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'People beg. It's not pretty. We've had people lie," says Bill Angst about the shameless tactics customers will use to try to get into his chair. "Cutting hair is an energy exchange. I will remember if I've cut your hair before, so why embarrass yourself?" In this city, where hairdressers become household names, nothing succeeds like inaccessibility.

Mr. Angst opened his salon, Angst, 16 years ago last week. It is on the questionable strip of Queen Street East at Sherbourne, surrounded by butchers and shops that sell raunchy, plastic fetish gear. The area also boasts a number of shelters and detox centres; recent cons are dropped off here at dawn. The colourful-but-resolutely-hip locale is part of Mr. Angst's eccentric image. Long-time clients, from "IBM execs to cool young artists and rock stars," pre-book their appointments six months ahead.

He has not taken a new client in years, unless he feels "an extraordinary connection" on a referral from a long-time client. There is a very long waiting list, kept by his assistant, Jeff Forsythe, who is fiercely protective of Mr. Angst. If there is an unusual cancellation, Mr. Forsythe will duly call the first person on the list.

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Mr. Angst does hair makeovers on CityLine, though CITY-TV has to state with every appearance that he does not take new clients personally; viewers who want an appointment are referred to other members of his team. He works from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with one client booked per hour. He is noted for giving "the straight goods, up front" and loves his clients: "Each one is a case. My job is exciting and fun. I have one eight-year-old whose hair I cut in exchange for cookies." Other clients pay his normal freight of $125.

Another big name you can't get to see is Ray Civello. He has a high-fashiony following but a very small (and select) one. Now that he runs the Aveda business (with about 400 employees), including his four Toronto-area salons and spas, he has only 25 to 30 personal hair clients and does not accept new ones. Interested callers are referred to his personal booker, who won't reveal Mr. Civello's rates because basically you don't have a hope in hell of getting in.

Reached at his vacation home in the Caribbean, Mr. Civello says, "I'm always open to it, but I just haven't been able to take any new clients for quite a while." Right now, he is laid up with a bad back, so even the lucky few will have to wait for his ministrations.

Christian Marc flies in once every six weeks to Scollard Street's Twist & Co. to look after his list of premium heads; his services, at $125 a pop, are also sold out. Now based in Los Angeles, Mr. Marc got his first big Hollywood credit doing up some of the Denys Arcand posse for the Oscars. He is currently in town working on a pilot for a television makeover series, which has cut further into his availability.

Hairdressers with bursting appointment books are nearly as frustrating for both old and new clients. Marcello Altomare at Twist, for instance, charges $100 for a cut, but clients can wait up to a month to get in to see him. The salon's name has led people to believe Mr. Altomare is a curly-hair specialist, and in fact over time this reputation has borne itself out as legions of spiral-tressed girls line up for his attentions.

Similarly at World on Adelaide, Brian Phillips is known for his work with black hair. His clientele, which he calls the "smart and inspiring set," is comprised of film and artsy types and professionals. Mr. Phillips's waiting list, about two weeks on average, is worked around his schedule of editorial and commercial projects.

Another editorial whiz, Marco Greco, known for his way with "sexy hair," has worked side by side with Mr. Angst ever since he opened his salon. He does take new clients, but they typically wait about three weeks for an appointment, amid the "mishmash" of his devotees, "from really conservative to really modern fashion, arts and film types." He vows never to squeeze a client in, and gives a full hour for his $102 fee.

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Robert Gage, Toronto's choice for the heads of society, industry and finance, says his availability depends on the weather. Looking out his window on St. Nicholas Street he laments: "My major problem is that my clients are part of the unpoor. If the weather is bad and you've got lotsa dough, [my clients are]outta here, off travelling somewhere more appealing." When it is sunny and bright in T.O., one would wait about three weeks for a sitting with Mr. Gage. He will take new clients on referral, or, he says with typical brio, "if they are interesting or extremely good looking." A consultation and cut will cost you $115. A noted and expert gossip, Mr. Gage would likely free up space in a hurry for any prominent Torontonian with a story to amuse him.

Some hairdressers are busier than they think they are. John Steinberg first made a splash at the legendary Rainbow Room in 1977, tarting up Rosedale with punky streaks. At his current salon on King at Portland, he claims he's always available, Wednesday through Saturday, though a call for an appointment offered up a booking for three weeks hence.

Even the non-star hairdressers are starting to get booked solid these days.

Pino Spadafora has been in the business 30 years, the last 10 at Rapunzel, a deliberately low-key collective on Irwin Street (Gregory Parvatan there does Jeanne Beker's 'do, so a weekly blurb at the end of FashionTelevision is all the publicity it does). Mr. Spadafora is so busy you now have to book at least two weeks ahead. On the bright side, he has also deliberately kept his rates down to $75 because, he says, he "enjoys his clientele."

He'd probably have a house in Rosedale by now if he'd just put on an exotic accent, toss around some 'tude, play a little harder to get. Instead, his policy remains first-come, first-served. "Hey," he says, "you gotta be fair to everybody."

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