Going blonde

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Gwen Stefani.  It all started with a magazine article about Gwen Stefani.  She is an inspiring woman who has followed her dream, sustained a career over decades, bounced back from emotional upset, brought up children.  Her image is iconic and consistent – platinum blonde, a certain 40s-50s styling and always, but always red lips.  Looking at the picture in the article was one of those lightning bolt moments when you know that this is the thing to do and now is the time.  Platinum was where I needed to go.  Butchers Salon in the heart of London’s Hackney took me there and here’s how with some do’s and don’ts.

It started with a consultation with Katie, black belt colourist. She answered my questions and warned me about the maintenance: salon appointments every 6-8 weeks to have roots and colour touched up as well as lots of home deep conditioning and regular use of a “purple” shampoo to maintain the colour. Swimming was best done with a swimming cap to avoid fading the toner that gives the precise shade of blonde.  As my hair had not been coloured we might be able to bleach it in a single process – it can take more than one for coloured hair or very dark, long hair. Katie also tested the chemicals she would use, dabbed behind each ear for 48 hours to check for adverse reaction.

On the day of the appointment we started with a second consultation to get a fix on the exact colour I wanted.  Katie had been doing some research herself and recommended a pale platinum but with two small chunks next to my face in a slightly warmer colour to flatter my skin tone.  Ash blondes have been very popular of late so I asked Katie where she thought trends would lead next.  She predicts a return to warmer, more sun-kissed hues – think Pamela Anderson in Baywatch.  So you heard it here first.

Katie began by painting the bleach onto my dry hair covering all but the roots.  She explained that the bleach acts faster on the roots, heated by the warmth from the scalp, so roots are done later.  Once my head was covered she added a plastic bag over the top and left me to “cook”.20160324_110324

After a while, a check: its working and the ends are already turning a primrose yellow.  Against the dark roots, the effect makes me look like a character from a Wes Anderson movie, or perhaps a 1980s Swiss footballer.  So there is definitely no question of stopping now and Katie paints the bleach onto my roots.  It is a cold sensation but nothing more and once again the plastic bag goes on and we wait.

After a couple of checks, the bleach is ready to be washed off and it reveals my “naked” hair, stripped of its colour.  Oddly this is not white but pale yellow.  This is the reason for adding the toner, to give exactly the shade of blonde we are looking for.  Katie paints on the toner as I sit at the basin.  She has warned me that the smell is pretty unpleasant and she is not wrong.  I am enveloped in a potent odour of rotting vegetation.  As it starts to act, I feel a cold and then tingling sensation on my scalp.

Katie now makes frequent checks as the colour develops and after what must be 20 minutes or so, she judges it done and washes it out.  By this time the whole process has taken just under five hours – the majority of that being the bleaching process.  All my pent up excitement has now turned into a desperate yearning to see the result and as soon as we’re done at the basin I dash to the mirror to look.

One of the things I was curious about was whether I would still look like ‘me’.  I do and I don’t.  Mercifully the Swiss footballer look is no more and it feels odd to see myself looking so different but I instantly love the colour.  Katie explains that the colour molecules in the toner can be like snooker balls, delivering flat colour, or like glass crystals, delivering a translucent effect.  She has used the latter on me and as she dries my hair and the colour emerges, it is already noticeable how differently the light reflects off the colour and off my face.

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The final result is a triumph.  I love it and Katie is pleased too.  Thank you Katie and Butchers for delivering a long-held dream so expertly and diligently.  Now I’m going to find out whether blondes really do have more fun.

Finally, the do’s and don’ts:

  • Do choose your salon carefully.  Try to find word-of-mouth recommendations and ask friends.  It is always best to choose a place that you know and trust or one with good recommendations from people that you do.
  • Make the most of the consultation – ask your questions and ensure that the colourist has a clear idea of what you want.  Take a picture if you can.
  • Understand the pricing of the job before you commit.  Colouring can be expensive and so can the maintenance.
  • Make sure you are ready for the maintenance needed and understand how it might fit into your lifestyle and daily routine.  Swimming, sun and other external factors can affect colour.  The colourist should brief you on this at the consultation.
  • Once it is done, be ready to re-assess both your make-up and wardrobe.  A dramatic colour change will mean colours work differently against your skin tone.  I immediately found that my lipsticks all looked very different with blonde instead of brunette hair.
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