Bohemian safe space
The Ultra Beautician styles the hair of Chico’s avant-garde and eclectic
Give Deryl Northcote a look from any decade, and he says can cut, color and style it for you.
He is the Ultra Beautician, after all. You can’t miss his East Sixth Street salon of the same name, wedged between the Pageant Theatre and Tender Loving Cafe, its facade painted red with a bedazzled “UB” out front.
Northcote opened Ultra Beautician 21 years ago, and since then the shop’s look has constantly evolved, much like his own. One thing has remained the same, however: It has always welcomed the misfits and weirdos of Chico, from the eclectic and creative to the avant-garde and Bohemian.
On a recent afternoon, Northcote, 54, took a break to chat with the CN&R as his salon’s three other stylists washed, cut and blow-dried their clients’ locks. Typically, he is on-the-go—between the salon, charity work and his second job as the glamorous grand dame Claudette de Versailles, one of the original drag queens of Chico.
Northcote has been a leader in the drag community for more than 35 years, both through his charity work with the nonprofit Imperial Sovereign Court of the Czaristic Dynasty and as a promoter of (and performer in) popular local shows he founded, such as Dragopolis and Beans for Queens, often raising funds for school music programs and organizations like Stonewall Alliance Center.
Inside, Ultra Beautician is a vibrant, colorful and cozy space, with art-lined walls and dozens of tchotchkes. Northcote’s styling station has sentimental trinkets, like a RuPaul votive candle, and photos—including one of his grandfather standing outside his stepmother’s former salon in Paradise, where he spent many afternoons as a kid, fascinated by the art of hair styling.
It’s not uncommon for people to stop by the shop—even if they don’t have an appointment—and kick off their shoes, lounge on the couch and read or watch a movie. That’s exactly what Northcote intended when he opened the place—he wants clients to feel “not only pampered, but protected and like family.” The shop cuts the hair of musicians, artists and actors, as well as teachers and nurses. It’s also a place where members of the LGBTQ community have shared their coming-out stories.
“I think the shop has provided a safe haven for a lot of people that felt different or not accepted or—let’s just say it—are a little more out there, like a little more punk rock or a little more whatever,” Northcote said. “It’s like an oasis for people who need to have kindness and support.”
That’s an important idea that was born in Northcote at an early age. He came out as gay when he was 16 years old and living on his family’s farm in Durham. It wasn’t a welcoming community, and he said he often was bullied.
“Let me tell ya, bein’ a little sissy out in Durham—you gotta have some balls to deal with that shit,” he said. Plus, the unconditional love and support he received from his mother helped him get through, he added.
As for drag, it just kind of happened to him, Northcote said. He won prom queen at a 1950s-themed cross-dressing party when he was 16 and continued performing after that. He aspired to be a theatrical costumer and enrolled in the fashion design program at Butte College—but it wasn’t a good fit. So he enrolled at the Chico Beauty College and has been a hair dresser since he graduated in 1986. Aside from a brief stint styling and performing drag in New York City, Paris and London in the 1990s, Northcote has called Chico his home.
He said that he had to carve out his own niche in the local salon world. “[Other shops] didn’t allow any freedom of expression for me as a person,” he said. “I thought, Well, if I have to be in this burg, I’m gonna have to make my own world, and it just so happened that this place was vacant.”
Before opening, however, since Northcote had heard that the building’s previous salon owners died tragically, he had to make sure the place was safe. He brought in a rabbi, a priest and a Wiccan to cleanse it.
“So far, so good,” he said.
Today, Northcote has a small, tight-knit team in the salon. Hair stylist Josh Roach (aka drag queen Priscilla De’vil) told the CN&R that working there is an adventure.
“We literally will work all day here at the shop, get makeup on, and then we work the entire night circuit,” Roach said, “and then we get up and we do it all again the next day.”
But the team also recognizes the important role it plays in the community.
“We get a lot of people that are going through a lot in their lives, and it’s not even about really the hair anymore; it’s about making them feel the way that they need to feel to get through their day-to-day life,” Roach said. “And that’s what’s, like, the most important thing. That is a huge philosophy of the shop.”
“I like the magic that’s created here,” Northcote added. “There’s a sense of home, and that’s what I want people to feel.
“It’s our job to make you walk out feeling fabulous.”