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Updating the gold standard to platinum

  • New York Times
  • Published Monday, June 30, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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For the last decade, Kaitlyn Cullinane has had her light-brown hair highlighted with golden tones in the winter and lighter ones during the warmer months. This year she decided to try something a little more dramatic.

After seeing Louis Vuitton ads with the actress Michelle Williams in a short platinum cut, Cullinane decided to go for a similar white-blond color. One appointment with Rita Hazan, and $250 later, she was platinum. “It was definitely shocking,” she said. “But I love it.” (Culiinane subsequently took a job as Hazan’s executive assistant.)

Platinum hair is enjoying a certain ubiquity in New York. It has taken over the offices of Lucky magazine. “It started maybe four months ago,” said Jean Godfrey-June, the magazine’s beauty director. “There were two or three who went platinum, and then more and more. Right now there are probably between nine and 11 platinum blondes in the office.”

Platinum, she said, “is not about hiding a problem. It’s not about ‘Does she or doesn’t she?’ It’s the opposite. It’s ‘I’m more daring than you.’ It’s one-upmanship.” Sharon Dorram of Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger in New York calls the trend “Blonditis.”

The stylist Kate Young, who has had platinum hair for 16 years, noted that “people in design and fashion like primary-color hair colors like white or black or red because it’s graphic. Models like doing something extreme because it gives them a look. Then fashion people adopt it, then music people, then everybody starts doing it.”

Platinum has long had a hold on musicians, with Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, Sia, Rita Ora, Iggy Azalea, Robyn and Miley Cyrus all preferring the lightest possible blond. Adam Levine, the singer for Maroon 5 and a coach on “The Voice,” recently went platinum.

In May, at the Costume Institute gala at the Met, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Zoe Kravitz showed up with newly pale hair, and the British actress Felicity Jones just went platinum.

The Korean-American model Soo Joo Park, who starred in last fall’s Chanel ad campaign, has made platinum hair her signature. The process of taking her long, black hair white took about 10 hours, but it helped put her “on the radar quickly,” she said.

Park’s hair was the inspiration for Sable Yong, a contributing editor of the website xoVain, to go platinum in February. “My mom said, ‘You had such beautiful hair,’” Yong said, “and my boyfriend was initially reluctant but then said, ‘It actually looks really cool.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean, actually?’”

Platinum can work on any shade of skin, Hazan said. “The tone of your platinum depends on your skin tone,” she said. “Olive skin should be more beige or honey, and lighter skin can go white.”

The ideal platinum hair is meant to be “cool, edgy, rock ‘n’ roll, with a little root,” she added. As such, it’s less bombshell (Jayne Mansfield or Marilyn Monroe) and more aggressive, severe and asexual: Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, Blondie or Madonna circa the “Blond Ambition” tour.

Aura Friedman at Sally Hershberger Downtown is sought after for her platinum expertise. “It’s about making yourself unusual,” she said. “It’s always fun to have that unicorn in a group of people.”

In a May essay in Elle, the novelist Porochista Khakpour wrote about going platinum. After going blond with Friedman in December, her white hair “looks a little disturbing,” she said in an interview. “I think I was more sexy with dark hair. It’s almost like a kind of drag, reclaiming a loaded thing in American culture: blondness.”

Emily Weiss, the founder of the beauty website Into the Gloss, went from brown to platinum late last year, partly because the hairstylist Oribe told her, “Darling, you must try platinum at least once in your life.” Her hair color, which she described as “ice-cold with a hint of gray” is, she said, “like carrying an ‘it’ bag; it becomes an accessory.”

The cost to go platinum in New York salons can range from several hundred dollars to as much as $1,500 (which doesn’t include the haircut most colorists suggest, as bleaching often leaves hair dry and damaged). Dyeing at home is risky, both in getting the shade right and potentially having one’s hair fall out.

And then there is the maintenance required. Colorists recommend that clients come in every four to six weeks, before the natural roots grow too long to easily lift and leave a yellow band.

Even though Cullinane is happy with her new look, she may revert to her old habit of warm tones in cooler months. “I’ll probably tone it down come winter,” she said. “But I’m at least keeping it for the summer.”

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