The Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum sits in the middle of America’s Mojave Desert, a couple of hours drive from Los Angeles. Founded by hairdresser Jeff Hafler, the museum and its adjoining hair salon contain thousands of hair and beauty artefacts, spanning from the 1800s to present day. The collection includes antique perm machines, clippers, hairdryers, vintage shampoos and countless other objects from the world of cosmetology.
Surrounded by desert, this is not the place you would expect to find such a treasure cove of objects dedicated to this glamorous world. The museum itself is housed in a restored cabin, a stone’s throw from Jeff’s home salon. Jeff explains, “it was the original owner’s toolshed, so I went out there with a little pink paint and turned that toolshed into a beauty museum”. And this museum is not to be contained however, with artefacts and features spilling out into the surrounding desert, with vintage neon salon signs and barber chairs dotted around the grounds.
A self-professed ‘hairstorian’, Jeff is fascinated by the history of cosmetology. The museum, which is lively and eccentric, feels like a perfect tribute. Walking into Hafler’s home hair salon, you are stepping back into the 1950s, into a world of pin-up glamour and classic beauty. The walls are adorned with hairdressing memorabilia, with one entire side dedicated to hair nets, dating from the late 1800s to present day. “A lot of the early ones were hand woven using human hair, which I find really fascinating”.
With a stream of regular clients from the nearby Marine base, the salon and museum have become a much loved fixture in the Wonder Valley desert. Jeff, who lives on the property with his partner Mikal, a jewellery designer, and their son Cash, splits his time between working in his home salon and maintaining his ever-growing collection. Not one to dream small, his ultimate dream for the Beauty Bubble would be “to put it in a huge dome and make it look like a giant hairdryer. Make it a classic Americana roadside attraction. Just imagine driving down Route 66, and seeing a big turquoise hairdryer in the distance!”
*Since our visit, The Beauty Bubble has expanded and relocated to brand new premises in downtown Joshua Tree, where Jeff is busy beautifying clients every Tuesday to Sunday. Long live The Beauty Bubble!
How did you first get into hairdressing? I first started doing hair in 1991, when I went to beauty school in Ohio. I was a history lover who became a hairdresser. One of the first things I ever wanted to be was an archeologist, I was always fascinated by history. So when I ended up falling into the beauty business, I turned my love of history into the history of my occupation!
How was the Beauty Bubble Salon & Museum born? I was always an avid thrift store shopper, and along the way I started to pick up an old hairdryer here, an old comb or brush there. After about a year of collecting those things, I realised: this is a pretty fascinating history, and it seemed like nobody was really preserving it. So I set out to start a museum of hair and beauty!
This was before the internet, before Ebay. When Ebay came along, it became a whole different story! My collection grew immensely at that point, I was adding hundreds of pieces a year to the collection. At the same time, with the help of my partner Mikal, I was able to open my first hair salon in West Hollywood in 2001, which we ran for a number of years until we discovered the desert…
What inspired your move from West Hollywood to the Wonder Valley desert? We first came to the Wonder Valley to visit a friend of ours who lives here. But it was just so wonderful waking up surrounding by all this open space, the dirt roads… we fell in love with the place. Three weeks later we bought our house here. Ever since I’d been in the beauty business, I always thought that having a home salon would be the ultimate dream, just like Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias, with her hair salon in the front of her trailer… so that’s what I decided to do.
We started out just spending a bit of time here, at the time I didn’t know if anyone would actually come all the way to the middle of nowhere to have their hair done. However, in the end it only took 8 months before I had enough clients to be able to move here full time. A good portion of my clients come from the nearby marine base. We are just outside of 29 Palms, which has one of the largest marine bases in the country. Many of my clients are officers’ wives, marine wives, some of their husbands even. Also some are artists, retirees… ”the high society of the high desert” is what I like to say!
“This is a pretty fascinating history, and it seemed like nobody was really preserving it”
Tell us about your collection.. Most of my collection is from the 20th century. I do have a handful of things from the 1800s, but the modern beauty business as we know it was really developed in the 20th century. It didn’t really exist before electricity, plastic and chemicals came into play. My collection represents all of that.
I’d approximate that there are probably around 3000 pieces in the collection now; in fact it may be a little bit more. I’ve never counted every single one, it would be impossible! I may have the largest collection of hairdryers in the world. We might have to look into the Guinness Book of World Records for that!
Any favourite objects? Gosh I have quite a few! One of my absolute favourites is the ‘Seeback Viewer’. It’s a pair of glasses which have mirrors on the inside, and it’s designed so you can style the back of your hair with both hands – without having to hold a mirror. A brilliant invention that should still be made!
I also have a perm machine which was donated to me by Earl Adams, who was Veronica Lake’s hairdresser in Hollywood in the 40s. And one of the oldest things I have in the collection is a kerosene heated curling iron oven called a ‘Summer Girl’, which is from 1883.
Who would your ideal client be? Dolly Parton would be my dream client, I would love to get hold of her wigs! One of the best dreams I ever had was that I was at Cher’s house, with Dolly Parton and Bette Midler, and Cher was showing us her wig closet. Anybody who wants an updo, something big. ‘The higher the hair the closer to God’ is one of my favourite quotes! I just love doing those big vintage styles, prom hair, ball hair.. I feel like it’s almost a lost art form of the beauty business. One style I do not like doing is perms. I occasionally get a request and I will tell the client that I’m allergic, because they actually give me anxiety. I don’t like the process, the smell, plus you never know how it’s going to turn out… there’s far too much mystery involved with the perm.
“Dolly Parton would be my dream client, I would love to get hold of her wigs!”
The Beauty Bubble Salon Website Text& Interview Emma de Clercq Photography Panos Damaskinidis Special Thanks Jeff Hafler