“Hi Emily! I’d love to make you as blond as chemically possible!” Simone Mangano emailed me, by way of hello. Her Instagram handle reads, simply: “I like to bleach hair.” I had heard that if you want to go platinum, Simone’s your girl, and I wanted to go platinum—as blond as chemically possible.
Fun fact: going as blond as chemically possible takes four days. It’s not as easy, as, say, popping on a wig à la Karlie Kloss in the latest issue of Interview (my inspiration/the nail in the coffin of impetus). My hair’s been highlighted, it’s been dyed nearly black—and so I thought of the whole endeavor as one of those ‘we-don’t-know-what’s-under-there-till-we-go-in’ situations. But it’s also the one thing I’ve never done to my hair, and so of course I wanted to do it, even though the odds are against me in, in that A) it could go terribly wrong, and B) not look as good as it did before. I’ve always approached hair fuckery this way, though perhaps more unconsciously in my youth. There was the boyish crop inspired by Anja Rubik lopping off her hair circa 2006-ish, which I had to have no matter that my face looks nothing like Anja Rubik’s and I am not a model (this is the problem with copying mostly anything a model does). There was the urge to self-snip my bob up past my ears last fall, into a Leonardo DiCaprio-circa-Romeo-+-Juliet skater cut that, despite being totally on the nose, was not my best look. Just below the chin, angled longer in the front, dark cool brunette is my best look. I could do that forever and ever and know that I’m putting my best foot forward into the world. But when you start obsessing over a picture—be it hair or a bag—sometimes the only way to move forward in life is to go all in and get that thing.
Platinum as a hair idea isn’t new, but I like where it’s at in the zeitgeist right now. Models Aline Weber and Soo Joo Park; the singer SoKo; Kahleesi (or Viserys) Targaryen, and the wigs at Marc Jacobs' Spring 2014 show, with gradient black-to-ash roots and a jagged cut, all make white-blonde look weird and cool, not cheesy. Roots (faux or real) are key. Above the shoulder is key. And white is key—there mustn’t be a trace of yellow. It must look fake, artificial, and pure—not “natural.” It's more Kurt Cobain than Marilyn Monroe. And achieving the perfect tone is an art and a science and a labor of love and patience…from your colorist. (Maintaining said tone is up to you). Aura Friedman, at Sally Hershberger Downtown, is responsible for two of the aforementioned perfect platinums and it was her salon chair that I found myself in last Sunday—iPad, headphones, New York Times, book, and coffee in tow. (I'd even brought Clif bars; who knew how long I'd be there.) After an initial consultation—very important—we’d booked out roughly nine hours and set out to accomplish the whole transformation in one day, as opposed to a series of color lifting, bleaching, and toning sessions.
Calling it a “double process”—meaning bleach (strip existing color) and tone (achieve desired shade)—doesn’t really fully describe what happens. Between 10 AM and 1 PM, Aura and an assistant hand-painted paper-thin sections of my hair with bleach, wedging ribbons of cotton through my roots (“we do the roots last—the heat from your scalp makes the bleach process faster,”) mummifying my head with Saran Wrap along the way. I watched as the color drained from my hair—the limp mass turning first orange, then caramel, then flaxen. At lunchtime, they went into the roots. It’s PSA time: guess how bleach on your scalp feels? It literally feels like your head is on fire, and the kicker is that there’s nothing you can do about it, except pace the length of the salon like a woman in labor. I was told not to wash my hair for several days beforehand, as the natural oils would help protect my scalp. I wonder if I would have wussed out/fainted/had a full-blown panic attack had I not done that.
Around 3 PM, the hair was deemed as light as it was going to get, the bleach was rinsed out and we went into toning mode—Aura’s specialty. I can’t really tell you what happened next, except that there was a lot of mixology, rinsing, and repeating happening all around me at the sink, and by the time I got back to the mirror station it was 5 o’clock and I was a blonde. A little too blond, in fact—so we went back to the sink and painted in ashy roots (again, Kurt not Marilyn).
By most accounts, this would be considered a “makeover.” Augmenting your appearance so drastically that it elicits a reaction from literally every acquaintance you greet is a sea change. (See: baby bump.) But oddly, I don’t actually feel very different. More than wanting to feel different, or wanting a reaction, I wanted something to work out—a reason to experiment, if you will. At dinner the night before it went down, my friend Violette, a makeup artist, told me I would need to wear makeup—and it’s true. Now, the absence of foundation makes my already pinkish skin looks extra baby-mouse. I’m rethinking clothes thanks to a tip from my pal, stylist Stevie Dance, who sees The Hair working best with chic, sharp looks, not my usual sweatshirts and skinnies. But the part I’m most excited about—believe it or not—is the fact that all of a sudden, I am the proud owner of a head of “dry and damaged hair” (the texture of which is amazing—3x thicker and permanently beach-y), and this means that a whole new world of beauty products has been opened up to me! I’ve already done three hair masks this week and ordered Christophe Robin’s famous silver conditioner from Paris. Oh, and I’m heading back to Aura on Saturday for another round. My gut tells me it’s chemically possible to be blonder.
Photos [1-3] by Mathea Millman; [4-10] by Emily Weiss.