To those that know him, Joel Montion is more than a barber, a hair dresser or a stylist – he’s a friend to his long-time clients. People go to his office in Pacific Beach to relax, enjoy a few minutes of quality conversation and get the best haircut money can buy. New visitors immediately feel welcome and old ones never seem to leave.
It’s businesses like Joel’s, La Difference Hair Design, that make San Diego so full of interesting people and amazing stories. He was just a boy when he first learned the trade of cutting hair and still a young man when he moved to the United States from France in ’75. Over the years, he has built a legacy of respect and cheerful friendship, balancing the quality of his work with a genuine interest in his clients.
After more than four decades in business, he is embarking on an exciting new phase in life: a well-deserved retirement. But before he closes his doors to work and devotes more time to cycling, we thought we’d take a moment to catch up with Joel and ask a few questions.
La Jolla Blue Book: You came here in ’75. What was it like to arrive in San Diego and enter the local community back then?
Joel Montion: Wow, that’s not a short question. I wasn’t handling the big city and felt ready to move out of Paris back then. I had originally planned to move to South America and then I met an American woman. Suddenly South America became North America. That’s the short version.
Coming here, I didn’t speak a word of English – my best friends still pretend I don’t (laughs). The adaptation was challenging but incredible, because of the kindness of people who allowed somebody that couldn’t speak to them to cut their hair. It’s quite remarkable – you find such a welcome community in California.
La Jolla Blue Book: What aspect of your job do you like the most?
Joel Montion: A lot of people think hair dressers are artists. I’ve never considered myself an artist, but in French there is a word ‘artisan’, or craftsman, which is what I consider myself. I think my work is appreciated and in that aspect you can help people improve their image and (sometimes) their self-esteem. And that’s very important to me. If someone trusts you after a while, you can help them make a turnaround in life, and I find it very rewarding when that happens.
La Jolla Blue Book: So many of your clients are your friends. Do you find yourself playing the psychologist or the comedian when cutting people’s hair?
Joel Montion: I would not go that far. A lot of my clients tease me about that, but I’m not a licensed psychologist and I don’t charge for it. My clients are very good friends of mine and I try to be very good friends to them. So we talk about personal matters a lot, but I wouldn’t call that therapy – that’s called good friendship.
La Jolla Blue Book: After 56 years in business, working closely with your clients and friends, are there any emotions about retiring?
Joel Montion: Ask me that question three or six months after I retire! At this point, I think I have made the loop and am finished with it, but the difficult part will be because of my choice to have clients that become friends. 70% of my social life is my work and I have no idea how much I am going to miss it. Considering I have done this for 56 years, I think it’s time to turn the page and explore other options.
La Jolla Blue Book would like to wish Joel luck and thank him for taking time to chat to us!