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[whitespace] World Famous Hair Salon
Photograph by Jeff Kearns

Cool attitude: The team from World Famous Hair Salon in Oakland wraps up its routine.

Prince and the Bionic Stylist

A more colorful kind of war goes down in San Jose

By Traci Vogel

THE MAN NEXT TO me is screaming. Dressed in a satin button-down, and a leather trench accented by heavy gold chains, he is one smooth operator, and he has lost his cool.

"That's it!" he shouts. "Work it, baby! Work it like HBO!"

The crowd surges forward. Women in the front row stand up and do a little dance, arms raised.

All this isn't for a sport. No, this is serious fun.

This is Hair Wars.

Lashawn Allen
Photograph by Jeff Kearns

Girl Power: Lashawn Allen of Sacramento's Studio 2000 transforms his models into superheroes.

Everyone Knows Prince

It is Sunday night at San Jose's Airport DoubleTree Inn, and the backstage mirrors are crowded. A few dozen women mill about, adding one last layer of shellac to their perfectly flipped, bright pink tresses. One group pauses to pray, while another does aerobic-style warm-ups.

Hair Wars is hairstyling on a collision course with Andrew Lloyd Webber. The brainchild of David Humphries, the musical touring production grew out of informal club nights in the Detroit area, where hair is the stuff of legend. Humphries decided to take the movement on the road, and Hair Wars was born.

This is no slick, depersonalized event: Humphries involves local stylists wherever he goes, and the competition is tough as $80 nails. Hair Wars San Jose corralled stylists from San Jose, Oakland, Seaside, Vallejo, San Leandro, Menlo Park, San Pablo, and Sacramento. Over 30 stylists gathered their own models, chose their music, choreographed dance routines, and--most importantly--created hairstyles that shook, rocked and dominated like the most muscular of pro football players. Er, beautiful football players.

There was hair that rippled in patriotic red, white and blue. There was hair that floated like a butterfly, in neon sea green. There were Pocahantas braids that were three feet of whip-around Technicolor. As LaToya Pearson, the commentator, put it: "You can get the looks from the videos, or just the streets. But wherever you get it, show it off to the beats."

Salon stylist Jai Vee was still in hair school when she first heard about Hair Wars, and she knew that the show would someday be her catwalk to fame. That was in 1998. It took her three years to work up the nerve to participate, and to work up the clientele.

"I had this fear that the models wouldn't show up, or that I wouldn't be able to get models," she says. "All of the models I used are clients, and they just kept telling me, 'Jai Vee, you need to be in hair shows. You need to get your pictures out, get in magazines.'"

Even with this kind of support, Jai Vee, who has been given the nickname "The Fabulous One" by her loyal Sacramento area clients, and is a correspondingly self-confident seeming woman, was still nervous. "I was freaking out backstage, but everyone was in it together." Unlike other stylists, who wrapped their models' heads in plastic, she didn't try and hide her models beforehand. "I had a lot of stares," she says. "I was really confident in what I was going to do. I felt like what I do is an original. Each artist has their techniques on the way they do things."

The inspiration for Jai Vee's creations came from the music she chose: Prince, Janet Jackson, AD's theme. "I wanted to give a show," she says. "I wanted my show to be very entertaining. The first thing I did was to look up music. Prince was like--OK, everyone remembers Prince, everyone knows Prince. And Janet. And, I thought, let me go for a little punk. The music inspired the hair because the music just sets on a certain mode, and when you listen to certain music you get inspired. That's how I came up with the idea to rip up the jeans, and got the attitude of the routine. It was mostly Janet."

Jai Vee's routine, which combined asymmetrical hair with street style, music and the models' tough strut on the catwalk, brought the audience to their feet. I asked Jai Vee if she'd heard the screaming. She laughed.

"I did not expect the audience to react the way they did," she said. "But I can say that I had a fabulous time."

Lisa Anderson, of Badd Girl & Company in Oakland, participated this year for the second time. Before that, she used to travel to the shows in Los Angeles, and she also says, "I just had to be a part of it."

Anderson's obsession was to create a routine around "The Bionic Stylist." "Like the 6-Million-Dollar Man," she says. "With everything going on right now, it seemed to make sense to incorporate the Bionic Stylist into a military theme, so my co-stylist [Nicole Bennett] and I created a kind of historical thing, going from Egyptian times all the way up to now--in ten minutes."

The Badd Girl routine was one of the most ambitious in the show, with a cast of about 20 people, including Anderson's two small daughters. Anderson incorporated lots of hair weaves, which are her specialty. "Every person had hair attached," she says. The choreography, with so many people, was complex enough to require two rehearsals a week for two months beforehand, but Anderson was up for it.

"I've entertained since I was 5 years old," she says. "I've been in dance, ballet, in the Christmas play in Oakland, a cheerleader in junior high, and to incorporate hair into it was a dream come true."

"I think they're gonna remember Badd Girl & Company," Anderson says.

Hair Woman
Photograph by Jeff Kearns

Barely Hair

There is controversy in the world of African American hair. Some stylists continue to push for a more natural look, eschewing relaxers and dyes. Most of the participants in Hair Wars are not exactly advocates of the natural look. And considering the 7.6 percent increase in hair dye sales among African American women in the past year, it appears the trends are with Hair Wars.

LaToya Pearson, the commentator, kept up a running list of "what's hot," focusing on mahogany and hot pink, and the flipped bob.

Much of the hair featured on the runway, of course, wasn't even real. There were weaves, and clip-on braids and extensions. There were full-on wigs. Standing next to the man who had screamed "Work it like HBO" was a man who fell apart every time the hair he admired turned out not to be real. When a woman removed a wig, this man would slump down and wail weakly, "Oh, no, you can't DO that to me!"

It seems the myth of Sampson and Delilah is not so outdated, after all.

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From the November 29-December 5, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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