Arts & Culture » Culture

Hair aces


A pretty young woman with a head full of long, cherry-red-streaked braids walks into the room. The effect is not so much shocking (it’s grueling work to shock these days) and it isn’t a mere attempt to look different. Something jibes between the wildly colored extensions and the woman’s dress and aspect. It complements her personality in a way that’s striking and exotically beautiful.

We’re at London Calling in Roseville, a salon that caters especially to those seeking an artful wielding of scissors or mixing of dye. Owned by the relentlessly vivacious Norman Wagner (talk to him for 30 seconds and you’ll see what I mean), the salon originated in the mid-’80s as a training facility for airbrush makeup artistry, one of Norman’s specialties.

Today, London Calling is still one of metro Detroit’s few salons that offers alternative beauty services. But tradition is being redefined, as a generation of former punk and New Wave kids has gone the way of the young urban professional. What does “alternative” mean now?

“What used to be alternative is mainstream today,” says Wagner. “I don’t know if I’m seeing a real change (stylistically).”

One thing that has changed is buying power. Many clients can now afford to trade in the bathroom sink for a stylist’s chair. The sensibility that once revered such staples as dime-store bleach, Kool-Aid, Elmer’s Glue and Aqua Net hasn’t changed all that much — it’s just acquired a softer touch (at times) and heightened the emphasis on visual allure and self-expression.

And when it comes to nontraditional hair styling, the art vs. trade question is an all-important one.

“The hairdressers here are professionals who love what they do,” says Wagner. “I hire people who are career-minded.”

To keep abreast of the latest techniques, London Calling’s staff (18 stylists and three assistants) attends training sessions two or three times a month. And the salon is often called on to teach other stylists how to perform alternative services.

Some of London Calling’s most requested services include dreads, braid extensions and hair coloring (any hue is possible), as well as the highly popular corrective coloring, with which stylists fix other people’s — and other salons’ — mistakes. Customers can also request perms, updos, braids, straightening, conditioning treatments, waxing, makeup, massage, lash and brow dying, and facials. Airbrush makeup is offered as well, and can be worn on the whole body, face and/or hair. Makeup is literally sprayed on with an airbrush to create a multitude of different looks.

“It’s quick and you can apply more color,” explains Wagner.

Plus, the salon is open till midnight Wednesday-Friday to accommodate unusual schedules.

London Calling regularly hosts special events that showcase a bizarre fusion of entertainment, fashion, hair design and performance art. Models parade in vibrantly colored, 12-foot-high or super-long wigs that are chopped off with hedge clippers in the grand finale. The vibe is definitely more decadent club scene than hair show.

Although it’s hard to pin down definitive hair trends — pretty much anything goes right now — some styles gather more of a following than others. Wagner lists Beatle cuts and ’50s rockabilly pompadours as top metro-Detroit favorites, along with ’80s punk looks. And there’s an increasing demand for perms among the 24-and-under set. Think ’40s finger waves and “selective perming” which looks “like a bad perm from the ’80s.” Even more retro influences abound as ’70s feathered styles and Farrah Fawcett hair are getting big all over again.

Trends aside, the beauty of alternative hair styling is not so much about admittance to a particular scene or trying on someone else’s idea of what’s attractive. At its best, that unique color or unusual cut dares to go deep and conjure a more daring spirit.

London Calling is at 27380 Gratiot in Roseville. Call 810-778-6379.

Christina Kallery is a freelance writer for Metro Times. E-mail

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