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The man behind Mitt’s mane

Belmont’s de Magistris has cut it for 22 years

“I say to [Romney] ‘Let’s do it a little softer.’ He says ‘Leon,’ and smiles,” and the conversation ends, says de Magistris.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

“I say to [Romney] ‘Let’s do it a little softer.’ He says ‘Leon,’ and smiles,” and the conversation ends, says de Magistris.

It’s straight from central casting. Pouffy on top, shellacked on the sides with flecks of gray advancing around the ears. It defies all weather patterns and holds up in a New Hampshire winter and a Carolina heat wave.

Mitt Romney’s hair has long been a subject of fascination, fodder for late-night TV host and Internet memes. But no one is happier with Mitt’s mane more than the man who created it — Belmont hair dresser Leon de Magistris.

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“If he could mess it up a little more that would be good,” says de Magistris, owner of Leon and Co. in Belmont Center.

The Italian immigrant with a compact frame and polite, continental manners is amused by the fuss his client’s hair has generated. This summer television crews from Japan and Scandinavia descended on the salon that he’s owned for 30-plus years. Shopkeepers in town like to mention that Romney, a Belmont resident, gets coifed on Leonard Street.

Despite the attention, the style de Magistris has dubbed “The Mitt” isn’t going to let him retire to his 18th-century stone villa in Avellino anytime soon.

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“Most people don’t want to be that conservative,” said de Magistris. “Maybe one or two people have asked for it.”

Romney’s hairdo has not changed in 22 years. That’s how long the Belmont resident has sat in de Magistris’s chair. But the man behind the look has not given up on trying to modernize it just a bit. “I say to him ‘Let’s do it a little softer. He says ‘Leon,’ and smiles,” and the conversation ends, says de Magistris.

While the former governor’s hairstyle hasn’t changed much, Ann Romney’s has. In the last three or four years she has turned to long layers, side bangs, and a shorter length. (The stylist consults on her hair color but doesn’t color it himself.) A de Magistris client for a decade longer than her husband, “she doesn’t want to have the same hairstyle that she had 30 years ago,” says de Magistris.

Even when she was sick, struggling with cancer and multiple sclerosis, Ann Romney still came into the salon every five to six weeks. “We always compare notes about how we feel. This morning she asked me ‘How’s your back?’” said de Magistris, who at 70, fights a chronic aliment that comes with life on his feet. “She has so many things in her head, but she remembered my back.”

It was assumed that de Magistris, born into a deeply religious family, would go into the seminary. But “the nuns had too many clothes on,” he jokes.

His uncle had a salon on Charles Street, on Beacon Hill, and made the profession seem glamorous.

Although styles, products, and trends have changed in the half century he has cut hair, his mission hasn’t. “When it comes down to my business, it’s people pleasing,” the stylist says. “I do hair well, very well. It’s more than just hair. If I do the right thing for you then at that point you become my friend.”

Strong bonds with clients are not unusual for de Magistris, who charges $90 for a cut and does not accept tips. Former “Chronicle” coanchor and Belmont resident Mary Richardson, for example, is “like a sister to me,” he said.

“When you touch a person’s hair, there is a certain trust,” says de Magistris. “You are sitting in the chair, my attention is totally toward you and we connect.”

Kathleen Pierce can be reached at kmdpierce@gmail.com.
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