HOUSTON — Anita Garten is scrunched like a human pretzel in the back of her husband's British Sterling. She has no choice but to hoof it in 95-degree downtown temps at 8 at night in a hoop-skirted, hip-bucketed Marie Antoinette-meets-Christian Lacroix gown. But the costume, is half--and bubba, we do mean half--her problem. Her hair, you see, is so McSupersized, so Titanic, so Viagraously altitudinous that it's Godzillian.
In Texas, SIZE . . . DOES . . . MATTER.
Garten has tried crimping, crinkling and crumbling herself into an itsy-bitsy thing so that not one follicle on the tippy-top of her poufy hairdo falls out of place. Ceron, the one-named salon-meister to Houston's elite, would not be amused. It took him three hours to create Garten's whiplashingly high coif. But not even reclining as far back as the front seat will go can remedy this dilemma.
Houston, we have a problem.
In the state of bigger is better, of high-neck beer and tall tales, there's a saying: "Texas' most precious natural resource is Big Hair, honey."
So Garten does what any sensible woman would do when her pump-covered feet are hanging out the window, her parachute-shaped white dress is suffocating her face, and her manicured hands are cramping from protecting her pearled, plumed and parrot-adorned 'do.
She yells at her hubby to stop the dang car, dang it, and "let me out right now!"--and then walks the four remaining blocks past winos and lurching onlookers to the party of the season: the sixth annual Hair Ball.
The fund-raiser for the Lawndale Art and Performance Center is an event so bizarre, it's chic; so whacked out, it's artfully in; so uppity, it's, well, hair-raising.
It's been chaired by Lyle Lovett, featured on "Oprah," declared one of People magazine's best parties of the year and honored with an official Texas Big Hair Day back in 1993 by then-Gov. Ann Richards. This year, avant-garde director William Klein--an American filmmaker in Paris--and crew of nine taped the event for a documentary about rituals, called "The Messiah."
Indeed, if anything, the Hair Ball epitomizes a rite in Texas--a right to Big Hair.
The ball, literally, is the height of the social season, attracting people from all over--artists and art patrons, social workers and social mavens, lawyers and law enforcers, and big guns like Tom Hogan, president of Foley's Department Store, and Bob Cavnar, CFO of El Paso Energy. And, lest we forget, their big-wigged wives.
This is, after all, a gal's gala--an Aqua Net dream on steroids where high doorways are a must for heaps of lacquered locks.
This past Saturday night, more than 300 of Houston's well-heeled and deep-pocketed party-goers--at $150 a pop--raised teasing and spraying to a new art form.
Every strand added to the night's 18th-century France theme of "Let them eat cake: An evening of ridicule, rebellion and revolution."
Hair was frizzed and frazzled, curled and swirled. Locks were braided and dreaded. There was out-to-here hair and down-to-there hair, tornado hair, volcano hair, speed-bump hair, Marge Simpson hair and King Kong-sized Kramer hair.
It was teased to the heavens, dyed shocking blue, powdered white and decadently decorated in conehead style with partridges, doves, bunnies, ribbon, vines, ivy, branches, ostrich and peacock feathers, bird nests, dangling Christmas tree ornaments, toys found under the kid's bed and, for one couple, shaped into an elegant swan and a regal ram's head of horns.
Mounds of hair were held together with carpet glue, Velcro, duct tape, pantyhose, chicken wire, hot wax, bobby pins, paper clips, toothpicks, chopsticks, skewers, staples, rope, rubber bands, tubes, straps, twisties, bungee cords and Styrofoam.
And stylists who accompanied their socialites could be seen doing medieval makeup and hair repair throughout the night. In the words of Jose Eber stylist James Bryant, who created several pieces for the gala: "We're talking years of drag queen secrets, baby."
And it just wasn't the women who donned high-rise hair, taking them from a petite 5 feet, 4 inches to a nose-bleeding queen-sized 8 feet plus in height. Men, too, unabashedly--shamelessly--got into the froufrou act.
Christopher Gongolas, a financial software expert, whipped up his creation two hours before the party.
"I thought of it late this afternoon," he says of his fuzzy Afro so behemoth that he took up two seats at the dinner table. He attracted a circle of gawkers at the Two Houston Center building, where revelers occupied three floors of wide open spaces and paraded their headpieces on escalators.
On top of his wig he rigged a strawberry cake topped with whipped cream.
"I got the cake at a grocery store on the way home," he says. He dropped in at a hair salon and asked for some freshly clipped hair still on the floor. At home, he placed a single slice of the cake on a platter and sprinkled it with the hair. At the party he put himself together in the parking lot and walked around announcing: "Let them eat cake!"