Later, Balenciaga blonde. This season's power hair colour is brunette
For two full seasons, Guido Palau made an indelible mark on the backstage beauty game by dyeing models' hair a frothy colour often described as "Balenciaga blonde" because of its prevalence on Nicolas Ghesquière's runway. But last September in Paris, the Redken creative consultant shocked the show-going set with some black magic—make that brown magic—by taking a previously platinum Kasia Struss to a warm shade of chocolate. "She just looks tougher with brown hair," he said at the time.
It marked the beginning of what would become a phenomenon that dominated Fall 2012: a number of high-profile models—Patricia van der Vliet, Heidi Mount and Caitlin Lomax, to name a few—went from blonde to brunette, while another crew of mahogany-haired girls went even darker. "There was a feeling of gothic romance in the air that obviously says 'dark,'" Palau says, pointing out that what becomes a hair trend is typically based on a gut feeling mixed with a touch of shock value. "In fashion you're always dealing with extremes."
The idea begins with the designer, Palau explains, and usually leads to a phone call to colourist Victoria Hunter of New York's Whittemore House salon. "I use her more than anyone," he says. Hunter was responsible for a number of the season's biggest brunette moments—most notably dyeing van der Vliet darker not once, but twice. "When we first went from blonde to brunette, it was pretty," Hunter recalls of the Dutch stunner's transformation. "But as soon as she went black [for Calvin Klein], it was phenomenal."
The transition from colourist's chair to catwalk isn't as easy as it may appear in the before and after pictures. "Sometimes the girls are a little nervous and they go for it half-heartedly at first," Palau says. "There is a light cajoling." He often finds himself multi-tasking as hair hero and motivational speaker, though sometimes the models are ready for a drastic change. "She really wanted it," says senior colourist Gina Gilbert, recounting the day last February when Karl Lagerfeld favourite and natural blonde Heidi Mount came into the Serge Normant at John Frieda salon in New York before Lagerfeld's Fendi presentation in Milan, and asked to be taken over to the dark side. Arizona Muse made a similar decision before her turn on Derek Lam's runway. "She'd had her hair halfway dyed at a shoot. Some of her natural brunette was still in there, some of it was dark, and she needed it evened out," says Kimberley Pierce of Ion Studio in New York, who coloured the "wonky"-haired Muse. "It was her decision but I agreed with her that it was more striking."
Pierce believes that what was good on the catwalk will be good for the rest of us this fall, too. "I think we're going to find that [women] are going to go maybe two or three shades darker instead of one," she says, though the service varies depending on your base colour. "I think blondes should try on wigs first," Pierce suggests. "The process is more complicated than people think when you have blonde hair." Brunettes have orange, red and yellow pigments in each individual strand, whereas most blondes are missing those pigments as they are deliberately stripped when hair is lightened. "You can't just use brown dye or it will look green and muddy—hollow," she says. "The middle step—we call it filler—scares clients because they have weird copper hair afterwards but it's completely necessary."
For those thinking about going darker, Pierce recommends bringing a picture to the colourist and starting small. "Ask for a gloss or a semi-permanent colour," she suggests. "It's going to be more shiny, whereas if you do a permanent colour you will get more of a flat look, like what we were seeing on the runway."
Once the colour is in, experts agree it need only be touched up every six to eight weeks. "It's a much more low-maintenance upkeep than blonde," says Hunter, who points out that the most common affliction of new brunettes is keeping the red out. "Really dark hair has a lot of red pigment in it, and as it fades, all of that red pigment comes up." This is precisely what Paul Hanlon was trying to eradicate backstage at Proenza Schouler's fall show, where the focus was on creating dark, languid "street" hair. The British superstylist had colourists Ben Gregory and Mari Ohashi give models such as Kel Markey, Melissa Stasiuk, Lida Fox and Marie Piovesan the monochromatic treatment so that their locks appeared "slightly darker and more matte," rather than multi-dimensional.
The right products can help prolong professional results. Among Palau's recommendations for newly dyed 'dos is Redken's Color Extend Conditioner. "I hand it out to girls and say, 'Use this every day.'" Hunter prescribes the colour support system from Davines, specifically its Alchemic Chocolate Shampoo and Conditioner, which deposit extra pigment into the hair shaft with every wash. She's also a fan of Sachajuan's Colour Save Conditioner and Oribe's Masque for Beautiful Color, as well as the cult sensation Argan Oil by Je Veux. "I love, love, love it," Hunter says of the serum, which is rich in neem oil and Dead Sea minerals and can be slathered onto freshly dyed strands while they're wet as a nourishing treatment, or when they're dry as a conditioning boost. "It's a life-saver for me."
Maintenance aside, there is one essential component to successfully going dark. "The biggest thing is being sure," Pierce says, explaining that a lot of clients come to her looking to make an extreme colour change in reaction to personal problems. "People say hairstylists are like therapists and it's kind of true. I have girls come in and say, 'Oh, I broke up with my boyfriend.'" Pierce is careful not to brand brunette the colour of heartache, though. "I'm from California, the land of blondes," she jokes. "Brunette—especially in New York—is a power colour."