It was a mélange of wild color and elaborate decor, the oasis where the crème de la crème of international society came to be pampered and coddled to the extreme. Located at 19 East 54th Street in New York City, the legendary Kenneth Salon was where Kenneth Battelle, one of the hair industry’s most prolific artists, cultivated a following of the world’s most glamorous women with his signature styles.
When it opened in 1963, the salon’s design was unparalleled: Kenneth had gathered his inspiration from the sumptuous interiors of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and, upon returning to New York, decided to enlist the extraordinary talent of interior decorator Billy Baldwin to bring his vision to life. This was Baldwin’s first and only commercial endeavor, and he mixed paisleys with florals, using yards of cotton at a staggering scale. The decadence was leavened by a sense of humor: Baldwin thought it would be amusing for a lady to have her hair curled by the light of a palm-tree lamp while relaxing on a lacquered bamboo chair.
From movie stars (like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe) and grandes dames (Babe Paley, Brooke Astor) to First Ladies (Jacqueline Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter), they all flocked to Kenneth’s temple of beauty. Once, while visiting the salon, photographer Irving Penn remarked to its proprietor, “You’re standing in the middle of history.”
Produced by Eugenia Santiesteban Soto