Platinum hair: A whiter shade of pale

Platinum hair is a new model favourite. Harriet Walker tries the stark shade for herself

Sunday 23 October 2011 04:11

Walking into a party where everyone blanks you is never a great feeling. Walking into a party where nobody recognises you is slightly different, especially when it's a gathering of your nearest and dearest.

But when I decided to dye my hair platinum blonde, I had no idea of the social repercussions.

White blonde – a label which takes in every shade from ash to platinum to silvery grey – is having something of a fashionable resurgence. It has always been a stylish statement, from Marie Antoinette's powdered wigs via Marilyn Monroe's candyfloss waves to Linda Evangelista's bleachy Nineties crop. Thanks to an influx of Scandinavian models, the very palest shades are appearing on the catwalks again, like photo negatives after so many seasons of Brazilian honey blondes, flaxen Eastern Europeans and the rich plum shades sported by certain X Factor hosts. White blonde is not simply light blonde – it's another step up in the colour chart entirely, more tone than shade.

And there are plenty of models leading the way – Kristen McMenamy has attracted attention for her unashamedly grey locks, while Charlotte T and Kathleen Burbridge are just a couple of on-the-rise faces who have made bleached tresses their trademark. The more extreme dip-dyed trend has fed into a vogue for unnatural hair colours and, having spent so long tackling roots and brassiness, it's a strange feeling to know that my hair will soon look completely fake – and that I'll be proud of it.

Bleach has never really been out of fashion, but it has for a long time more readily been associated with the rock scene, with the likes of Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani as its poster girls. Right now, though, the mood for platinum hair is much sleeker and more grown-up: on long hair, as opposed to crops, and tamed, rather than backcombed to within an inch of its life.

This sort of decision is not something to be taken lightly, of course, and, having hovered between mousy and mousy-with-a-touch-of-blonde for almost 10 years, I finally felt ready to take the plunge. It's absolutely critical that one has a consultation beforehand with a colourist who knows what he or she is talking about, because if this process goes wrong, your hair is for the high jump. Too much bleach and it will turn to dust in your hands; too little, and you'll come out the colour of sunset during a nuclear attack.

Bruno Elorrioroz is Aveda's advanced technical director and has worked backstage and front-of-house, colouring models' hair for shows and ad campaigns, for more than a decade. He's also the prince of platinum, having created Kathleen Burbridge's latest bluish-grey tones.

"There's a big trend for white blonde," he tells me, as he rigorously inspects my hair to check it is strong enough to withstand the chemical process. "There's something pure and angelic about it, which is nice for summer, and great to go with all the bright, bright colours around now. It's also really refreshing for your complexion, as it brings a bit more light to the face and fades imperfections. It's important generally to go lighter as you get older and your skin gets duller – lighter hair will give you a bit of a lift."

When at the end of the consultation he announces that it will take seven hours to transform me from honeyed to heavenly, I start to worry about ageing simply from being in the chair for so long. But vanity has a price, and my boring old hair and I are feeling pretty impoverished. He also warns me that, because my natural hair colour is quite dark, I won't be able to achieve the absolute white-greyness of the inspiration pictures I brought with me.

"From being mousy brown naturally with gold, coffee and honey highlights, it's a big step to go platinum," Elorrioroz continues, when I return on the allotted day, trembling with excitement and the fear that I'm about to make the worst decision of my life. "But I love risk!" he trills, snapping on some rubber gloves. My face at this point is set in a rictus grin from the effort of not crying, my hands like claws on the chair so I don't run straight out of the salon and back into the realm of hairstyles that don't frighten children.

The first stage is not unlike the usual highlighting process: Elorrioroz applies Aveda's "enlightener" to the parts of my hair that are already coloured – that is, from the ends up to about an inch away from my scalp. By the end of this phase, I feel a little like a medieval warrior in a full suit of armour and my head is wobbling on my neck under its own weight in tinfoil. This will lift the base colour of my hair to as pale a shade as possible, before the roots (which will take the colour more quickly because they are not already coated in highlights) are then bleached too.

When the foils are removed, it's time for the first of many trips to the sink to have the enlightener rinsed out and a deep conditioning treatment applied, to stop my hair drying out. The biggest risk of colouring hair this intensely is that it will dehydrate so much as actually to crumble away, which is why I chose Aveda for my "transformation", as Elorrioroz keeps calling it. (It feels a bit Stars in Their Eyes, and I wonder whether I'll have to walk through dry ice at the end of it all.)

Aveda's USP is using plant extracts and natural botanicals to counterbalance and replace some of the potent chemical nasties in beauty products and cosmetics. Although it takes a certain amount of nastiness to lift brown hair to ethereal white, Aveda's "Kera-Catalyst" is a far cry from peroxide, containing 97 per cent natural ingredients. Nevertheless, my eyes begin to sting a little by the time we're four hours in.

After the first application, my hair looks like a grown-out fright wig – custard yellow with an inch of black at the top. After the roots have been treated too (and yet another sink visit), my hair is a uniform pale blonde, albeit styled like Doc's from Back to the Future. At this point, I assume Elorrioroz's work is done. "Oh gosh, it really has gone light, hasn't it!" I exclaim. "Well, thank you very much, Bruno. Sorry to keep you so long." It has been almost six hours. But there is more.

What follows is an interminable sink visit during which the lightening mixture is applied all over, rinsed off, applied again and rinsed off once more. By the end of it, both hairdresser and patient have tears rolling down their cheeks from the fumes. Then, blessed relief, a toner is applied. "Toner brings softer shades to blonde," Elorrioroz explains, "by neutralising it and getting rid of brassiness. It makes sure that blonde doesn't oxidise, protects against UV light, carbon dioxide pollution and the water that comes from copper pipes in your house."

He talks about my new hair as if it's a sociable sort of chameleon, sucking the colour from its surroundings. Swimming is out, because the chlorine will turn it green; smoking too, unless I wear a swimming cap, Elorrioroz says. I think he was joking, but I'm still worried about standing too close to vividly painted walls or dirt, in case my newly virginal hair imbibes hues like a hen-party does with piña coladas.

"It'll have an effect on how you see yourself in the mirror," he warns. "You'll have such a different perception of yourself – you'll probably want to buy some new, different clothes, try new make-up, more lipstick, more eyeliner. But you'll be the Million-Dollar Woman. I call this 'couture hair', because it's so clean, so pure and has such a strong impact."

He isn't wrong – the minute I leave the salon with my new look, a perfectly monochromatic silvery mane, I feel completely different. People are looking at me, and it isn't because there's something stuck to my face. For the first time, I understand how it must feel to be born "cool". Because while this hair is actually much easier to pull off than I had anticipated, it still makes quite the statement – and I'm not quite used to it being so easy.

I am called variously a goth, an albino and Voltaire by my colleagues, my friends and my boyfriend, but it's invigorating to make the decision to look so completely alien; it's quite a rarity, I realise, to be in a position where people don't recognise you, and it makes you feel slightly invincible.

Which brings us back to the party when none of my friends knew who I was. Watching their faces melt from total indifference to joyful glee was pure exhilaration. And having to poke your own boyfriend repeatedly before he pays you any attention – well, some things never change, do they?

How to keep your platinum perfect

White-blonde hair takes a lot of maintenance and, while visible roots look a bit grungy and cool, you'll probably need touch-ups every six to eight weeks. In the meantime, look after your mane at home by applying deep-conditioning masks and treatments, such as Aveda's Damage Remedy (£21), whenever you wash your hair. Because the chemical process strips and dries out each follicle, bleached hair needs washing only about every four days. When you do wash it, be sure to use an intensively nourishing shampoo and conditioner, such as Aveda's Blue Malva range (shampoo £23; conditioner £18.50), which comes out a livid purple shade – all the better to counteract pollutants and ensure your tresses retain their gleaming and ethereal silvery whiteness.

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