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Celebrity Hairstylists Ted Gibson, Jason Backe in Palm Springs

The salon stars welcome us into their world as they settle into life as locals after moving full-time to the desert.

It’s Thursday afternoon at Citrine Resort, the Palm Springs home of celebrity hairstylists Ted Gibson and Jason Backe. Donning a straw fedora, Gibson hangs out by the kitchen while Backe prepares lunch. Today’s menu features finger sandwiches made with freshly baked bread, while a cake sits on the counter for dessert. Gibson has been craving pink coconut cake, so Backe found a recipe and whipped one up. If he wasn’t an established hair colorist, Backe’s future as a chef certainly looks bright.

Known in the industry for his $2,400 haircut, Gibson has styled the manes of luminary clientele including Kate Walsh, Keri Russell, and Chloë Sevigny. He delighted viewers across America as a hair guru on the TLC makeover series What Not to Wear in the early 2010s. More recently, Gibson and Backe starred on the reality show Blowing  L.A., which premiered in December 2022 on Paramount+ U.K. They describe the show, centered around the cutthroat world of  Hollywood hairstyling, as “an intense but fun experience that was like our real life on crack.”

Backe and Gibson became full-time desert dwellers in 2023 after years of splitting their time between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Observing the way they naturally play off one another in conversation, it’s easy to see why they’re successful partners in both life and business. Married since 1996 and together for more than 30 years, the couple met at a beauty school in Minneapolis where Gibson was a teacher and Backe a student.

“He walked out of my class twice, but I’m the teacher that stuck,” Gibson says, smiling. “Part of the reason we’ve been able to stay together as long as we have is we’ve grown up with similar goals, and we are invested in everything together — but we don’t compete. I’m grateful that I have a partner who shares in the wealth and experiences. We saw the Diana Ross film Mahogany on our first date, and one of my favorite quotes from it is: ‘Success is nothing without someone you love to share it with.’ ”

Gibson, who hails from the small Texas town of Killeen, relocated to Minneapolis to teach at the cosmetology school. Backe grew up in northern Minnesota and moved to the City of Lakes for college. He signed up for beauty school after a friend suggested it.

“The day I got there, it was like, These are my people. I felt smart, and everything they were asking me to do, I could do naturally. Then I met Ted,” Backe recalls. “I’m into structure and don’t like change, so if I hadn’t met him, I’d probably still be in Minneapolis doing the same thing every day. Ted is the opposite, he’s a visionary, always coming up with ideas and pushing me to try new things. The parts of me that are grounded and stable are the things that have helped him, and the parts of him that are exciting and seeking change have helped me.”

Among the ways Gibson has encouraged Backe to step outside his comfort zone: their 1997 move to New York.

“I didn’t set out to be a celebrity hairdresser,” Gibson says. “I started as a fashion hairdresser for runway shows in Milan, Paris, London, and New York. One day, the fashion director of  Marie Claire called with an opportunity to go to London to style a celebrity for two magazine covers. I didn’t want to do it, but she insisted. The celebrity was Angelina Jolie, and it changed my career. Everyone wanted to know who was doing Angie’s hair.”

He and Backe also owned a popular hair salon in the Flatiron District. All the while, Gibson continued his editorial and red carpet work with celebrities including Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Priyanka Chopra, Gabrielle Union, Renée Zellweger, and Debra Messing, among many others. After 20 years, the couple had tired of New York, prompting them to close their salon and move to the West Coast.

“We had that business for 13 years. We were at the top of our game, but we weren’t happy,” Backe says. “The things that inspired me about having that business started to be the same things that made me hate it.”

They spent the next six years in Los Angeles, where they launched a successful haircare line called Starring and, in 2019, opened the world’s first smart salon, Starring by Ted Gibson, a unique concept combining smart home technology with a luxury hair experience. (They closed the salon in November upon moving full time to Palm Springs.) At Starring, clients received services in “clouds” — pods featuring state-of-the-art Amazon technology including Prime Video apps, Fire tablets, and Sonos speakers. In the clouds, an array of ambient lighting gave guests a preview of what their hair would look like in various settings, from daylight to indoors. The salon was also entirely voice-activated using Amazon Alexa.

“We partnered with Amazon to create all the technology in a salon environment, which had never been done before,” Gibson says. “Amazon then took the idea and opened another smart salon in London.”

At the time, celebrity trainer Marnie Alton owned a fitness studio down the street. “I had been that nosy neighbor peeking into their windows while they were building because I was so obsessed with how beautiful the space was,” Alton says. “I was equally in awe of Jason and Ted’s relationship. I couldn’t believe how these two gorgeous men had built not only a leading global beauty brand, but also a beautiful life together. Everything just gets a little cooler after they put their hands on it. They are tastemakers, true partners in every sense of the word, and my forever examples of how to live life right.”

When the pandemic hit, the salon owners felt the impact of government-mandated closures. They publicly protested in August 2020 by holding a press conference to announce their reopening amid continued restrictions. They hired civil rights attorney Mark Geragos to represent them (Geragos also represented Winona Ryder during her shoplifting days) and livestreamed the reopening on Instagram; actress Jaime King was among those who showed up to receive a haircut and provide support. Backe and Gibson were issued citations, and Gibson had to appear on a video call in court with his lawyer.

“It was important for someone to stand up,” Backe says. “Ted and I were polarizing in that way. Most people either love us or hate us. We don’t follow the norm. We never have. People from around the world were grateful we spoke up.”

They also give back through Worth Up Alliance, a nonprofit they established during the pandemic to provide beauty entrepreneurs with the tools needed to open a business including education, business coaching, mentoring, and grants. In less than two years, they’ve given away close to $100,000.

After lunch, Backe and Gibson move to the living room, which emanates positivity. A menagerie of framed photos and mementos provide a backdrop to a vibrant sitting area with pink and green velvet chairs and a leather couch strewn with funky throw pillows. Glass doors showcase the backyard swimming pool, ping-pong table, and garden: rosemary hedges, citrus trees, and an olive tree accompanied by palm tree views. Sitting here, you can almost overhear the conversations and laughter shared among the couple and their many friends who visit.

Dionne Phillips, owner of D’Lashes Luxury Lash Spa in Beverly Hills, counts Backe and Gibson among her circle of close friends. “When we gather, it’s as if fun and profound conversations are woven into the very fabric of our friendship,” Phillips says. “This magic lies in the understanding that true friends like them are rare gems in today’s world. Their unique dynamic is a harmonious blend of love, creativity, and shared passions — a radiant spark that lights up my life.”

Neither Backe nor Gibson intended on living in Palm Springs. They discovered the home one weekend while touring open houses for fun. It needed a lot of work, but they saw the possibilities and made the purchase in 2018. Working with contractor Peter Corona, they transformed it from a neglected and overgrown property into a mini resort, maintaining it as a vacation rental when they weren’t in town enjoying their own getaway.

“When we saw the house, we immediately had this vision for it,” Gibson says. “Plus, we love a good makeover.”

Named after Gibson’s birthstone, Citrine Resort is the epitome of desert cool, now with a dark gray exterior, a colorful front door, and yellow accents throughout, from vases and tchotchkes to decorative side tables positioned on the patio between chaise lounges.

Over the years, they have amassed a large collection of art and personal mementos that fills the home. On a statement wall in the living room, there’s a poster of Christy Turlington signed by photographer Arthur Elgort and a framed hair pick from the film 12 Years a Slave that was a Christmas gift from Lupita Nyong’o, one of  Gibson’s longtime clients. She was among the 100 guests who showed up to the couple’s second wedding, a “flash ceremony” in New York’s Hudson River Park on Aug. 13, 2014. Then there’s the portrait of George Washington that Backe bought for $4 from a secondhand store for one of  his first apartments. At the time, he didn’t realize it would share an interesting connection with his future spouse. “During the pandemic, my astrologer suggested that I start looking into my family’s origins,” Gibson says. “On, I discovered that George Washington is my sixth great-grandfather.”

Backe and Gibson can’t resist charity auctions; last time they were at one, they bid on a well for a village in Africa through The Thirst Project. A picture of the village they donated it to also hangs on the wall.

Many of their possessions have traveled from Minneapolis to New York to Los Angeles, and now to Palm Springs. Some were purchased in the desert from their favorite spots, Misty’s Consignments and Soukie Modern.

When the writer’s strike happened in May, followed by the actor’s strike in July, work with celebrity clients stalled. On a whim, Backe and Gibson decided to give up their apartment on Melrose Avenue and embrace a new chapter in Palm Springs.

“We never thought we would move here permanently,” Backe says. “But after we moved to L.A., we started coming here more because it was close. Then we started to get why people love it so much. During the strikes, we planned to stay for a few months. It was so magical, we decided to make it forever.”

“I’ve lived in big cities all my life,” Gibson adds, “so this is the opposite of what I’m used to. We were recently in New York for Fashion Week. It was spectacular, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore. There wasn’t any inspiration left. I feel like Palm Springs is going to give me that now. We love it here so much. The people, the mountains, and the energy.”

Backe now sees clients a few days a week at Saloniste Palm Springs, while Gibson continues to commute to L.A. to work with private clients.

When they’re not working, the couple enjoys relaxing at home with their dogs, Orson and Spencer, and dining at favorite restaurants including  The Tropicale, Thai Smile, and El Mirasol. They dream of someday opening a boutique hotel in Palm Springs with a supper club and a disco.

“We want to do more things that are cultural, get to know the town, and make new friends,” Backe says. “We’re experiencing what it’s like to be locals.”

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