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Cutting hair at Stanford for six decades and counting

At Stanford Hair, Carmelo Cogliandro has cut the hair of many in the Stanford community – including Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and Stanford presidents dating back to Wallace Sterling, who took office in 1949.

Over the last six decades, Carmelo Cogliandro has cut the hair of legions of students, staff and faculty at Stanford Hair, fulfilling requests for hairstyles as distinctive as their names.

Carmelo Cogliandro (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

There was the Ivy League, the Buzzcut, the Fade, the Crew Cut, the Flat Top and Flat Top with Fenders, the Rat Tail – sometimes bleached or colored – the Mohawk, the Fauxhawk and the Mushroom – a bowl cut inspired by Moe of The Three Stooges. For the Big Game, some students wanted words cut into their hair – such as Beat Cal.

Cogliandro remembered the first student who wanted a hairstyle that would cover his ears –inspired by the trademark moptops of the Beatles in the early 1960s. It was during the era when most men wanted the “clean look” of hair trimmed around the ears.

“I was thinking to myself, what a weirdo,” he recalled. “Then within a year or two, I had long hair too. I fell right into it.”

Cogliandro began his campus career in 1961 in a barbershop located in the basement of Encina Hall, which then housed the university’s financial and business operations. He moved into Tresidder Memorial Union when the building opened in the fall of 1962.

He now owns Stanford Hair, which is located across the hall from the new Undergraduate Mail and Package Delivery Center on the ground floor of Tresidder.

Cardinal at Work has identified the salon as one of the dozens of the “sweetest perks” of being connected to Stanford.

“We offer clients an oasis, if only for 20 minutes, from the stress of learning, teaching, doing research and running the university,” Cogliandro said.

Typically, the busiest days at the salon are Mondays and Fridays, and the week before winter break, spring break and summer vacation. During the summer, visitors attending campus programs have also found their way to Stanford Hair.

Over the years, Cogliandro has cut the hair of Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and Stanford presidents dating back to Wallace Sterling, who took office in 1949. Former Cardinal Football Coach Jim Harbaugh was a regular. So were his players.

A guy with a big heart

David M. Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, at Stanford, who won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2000, remembers the September day in 1987 when he met Cogliandro. When Kennedy arrived at the salon with his youngest son, Tom, who needed a haircut for the new school year, he ran into a friend getting a haircut.

David M. Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, has been a regular at Cogliandro’s salon since September 1987. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

When the friend asked how he was doing, Kennedy replied that his wife, Judy, was seriously ill in the hospital. After Cogliandro cut Tom’s hair, Kennedy asked how much he owed him for the haircut. Cogliandro replied that he had overheard Kennedy talking about his wife and didn’t know what he could do to help – except not charge for the haircut.

“That touched me right down to my bone marrow,” Kennedy said. “As long as Carmelo is in business, he will be my barber. As it turns out, he’s a very good barber, but that’s not my principal reason for sticking with him all these years. It is my way of repaying a favor he did for me during a very, very dark moment of my life.”

Over the years, they became good friends. When Kennedy was incapacitated with a knee injury some 10 years ago, Cogliandro went to his house to give him a haircut.

“He’s just that kind of guy,” Kennedy said. “He’s got a big heart. He is one of the people I admire most in this world.”

Earning a barber license and a bachelor’s degree

As a young man, Cogliandro hoped for a career in music. But his father, who worried that only Hollywood stars could make a living in music, advised him to learn a trade.

Cogliandro gives Professor Emeritus David M. Kennedy a trim in his salon located in Tresidder Memorial Union. Cogliandro began his campus career in 1961 in a barbershop located in the basement of Encina Hall. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

By enrolling in barber school – a step he took as a junior in high school – Cogliandro was following a family tradition. His father worked as a barber – even during his stint in the U.S. Army – and his mother ran a beauty shop for women in the living room of their home.

In addition to earning a barber license, Cogliandro earned a bachelor’s degree in music at San Jose State University. He performed as a tenor for a few years with light opera companies in Silicon Valley.

Cogliandro once returned to the stage for a cameo in Gaieties, a student-written musical extravaganza held the week before the Big Game – not to sing, but to give a haircut to the late Stanford President Donald Kennedy, a guest star in the production and a longtime friend and client.

“I’d done a lot of performing before then and it was a lot of fun to be back on stage,” he said.

Listening is the key to success

Cogliandro said the key to success as a hairstylist is communication, especially in a salon that caters to the diverse community that is Stanford.

“If you’re a good listener and you ask enough questions, you’ll be successful,” he said.

“If someone says, ‘I want a short haircut,’ you have to find out what that means to them. Ten different people can have 100 versions of ‘short.’ So, you give them a little shock treatment. You say, a short haircut, yeah, you mean like Marine boot camp? They say, ‘no, no, not that short! Now we’ve got a basis to start working from.”

In addition to a career, Cogliandro found love through the trade; he met his wife, a hairstylist named Lynda, at Stanford Hair. The couple has been together for 32 years.

During the last two years, the coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on the salon, which once employed several stylists. Now two people can easily handle the business, said Cogliandro.

Looking back, Cogliandro said he is filled with gratitude for the last six decades.

“It’s been a real privilege,” he said. “I don’t know how I was blessed with this.”