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Daring 'Dos

With Thrashed, Extreme Hair Looks, Style Rebels Are Making an Aesthetic Statement: Ugly Can Be Beautiful

September 10, 1998|JULIE LOGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thirty years ago, a group of young actors made big waves when they climbed onstage and sang:

I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy / snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty / oily, greasy, fleecy / shining, gleaming, streaming / flaxen, waxen / knotted, polka-dotted / twisted, beaded, braided / powdered, flowered and confettied / bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied! My HAIR!!

While the Age of Aquarius has long since had its day, the real legacy of the play "Hair" was the spawning of the Age of the Hair Statement. (There were early hints of it certainly in the '50s youth culture with styles like the bad boy's DA, whose statement was, "I'm going to steal your daughter and get her real familiar with the back seat of my car.") Since then, hair has been making nothing but statements and hasn't shut up yet.

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Even though its manifestations have changed over time, throughout history "pretty" is what most women wanted of themselves and still do (as well as what most men wanted of women and still do). Pretty is defined by the dominant culture, pretty is nice and pretty is safe. Feminism notwithstanding, the female interior monologue maintains that pretty will win you love and acceptance, that pretty will keep you employed and that pretty will get someone else to pick up the check for lobster thermidor. Pursuits of pretty fuel a multibillion-dollar beauty industry. Pretty's statement is that there's nothing dangerous about pretty.

The notion of beautiful, however, is a whole nother ball of wax, especially when you factor in the youth and gay cultures (both of which tend to be highly creative, sexual and decorative). From the fringes of these subcultures, beauty may actually spit in the eye of the beholder.

"Creativity is always about rebellion," says British-born Robert Lobetta, creative director for Sebastian International Inc., the progressive beauty products company based in Woodland Hills. "Whether it comes from the street or from the runway, it pushes the parameters. It may make you uncomfortable, but it forces the eye into new ways of looking at things. It's what starts the pendulum swinging in another direction."

Lobetta cites the hippie era's appreciation and acknowledgment of ethnic beauty and non-Caucasian hair textures as well as punk's emphasis on spiked, shaved and multihued hair as the style rebellions that set the stage for hair fashion today.

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The three partners of the popular Purple Circle hair art studio, the Los Angeles epicenter for dreadlocks, extensions, distressed little up-'dos and rainbowed heads in fake fur textures, have an accurate perception of their aesthetic and the great lengths to which their clientele will go to achieve it.

"Take dreadlocks, for instance," says Jennifer Warmsbecker, who with sisters Lynn and Victoria Hyndman opened the salon on Vermont Avenue two years ago. "Dreads don't just happen. They're a way of life. And they require enormous commitment."

Consequently, if you want "clean dreads" that are up to Purple Circle's standard, the salon initially requires a dread perm, which runs from $100 to $250, depending on the length of the hair, along with a four-hour session in which the hair is meticulously sectioned, woven and wrapped. To maintain the 'do, dreadlock devotees should also go in every other month, at $50 an hour, to have their dreads carefully washed and rerolled, the owners say. Between that, there are careful applications of antibacterial oils (Purple Circle sells its own, called Healthy Head Oil) to keep the hair and scalp in top condition.

Warmsbecker would be stunned if anyone suggested that the thrashed, extreme styles created at Purple Circle are anything but deliberate.

"Our work may not look precise," she explains, "but it sure is on purpose. It's an organized mess. What we do for our clients is make them feel like themselves, and their hair becomes an expression of their creativity."

But what happens if someone loves the look and the attitude, but is unable to make the commitment because she either has a job intolerant of the unusual or she simply wants to enjoy more versatility than dreadlocks will allow? To this end, Sebastian International launched its exuberant Xtah styling range of products in professional beauty salons earlier this summer and without hesitation describes the line as "raw hair." There are four products: Crude Clay (a heavy, matte molding compound for dread-like ropes that can be washed out), Twisted Taffy (a spongy, opalescent goo that creates texture and shiny, moldable pieces), Vinyl Fabricator (to render hair into a hard, shiny finish of plastic) and a liquid prefixer called Primer.

Although it's no shock that there are preparations catering to non-mainstream tastes, what is surprising is that a multimillion-dollar company like Sebastian would do so, especially since grunge-tinged and tribal fads like piercing and tattooing have peaked and are fading.

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