Mad About Hue


Kim Vo on the latest trends in haircolor: cascading highlights and using extensions to create highlights and lowlights

Clothing styles, hemlines, color palettes: They change so fast it can make your head spin, but I see the same thing happening in our business, too. Just three months ago—on these very pages—I wrote about the shift to one-dimensional color. Don't look now, but it's over.

That's not to say you can't give a client the all-over gloss of a gorgeous single-process chestnut. Far from it; I encourage you to give your clients precisely what they want if it flatters them and keeps them coming back. But for those of you who want to be on the cutting edge of style—and who serve clients who want to embrace the newest look at all times—you need to know about (drum roll, please) cascading highlights.

The concept behind cascading highlights is to mimic the young, fresh look of 20-somethings, who have strongly pigmented hair, so the color isn't subject to radical change. Other than the natural lightening imparted by the sun, virgin hair at this age generally stays the same shade.

Getting that look at just about any age can be done with haircolor. (Ah, we beauty pros are such magicians!) To achieve it, paint the color on with a brush, feathering from roots to ends. The application should be thinner at the roots, gradually fanning out and getting thicker toward the ends. Natural haircolor is always lighter at the ends from the sun, and that's the look you're after. The diffused contrast and depth that result do wonders to enhance skin tone. Just take a look at Gisele Bündchen and Kate Hudson, whose cascading highlights look more like a gift of nature than the work of a colorist.

Duplicate Gisele Bündchen's gorgeous haircolor using Kim Vo's cascading highlights technique.
Duplicate Gisele Bündchen's gorgeous haircolor using Kim Vo's cascading highlights technique.

Another trend we're seeing is the use of extensions to create highlights and lowlights. Of course, they still do a fabulous job imparting volume, but now they've taken on an additional role. Here's why: Hair extensions are colored with a textile dye, so they don't fade—ever. The shade you start out with is the precise shade you end up with, making it easy to add dimension to hair without worrying that the color will change as time goes by.

I prefer using about 20 pieces, so it's a pretty simple, noninvasive process. My preference is to do a "contour express"—adding different colors to maximize depth and richness. Teri Hatcher is a fan of this procedure, but don't let her know that I told you.

Clearly, the popularity of different haircolors and styles will come and go. For some clients, sporting the hottest trend is a top priority. For others, it's nothing more than a passing fancy, and they'll hold onto their tried-and-true look, for one more season at least. The point is for you to know all of the options available and then to match them to your clients for their ultimate satisfaction. —E-mail Kim Vo at [email protected].