The Dye-Hard Colorist Behind Gaga, Ferreira, And M.I.A.'s 'Dos

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1_AuraFriedman01_112Photographed by Winnie Au
"I was definitely a punk-rock, skater, Riot Grrrl, low-maintenance tomboy," says colorist Aura Friedman from her perch at that refined temple for high-maintenance manes, Sally Hershberger Downtown in New York. In fact, the woman who's brought an extra dose of hard-edged pixie dust to the hair of dyed fashion darlings like M.I.A., Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, and Sky Ferreira never thought she'd be in the biz at all. "When I moved to Northern Virginia in summer ’92," she tells us between appointments, "there was nothing for me to [do], so I ended up getting a job at a hair salon...but really wanted a job at the pet store." Fortunately for us, Friedman's future did not involve hamsters and exotic snakes (at least not directly), but rather she was fated to change how we all look at hair color.

A Riot Grrrl in the world of high-gloss celebrity styling, she's found a way to make shocking pinks elegant, gray treatments youthful, ombre unexpected, and artificial colors beautifully organic. It's no mean feat to lead a revolution that's putting greens, blues, and bright reds in places where no Manic Panic has been before. Though, as we found out in a quick chat, upturning color conventions came fairly naturally to Friedman (after a ton of hard work, of course). Read on.
2_AuraFriedman01_213Photographed by Winnie Au

Introduction to Color Theory
"When I started, I was shampooing, sweeping, doing the laundry — stuff like that — but it turned out to be a really rewarding job. People would ask for me, divulge their deepest, darkest secrets, and I knew, by working their hair, I was making them feel good (that's what I liked the most). Now, I chose color (as opposed to cutting), because I took tons of art classes all of my life, and the one thing my teacher would always say was ‘great color scheme!’ That always stuck with me.”

Self-Promotion
“When I first started working at Bumble and bumble, I went to the PR department and I was like, ‘Hey guys, I would love to do anything that you have, like I really want to do editorial,’ just to let them know. After that, my manager told me that I was ‘overly ambitious.' It was pretty mean. So, I just did it all on my own.”

Natural Woman
“The most important thing to me is that the color is flattering — even if it’s a crazy, kind-of-punky look. I want it to look luxurious and expensive and beautiful. [What] I like to do is emulate natural hair color, so if I'm doing a rainbow-colored hair, I'll keep the root area darker and the hairline and ends lighter. The whole thought is to emulate nature and real hair color (even if it's not!). I get inspired by sunsets and flowers (I know that's super dorky). I once did hair pieces where I copied the inside of a tulip — peach on the outside, but florescent yellow and hot pink inside. I have an idea for an editorial inspired by birds of prey. They have these unbelievable black-and-white patterns on their wings. It’s so incredible the way these ‘unnatural’ colors and patterns actually do exist in nature.”

Skill Share
“When I originally started my Tumblr and my Instagram, it [was] for inspiration and to share my work. I was always that kid on show-and-tell day that would raise their hand every week and be like, ‘I have something! I have something!’ I didn't care what it was; all I wanted to do was get up in front of class and share. Maybe that’s corny, but I just love sharing. Now, though, it actually really helps my business. I have so many clients that come to me because of Instagram or Tumblr.”

Color Shift
“The most exciting thing about color today is how accepted it is. This past Fashion Week, I colored Elaine Welteroth’s [beauty and health director, Teen Vogue] hair green. That never would have flown five years ago. I even have a client that works in finance, and we've been slowly coloring the tips of her hair blood red. If you do it tastefully, and dress and carry yourself in a certain manner, colors like that can fly almost anywhere these days.”

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Grooming by Andrew Colvin.