Most people dread going to the hospital or the dentist – I dread going to a new hair salon. My sister recently said, “If you’d had different hair, you’d be a different person.” It was the most profound statement someone’d said about me in a while, because my curly, kinky hair is partially responsible for the company I keep and the interests I pursue.
For the better part of my life, I felt different. Early on, I flocked to those who were also different – the few minorities in my vanilla private educational institutions. I tried every hair remedy known to man included relaxing, straightening, and thinning. I even got my hair done at a salon for African American women. This resulted in a bone straight hairdo, at which point I had a revelation – I like my curls, they are part of me. I vowed to accept my hair just around the time beauty editors were praising Japanese Thermal Conditioning.
When I moved to NYC, I splurged on a real haircut at a salon for curly hair, opting for Devachan over Ouidad – I’ve been a cult addict ever since. But while Devachan gave me the curls I’d always craved and coveted, I still felt stifled by drab, mousy brown hair. Too pale to go blond or auburn, my color choices were red or light brown. That is until I met Whitney Lewis, a colorist at Antonio Prieto’s new Chelsea hair salon.
When I first saw her, my New York radar went off – this girl is different, definitely not like the rest of the Chelsea boys in here – she probably lives in Williamsburg. She had a chill artsy vibe, and of course, her lavender spiky hair was another giveaway. But it all worked on her, which may explain why I trusted her from the start.
Immediately she passed my first test, does the hairdresser groan when I take out my elastic and a mop of nappy curls falls? My tangled web of locks, if you can call them that, is the ultimate test for detangling products. Check one – she never once sighed or even looked overwhelmed, despite my embarrassment. I was surrounded my coiffed women getting touch ups on their perfect color jobs, chatting with the slew of lanky Chelsea boys in designer jeans and tees.
As it is, I walked in the place, in a rush, no makeup, not even concealer and without my usual thought-out outfit. The salon, recently revamped for their move, is low-key swanky. Modern furniture adorns the waiting area, where products sit in wall alcoves, the complete Kerastase collection displayed like artwork. And without the swivel chairs, this could probably pass for a boutique, a bar or a gallery, with thatched fabric wallpaper in a neutral champagne tone, and a back wall containing a stone design. Antonio Prieto, the surprisingly unpretentious casual-chic owner, said he intended it to look like a hotel lounge. It seems he succeeded in conveying this vision to his designers.
This salon lacks the usual built-in stations, and by supplying only the necessary furniture and appliances, he achieved a sleek, modern design that falls somewhere between modern minimalist and casual contemporary. Each ‘colorist’ or ‘stylist,’ as they’re referred to here, has a chair, a dramatic full-length mirror resting against the wall, and a set of drawers on wheels. A small waiting area amid the stylists dons the same modern white leather sofas that sit in the front hall, a collection of glossies from Vogue to Tatler, and assistants scampering around offering beverages on shiny trays.
So, what happened to my mop? Let’s just say they should have taken a before and after picture. Although I walked in planning to get red highlights, Whitney’s art education was enough for me to let her color my hair two shades from the Crayola box.
As the tailored women around me watched in wonder and confusion, as I garnered attention, Mr. Prieto and I secretly wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into. I wondered if the blue and purple stains on the rug would get this sweet, talented woman fired, recalling my summer 10 years prior, when I’d died my hair blue with Manic Panic.
Nevertheless, we surged on. Since I’d colored my hair less than six months prior, she explained that normal color would mix poorly, my hair would only take the new color in the parts where my drugstore color were fading. So, as if I wasn’t self-conscious enough, I got to see what I’d look like blond. (Note: If you are unaware of salon speak, please note, if someone says they need to lighten your hair before they can apply color, this is a delicate term for bleaching.) Thankfully, a fleeting moment, she applied the Elumen dyes in two different colors, after bleaching strands of hair, and left it for about 30 minutes. After removing the foils, she applied one final product for five minutes, to seal the color.
After hours of prepping and primping, I realized I was right to trust her. After four hours, I emerging with perfectly placed blue and purple highlights. In some shades of light, the fading blue borders on gray, but the purple is simultaneously subtle and dramatic, and definitely unique in its application. It’s the perfect winter alternative for fair, daring brunettes.
If you’re just looking for a great haircut or a regular color, Whitney’s color wheel goes all the way from Crayola to earth tones. The salon also offers a variety of services and many stylists to choose from.
However, if you’re looking for a change, someone who thinks outside the box, to help you reach your hair destiny, visit Whitney. If I can afford to, I’ll be a regular by next winter, scheduling an appointment for a partial foil in eggplant, and I’d suggest my favorite NYC journalist and my idol, Lynn Yaeger, do the same.
Antonio Prieto Salon
127 West 20th Street (between 6th and 7th)
Cuts range from $100-175, depending on the stylist; Single process color $90-100; Partial foils start at $175 and full highlights start at $225. The salon also offers Thermal Conditioning, about $500. A consultation is required first; ask for Lawrence, who is also a colorist.
Apprentice appointments are available with licensed cosmetologists, who are completing the two-year service requirement to become stylists and colorists at the salon. Appointments should be made at least one week in advance and are available Tuesday thru Friday; haircuts $40, single process color $40 and highlights $70 – $100.