Shear Genius

Hairstylist Debra Rego is a cut above the rest

Debra Rego is back home on Oahu after spending the summer in Hilo doing something most people in her profession can only dream of: working on the new Indiana Jones movie with director Steven Spielberg and stars Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett and Shia LaBeouf. Yep, the big time.

The walls of her tiny studio, Rego Styling, nestled in the Academy of Film and Television theater on Waimanu Street, reveal her glamorous work and chronicle the past 20 years of her life as “hairstylist to the stars” with hundreds of framed photos of her with the rich and famous, including Ford, Naveen Andrews (of the TV show Lost), Billy Crystal, Sigourney Weaver, Danny DeVito, Tom Selleck, Jason Momoa and other luminaries in the film and TV industries.

Although she can refer to a celebrity like Ford on a first-name basis – “Harrison is really a very humble, hardworking, quiet kind of guy” – Rego is surprisingly modest.

“I don’t know how it gets better,” said Rego. “I’ve worked with so many actors. It just thrills me when I get a phone call, ‘I need this actor’s hair cut.'”

While Rego has been doing hair for more than 30 years, she got her start in show biz with the help of her longtime friend, comedian Andy Bumatai.

“He’s a buddy from high school,” Rego said. “I started helping him on a TV special, where I met makeup artists, etc., and it just kind of evolved.”

She began doing TV commercials, then pilots and films. “I don’t chase films like I used to,” she said, but admitted there is a job coming up this fall she’s actually pursuing at the suggestion of a longtime friend, Toni Reed, a set costumer. But Rego is very hush-hush about it. “I can’t tell until I get the job,” she said stubbornly when asked for details. But she did reveal that it will be filmed here in Hawaii.

Being based in the Islands has been a huge plus for Rego.

“In Hawaii, I’ve had the good fortune of great timing and good luck to be doing what I am,” she said. Her Mainland-based contemporaries, when hired to do a film or TV series here in Hawaii, often arrive on location only to work grueling schedules with long hours and practically no time off. But when Rego’s work is done she can take a few days to just kick back in paradise.

She’s not one to relax for long, however. For Rego, it’s all about hair, and she strives to be on the cutting edge.

“I’m always looking at the hair,” she explained. “I always need to be doing hair.”

And there’s that special bond between a hairstylist and her clientele. When it comes to our hair, most of us are quite particular, and when we find a great hairstylist we tend to be loyal. Rego fits that bill for many of her customers, some of whom have been enjoying her services for more than 30 years.

One longtime client, who resides both here and in New York City, was in New York when she called Rego one day.

“She had health issues a couple of years ago that forced her to stay in New York,” Rego recalls. “And she called and said, ‘there are a lot of good salons here, they do a beautiful job, but they just don’t compare to you. I’ll fly you first class. You can stay with me, and of course, you can do whatever you like while you’re here.’ How could I say no?”

So Rego hopped on a plane and flew to New York, staying at her client’s lovely Manhattan apartment.

“I’m flattered by clients who go out of their way for me to service them,” says Rego. “It’s such a personal relationship. It’s not only about doing their hair, I connect with them.”

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