‘I Was Quoted as Hairdresser to the Fallen Women of Washington’
For every magazine, press conference, and 20/20 special that Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp were in as the 90s came to a scandalous close, someone had to do their hair.
‘The Clintons were a great time for us,’ says Terry Bell, the affable Brit and co-founder of Book Hill’s Salon ILO. ‘I had BBC Radio phoning me up at three in the morning asking for a quote. We were in the newspapers, and in magazines all over the world. I was quoted in The Guardian as the hairdresser to the fallen women of Washington.’
ILO has been the salon of choice for politicians since it moved from Old Town Alexandria to Georgetown in the late 70s, serving every White House staff since Reagan. During the Obama administration, Sasha and Malia were often found in the back of the salon, eating a piece of pizza while their friends got their hair done.
‘When Reagan was President, people spent a lot of money here. We had a lot of high-up clients. But Obama was my favorite as a person, and his girls were lovely.’
Terry had no concept of his future notoriety when he started a hair stylist apprenticeship in Mayfair—a posh West End neighborhood in London—at the age of 16.
‘It was old school, back in the 60s, but I recommend an apprenticeship to anyone, in any field they like. So many people can just do paper stuff, but not many people can actually do things. I remember doing my first trial, which you had to do before becoming a stylist. I did a blow dry, which was kind of new in those days. It was a flip up. I’ll never forget that.’
Five years later, the 21-year-old stylist traded the gray skies for Bermuda, where he spent over five years ‘living the lifestyle, on the beach, having a good time.’ When the drinking and sun caught up with him, he moved to Old Town and opened Salon ILO with co-founder Gary Walker.
Over 40 years later, Terry still has some of the same clients from that first year. Others travel from as far as Richmond and the Carolinas every two months, though the majority are Georgetown residents. It’s these relationships that mean the most to Terry.
‘Of course I love working with hair. It’s creative and a lot of fun. But it’s the people. Every day you meet five, or six, or eight different people. Over the years you meet thousands. It’s not like an office where it’s just me and you sitting there. Every day is another person and you kind of get attached to them. Just the other day I came here on a Saturday and my colleague was doing a young lady’s hair—maybe 26, 27 years old. She said, ‘Terry, it’s Morgan. You cut my hair when I was one.’’
Terry doesn’t do his own hair, and prefers cutting women’s—his wife, the exception. (‘I did it once. She didn’t like it.’) ILO is departmentalized, with specialists in both color and cuts—one of few salons like it in the region. In addition to upholding his own high standards that were ingrained in him as a young apprentice, Terry says much of the salon’s success comes from actually listening to each client.
‘In a lot of salons, the hairdresser thinks they’re the hairdresser and that’s it. But it’s not. It’s all about the client. That’s why we’ve survived for so long.’
After hours, Terry is an active community member. He lives in Georgetown with his wife and one of their three children, and was head of the Georgetown BID streetscape committee. For the past eight years, he’s served on the board of directors for Friends of Book Hill Park—a group of local residents working to restore and maintain the park behind the Georgetown Public Library.
‘I like Georgetown the way it is. Some people say we should have more of this, more of that. Well I don’t know. You have to have a balance. If everyone in Georgetown went to their local places, it would make a big difference.’
Back in the salon, things have been a bit quieter since Terry’s 3 a.m. BBC calls—styling more TV pundits than White House employees of late.
He's yet to cut President Trump’s hair.