Briggs started collecting about five years ago when he acquired a lock of John Lennon's strands from an auction house for $1700. He wanted it because he's a Beatles fan, and he certainly didn't mind the publicity generated by the purchase. Featured on CNN and written up in newspapers, the acquisition brought in about $300,000 worth of attention in the form of business for his international chain of 50 salons.
As valuable as the Lennon hair is, Briggs is a hairstylist after all, so he couldn't resist going to work on the famous lock. At a Los Angeles stylists' convention, he and another professional colored Lennon's hair, changing it from reddish brown to medium brown before a crowd of 2000 onlookers as "Imagine" played over the PA.
The Lennon hair was just the beginning. Briggs soon had to have more hair, and he acquires it by having his former attorney make the purchases through collectibles dealers. Together they hunt down the hair of historical figures and celebrities who have qualities Briggs admires: He likes Napoleon's leadership abilities, Marilyn Monroe's beauty, John F. Kennedy's penchant for romance, and Abe Lincoln's humanitarianism.
Strands purportedly from the scalps of Lincoln, Monroe, Kennedy, George Washington, and Andrew Jackson, among other notable figures, are stylishly displayed in individual frames with photos. Briggs claims that Napoleon's hair cost him $5000, but he won't disclose the prices of most strands, which are framed with certificates of authenticity and paperwork detailing ownership and origin.
The hair gallery occupies wall space between Briggs' personal styling room and the shop's shampoo area. Hair hangs there in wisps, snippets, and locks; some displays are simply random arrays of strands, looking like something found on a bathroom countertop.
Briggs' favorite is the Elvis hair, recovered after the famous army cut. Hanging alongside the strands is a photo of Elvis and the barber who committed the act.
Hair is much more significant than other collectibles, such as photographs or objects that famous people used, according to Briggs. "Can you imagine George Washington riding on a horse? Chopping a cherry tree down? I own a piece of him," he declares, while working on a client's hair.
He says he'd like to go back even further in time, get his hands on Moses' hair, maybe even Cleopatra's.
While hair is the main focus of Briggs' collection, the walls of the Yellow Strawberry do feature other memorabilia, including one of Elvis' teeth, purchased for $20,000 and displayed in a frame with a mirrored background. Briggs pulls the tooth off the wall and shows it to his client, playfully telling her to touch it and feel the vibration of "Heartbreak Hotel." As he returns to cutting her hair, he croons the song in an Elvis-like voice.
The most expensive item in his collection is a lock from JFK, which is neatly paired on a royal blue mat with little blond snippets of Monroe's hair, shorn from her head when she was just a kid. Briggs says he'd sell the display, which also features photos and other memorabilia, for $250,000.
But beyond its value as a collectible, Briggs says, there is another aspect to collecting hair. When it comes time to clone historical figures, scientists will be coming to him for the DNA.
-- Patti Roth
Jesse Briggs' collection of famous hair is on display at the Yellow Strawberry salon, 1007 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. For more information, call 954-463-4343.