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Locked over Michelle’s locks

Hair salon owner Barry Fletcher sent Michelle Obama a 17-minute DVD about himself. Hairdresser Keith Harley uploaded his resume to President-elect Barack Obama’s website.

world Updated: Dec 22, 2008 23:10 IST

Hair salon owner Barry Fletcher sent Michelle Obama a 17-minute DVD about himself. Hairdresser Keith Harley uploaded his resume to President-elect Barack Obama’s website.

And salon owner Nicole Cober-Blake plans to get her name in by sending a welcome basket with bath gels, hair products and a robe. There are plenty of unanswered questions buzzing around the Obamas’ impending arrival, but one has hairdressers on the edge of their styling chairs: Who will be chosen to do Michelle Obama’s hair?

Rather than venture out for hair appointments, the first lady typically invites beauticians to the White House. Some of the region’s black salon owners hope their experience with ethnic hair could give them an edge over those who coiffed the likes of Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton.

Fletcher, the 52-year-old owner of The Hair Palace Salon in Mitchellville, Maryland, cites his experience in international hairstyling challenges and working with actress Halle Berry and singer Mya, a Washington native.

“I’m going to be doing her hair!” Fletcher said, if he has anything to say about it. “This would pretty much validate all of my hard work and effort to get to a level where I could handle a powerful queen like the first lady.”

Not that it’s all glamour for the stylist. Bernard Portelli, who briefly styled Hillary Clinton’s bob back in 1993, recalled working in a simple room in the White House with a shampoo basin, two chairs and plenty of outlets for blow dryers and flat irons. He’s not necessarily eager to go back.

“You have all kind of last-minute phone calls, which is extremely hard for someone who has a large clientele in a salon to drop everything and go,” said 57-year-old Portelli, who owns Georgetown’s Okyo Salon.

Still, if Obama’s tresses dazzle the public, it would be a public relations coup for any salon. Nuri Yurt of Georgetown’s Toka Salon attracted attention after he began styling Laura Bush’s hair in 2005. Earlier this year, Vogue magazine called him one of the country’s best colorists for brunettes. “It’s permanent advertising, if you will, for the salon,” Portelli said.

From the stylists’ perspective, Obama doesn’t need much help — they describe her hair as classic in style, healthy and free-spirited.