To Dye For

I nside her bright, airy space on State Street, Sara Hinckley is harvesting peaches and roses, lavender and mint, but there’s no garden in sight, only bottles of bleach and dye, toner and shampoo. Hinckley has been a hairdresser for eight years, and now, while still offering cuts, she specializes in the hand-painted pastel colors she says are popular with “hipsters, hippies and cool girls.”

“I started bayalaging when everyone else was foiling,” she says, explaining that the traditional way of coloring hair, which involves large scales of tinfoil and hard root lines, is less satisfying to her than balayage—a french word meaning “sweep,” in which the color is brushed on by hand. At Sari Paints, she calls it “hair painting,” partly because “people got sick of saying ‘balayage.’”

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Hinckley is prepping for her next appointment on a rainy afternoon. Her client, Liz Inturrisi, is coming in for a “blank canvas” appointment, when all the hair is lightened to create a clean slate for future pastels. In a few days, Hinckley will be on the move, headed to a hair show where she’ll paint four models’ hair on stage. She’s a new type of hairdresser whose self-promotion includes displaying the process as well as the product. “People think it’s pretty entertaining,” she says.

When Inturrisi arrives and the appointment begins, Hinckley begins to paint with a meditative focus, beginning at the nape of the neck and moving up, piece by piece, to the crown. Inturrisi is already very blonde, almost white, from her appointment last month, but for her, there’s no such thing as too light. “I’m not really a good brunette,” she says of her natural color. “I just love being blonde. It’s like it’s always summer on my head.” Before Hinckley, who she found on Instagram, Inturrisi had her hair highlighted or foiled, but had never fully realized her blonde ambition. “I feel like every moment of my life was leading up to that moment,” she says of her first appointment at Sari Paints. “I had never been that light ever.”

“Bleach baby, we love bleach,” Hinckley says merrily, brush in hand. Mac, Hinckley’s sweet-faced Pekingese, clicks over and settles beneath the salon chair. His fur is an enviable shade of pale gold, and his fanned tail has been (safely) dyed the color of the season: a creamsicle peach.

Once relegated to the mohawks and buzz cuts of punk rockers, Hinckley says unnatural colors are more and more accepted in “work environments… If someone’s a court reporter, they might not want to walk around with pink hair,” she says. “But maybe like a rose gold or something.”

When all the bleach has been applied, Inturrisi’s hair is as stiff and white as a nun’s wimple and wrapped in protective saran wrap. She sits for a while as Hinckley takes Mac for a stroll. Across the salon, another hairdresser is adding a shaved line to a high and tight buzz cut, and an aspiring hairdresser is shadowing a dye job, asking questions about how long it takes for the effects of the bleach to develop.

When Hinckley and Mac return, it’s time to rinse and tone Inturrisi. When all the bleach has gone down the drain, Hinckley adds a gray-blue toner and begins to work it through the hair until it’s a wizardly silver. “She likes that very light, smokey blonde,” Hinckley explains.

After the toner, Hinckley moves to the blow dryer, spooling Inturrisi’s hair out with a round brush. What looked silver in the bowl dries to a supernatural platinum. Inturrisi is thrilled, but if her new hair color is more fun, it’s not exactly carefree. “It’s definitely a struggle,” she says. “There’s so much upkeep. Being blonde is a full-time job.”

Hinckley agrees, but says it’s worth it. “Hair is so important. You wear it everyday.”

Sari Paints Creative Space
963 State Street, New Haven (map)
Tue-Thurs 10am-8pm, Fri 9am-7pm, Sat 9am-4pm
(203) 494-9684 | [email protected]

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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Sorrel is a California transplant to New Haven. She studied English at Harvard and fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She spends her free time among her house rabbits and houseplants, looking at maps of Death Valley. She loves New England for its red brick and rainstorms and will travel great distances in pursuit of lighthouses and loud music.

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