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Reality TV show judge won’t curl up and dye

Michael Carl on the set of ‘Shear Genius.’ - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Michael Carl on the set of ‘Shear Genius.’
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

But Michael Carl knows the hairdo’s and don’ts on Bravo’s new ‘Shear Genius.’

Michael Carl had a glamorous New York Monday.

He picked up Versace gowns for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Ball; supervised a fitting for actress Paula Patton that involved two racks of designer dresses (they went with an Alberta Ferretti); wrote a fashion bulletin; and put together looks for an upcoming photo shoot.

The fashion director for Allure Magazine regularly flies to Paris and Milan for shows and recently finished a short stint in L.A. as a judge on “Shear Genius,” the latest in Bravo TV’s run of best-and-bitchiest reality contest shows, this one about hair design hopefuls.

Carl went from the island to la grande ville a couple of years after his 1993 graduation from Bainbridge High.

While he planned to pursue hotel and restaurant management, a New York summer vacation immersed him in the quintessential young person’s experience of the city. He was hooked.

“I just fell in love with New York and decided there was no other place I could ever live,” he said.

Within three months of camping out in a friend’s three-story brownstone and getting a cashier job at Ralph Lauren, Carl was one of the top three on the sales floor.

His insider’s view and fashion eye eventually got him into magazine work at Jane, Nylon, Interview and finally, his current position at Allure.

And now, he feels like a true New Yorker.

By his own account, Carl had a clean-cut high school experience on Bainbridge. In a town that periodically scrutinizes its teen-related pain points, Carl said he didn’t have much trouble making his own fun.

He hung out at friends’ houses, went to the movies – old movies feature prominently in some of his Bravo TV blog entries – and played a lot of bingo.

Carl and a friend regularly headed across the bridge to the Clearwater Casino’s modest predecessor, where they’d sit “with all the ladies” and play 9 or 10 cards at a time.

While the regulars didn’t take kindly to two upstarts horning in on their action, they warmed eventually.

“It was hysterical,” Carl said. “We could sit there for hours. I never won the entire time.”

Many a guru has made sport of Northwest fashion. Some say it reached an apex with Vogue Magazine’s December 1992 “Grunge and Glory” spread and from there, had nowhere to go but down. Others say that in fact, that spread encapsulated the area’s fashion nadir and that things stayed pretty flat, and pretty plaid, after that.

Either way, Carl, despite his urban edge, puts forth a low-key and possibly even Northwestern philosophy on fashion, which is that it’s all about what makes us feel good.

“The most important thing to do,” he said, “is dress in the way that makes you feel comfortable and natural.”

He added, “I really love the way women dress on Bainbridge.”

In high school, Carl observed a down-to-earth integrity among his Bainbridge peers that he said remains today. Birkenstocks, jeans and pony tails were the norm, and he thought the girls carried off their bohemian sensibility beautifully.

“The cutest girls certainly weren’t wearing heels,” he said. “Girls on Bainbridge make it their own.”

Carl filmed Allure-sponsored “Shear Genius” over a few weeks this past winter, joining host and ex-Charlie’s Angel Jaclyn Smith and fellow judges Sally Hershberger and Rene Fris to separate wheat from chaff.

Over-the-top challenges included creating a trademark Hershberger shag, designing a period hairstyle and making hair art on a budget of bits and pieces culled from the aisles of Michael’s craft supply store.

But as is the case with Bravo’s other reality contests, “Project Runway” and “Top Chef” among them, viewers don’t tune in to learn from the contestants’ expertise.

What compels them to “watch what happens,” in Bravo-speak, are the insecure bravado, bad behavior and resulting icky tension surrounding every challenge.

Carl insists he was shielded from the shenanigans during filming and that he’s only now seeing the show as the rest of America – or at least, Bravo’s core demographic – is.

“As a judge, I didn’t have any idea of the drama that was going on,” he said. “Personality played absolutely no part. I was really judging the hair.”

Carl describes “Shear Genius” as a fun, punchy interlude in what he expects to be a long career in fashion. He’s starting to get “an inkling” of life down road after fashion, which could indeed involve a hotel in a laid-back locale.

In the meantime, he’s happy making periodic family visits to Bainbridge – “Go Spartans” – and doing the New York thing.

“I’m just having a great time doing my job,” he said. “I’m 32 years old and fashion director at Allure Magazine. I’m really proud of that and happy with that.”

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Hair apparent

“Shear Genius” airs weekly on Bravo TV. To read Michael Carl’s show blog, see www.bravotv.com.

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