it; you're an artist--just go do it.'"

And that's what he is doing. He has sold his red BMW, rented his condo on Lake Shore Drive, and moved into a small adobe house in Santa Fe, where he has begun a series of erotic drawings in ink. "I think sexuality is a source of a lot of anxiety in this society," he said. "But the human body is capable of such provocative, erotic poses. I want to explore that."

He plans to return to Chicago every six weeks to do image consulting at Amico's Grand Salon at 110 E. Delaware. He still believes in looking his best, but the expensive clothes and high-status labels no longer provide the charge they once did.

"When I walk down Michigan Avenue and see people still locked into that consumer addiction, it makes me sad," he said. "I was into that for so long. Before, when I wanted to feel good, I'd go to Ultimo and buy something. Now, if I want to feel good, I just close my eyes and take deep breaths and relax my body. It's more gratifying than a new sweater."

Since his illness, Glick has changed drastically, but like his clients, he needed a push. "Until people are a little uncomfortable, they won't change," he often says of his clients.

That holds true for him too. Throughout his life, adversity has served as a stimulus to change. The death of his father, the demands of a strict and punitive stepfather, early career woes, the closing of his salon--all were painful, but all presented him with opportunities for growth.

"Even cancer, which was terribly unfortunate in so many ways, was also extraordinarily beneficial in so many ways," he said.

In a sense, he has been "Glicked" by life. He has finally learned the lesson he has preached for so long--image should be an honest expression of what's inside a person, and not a mask worn to please others. It took an encounter with death itself to convince him, but he finally believes that an image adopted to win the approval of others results in a hollow victory.

"I'm finally doing what I've been frightened to death to do," he said. "And it's a choice I've made out of my willingness to represent the person I really am, instead of concerning myself with how my life looks to others. Which, I know, is an interesting thing for an image consultant to say."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Meredith.


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