To Claude Baruk, the salon is a stage, and understanding a client’s desires means being attuned to “heart reactions.” His artistry has been honored at the highest level in his native France and in international competition, and showcased on the heads of clients like supermodel Naomi Campbell, actress Uma Thurman and fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld. But it was Steve Wynn who convinced him to move his family to Las Vegas. The gaming mogul had been a client for years in St.-Tropez, and Baruk’s eponymous salon at Encore is a gleaming-white symbol of their shared vision.
As managing director of Wynn and Encore salons since 2013, Baruk is working on a massive reinvention of the former while transforming hair at the latter through cuts, colors and treatments designed to make each client feel uniquely radiant. Behind his bold Marc Jacobs glasses, the 35-year-old is affable and funny, insisting his 3-year-old daughter speak better English and that seeing the Chicago Bulls play live is on his bucket list. And unlike a lot of other big names attached to Strip ventures, Baruk is on the scene making sure his passion project stays passionate.
You’re at the top of your game, with celebrity clients, luxury salons in France and Las Vegas and international influence as a L’Oreal Professional ID Artist. Where did the journey begin? I was born in Avignon, a town in Provence in the south of France. … I was 19 years old when I graduated from hairdressing school, but my town was little for me, and I always wanted to become a hairdresser who works in fashion in a big town like Paris or London, or maybe a big town like this.
Moving to the U.S.—especially to Vegas—must have been a crazy change. The change is dramatic, yeah. But I love that. I grew up in the American spirit. … The U.S. Army saved my family directly during the second world war. … My parents met at a Ray Charles concert. (laughs)
Steve Wynn is the reason you’re here. But the first time you cut his hair you didn’t fully grasp who he was. [He said,] “What do you know about Las Vegas?” I said, “I know Bellagio, Mirage.” He asked why. I said, “Because I love American movies, and I’ve seen many times Ocean’s Eleven.” And he told me, “Mirage and Bellagio, I created. I made it.” (laughs) And I started to understand. … Every summer he came back. Every summer it was the same pleasure to meet him again. … He followed my career. He followed also my personal life.
Why do you think he recruited you? Everybody knows why the Wynn and Encore is the best place in Vegas; it’s the detail. Everything was made and created by Steve Wynn’s vision. So his hair, it’s a question about detail. ... He sees some little points that my techniques do and it’s different than probably every other hairdresser. And he sees this little detail, this little difference, and it’s why as you see, as good as the Wynn and Encore, Steve is the same in his life.
He’s a perfectionist, and so are you, judging by your balayage technique, which paints hairs almost one by one. How do you have the sanity for that? Because I love my job. … [The client is] happy; she tells me thank you; she has a big smile; she does a selfie on Facebook. (laughs) That is my main pleasure in my work.
And you're known just as much for cutting and styling hair as you are for coloring it. Everything is matched; everything makes sense. … In many salons you have just colorist and just hairdresser, and the vision of two people is never the same. … The job is too artistic, the hair is too artistic to have two people have the same view.
Even if one artist works with the hair, it can be tough for him to know exactly what a client wants, whether the problem is lack of information or someone not listening. How do you tackle that challenge in your salons? I train all of my employees, all of my team and me also, to be careful about how the client moves and how she speaks, what she tells us, what story she tells us. Sometimes when you speak you don’t realize but your verbiage is full of information for us. And sometimes you move just your hands in your hair, and that is big, big, big information for me.
What about women who aren’t sure what they want? Leave a woman in front of a mirror long enough, and the heart starts to speak.
Your sensitivity to your clients and dedication to your craft resulted in a 2012 designation as an ID Artist for L’Oreal Professional France. While you can’t be there as often to work on the latest beauty concepts, are you still connected? I stay very close to them and I’m part of the team, and I go there sometimes in France to refresh my mind. It’s very cool, because the people who worked with me on the ID Artist team are very artistic, and it’s very nice to share our craft. It’s a question about sharing experience, sharing views, visions, trends; it’s opened my mind a lot. So that’s the best way for me to stay on track. The hairdresser is like sports. If you want to stay on track you have to train. … On top of that, after I got this award Steve asked me to come here. Those are my two best trophies.
You brought something else from France, an exclusive treatment with a tool that hasn’t been launched in the U.S. market. The name is steam pod. … This flat iron sends steam on the hair. The steam opens the hair, and we put a keratin cream on and the keratin goes inside, and the steam closes after the hair. … It’s genius.
Is there a particular style you love? Bangs could be my signature. … That is really handmade, to do the nice bangs, to stay very fashion, very sexy. I love that because it gives to the woman a real strong look, strong character. … I think the bangs are very modern because it makes sense with the woman of today.
Does your wife have bangs? No—because she doesn’t want to look like all of my ex-girlfriends. (laughs)
It’s great that anyone can book an appointment with you, that you’re actually working on the salon floor most days. I want to keep the contact with the clients. I don’t want to be far from the stage. That is my biggest inspiration—it’s where I feel many things. I also get my inspiration in town, in nightclubs, in restaurants, on the TV. I love hair. … You hear the women talk about hair everywhere, all the time. Hair is very important, and I love to nourish my inspiration about everything that I hear and everything I see around me.
How often are you in the salon? I could work almost every day. ... I have two things outside of work that I do—just take time for my family on Sunday, and every morning I do MMA training before I come to work. Not fighting, just to stay healthy. … It’s very good for my head.
Who’s your favorite fighter? Jon Jones.
Your look is tough but stylish, with the close-cropped hair and beard. I love to stay very natural like this, very Captain of the Boat. (laughs) But I love also a more definite line. And we have a very nice barbershop here at the Wynn salon.
When will that space be transformed? The Wynn salon will be closed June 16 for three months. It will be a major, big, big construction there. … Probably it will be one of, from what I’ve seen on the plan, the most contemporary and luxury salons that I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m inspired by many salons that I could find in Milan or maybe Paris or London. … It’s more than I could imagine or dream.
You could live anywhere in the world. Do you think you’ll stay in the States and seek citizenship? If we have the opportunity to get citizenship, yes, I want to be part; I want to be included in the American life. And my wife, she’s pregnant. The due date is for July 3 or 4. Probably she will be born in the United States, so she will be American—it’s also why I want all the family to be American in the future. I didn’t come just to see, Oh, I want to have an experience and then come back. You can talk like this when you are 20 years old and you just follow the wave. But when you are 35 years old with family and business in France and other responsibilities that you have here with one of the stronger partnerships that you could have in the United States, you’re obliged to stay stable and say, OK, I’m here, and we talk about business, we don’t talk about just experience; we talk about business and we talk about something very serious.
Even the fun in Las Vegas is serious business. How does the scene compare to what you left behind? Everything is bigger here. In France when we have a club we know the guys at the door, we know the owner, we know the cocktail waitress, we know the bartender, everybody—it’s like home. Here it’s very big. But it’s another spirit.
The spirit of French and American style is different, too. How do the beauty archetypes compare, especially when it comes to women and their hair? Both women are completely beautiful. … If you’ve seen the fashion shows for the big brands like Dior or Chanel, the models … respect the code of the fashion. … The American woman is more artistic; she can break the code. She’s more like the Victoria’s Secret Angel—nice blow dry, lots of nice waves, and mix many codes of fashion. And my preference is the Victoria’s Secret Angel. (laughs) I love both, but I have a little preference for this kind of woman.
No wonder you feel at home in Las Vegas. Have your parents visited you here? They arrived last week for the first time. … Immediately from the plane, I took them to the Strip to show them the Strip, the hotel. And my mother was like, “The French people are so stupid." (laughs) "They could never do something like that. It’s so beautiful.” … I’m completely a fan of all this kind of thing and a fan of the United States, really. I think you have amazing history, for a young country as you are. … It’s very rich, and it’s very interesting, it’s very passionate. … It’s always been a dream for me to have my chance to get my American dream.