WASHINGTON -- A presidential haircut by a high-priced celebrity stylist left the White House yesterday sweeping up questions on whether President Clinton is living up to his carefully groomed image as a regular kind of guy.
At issue was Mr. Clinton's decision to delay his Tuesday afternoon departure from Los Angeles International Airport for about an hour so Beverly Hills hairstylist Cristophe could board Air Force One and snip his locks.
The encounter provoked debate about whether Mr. Clinton had nTC
held up rush-hour air traffic for his tonsorial, and whether a man who professed to like Big Macs and Razorback football should also be groomed by a stylist to Hollywood's flashiest stars.
"Is he still the president of the common man?" White House Communications Director George Stephanopolous was asked at his daily White House briefing.
"Absolutely," he responded.
"I mean, the president has to get his hair cut. Everybody has to get their hair cut. . . . I think he does have the right to choose who he wants to cut his hair!"
The spokesman explained that the Clinton family now has a "personal services" contract with the Belgian-born stylist to provide haircuts, makeup and other unspecified grooming services.
But the episode drew criticism from political analysts that the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton were appearing to indulge themselves at a time they were asking Americans for sacrifices on taxes and their health-care plans.
Some said that what they characterized as a misstep was compounded by the fact Hillary Clinton was shorn by New York's Frederic Fekkai for $275 last week. And they said that coming on the heels of comments about the number of Hollywood celebrities who have been trooping through the White House since January, the president's coif could reinforce the notion that he might be getting too close to a Hollywood set considered frivolous by some.
Greg Schneiders, a pollster who worked in the Carter White House, said Americans would forgive a president some perks, but perhaps not too close an association with Hollywood: "It smacks of being a little bit light, a little bit star-struck."
And analysts predicted that the episode was also not likely to sit well with supporters of Ross Perot, whom Mr. Clinton has been courting. Mr. Perot himself -- an ever-sharper critic of the president -- has been getting his $10 modified crew cut for 20 years from the same North Dallas barber, they observed.
Still unclear yesterday was whether the airport delay -- at the end of a two-day Western swing to build support for the president's economic agenda -- had inconvenienced homebound commuters at the busiest hour of the day.
Mr. Stephanopoulos said the air traffic tower manager at Los Angeles International Airport had recorded no delays.
But a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration in Los Angeles, who asked to remain unidentified, said that Air Force One's late departure had led to a 56-minute closing of two of the airport's four runways. A flight from Yuma, Ariz., was delayed 25 minutes, while another inbound commuter flight, from Palmdale, Calif., fell 17 minutes behind schedule as a result, the spokesperson said.
Cristophe, who rushed back from a trip to northern California's wine country to cut the president's hair, is scheduled to open a salon on Washington's Connecticut Avenue in June. A spokeswoman, Paulette Kam, said his clients include Tom and Roseanne Arnold and Dustin Hoffman.
Cristophe has been reported to get about $200 a cut.
Mr. Clinton has had his hair cut by several stylists since the election. His customary Little Rock barber, Jim Miles, of the U.S. Male styling shop, charges a typical Little Rock price -- about $20.