More than 42: USC’s favorite athlete barber

Peter "42" Hernandez poses in the foreground. In the background are photos of him cutting people's hair.
Design by Iris Leung; Photos courtesy of Peter Hernandez

The energy pops out when you walk into Flower Street Barbers. Everything is strategic in the setup — from the placement of the TVs to the barring hip-hop music bouncing off the walls.

Look up above the TV to the left and see Drake London’s jersey. On the right is Drake Jackson’s jersey. Take a seat in the small, black, high-density memory foam chair, and you’re in one of the most popular seats around — the same spot USC football Head Coach Lincoln Riley got his first Los Angeles haircut. But, this isn’t going to be your average midskin fade or buzz cut.

It’s something different for Peter “42” Hernandez. He wants to learn about you. He wants to find a way to connect and understand your story. 

When Riley sat in his chair, Hernandez didn’t want to know about his playbook or what it was like to coach former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. 

“I wanted to know him personally. Like ‘Yo, what did you drive in high school? How many blocks did you walk to go to your nearest liquor store?’” Hernandez said. “‘What did you have to go through to do that?’”

Even though he’s the go-to barber for USC athletes and some may call him a “celebrity barber,” that doesn’t define who Hernandez is. 

His journey as USC’s favorite athlete barber began with the community around him. That’s what matters most.

“I don’t just cut the football team, I don’t just cut the basketball team, I have to start with the community first,” Hernandez said. “Because without the community, I can’t get to you.”

“I’m confident. I’m doing this”

As a kid growing up in Santa Barbara in the 1990s, Hernandez described himself as a “crash dummy.” His brothers and sisters would put him outside in certain situations and wonder how he would act. 

It was through them that he learned traits that manifested in being a successful barber. His sisters taught him how to talk to people the right way, being shown how to use words to substitute actions. His brothers taught him how to run a business properly through hands-on experience. Being around his brothers left Hernandez wondering why people continued to choose them for a haircut, prompting him to dig deeper into the business.

Years before Hernandez even had clippers in his hands, graffiti spray cans were his go-to. For him, it was a way to release his emotions into art. 

He took graffiti as a bigger challenge for himself. Hernandez wanted people to recognize him for his work.

“I was always ready to do the biggest, widest, most colorful spot, right in your face because I wanted a challenge,” he said. “Every time I went out, it was a challenge for me to get people to know my name without knowing who I was.”

Hernandez became known for his graffiti, receiving frequent compliments. He would play them off, emphasizing instead that becoming good didn’t come easy. 

At times, Hernandez had to wait to see who had extra paint laying around just to do graffiti. 

“That’s how motivated I was to make sure that whatever I was doing in front of me was at the top tier of what I could do and no room for any less,” Hernandez said. 

That’s a mantra Hernandez carries with him today. As he got into his late teens, cutting hair became more frequent. 

He always hung out at his brothers’ barbershop — the hair clippers gravitating toward his hands like a magnet. But his brothers left for barber school right when he got his own clippers.

It created a problem. Hernandez only wanted his brothers to cut his hair, so he resorted to doing it himself.  

“I started cutting my own hair and I’ll tell you this, man, it wasn’t easy. Nothing’s easy,” Hernandez said. “And, if you like it, it becomes easier to do because your confidence starts to grow. You don’t really care about the judgmental parts of it.”

Finding out how to escape the judgment of cutting his own hair was an obstacle. Embarrassed, Hernandez wore hats because he didn’t want people to see his messed up hair.

Moments such as these sculpted Hernandez into who he is today. One day, though, he grew tired of walking around with a hat on. He threw it off and walked with his chin up, confident in his own skin and prompting people to ask where he got his hair cut.

“That’s how confident I was. I was already showing people, ‘Look at the next step that I’m at,’” he said. “I’m confident. I’m doing this. I’m running. And so, that’s when people started reaching out to me.” 

For better or for worse, more people began asking Hernandez for haircuts. But in turn, he started to meet people from different high schools and struggled to stay in school.

“It was kind of like a blessing in disguise because if I didn’t have [that early experience cutting hair], then I wouldn’t have been around so many different people to know where I needed to belong, and what I needed to provide,” Hernandez said.

Providing something towers everything else for him. It comes from his upbringing. 

Brotherly love

Adopted into a family that already had six children of their own, Hernandez believes his adopted family didn’t need to take him on as a two-month-old. 

That’s always inspired him to give something back to the community and motivated him to make all the time his family spent teaching him worth it.

“I tell myself every day … I have to provide for the community,” he said. “Because if I don’t, then the time that I spent with my family, them showing me right from wrong, in my [mind], I would be a waste.”

To ensure that wouldn’t happen, Hernandez began learning from his brothers, Cesar and Eric. 

When Cesar moved to a barbershop in Santa Barbara, Peter blossomed into a more confident person. He would sweep floors, answer the phone and handle appointments, paving the way for Peter to become someone you could talk to. 

While working with Cesar, Peter started to take note of customers feeling down and attempted to cheer them up. It inspired him to be open to every single person no matter their background.

“There’s a lot of places that will turn you around because of a language barrier,” Peter said. “But I had to make sure that if I ever wanted something for myself, like my brother did, having a lot of people coming in and out, everybody’s welcome.”

Becoming USC’s most well-known barber 

It was Peter’s second year at Flower Street and things were slow. His coworker expected people to come in and out, but no one even knew the barbershop existed, Peter said, so he made a friendly bet with his coworker. 

He would go outside and pass out his business cards, come back and then have his coworker do the same thing. Just like Cesar and Eric would test him, Peter was testing his people skills.

As Peter entered Ono Hawaiian Barbeque on Figueroa, it was just him and a 6-foot-2 defensive tackle inside. Peter told him about the shop, handed his business card and said, “If you ever need a barber, or your guy can’t do it, come and see me.”

Thirty minutes later, then-USC player Malik Dorton gave him a call and got his haircut an hour after. Peter’s cut wow’d Dorton.

“Malik feels like ‘Damn, this is my first time seeing you, you don’t even know anything about me, and I feel like we know each other because you cut my hair to the tee,’” Peter said. 

The dominoes soon fell into place for Peter. He found a confidence that he didn’t know he had. That confidence in approaching Dorton built over time and finally paid off.

Word started trickling through the team about this barber “42” on Flower, and the rest is history. If you look through Peter’s Instagram, it’s almost every player seen on a USC court or field. 

Peter single-handedly built his shop on Flower too. He would finish his day’s work, drive to Home Depot and put as many supplies as he could fit into his car. 

From the barbering stations to the electricity of the store, even if it took three days, he was on YouTube trying to figure it out.

It’s that mentality that’s added to why he’s a favorite among Trojan athletes. His confidence and desire to connect with others and push them to be great are always evident.

Senior wide receiver John Jackson III, who met 42 through a friend, went as far as to call Peter a brother to him and “nothing but a blessing.” 

“He’s a good dude, and it’s nice being able to talk to somebody about just the small things that happen in life,” he said. 

For Alabama transfer linebacker Shane Lee, Peter was the person who helped him learn some spots around the city when he first arrived. Lee saw Peter at a bookstore, and the barber proceeded to share everything Lee needed to know about L.A. 

His conversational skills differ from other barbers. He wants to hear about you but also about how you’re improving and pushing yourself to be better. It’s more about lessons off the field than it is on the field when he talks to you. The conversations stand out too. 

“[What stands out is] just conversating, having a good conversation not just about football but about life,” sophomore wide receiver Kyron Ware-Hudson said. “Telling us how to be a great person.” 

Sometimes when a customer is having a bad day, Peter even goes past their appointment time, allowing them to tell him everything they need to get off their chest.

That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day for Peter. 

“I’d rather have all the relationships and connections with people over having all the money that can buy whatever it is,” he said.

Click here to see the Spanish translation.