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Getting It Straight

Whether It's In or Out of Fashion, Sleek Hair Is Every Curly-Headed Woman's Birthright

May 02, 1999|CARLA HALL | Carla Hall is a Times staff writer. Her last article for the magazine was on style consultant Suzi Joi Kiefer

Straight hair will always be the holy grail of the curly-haired. I should know; I am a member of the curly class who aspires to the ranks of the straight. In the past, I have blow-dried, rollered, gelled and sprayed to try coaxing my hair into a seal-like sleekness. Now I pretty much just pay people to do it for me.

Of course, the straight hair trend of the past few seasons has only encouraged my obsession. Even the pleas of my hairstylist to let her dry my hair curly--she insists it looks better that way--do not sway me. "Your boyfriend likes it curly. Why are we blow-drying it straight?" she has asked in exasperation. (I think I relented that time.)

But now, according to prescient hairstylists, board-straight, flat-as-sheetrock Cher hair (the '70s Cher, that is) may be burning itself out. Never mind that it's still cropping up in fashion ads and on celebrities' heads in People magazine. Hair trends are like starlight--by the time you see them, they're old. If you need any further evidence of one style on the way down passing another on the way up, you need look no farther than last month's Oscars ceremony and Helen Hunt, with her flattened hair, passing Madonna, her lacquered-straight geisha look replaced with a bob ending in swingy curls.

"Once someone like Madonna changes, it will be over soon, but it's not over yet," says hairstylist Art Luna.

He muses that what women still want--and have always wanted--is not so much pin-straight hair as smooth hair. He says it's easier to get that look these days with the flat iron--a sort of wonder tool for the wavy-haired. This device features two paddles that clamp shut on a hank of hair and iron it into spineless submission. (It comes in medium and large. Luna says the smaller ones are easier to use on yourself.)

"It's difficult for someone to blow-dry their hair straight themselves," says Luna, who has an eponymous salon in West Hollywood. "You can do a mediocre blow-dry and go over it with a flat iron and have salon-quality flat hair." (Luna and other hairdressers urge moderation with the flat iron--no more than once a week--because the heat is damaging.)

Rising hair-meister Jonathan Antin says that waves are indeed coming back. "What I'm doing right now is long hair with locks, big, fat loops of curl, lots of separation, lots of definition," says Antin, whose West Hollywood salon is called Jonathan, A Beauty Shop. In fact, he was looping curls as we spoke. Antin uses a one-inch barreled curling iron to make chunky curls and applies his own product, Dirt, a water-based wax pomade, to keep the curls defined.

Hair colorist Stuart Gavert, who owns Gavert Atelier in Beverly Hills, speculates that hair trends follow product trends. "Within the past year everyone has come out with these straightening balms high in silicone--and then there was all this straight hair," says Gavert. "Is there a secret fashion council that meets and decides what trend is going to come out to match the product?"

My hairdresser is pretty skeptical about one product being more of a magic potion than the next. "To me, as a hairdresser, most products are the same," says Nicole Alpert, who works at the Ben Simon Salon in Beverly Hills. "Today, the trend is packaging." Now she's into a cleverly titled line of things called, well, Things.

"One is called Things Stay Put," she says, referring to the gel used for a strong hold. "Things Distort is the texturizing wax. Things Stretch is the pomade. They look totally cool on your station."

Bed Head Control Freak--which Nicole has also used on me--does away with frizz whether you're going straight or curly. (The Bed Head line also includes Hard Head, which, according to the manufacturer, Tigi, promises "relentless" hold, presumably for those who demand Morticia-like locks.) Among the other creatively named new products are Redken's "Straight," and Glass, a "smoothing complex." But with so many new straightening goos on the market, the old standby, Murray's pomade, "probably works as well as Things Distort," muses Nicole. She says the new trend in hair is to take whatever happens naturally and amp it up. "What kids are doing is, if it's straight, they're greasing it down and making it more straight," she says. "If it's curly, instead of doing what I tell you to do--make the curls more perfect with a curling iron--they leave it. The tweakier the better."

I guess I should feel relieved that fashion no longer demands straight hair from me. In fact, I am delighted to hear that I could quickly blow-dry my hair upside down with a curl diffuser and end up looking like I stood in a wind tunnel, and be able to pronounce myself chicly natural. But the fact of the matter is, there will always be those occasions when only sleekly straight hair will do. Maybe Nicole could find a product called For Curly-Haired Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When Straight Hair Would Be Enough.

Just kidding.

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