Last Sunday night, I had an appointment on the 46th floor of the Trump Hotel in SoHo. Room 4605. Priscilla Valles had just checked in from Los Angeles, and she was waiting for me. Clocking in at somewhere around five-feet-three in all black (tights, stiletto boots, cowl-neck top)—a swirl of waist-length deep brown hair cascading over her bosom—Priscilla was gorgeous. She opened the door with a warm smile and led me inside.
The room had been completely rearranged. A sofa was flushed against the window, a floor-to-ceiling pane overlooking Manhattan’s skyline. Grammy’s pre-show red carpet banter hummed on low volume from the wall-mounted flatscreen. And right beneath it, arranged with medical precision across the top of a table, laid a spread of 18-inch long, 100 percent virgin hair.
“You’re getting the Rolls Royce of hair extensions,” she said, situating me in a chair in the middle of the room, with my back to the table. “These are individual keratin bonds, and the hair is Russian and Indian.”
“Why’s it the Rolls Royce?” I asked, keeping my head very still.
“Because they’re one-time-use only. After two or three months, they come out, and you have to get new hair put in,” she explained, saying without actually saying what I’d heard to be true: a good weave is not only time-consuming, it’s expensive. (I’d just watched Good Hair, and I recommend that you do, too).
“OK, ready? Take a ‘before,’” Priscilla instructed.
I turned the iPhone inward. Selfie, selfie, click click. I texted one to the (Kardashian’s) hairstylist Jen Atkin, the orchestrator of this rendezvous and the founder of Mane Addicts, who immediately replied, “Oh, it’s on.” Six hours later, I would text Jen an ‘after’ pic. Her response?
“50 Shades of HEYYYYYY!”
Priscilla is the queen of extensions in Hollywood, but you wouldn’t know that. Why? Because, of course, people who get extensions— celebrities who get extensions—aren’t exactly known to dish about their fake real hair. So unlike her peers (Jen Atkin / 493,000 followers; Jennifer Aniston’s mane man Chris McMillan / 136,000 followers) who routinely post evidence of their clients’ color and cut transformations, Priscilla flies under the radar with a humble following and the occasional nod to her handiwork.
Unlike a celebrity, there’s nothing I won’t try and nothing I won’t talk about when it comes to my hair. If I were to get a tattoo on my inner upper arm, it would read: “Change thy hair, change thyself.”
Short hair has been my jam for four years now, in many incarnations: blunt, shaggy, blonde, highlighted, brown, black, you name it. But last year, I tried coming back from platinum and my chin-length bob felt fragile. Out came the scissors, and it wasn’t long before I had a truly, undeniably bad haircut. The shortest parts were an inch long; the longest, 4 inches.
I tried not to care, but hair is a powerful thing. I started popping the growth supplement Viviscal morning and night, screenshotting-and-saving pictures into a long “hairspiration” folder. I wore a beanie every day during the month of January—even indoors, during meetings.
And then I met Kim Kardashian. Say what you will about the Kardashians, but they have great heads of hair. Those girls are done. I showed up to their house a few weeks ago to shoot Khloé’s Top Shelf, and there they were, in their glam room, all tawny limbs and contoured cheekbones. I was sweating, grungy, out of breath somehow—with dirty jeans on and, you guessed it, the beanie. Mid-conversation, Kim’s eyes met mine in the mirror, and I saw my reflection. There was an ocean between us, she and I. My fly was down—I’m not even kidding. And in that moment, I thought: it’s time to clean up. I want beautiful hair again. It’s time to swing the pendulum.
Fast forward to Priscilla, methodically singeing someone else’s hair onto my own piece by piece, rolling the softened adhesive between her fingers to form what now feels like hundreds of grains of rice hidden all over my head. Over the course of my time in her chair, here’s what Priscilla told me about my new fake real hair:
+this is not a weave, these are individual keratin bonds
+the hair actually comes from many women, possibly hundreds, as it’s swept up from religious sacrifice in temples and then sorted and cleaned
+the bonds last 2-3 months at which point they need to be professionally removed
+apparently, there’s no damage to your own hair in this process
+you should shampoo every three-ish days with a cheap drugstore shampoo, like Pantene. Always towel dry the roots when you get out so the rice grains don’t get soggy
+you should brush your hair twice a day with a special extension brush by Sheila Stotts
+boys don’t really care about feeling/”discovering” your extensions; in fact, in LA, they’re known to be able to ID the different types, i.e. clip-ins, tracks, individuals, weaves, etc. because so many girls have them
+you should cut your hair after getting extensions, but never with scissors, or the ends get weird
Priscilla cares deeply about her work. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years. It’s incredible—with extensions, you can literally have any hairstyle you want,” she says. “It’s addictive.” Once the final row had been put in, we ran to the bathroom to look in the mirror. Now I, too, had waist-length hair, cascading over my (much less ample) bosom.
The next day, I met Jen Atkin at the Kardashian Beauty hair launch on East 64th Street uptown. Khloé and Kim emerged from a side room and a hush fell over the crowd of editors. Kim’s hair was suddenly shoulder-length, just like that—over night.
Jen took me into the side room and cut my hair in the dark over a glass of wine. She sliced away layers, then reached for a flat iron. After parting my hair in the middle, she showed me how to make little ‘bends’—I wanted lank, languid, '70s hair, not Victoria’s Secret barrel curls. When all was said and done, my hair looked one part Lily Aldridge one part Freja Beha, and one part me, OG version. I went home, slipped on my new green fur Saks Pott coat, and flicked on some NARS black liquid liner, and posted a picture on Instagram. “Extensions are proof,” one @Missholloway commented, “that God cares and wants us to be happy.”
Emily Weiss photographed by Tom Newton in New York City on February 14th, 2015.