“I’ll have a painter that will come here and set up by the radiator and I’ll have somebody selling jewelry in the corner,” she said. “If it was like, I want to open up just a regular hair salon, that would’ve never gone over with them. Nor would it have me. I wanted to be in my own world and I wanted to create my own thing. And this hotel and this room has given me the chance to do that. Like a little greenhouse type of thing. I felt like I was getting sunburned out there in the industry. I just wanted to hone who I was as an artist. This place feeds you that way.”
Collaborating with former Rolling Stone-turned-GQ photographer Mark Seliger doesn’t hurt, either.
Over the years, Ms. Barton and Mr. Seliger have combined talents to produce a number of iconic magazine covers and striking fashion spreads, featuring such noted celebs as Adrien Brody, Jakob Dylan, Johnny Knoxville and Dave Matthews.
Her notoriety among musicians has even occasioned a few road trips: She once went on tour with soul singer Mary J. Blige and later declined an invitation to cross the globe with international arena rockers U2.
It can be an exciting career, as evidenced by her misadventures with Willie Nelson, whose long hair reminds Ms. Barton of her mother’s, but whose lifestyle more closely mirrors every mother’s nightmare.
“I held a big blunt for him while he was getting photographed in an alleyway,” Ms. Barton recalled. “And these two uniformed cops came walking down the alley. And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, we’re so busted!’ I’ve got this huge joint in my hand, the size of a cigar, and it’s burning. And I’m like, ‘Aaaaaaaah!’ And they come walking up, ‘Hey, we just saw you. We wanted to get your autograph.’ We’re like, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’”
Nowadays, even aspiring rock ’n’ rollers are seeking out Ms. Barton’s services.
“I went on the Internet and looked up rock ’n’ roll hairstylist and her name came up,” said Lowell Allen, father of 13-year-old Upper East Side vocal phenom Zachary Allen.
“He had photo shoots for an album cover and we wanted a different look and she gave it to us,” Mr. Allen said. “He’s got this long, blond curly hair. She flat-ironed his hair and made it look really punky, edgy.
“She has a whole different style of cutting hair—she goes through these gyrations,” he noted, referring to the quirky dancelike technique that has Ms. Barton bouncing around each seated client. (“I need to see different angles,” she explained. “I used to want to have, like, little discs in the floor where I could swivel around.”)
“It’s unfortunate if she gets moved out,” said Mr. Allen.
Indeed, Ms. Barton herself has feared the worst, after learning of the longtime hotel-ruling Bard family’s summer overthrow by the Chelsea Hotel’s board of directors.
“When I first found out, I was out in Montauk at my summer house, and I didn’t call anybody, I didn’t want to talk about it, I just wanted to meditate on the possibilities,” she said. “I had an unhealthy attachment prior to the news. I was like, ‘I’m never leaving. This is it for me.’ And the fact that that was threatened was very disturbing to me and challenged me. I think it was very Buddhist to experience that, to just let it go. I feel O.K. now. I feel like wherever I am, I’ll be fine.”
Then again, finding another headquarters as eccentric as the Chelsea wouldn’t be easy.
“We were talking that we’d go on a boat,” Ms. Barton said. “And then half my clients are like, ‘It’s going to be freezing during the winter, and people get seasick, and this and that. No, you can’t do it on a boat.’ And God—boats are expensive! We’d need about a million bucks.”