Sunday, June 24, 2007

Purple Hair

It's one thing to be an exotically bohemian 'starving artist' surviving on tinned tomatoes and £1 jumbo bags of penne pasta from Sainsbury's. it's another to be too broke to afford to get your hair done.

Imagine my delight, then, when I received a lovely text from my hairdresser offering me a half-price deal 'for a special lady' - just in the nick of time. Not that I'm prepared to admit in print to any signs of premature ageing in my coiffure, but I can reveal the doubtless not particularly shocking news that my hair colour is not 100% natural. And you've got to keep your bob crisp, haven't you? Especially when it's your signature 'look'.

So I hot footed it over to Kensington Church Street, and skipped up the little secret grey staircase that leads to a magical wonderland of mirrored walls and swivelling chairs. One of the positive things about not having a proper day job is the fact that you can lounge around gettting your hair cut when other people are strapped to their desks, and the salon was deliciously quiet - just me, my Hair Guru, and lots of cups of Earl Grey tea.

The Hair Guru had found a new hair colour which he thought would be perfect for me - very dark brown with a rich red glow to it. The swatch looked great. Of course when he actually mixed it up in the little tub, it looked a highly suspicious shade of nuclear orange, but I didn't let that worry me, because it always does. I was a little bit anxious that my lazy habit of spraying dry shampoo into my hair when I can't be bothered to actually wash it might have detrimental effects if the dye reacted with the chemicals in the stuff, but the HG seemed to think this was highly unlikely. We chatted our way around a heady mix of topics from celebrity clients to Northern sensibilities while we waited for the dye to work its magic, and then the HG washed it off.

A tiny twinge of alarm hit me as I glanced at my reflection in the mirror beside the sinks - was my hair... purple...?

I decided to wait until it was dry before getting alarmed.

HG snipped away, sharpening up my bob, and then blow dried it until it was deliciously smooth and shining - and it really did look great. The colour was very dark, and there was a distinctly coppery glow about it, but I decided that my purple moment had been one of sheer unfounded paranoia. Paranoia at the hairdressers is a very common occurrence, as every girl knows, and it's important to give yourself time to get used to new hair before deciding whether or not it works on you - our initial reaction to something different to what we're used to is quite often one of shock and negativity.

Hair done, HG invited me to spend the afternoon hanging out with him, since he didn't have any other clients booked in, and we indulged in a sushi and red wine lunch at the newly opened Whole Foods store on Kensington High Street. The one-time Biba building has been transformed anew into a sort of high glamour supermarket, where a serve-yourself salad from the salad bar can cost you £12 if you're not careful. Upstairs in the food hall you can sit at the window and look down at the Kensington shoppers below while you snack on delicious and organic treats from the various food counters. From the looks of it, this is where the Ladies Who Lunch are all hanging out these days. HG and I agreed that although it was all very stylish, they had made one or two errors of judgement in the fixtures and fittings (with some of the overhead lights looking suspiciously like the sort you get in B&Q) and we missed the old Barkers. But finding two bottles of organic wine for £8 on offer downstairs won us over again.

Then it was back to HG's flat in Camden for a couple of games of pool and some rather excellent 70s tunes played extremely loud, while we road-tested the organic wine, and HG's flatmate wowed us with his note-perfect rendition of Jose Feliciano's Light My Fire. When I eventually got home to Beloved I was feeling extremely mellow. But not too mellow to resist asking him what he thought of my new hair colour?

Yes, it's nice.

Does it look... purple... to you at all?

Beloved immediately spotted an opportunity to wind me up, and said, with a broad grin...

Maybe... a bit...

and has been letting drop the odd remark here and there ever since:

"Your hair's looking a bit purple this morning"

"Maybe it's just this light..."

"Lots of my ex girlfriends used to have one hairdresser they trusted for the cut and another they trusted for the colour..."

Is beloved feeling slightly miffed that I spent the afternoon boozing and playing pool (very badly) with my hairdresser? Is this his way of getting his own back? Quite possibly.

I consulted with another friend independently, who said the colour was very dark, but she couldn't see any purple in it.

Would it bother me so much if my hair WAS purple? And if so, why?

Taste is a strange thing; it sometimes seems to be a kind of tightrope walk between conservatism and boldness. To be truly stylish, you have to take bold steps across the line from time to time, but you also have to know and regard long established style conventions at the same time. Every style choice comes with its own set of associations; a sharp little bob like mine has resonances of the 60s and Mary Quant, and also a hint of the 20s about it, although it's not pure Louise Brooks because I don't have a fringe (I can't do fringes, I look rubbish, as this picture of me in one of Honey's wigs demonstrates)

The bob was the HG's idea, and I'll be forever grateful to him for finding me my signature hairstyle, which I'll probably keep until the end of my days (I might have it completely white when I reach my dotage - I'm thinking that look could have a lot of gravitas going for it). And that's why I feel I need to trust him on the colour too.

But just a step too far over the line towards burgundy could bring all sorts of less welcome associations with it, of a particular kind of 80s retro that reminds me more of brassy northern birds in lurid lycra and plastic jewellery. Okay, I know I am, to some extent, a northern bird, and it's important to be true to your roots, but call me conservative, I like my hair colour to look natural these days. Even if it isn't actually my own natural colour, at least it can be someone else's...

I found resolution for my colour-anxiety yesterday when Beloved and I were walking on Hampstead Heath.

"What's that lovely tree over there with the really dark leaves," I asked Beloved, "They look amazing, almost black - or purple."

"That," said Beloved, who grew up in the countryside and knows his trees, "is a Copper Beech."

"The leaves are the same colour as my hair!" I realised, delighted.

So now I can rest easy in the knowledge that, even if my hair is, in some lights, slightly on the purple side, the colour is still completely natural.

It's the colour of a Copper Beech.



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