The hottest accessory right now? Hair extensions. Not the old-fashioned, you-can-spot-them-a-mile-away variety, but the sexiest, most natural-looking ones ever. The country’s most sought-after stylists are custom-making them for their top clients, and everyone’s hooked. There are two kinds to choose from: semipermanent extensions, which last from a few weeks to nine months, or the snap-in, removable kind.
“The extensions I design are like a couture dress for your hair,” says Kevin Lee of the Waldorf-Astoria’s Kenneth Salon in New York City, who makes them for a few select women (read: He’s not taking any new clients right now). “My clients get extensions for parties and other society events to go with the gowns they’re wearing.” When the women get home, they unsnap the extensions before going to bed.
After a lengthy consultation, Lee painstakingly measures his client’s head and re-creates her hair color and texture. “I use real human hair that I buy in the hair district in New York–right near the flower district, downtown,” says Lee. Then he sews the pieces of hair together by hand and does several fittings before they’re ready to be worn. Butterfly clips at one end attach the hair to thin, tiny braids he plaits close to the scalp. The cost ranges from $1200 to $2000, depending on desired length and thickness.
Celebrity stylist Oribe, whose clients include Jennifer Lopez and Penelope Cruz, also prefers removable extensions. “The women I work with want different looks from one night to the next,” he says. Oribe’s clients get limitless options: layers, length, volume. “I love the way snap-in bangs look,” he says. “You can wear them for a night or two–and when you get bored with them, they’re gone.”
For some women, however, longer-lasting extensions are ideal. “I’ve never been happier!” says Dana Wood, an assistant vice president at L’Oreal. For her, they solved the problem of a too-short haircut. “It was such a relief to realize I didn’t have to wait six months for this cut to grow out,” she says. Frank Arcabascio of New York’s Warren-Tricomi Salon did such a great job of blending the new hair into Wood’s blonde chin-length bob that some of Wood’s co- workers failed to notice the change. “My boss walked by me in the hallway and said, ‘Love your hat.’ He didn’t even notice the 12 inches of hair underneath it.” Arcabascio attached Wood’s extensions with a synthetic keratin polymer that bonds to the hair. They take up to six hours to put in, can be shampooed and blow-dried just like regular hair, and last up to nine months. They need to be touched up after three months to ensure the bonds remain tight. The cost ranges between $450 and $2000.
Sew-in extensions are similar in price to the keratin-bond variety. They are stitched onto tiny braids or knots along the scalp, but last only about two to three months. Stylist Oscar James, who regularly creates extensions for supermodels Iman and Tyra Banks, is a fan. “They allow my clients to choose a color, a length, a texture without having to commit to it,” he says. “If they need to take them out for a job, they can do so without destroying their hair.”
Regardless of the method, the result should be the same, says Lee. “You want people to look at you and say, ‘Who’s the beautiful girl?’ not ‘Who’s the girl with the hair?’”