Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hair-Raising Evening or A Siren's Tale

Jean says:
People stop me all the time and ask me where I get my hair cut. So, to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, I will get Valerie off my back and reveal the the secret to my great hair cut. The Louise Brooks bob, with bangs and center part, is my signature look. The flapper bob is the perfect sartorial solution to straigth hair. I have been riffing variations of this minimalist look since the late '80s, first dying it pitch black and then using henna to coax it into varying shades from blood orange to ox blood, and eventually streaking it blond in the late '90s. (At one point, I painted bleach spots into it, for a reverse-leopard effect.) When my roots no longer grew in dark, I just stopped highlighting my hair and let it grow in grey. And, dear readers, if I've become one of those women hopelessly stuck in the past with an out-of-date hairdo that isn't flattering anymore, I don't want to know. So save your breath. ("I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille." Just as soon as I'm done burying this damn chimp...Dig faster, Valerie!)

I hate surprises. I love my hair. It always looks the same, exactly the way I want it to, just shorter or longer. To illustrate the point, here are BEFORE profile and rear view photos taken by Valerie (my photographic Bosworth) just prior to my latest haircut. They do not look significantly different from the AFTER photos that appear later; the hair is just longer.

With this cut, I've literally got wash'n'wear hair. Other than shampoo and conditioner (whatever is on sale), I use no products -- no gel, spray or color. Likewise, at home, I use no hair dryer, curling iron or other appliance except a comb. This simplifies my life beyond belief, making travel and 12 hour workdays survivable.

Following, dear readers, is the skinny -- the what, when, who, how and how often. (All but two photos enlarge when clicked.)

About once a month or so, when the inverted "V" at the nape of my neck starts to grow out, I need a haircut. Because the urge does not hit like clockwork (anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks), I don't have a standing appointment. When the fever strikes, I call and beg to be fit in. Luckily, Akiro Tasaka, the Japanese gentleman who has been cutting my hair since 1983, is a man of infinite patience and the utmost skill. Here I am, on Thursday, February 4th, arriving for my latest scalping at Siren Salon (located at 102 Suffolk Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets 212-979-7801).

Another Downtown denizen who really works the flapper look in a truly unique way is fashion writer Lynn Yaeger. She has added her own iconic and instantly recognizable twist, with her rouged kewpie doll cheeks and bee-stung lips and shockingly bright red bob. Spotting Lynn is always a treat.

For 27 years, I have entrusted my tresses to Akiro. In the 1980s, we collaborated on a series of punked-out coifs: hair gelled to stand straight up on top, with the sides and back of the head shaved. I dyed the streaks in my dark brown hair a series of psychedelic colors: first blue, then purple, fuschia and eventually burgundy. I permed the top and at one point looked like The Who's Roger Daltry. Here I am in 1984 with my permed pompador along with my friend Julie (who has since also become a silver fox.)

Here is Roger Daltry circa 1984. You be the judge. "Which twin has the Toni?"

But I digress... Akiro's haircut takes less than 20 minutes. Since I wash my hair daily, we dispense with the shampoo. He dampens my hair with a spray bottle of warm water, combs it through my hair and begins. He starts with the bangs, clipping back the top layers and snipping the innermost layers first. I close my eyes, ostensibly to keep the little sharp, straight hairs out of my lashes, but mostly to just RELAX.

OK, I confess. I LOVE to get my hair cut. After 27 years, it is like meditating, only it requires no floor mats or any downward-facing dogs! When it is over, I not only look better, I feel better too!

Siren is my oasis. These photos capture the iconic lineup of scissors-cum-art, ever-present lillies in a vase on a pedestal, ecclectic mirrors and paintings of Akiro and various pets and friends. Forget that hairdresser-as-therapist thing. Akiro is a man of few words. (Thank gawd!)

Here is the real Queen Bee! Ensconced in the salon in her dog bed is Noriki, Akiro's French bulldog. She has become a fixture. Over the past 10 years, she has become almost as famous for her neckerchiefs. I do have to say that on the night in question, she was slumbering SILENTLY (for the first time in recent memory). Truly a rare event! One of the highlights of my visits is her loud snoring, chortling, and even crying in her sleep. I really want to know what's going on in her vivid litle canine dreams!

The master at work! After the bangs, Akiro cuts the back of the hair and then the sides with scissors. Then he works on the nape of the neck, starting with comb and clippers and switching to clippers with a finer setting to get in close. This is where he takes the greatest care. [Valerie interjects: Despite her deep appreciation for Akiro's work, I don't think Jean realizes the full extent of his expertise. I'm pretty sure he made a tiny point in the middle of her bangs. They look straight to you and me, but I think they look straight because he cuts them on a curve - much the way the Verrazano Bridge takes into account the curvature of the earth while appearing to be straight.] What these photos don't capture is the terrific music, with selections ranging from Japanese lounge singers doing Sinatra covers to Italian opera to '80s French pop to reggae. That evening, we were treated to Mexican guitar music.

My hair is turning silver at different rates, darker in back, lighter in front. It is also lighter on the right side, with a line of demarcation smack down the middle of my bangs. This photo illustrates my subtle Cruella de Ville look as Akiro prepares to blow my hair dry.

Here is my chief haircut idiosyncracy revealed: my braille method of hair assessment. Since one side springs up more than the other, that side is cut ever so slightly longer to compensate. Because it requires such precision, I check the cut by pulling the sides and back to see if the strands are of appropriate length. After he finishes cutting, Akiro says: "You can touch now" and patiently awaits my completion of the manual testing for a thumbs up before handing me a mirror for final visual inspection. He indulges me in this ritual.

AFTER photo: Rear view. Here is the finished product! Besides the ever-present rings, I've added a fleece neck gaitor. Note to the file: The easy-to-keep shaved neck can get mighy chilly when the thermometer drops below 27 degrees!

AFTER photo: Profile.

Louise and I, lined up and ready to go. All we need is Michael Stipe singing "Shiny, happy people."

I happily settle the tab (and apologize for intruding on his space) before Valerie and I head out into the night to explore the Lower East side.

Valerie and I stopped at Thor, in the Hotel Rivington, to warm up and to plan our whirlwind weekend of events (avant garde fashion show in the East Village on Friday night, Metropolitan Pavillion Vintage Fashion Show on Saturday and Outsider Art Show on Sunday). Here I am in Thor's strange podlike entryway, feeling maahvelous and showing off my new 'do. Very "2001" meets "Shadow of a Vampire," don't you think? I'm wearing a Spyder fleece neck gaitor, Marithe' + Francoise Girbaud coat, Brigitte harem pants, Le Sport Sac leopard bag (thanks, Maureen!) and Dansko clogs.

While we were chatting in Thor, I kept seeing flashing lights and hearing sirens. Lights and sound added to my fashion A.D.D. made for a challenging conversation. (Valerie is a saint. You heard it here first.) When we emerged and headed to the subway, we discovered the source of the commotion. Fire trucks lined Essex Street and one had a ladder extended to the roof of a six-story building. Luckily, although there was a haze and the faintest scent of smoke in the air, there was no visible fire. Before departing, Valerie took one last parting shot of yours truly. Ta-ta. [Valerie protests about her elevation to sainthood. The first qualification for sainthood is that you have to be verifiably DEAD. And, to quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "I'm not dead... I'm getting better."]

Valerie’s two cents on hair: Jean is that rare person who has figured out what hairstyle works for her, her face, her bone structure, her personal style and her lifestyle. It’s not an easy 'do to do at any age, much less at a certain age, and Jean pulls it off flawlessly. Enviably. She’s the only woman I know who unequivocally loves her hair. Every other woman I’ve ever had the hair conversation with wishes she had someone else’s. My sister wishes she had my curly hair; I wish I had my sister’s drop dead straight hair. Women with fine hair coo over my very thick hair, but they don’t realize I shave the sides of my head not so much for the visual impact (although impact can be a fun byproduct) but rather to tame the uncontrollable volume (which should tell us all something about the grass being greener…). Anyway, just once I’d like someone to see my hair in the distance (it would be a very, very long distance, of course) and mistake me for Cher.

And this other fine wearer of a modified bob also deserves very special mention:

Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction.

Do tell us about your crowning glory and feel free to dispense any tips and advice.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

On an utterly, utterly (to quote Olive Oyl) separate note, we are delighted to say that we have been immortalized on the front web page of Stella Show Mgmt. Co.- they of the peerless Pier Shows, where we get some of our swell hats and other fab gear. In addition to being photographed, we’re mentioned in (nearly) the same breath as such notables as Martha Stewart, Claire Danes (star of the new movie about Temple Grandin) and Anna Wintour, among others. You can see us here. The photo is a bit fuzzy, which we think captures us perfectly.


  1. If you have your hair dry you must to looking for a solution as soon as possible. I think the hair care is very important for every woman, because the hair represent one of the most attractive point. A woman can even conquer a man just with a beautiful hair, and when that happend is better the man buy viagra for a great sexual performance.

  2. I usually take care my hair because i consider we can project a good image specially when we have a meeting with our partner or when you need talking about some busines. Actually i am participatin in costa rica investment opportunities and i need to look very good.

  3. Love this. Love the dog too. My wife has been going to him for many years. She sent me your blog. Once when I was waiting for her I spotted a book of short stories by SAKI. So I asked him, I bet you thought this guy was Japanese? He did. Great New York place.

  4. I moved to New York three years ago and have not yet found the perfect hair professional. Not that I dislike everyone I tried so far, but I just didn't love them. Since I moved to the L.E.S I have been walking past Siren and thinking to myself "I have to try this place" and today I walked in to make my first appointment and I'm pretty sure you were there getting a hair cut because I remember loving your hair when I saw it! Akiro can only see me on Friday, it's six days from now and although I'm dying to cut off most of my hair as soon as possible as it's so hot outside, I decided to wait till Friday for the opportunity of having Akiro take a look at my hair. And after seeing your blog I really have no doubt that it's worth waiting for it.

  5. Wendy Wilcox AppletonMay 27, 2016 at 6:17 PM

    I have read this post numerous times and it brings back such fond personal memories of Akiro. Akiro cut my hair from the early 80's through 2006. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend when Akiro's Siren Hair Salon was located on the (then very gritty) Lower East Side. I was so grateful to meet him and to have him style my hair for so long! He is greatly missed by me and I have not found another person so attuned to what I wanted to cut my hair since his untimely death. I wish that there were another like him out there...