You — or more specifically, your hair — can go from bare bob to baroque bouffant in a matter of hours.
South Florida salons are giving women chango-presto hair extensions that can radically or subtly alter one’s coiffure for a one-night-only special event or for up to six months.
“My `a-ha’ moment? It was in 1998 and I was working on a Valentino campaign in New York,” said Bridgette Hill, a stylist with the Bond Street Salon in Delray Beach. “And this stylist came in with all these suitcases of hair. I didn’t even know white women wore extensions. I watched the transformation of the model and I thought: `I can’t believe this. I had no clue.'”
Last month, Jessica Simpson entered the game at GBS beauty supply stores with her HairDo clip-in hair, which she designed with her “mane man” Ken Paves, the latest in a long line of Tinseltown celeb stylists.
“You see these women like Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears in music videos and they have more hair on than clothes,” said Holly Millea, a contributing editor for Elle magazine who wrote about hair extensions in the November issue. “Aside from Jennifer Aniston, no one in Hollywood has that kind of hair. I mean, Jessica Simpson has a bob one day and the next she looks like Lady Godiva.
“Raquel Welch, who has a line of wigs with the same company that Jessica Simpson is with, reminded me that it’s all a repeat of the ’60s. But then, wearing a wig or a hairpiece was something that was not cool and you did not talk about. Now everyone is wearing extensions and telling everyone about it.”
That word of mouth, celebrity aura and an all-American “I-want- it-and-I-want-it-now” attitude is driving sales, says Jesse Briggs of Yellow Strawberry salon, based in Fort Lauderdale (16 salons worldwide with four in Florida). About three years ago, Briggs started sending stylists from his four Florida salons to hair extension training from a supplier called Great Lengths. It paid off. Not only did Briggs get a write-up in The New York Times, but clients came in dropping $2,500 for extensions where before they would spend maybe $75 for a special occasion up-do. Immediately his salons started doing about 18 extensions per week.
“I just felt it,” Briggs says. “I just knew it was going to be the next big thing. Now a schoolteacher can have the same thing that a top model has. Now having big, thick Hollywood-inspired romantic hair is like putting on a sexy pair of high heels. It’s an accessory. Thin hair can now be thick. Damaged hair can look beautiful. Short hair can now be long … overnight. Anything you want, you can have.”
The market has seen an explosion of products, using real or faux hair, which can be applied by any number of methods, including bonding, braiding, sewing, clamping or gluing. Briggs uses a system with protein bonds applied to the hair about an inch from the scalp and fused with ultrasonic pulses.
The hair generally comes from Russia, India and Europe, where women traditionally wear their hair long. Trainloads of hair are brought into factories, mostly in Italy, Tunisia and India, where it is washed, separated, dyed and then shipped. Great Lengths, a leading hair distributor to salons, estimates it goes through 4 or 5 tons of hair every three or four months … for the U.S. market alone.
Human hair can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500, depending on how many bundles (seven bundles for the average head) you need and the length. Synthetic hair costs between $300 and $500.
“That’s what I like about the Jessica Simpson product,” says Marianne Laudati, who co-owns the D. Laudati salon in West Palm Beach with her husband, Dino. “It’s at a lower price point. Everyone can afford it. The short hair is $85 and that’s just above the shoulder. The long hair is $95. Human hair costs $500. We’ve had it for a few weeks now and every person who tries it on walks out with some.”
The HairDo clip-ons are temporary extensions that Laudati says the client can affix at home after some instructions from a stylist.
Salon extensions can last up to six months. There are sometimes specific care needs, such as “loop” brushes that don’t pull the hair and special shampoos.
“That’s why I think temporary extensions are the way to go,” says Hill of the Bond Street Salon. “Extensions damage the hair. They can tear the follicle, especially if they are not applied correctly. And over time the hair can become matted.”
Hill says her clients not only prefer temporary extensions for special occasions like weddings and portraits, but also “a ponytail for the summer that they don’t need to blow-out each time or maybe they just want a temporary extension for a vacation where they are swimming and hanging out for a few days.” She added that the product has improved greatly for ethnic hair since they can now match the texture exactly. “We can just clip it on to the corn-rows,” Hill adds.
Hair extensions have been common among black women since the early ’80s. The crossover was spurred by the advent of suppliers like Great Lengths and Hair Dreams, another global hair distributor. Both European companies also benefited from the opening of Eastern Europe in the early ’90s, providing them with a wealth of Caucasian hair of various textures, colors and lengths.
“First the black girls got it,” says Briggs of Yellow Strawberry. “Then the movie stars got it. Now it’s more accessible. The teens came in wanting it for their proms. Their grandparents plunked down the credit card. Then the bankers and lawyers came in. Now we’ve brought it to the secretaries and the housewives. In three to eight hours you can be like a movie star or a model.”
SOME HEADY ADVICE
Extensions can last up to six months says Jesse Briggs, of Yellow Strawberry in Fort Lauderdale. Here are some tips:
Do not shampoo for two days. Always wash hair with your head back, not tilted forward. Never dry with a scrubbing action. Instead, wrap hair in a towel. Dry the bonds carefully to prevent breakdown.
Brush the hair three times a day … from the nape up. Buy a brush with looped bristles. Put your hair in a soft scrunchy while sleeping to avoid tangling.
Curling irons, flat irons and hot rollers must be kept away from the actual bond or attachment. Don’t use products with sulfur.
Remember that sweaty exercise, steam baths and saunas may lessen the longevity of the extension.
Most extension manufacturers offer a solution to protect attachments. The Great Lengths system that Briggs uses has an “anti- tap” solution ($15 for eight ounces).
Seawater and chlorinated pools can break down the bonds and glues. To minimize the effects, wet hair in shower first and apply a bond-protecting solution. After swimming, shampoo, apply bond- protecting solution and then carefully blow-dry the bonds.
— Rod Stafford Hagwood