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Batia Elkayam:
Home is where the hair is

Batia & Aleeza's secret to success
iconWith a look of her own that some of those awards-show celebs can only envy, Batia Elkayam focuses on what makes people happy -- and runs her Beverly Hills salon with sister Aleeza as "a very homey place, beautiful. You come in and hang around with us." Hang with them -- or click here -- and you'll pick up a few of Batia's comments on Grammy-night hair.  

February 23, 2001
Web posted at: 5:25 p.m. EST (2225 GMT)

In this story:

'She's my best friend'

'You mother me'

'A very homey place'

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(CNN) -- It was a recent Saturday and Batia Elkayam -- who runs the Beverly Hills hair salon Batia & Aleeza with her sister Aleeza Callner -- was working.

As cars and pedestrians passed the large plate-glass windows at the front of the salon, candles burned inside, music played, and a half-dozen clients had their hair done, visited with each other.

graphic Few careerists work in closer direct contact with their customers than hairdressers. And Batia Elkayam talks of how important it is to her to make her clients feel welcome. Could you cope with such heavy client contact?

Curls my hair to think about it. My hat's off to Batia, but I couldn't hack having to be nice every minute of the day to customers.
Wouldn't mind trying it, just to see how I'd handle the scene. That kind of work might be as nice a change as a new haircut.
I'm ready now, just rinse and dry me. Less tangled in office politics, combing through the duties of the day -- get into this chair, I'll fix you right up.
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The front door opened. A guy walked in. He was trying to sell flowers. In some businesses, this might not be welcomed. But Batia & Aleeza is not your average business.

"You know what I did?" says Elkayam. "I bought every client in the shop a bouquet of flowers. They thought I was crazy. But I said, 'Why? I like you, I love you.' All of a sudden one of them said, 'It's my birthday today. I've gotten two bouquets of flowers!'"

Spend a moment visiting with Elkayam and she'll give you a bouquet of wisdom, her secret to happiness. Her philosophy of life and business are one in the same, an ocean breeze in today's hectic, anonymous, e-mail-driven climate: Make people feel good.

"You can make a person feel bad, you can make someone feel like a million dollars," she says. "I like to make people feel good."

This may well be why Batia & Aleeza is such a success. This time of year is particularly busy, with awards season in high gear in Los Angeles, from the just-passed Grammys to the upcoming Oscars. It's important for celebrities to look their best, and shops like Batia & Aleeza thrive. What can set one apart is how it treats the customer.

Batia & Aleeza claims celebrities Alicia Silverstone, Steven Spielberg, and Michael Bay (among others) as clients. But they cater to the not-so-famous, as well.

"I take care of everybody the same way," says Elkayam. "I think people come from the same place, they're going to the same place. Nobody's different to me. If you have more money, less money -- if they're nice, I like them. I like human beings."


'She's my best friend'

Elkayam, 50, and Callner, 49, were raised in Tel Aviv, Israel, in a family that included a total six children. Their father was in the Israeli army. Their mother worked for a clothing manufacturer.

Aleeza and Batia, sisters
Batia (on top) with sister Aleeza  

From the time Batia and Aleeza were young, they were inseparable, two curly-haired girls who had "a passion for hair."

"We used to do each other's hair all the time," says Elkayam, who went on to take hair design classes with her sister.

After graduating, the two opened a hair salon in Tel Aviv and Elkayam says it was a huge success, pulling in actors and models from the area. The sisters moved to Los Angeles in 1978, spent time working for someone else, then opened their own hair salon in West Hollywood in 1980.

They moved their business location to Beverly Hills a year ago, and today they employ seven people. Both are married -- Elkayam to cardiologist Uri Elkayam, and Callner to director Marty Callner -- and they both have children.

But when it comes to business, they're as inseparable as little girls braiding each other's hair. They spend their days in the same place, and their families come together for dinner on Friday nights.

"She's my best friend. She's the best girl. She's my life. She's beautiful and everybody else is crazy about her, too," says Elkayam of her little sister. In other words, they work well together. "My sister and I are totally different. She could never run the business like I do. She's the artistic side. She can do your hair unbelievable, but she wants nothing to do with the (accounting)."


'You mother me'

graphicHollywood hairdressers this time of year are between the rockers of the Grammys and the hard place occupied by Oscar fashion critics. Jamie Allen asked Batia Elkayam about a few Grammy-ites' hair. Here's a look at them, and then some.

A "hair design" at Batia & Aleeza costs $80 and up. Additionally, the salon provides highlights, henna and color services, makeup, mask treatments, manicures and pedicures, among other services. They also have a line of shampoo, conditioner and gel for $20 each.

Advice, however, is free. Elkayam has been dishing it out since she can remember. To her, it's part of the Batia & Aleeza experience. And she doesn't get shy around the famous.

"Of course I give stars advice, believe me," she says. "I used to talk a lot with Amy Irving at the time she was divorcing Steven Spielberg. She was really unhappy. We used to talk about that and the kids. I always tell them, don't fight with the husband when you get divorced because you lose and the children lose."

The sisters' salon is located in Beverly Hills  

Michael Bay, director of films like "Armageddon" (1998) and the upcoming "Pearl Harbor," has also received guiding words from Elkayam.

"He always says to me, 'You mother me,'" says Elkayam. "I give him advice. I'm not like a mother to people, but I just give him good feelings.

"I can give very good advice because people say, 'I like the way you are and the way you make life simple,'" says Elkayam. "I don't make a complicated life. It's easy, simple to me. Number One, it's heath. Number Two, it's family. And the rest of it can be Three or Four or Five."

She concedes she lives a comfortable life. But Elkayam says it doesn't take much to make her happy.

"More money, more problems," she says. "I don't like people who want more, more, more. You're an unhappy person when you want too much. I like ambitious people. But I don't like people who want too much."


'A very homey place'

With that in mind, is it difficult dealing with more-more-more celebrities who are, shall we say, picky when it comes to things like how their hair looks?

"Picky, I don't know," she says in her best diplomatic tone. "We have very nice clientele. We have very nice people coming to the shop. We have people coming just to say hello because they like us.

"It's a very homey place, beautiful," she says of Batia & Aleeza. "You come in and you hang around with us. You have coffee. We have the best cappuccino. We always have cookies, cake. We like to welcome you like you're coming to our house. That's the idea and people love it."

Aleeza (on the right) and Batia are stylists to stars including Steven Spielberg and Alicia Silverstone  

Elkayam has no immediate plans to expand the Batia & Aleeza salon to other cities. She did, however, visit New York recently, dropping by a well-known salon to see what they had to offer.

Elkayam told the guy at the reception desk who she was and asked if she could look around. He said no. She eventually talked her way into a limited tour, and left with the knowledge that her salon had something more to offer than this popular New York one.

"Listen, people cannot be so tense," she says. "If you come to my place, the door is always open. Like in Israel, people leave the door open. You come in, you ask for sugar, you ask for this, you ask for that. This is how I grew up."



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Batia & Aleeza Hair Salon

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