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Blow hot, blow cold

As stand-alone blow dry parlours take San Francisco by storm, we take a look at the trend that has always ruled Mumbai's parlours, where Mrs Mehta and Mrs Doshi, who haven't had a headbath at home in a decade, meet thrice a week for gupshup and a blow dry. Experts say the iron rod upstart hasn't been able to replace the Indian woman's beloved hair dryer

Los Angeles has a new celeb spot, and we're not talking about Hollywood. Drybar, a no-cut, no-colour 'anti-salon' that offers only blowouts, or a quick blow dry, has pulled the likes of supermodel Cindy Crawford and Rebecca T to its white walled interiors.

Farida and Firdaus Padamsee run Firdy's Salon at Napean Sea Road. The 14 year-old neighbourhood parlour receives at least 60 clients a month for blowouts; that's 10 per cent of their clientele. Most of them are what Firdaus calls the 'evening crowd' the ones who'd come to have their hair set before a party or a do.


In June, they opened their eighth branch in San Francisco, and will open one in New York next month. Blow dry-only salons are spreading like a rash across the Bay Area in San Francisco since the past few months, with Toronto-based chain Blo, being the latest to join the group. Their USP is affordable blowouts that guarantee a mood lift within 45 minutes tops.

How can we be sure about the mood lift? Because Mehta Aunty and her friends have shown us just how essential the blow dry really is.

In Mumbai, and particularly in pockets of South Mumbai where neighbourhood parlours have stood their ground since the 1950s, the latest fad to hit the United States is a universally accepted truth a woman with long hair and free time twice (or thrice) a week will be in need of a wash and blow dry.

The reticent owner of Colaba's Blue Heaven attests to this, even as she points out that her customers are now fourth generation ones. There are many, says Doreen (she only gives out her first name over the telephone), who visit the parlour at least twice a week to have their hair washed and blow dried.

Priyanka Thakur belongs to that ilk of customers. A resident of Wodehouse Road, 40 year-old Thakur visits Jean-Claude Biguine, an upmarket salon that opened near her place last year. Before that, Thakur would visit Lakm � nearby for her thrice-a-week wash and blow dry appointment.

"I have not washed my hair at home for 12 years," says Thakur, a real estate consultant.

"Whether at social commitments, parties or offices, blow dried hair looks natural, well groomed, and it smells divine.  A blow dry also makes sure that the first impression I give is perfect," says Thakur.

What's more, Thakur adds, there are several like her, who visit the parlour for their thrice-a-week blowouts, and the group often end up chatting over cups of green tea, much like Mehta Aunty would have done with her 'parlour friends', back in the '70s.

Thakur and her friends point to an interesting phenomenon. Despite the availability of modern treatments like re-bonding and hot iron both of which were immensely popular among Indian women not too long ago, for the 'poker straight look' they bestowed the good ol' blow dryer will never be discarded.
 
Technological innovation is high in the beauty industry, and every year, a new blow dryer model trumps the previous one. Some, like the Ionic Dryers that use ions to conduct heat to the hair, cost $300 (Rs 13,800).

Clint Fernandes, a hair and make-up artiste for 15 years, who has worked with Bollywood biggies including Kareena Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan, says that one reason the blow dryer can go nowhere is because of its
centrality to hair styling.

"The basics of hair styling include learning how to blow dry, since that's the first step to style hair. Blow drying makes the hair more malleable, and it's only after a blowout that the hair can be worked on," he says.

Agreeing that Indian women have a 'thing' for the blowout, he says, "Most women don't see it as a luxury, but a necessity.

Along with their upper lip, eyebrows... they'd get a blow dry. It's a necessity, like a shower."
However, according to Firdaus Padamsee, owner of the 14 year-old Firdy's Salon in Napean Sea Road, women of South East Asia deserve the title of being blow dry crazy.

"In cities across South East Asia, including Bangkok, Jakarta, and Manila, no one washes their hair at home. Parlours open at 8am and women go there early to get their hair washed and blow dried before going to work."

Nevertheless, Padamsee says he receives at least 60 clients a month for blowouts; that's 10 per cent of his clientele. Most of them are what Padamsee calls the 'evening crowd' the ones who'd come to have their hair set before a party or a do.

In Versova, as in Vile Parle, students and younger crowd form the majority of the clientele in parlours.
Juice Lite, the express version of Juice that opened in Colaba and Vile Parle last year, offers treatments that are 30 per cent to 35 per cent cheaper than its more expensive parent salon.

As a result, a hairwash with blow dry would start at Rs 250, while most up-market neighbourhood salons, such as Firdy's and Juice offer blowouts starting at Rs 350.

"We get at least three appointments for blowouts daily," informs Yaman Sharma, creative stylist at Juice Lite, Vile Parle.

Natasha Sara, owner of two year-old Trance by Nats in Versova, says that her studio that offers only hair-related services, is wary of using irons because of the damage caused to hair by excessive heat.

In fact, she warns against the 'wrong blow dry' as well, characterised by excessive heat, a singed smell, and too much tugging at the roots.

"I avoid using irons. I'd rather my clients blow dry their hair," says Sara, who has six regular clients that visit her for their weekly wash-and-blow-dry appointment.

The story behind the dryer
The first blow dryer was invented in 1890 by French (who else?) stylist named Alexandre F Goldefroy, who apparently was inspired by the vacuum cleaner, which not only sucks in air, but also has an exhaust that releases the heat generated by the motor. So, Goldefroy put a hose in the exhaust port and connected it to a hood that would blow out hot air.

The first salon blow dryer was a huge contraption. In the 1920s, they were made commercially available, after two US companies, Hamilton Beach Co and Racine Universal Motor Company, designed the handheld hair dryer.
 
The handheld used coil to heat up the machine and were made of nickel-plated steel with a wooden handle that was then covered with enamel. However, these handhelds weighed at least two pounds.

I have not washed my hair at home in 12 years.
Priyanka Thakur
A real estate consultant and resident of Wodehouse Road. Goes for blowouts three times a week

The small & large of the blow dry
Juice Lite: Rs 250
Firdy's Salon: Rs 350 to Rs 600 (depending on length, and number of products used)
Jean Claude Biguine: Rs 750 onwards
Grand Hyatt's Christiaan Georgio: Rs 2,000

The bonnet hair dryer was introduced in 1951. It was placed on top of a client's head, and attached to the dryer via a tube. Another innovation of that era was the rigid-hood hair dryer with a hard plastic helmet. It worked on a higher wattage, but offered the same advantage as the bonnet hair dryer equal amount of heat to the head. The Air wave attachment (right) uses airflow to twirl hair into waves on this Ceramic hair dryer.

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