Monday, September 10, 2018

Kenneth Battelle at Home

"The top". "An institution". The "Secretary of Grooming". These were just some of the titles and accolades given to Kenneth, the legendary hairdresser who tended the locks of Jacqueline Kennedy, Lee Radziwill, Brooke Astor, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe, to name just a few of his high-profile clients. Although Kenneth did have a last name (it was Battelle), he became so famous that he was always referred to by his first name only. You'll recall that it was Billy Baldwin whom Kenneth hired in the early 1960s to decorate his Manhattan salon, a Brighton Pavilion fantasy of bamboo and tented rooms.  Baldwin once wrote, "I'm  told a woman will keep dentists and dinner dates waiting before she'll miss an appointment at Kenneth's." But for all of the glamour and celebrity surrounding his salon and his clientele, Kenneth never seemed to lose his head, saying, "What I do is only a shampoo away from being nothing."

His lack of pretension comes across in these photos of his East Side penthouse, which were published in the February 1989 issue of HG. (Incidentally, the following year brought Kenneth much grief when his salon burned to the ground; receiving no insurance money for his loss and unable to rebuild his salon, he moved his business to the Helmsley Palace Hotel first and later the Waldorf-Astoria.)  Although elegantly appointed, his home was neither grand nor overblown. I'm intrigued by Kenneth's curious blend of styles and furnishings. The apartment's finishes were sleek, modern, and very suited to the night: dark-brown walls in both the living room and bedroom; what appears to be a polished brass fireplace mantel; and a kitchen entirely sheathed in mirror and lit by track lighting. And yet, the apartment was furnished rather traditionally, too, with French chairs, displays of antique boxes, and a Brunschwig chintz used throughout the bedroom. It was an apartment of a man who had confidence in his taste.

The best shot of the entire feature, however, has to be that of Kenneth reading the morning paper in his garden and wearing a dressing gown, which kept his work attire, a suit, pristine. If that photo doesn't perfectly capture the immaculate ways of a bygone generation, I don't know what does.

All photos from HG, February 1989, Eric Boman photographer.

What's New What's Next

I hope you'll join the Kravet team and me this week at What's New What's Next, where I will be interviewing three of my favorite designers, Alexa Hampton, Markham Roberts, and Tom Scheerer, on who and what inspires them. The day-long event at the New York Design Center features an outstanding line-up of panel discussions and receptions. For more information or to RSVP, please visit