Good Hair Day

Beauty stylists primp for another "Art of" blockbuster

Jan 8, 2014 at 2:21 pm
click to enlarge Steampunk-inspired Alyse Papania
Steampunk-inspired Alyse Papania


s The Art of Hair, returning Sunday to The Carnegie in Covington, Ky., a quiet beauty compared with the hungry beast that is the center’s highly anticipated annual show The Art of Food?

Nope. It’s a monster, too. It’s an imposing, demanding yet magnificent monster with colorful curls piled up to here and eyelashes out to there, along with a taste for glitter, feathers and beads. It takes tons of effort to make beauty look effortless.

Like its yearly counterpart that celebrates chefs and food-inspired art, the first Art of Hair blew everyone away in 2012. A runway show by local stylists kicked off a one-month exhibit of art made of or focused on hair.

Carnegie executive director Katie Brass says 250 to 300 tickets were sold in advance that year. But on the day of the opening, people lined up at noon in the cold to see a show that didn’t start until 4 p.m.

Salons often say, “Walk-ins welcome.” The Carnegie welcomed more than 400 walk-ins that day, for a total attendance of 720. The main gallery was packed; the 48 models had to cut through a standing-room-only crowd to walk the runway.

“I was picking up bobby pins for weeks. I didn’t even know what the show looked like,” says Brass, who stayed backstage with hairdressers and models in a fog of hairspray. “Carnegie members were coming up saying, ‘Do you want us to leave so you have more room?’”

“Don’t underestimate the word of mouth of hairdressers,” says stylist and show organizer Lisa Herman.

She had time to get the word out. Herman spent more than a year organizing the 2012 show with The Art of Hair mastermind Jeffrey van Sluys. The two worked together in Mount Adams at the former Salon Urbanity (now SOTO), and they’re chairing the Jan. 12, one-day-only event at The Carnegie.   

Letting their hair down

The avant-garde up-dos adorned with birds and butterflies are the mane — um, main — attraction, especially for the hairdressers.

“It’s such a fun way to express our creativity that we don’t get to express behind the chair,” says Herman, who now owns CoCo Creative Wellness in Columbia-Tusculum. Aside from some weddings, hairdressers typically don’t get the opportunity to go over-the-top.

Van Sluys, artistic director at SOTO, says he also appreciates the chance to hang out with busy hairdressers from other salons.

Returning stylist Stephen Gunn of Salon Beck downtown says The Art of Hair is more about encouraging and inspiring one another than about competing. His colleague Chelsea Meale agrees: “It’s art,” she says. “It’s about being in awe of what you can do with hair.”

Sixteen studios are participating Sunday with at least 60 models. About a dozen took part the first year. The salons have the freedom to present a single theme or individual looks.

In addition to the avant-garde, there will be approachable styles that have been amped up for the runway. Jessie Hoffman and her team at Parlour in East Walnut Hills call their theme “ethereal texture.” The inspiration comes from their clients and current trends.

“I want the ‘art’ to be an exaggerated expression of the work we do everyday,” Hoffman says, “because we believe what we do everyday is art.” She calls hair a beautiful canvas.

Van Sluys plans a head-to-toe Carnival look for his models. The costuming is important to the whole experience. “When you go out to dinner, you don’t stop at the hair,” he points out.

Herman, who will present four models, says costumes and accessories are what she thought about first. “I know what to do with hair,” explains the stylist with 41 years of experience.

She’s drawing inspiration from her salon’s former use as a 1920s nickelodeon movie theater. Friend Carolyn Martinez, a costumer, is taking on the persona of a fading silent screen star. Another model will be a cigarette girl with flaming red locks. Niece Alyse Papania, who was the first to walk the 2012 runway, is donning a steampunk look with a male counterpart. For edginess, the red and blue twists atop Papania’s head are secured with silvery mesh scrub pads — and “400 bobby pins,” Herman says, exaggerating slightly.

Caught up in the hoopla

During a styling session at CoCo a month before the show, Herman’s daughter Colleen, who handled hair, makeup and wardrobe for Cirque du Soleil, admits that her mother has a more defined vision than she does. But Colleen quickly corrects a comment that she is signed up to do “just one” model.

“Oh, there’s no ‘just’ in front of that ‘one,’” Colleen says.

Colleen is envisioning a look that says, “ragdoll meets Mardi Gras.” Her subject, yoga instructor Haley Thocker, has never modeled. “I chose her for her,” Colleen says — not her hair or body type.

A misperception, says Colleen, is that a stylist wants to imprint an idea upon a client, rather than letting a client’s personality guide the way.

While Colleen awaits her muse, her mother focuses on jewelry and cosmetics. As Papania does her own makeup and Martinez’s, Herman reminds her niece that the eyes and lips have to be theatrical. “It’s beautiful, but I want it over-the-top, dramatic!”

“We need red lips,” she tells Martinez. “Not burgundy. Red.” Once Papania adds black to her own lips, Herman gives her approval: “That is steampunk!”

Thocker arrives, settles in a chair and reveals that she doesn’t go to hairdressers very often. But it’s not long before she’s getting into the transformation. “The red is my favorite,” she says as Colleen adds colorful weaves to her friend’s mane.

The stylist starts to feel where she wants to go with the look. “I’m glittering you out, girl,” she tells Thocker.

Colleen wonders about the right prop for her model. A ragdoll? A big lollipop? Then Thocker, now completely feeling her character, reveals that she has the hula hoops she uses for fitness in her car. She re-enters the salon and starts twirling.

“These are your props now,” Colleen exclaims. “It always comes together. See how organic this has been?” she says as she looks over Thocker in her hippie sundress and dust bonnet, with rosy cheeks, baby-doll lips and colorful hair adorned with tulle and little-girl ponytail holders.

Colleen begins jumping up and down. She tells her mom, “I can’t do four (models), because I’m totally obsessed with one.”

Then a light bulb goes off.  This Raggedy Ann needs a Raggedy Andy. “Can I have two? A boy?” she asks. The answer is yes.

Scrunching curls and crunching numbers

Herman takes notes for the day of the event. “Was it 30 minutes to do your hair?” she asks Martinez. “The makeup takes as long to do as the hair.” To get four models to The Carnegie by noon, she figures she’ll have to start at 7:30 a.m.

At Salon Beck, stylists Stephen Gunn and Gary Johns remember the scene two years ago when hairdressers tried to prep models at The Carnegie. To find more space, Gunn and Johns headed for the loading dock, despite freezing temperatures. “But you put a couple hundred stylists in a room and you have madness,” Gunn says. And not enough electrical outlets.

The salon is presenting a Four Seasons theme. Gunn is planning to “sculpt a snow mountain” atop fellow hairdresser Madeline Stewart. “I’ll need to literally put a thousand pins in Madeline the day before,” he says.

The stylists decide how they can help one another. “I don’t think there will be one hairdresser with hands in one head of hair,” Gunn says. The Beck group says that happens in the salon every day, too. “We teach and elevate each other and our clients,” Johns says.

The talk then turns to making use of the salon’s hair collection bin.

Gunn and Johns reveal a central vacuum system and bags of hair clippings in the basement. For their 2012 looks, the stylists washed, drained in colanders and dried, dyed and ironed strands of hair between wax paper. Then they used bowls and buckets as molds to sculpt hats finished with hairspray.

“Clients were either mesmerized by them or went, ‘Ew!’” Johns says. “‘Well, it’s your hair,’ we told them.”

Runway shows are old hat to stylists Ashley Thomas and April Gordon from Trend Setters Hair Studio in Walnut Hills. Gordon says she takes part in about 25 hair industry and fashion shows a year. Trend Setters will be doing shows three weekends in a row in January.

Gordon, who has been styling hair for 12 years, says she got many requests for wild colors when she first started, but now clients want more professional looks. Another designer brings out some of Gordon’s boredom-busters: a patriotic red, white and blue skirt, and an elaborate bird of paradise hat, each made with hair. For The Art of Hair, she’s decided upon a Renaissance queen.

With about three weeks to go, Thomas hadn’t chosen her look yet. “I’m not a repeater,” she says, even with so many shows to her name.

Avoiding snarls

While many of Sunday’s fantasies will be wild, the event itself had to be tamed.

As with The Art of Food eight years ago — when 300 people were expected and 750 showed up and devoured all the food in an hour — The Carnegie board immediately wanted to turn The Art of Hair fundraiser into an annual event. Both van Sluys and Bill Seitz, then director of The Carnegie galleries, vetoed that idea.

Seitz, who retired last year after his seventh Art of Food, refers to that fundraiser series (returning Feb. 28) as “the monster I created.” It was at an Art of Food opening where van Sluys, a painter himself, asked Seitz if he’d ever thought of The Art of Hair.

Seitz had a whole “Art of” file for different professions, but once Food took off, he was unable to pursue the other ideas. Van Sluys and Herman got Hair rolling, Seitz says, obtaining sponsorship from Procter & Gamble’s Wella Professionals.

Seitz initially contacted salons himself but then happily turned that detail over to van Sluys. Seitz jokes about not speaking stylist lingo: “I’m just a white boy with short gray hair, and (at salons) they’re wondering, ‘Who are you?’ ”

Seitz, meanwhile, spent two years searching nationally for artists who used hair in their work or did portraiture focused on hair. A gown of tresses joined the models on the runway, and insects sculpted out of hair rested on pedestals upstairs. Seitz told anyone with a question, “If it involves art, I’ll answer it. If it involves hair, Jeffrey will handle it.” But Seitz didn’t think he could round up another good group of specialized artists again.

A biennial, one-day-only event was created, with no art exhibit and two runway shows instead of one. The setting is moving from The Carnegie’s main gallery to its Otto M. Budig Theatre for more comfort.

The reaction in 2012 proved to Brass that the runway show can live on its own, without art displays. “When you bring in 800 people on a Sunday afternoon, you know you have an audience,” adds Seitz.

Van Sluys and Herman know they have something unique to Greater Cincinnati, calling The Art of Hair, “very New York, very L.A.” Aside from needing time to organize the event, van Sluys believes that holding The Art of Hair every two years instead of annually will ensure that it doesn’t become staid.

“We want people to anticipate it, but not forget about it,” he says.

Herman says she’ll be sad when the event is over. “You plan. You shop for it. Then it’s like the day after Christmas.”

If only it were possible to have a good hair day every day.

THE ART OF HAIR takes place Sunday at The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, Ky. Runway at 1 p.m.; repeats at 3 p.m. Doors open an hour before each show. Tickets ($35, $25 members) at or 859-957-1940.