blonde today, gone tomorrow

1

Here is a picture, taken with my crappy-picture-taking Blackberry, of my friend Ruby’s recent piece:

Ruby had it on display at a party in Bel Air, where friends and art-world types gathered for cocktails after going to see Kehinde Wiley speak at the Getty. Kehinde himself was there — a thoughtful and elegantly mannered man in a striking floral-patterned suit that reminded me of something Matisse might have used as a backdrop for one of his reclining women — surrounded by admirers out on the multi-leveled deck, accepting paper plates of food shoved at him out of nowhere by eager female acolytes, letting people pose next to him for pictures. Throughout the night I saw people looking over Ruby’s project, commenting to each other. Later, an accomplished interior designer would tell her that he’d be interested in buying some of her work for some of his clients.

Ruby, who is the process of applying to MFA programs, asked me what I “saw” in her piece.

“The brutality of the business of female beauty,” I said instantly. “You’ve got that clinical, impersonal black-and-white look to it, and these plastic women who all look the same — the hair and vaguely S/M outfits and the boob jobs — goose-stepping toward those black bars that suggest some kind of prison.”

She grew silent.

I said, wondering if I was full of BS, “Is that sort of, kind of, what you’d intended?”

“Yes.” Again the pause. Then: “People at the party said it was ‘fun’.”

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I later learned, at that same party, people would say, “I wonder if Justine is here?” and walk right past me. Apparently this is what can happen when you take long blonde hair, dye it dark, and chop it to the shoulders.

It’s like there’s some kind of natural law that says, After your divorce, thou shalt want to drastically change your tresses, but the truth is I’d always intended to go dark as soon as the upkeep of the blonde got on my nerves.

I am fair-skinned, and blue-eyed, and people think I was born blonde — “I will give you back the hair you had as a child!” one colorist proclaimed long ago, which is my favorite hair-person quote, except maybe for the gay Spanish stylist who frowned at the all-one-length locks I presented to him: “Zees schoolgirl hair, no no no, ees got to go!” (Which cracked me up, but maybe you had to be there.) Producing two tow-headed children did not help this perception. Strangers would ask if I was from Germany or, a couple of times, northern Italy. But I’m cast from my father’s Irish heritage and my natural hair color is a medium brown —

— which means that the ash-blonde was high freaking maintenance. Also freaking expensive. You can almost always get a last-minute appointment with Lea (when she’s not on tour with Britney Spears* or working on a movie set somewhere) because her fiercely loyal clientele is limited to those who can afford her. I have not been the most spendthrift person in the world: if I was hurting, I’d go shopping, which did not always result in the wisest purchasing decisions. (The other day I came across a leopard-print Dolce & Gabbana trenchcoat in my closet that still had the pricetag, and I did a doubletake: I paid that much for it? I would never do that now! before realizing Okay I would, just not on that coat which I put in the stack to take to Decades, the vintage designer-clothing store on Melrose. But I digress.) Still, the expense of The Blonde always bothered me, and the time required to stay in the chair and let people touch and tug at my head drove me insane and seemed less and less like something I could justify.

But I love the salon, this little place tucked above the terracotta steps of the courtyard/pool area of the Beverly Hills Regent, known to tourists as “the hotel where they filmed Pretty Woman”. The hotel is also where I took two teenage girls to lunch, and they were denied access to the restrooms because a woman snootily told them that said restrooms were for paying guests only. Also where I had lunch with a group that included Sharon Stone, and, when Endeavor head Ari Emmanuel approached us and asked my friend Ryan if he was my agent, Ryan immediately and smoothly lied, “Yes. Yes I am,” and offered Ari his hand. The salon is an unpretentious, easy-going place staffed with people Lea imports from her hometown of Paris. Fashion TV plays on television screens set at strategic angles so you can watch them in the mirrors. At some point Lea and I would go outside and sit on the top step — she calls it her “office” — and she would smoke a Marlboro as we talked about men. It’s one thing to get advice on your love life; it’s another thing to get that same advice in throaty, broken English with a Parisian French accent.

When I decided I was done with the blonde thing — I was walking around the Century City mall one day and thought, I’m done with the blonde thing — I went to the salon. Lea was away making actors look fabulous. I was delivered into the capable hands of the newest colorist from Paris, a young man who happens to be six feet, muscled, heterosexual, and drop-dead gorgeous. He would not dye my hair as dark as I wanted. He talked instead about a “transition” color. Then I went to Xavier, who would not chop my hair above my shoulders like I wanted. He talked about a “transition” cut. And then I realized of course that they knew — because these people know things, it’s like they suck the information from your brain — that I was recently separated and my ex was living with another woman. Clearly they were afraid I didn’t know what I was saying. I felt sorry for them. I left with my transitional hair and then, when I decided I’d transitioned enough, went promptly to Lea, who gave me more or less what I’d wanted in the first place: “Voila! You have changed. You no longer look…how you say?…California blonde. Now you look European!” She nodded approvingly.

* Britney, she told me, is a “very sweet girl, very very sweet” who tends to surround herself with “people who are awful”.

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