The Un-Makeover: A Chic Designer Goes Gray

We don’t know about you, but we kind of hate the word makeover. Too often, it feels like a term people use to tell someone that there’s something wrong with them and that it needs to be fixed. We’re fans of the embrace-what-you’ve got school of thought. Everyone has those quirks—be it an abundance of freckles, an unruly cowlick, or some seriously bold brows—that make their look unique...and memorable.
That’s why we’re starting a new feature here at R29: The Un-Makeover. It’s all about taking what you already have and enhancing it in a way that truly showcases your diverse beauty. For our inaugural post, we paired up with the absolutely stunning Maayan Zilberman, creator of The Lake And Stars line of lingerie. The designer was struggling with premature grays, but rather than fighting the salt-and-pepper invasion, Maayan decided to take her hair all the way gray — a dramatic and daring transformation.
We enlisted the pros at the Marie Robinson Salon in NYC to help her achieve her goal. Peep the pics to see Maayan’s new color, plus two gorgeous new hairstyles (how-tos, included!) that accentuate her natural beauty. Watch out Anderson Cooper — there's a new silver fox in town.
Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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Maayan says her natural hair color has always been dark, but when she started noticing the grays in her early 20s, she began dying it black to cover up the roots. "I feared it looking drab, and wanted to maintain a glossy black," she says. "Coloring my hair was just a matter of habit — I never stopped to think about growing it out, or what that would mean."

After an accident left her bed-ridden for eight weeks, Maayan was unable to keep up with her regular hair color maintenance, so she got a taste of what going all the way gray could be like. "I noticed that the gray was sparkly, and a nicer look than I expected," says Maayan. "I always talk about how it's important to stick to your natural look, and to emphasize what makes you unique and beautiful — I felt like this would be a perfect time to embrace that idea."

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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While Maayan was firmly behind her decision, she wasn't prepared for what her hair would actually look like while it was growing out, or the awkward questions she would get from friends and family — Maayan says her own mother went so far as to try and set up a color appointment for her.

"A huge challenge [for women going gray) is blending out the gray gracefully, so the re-growth isn't harsh looking," says colorist Marie Robinson. "The problem is that growing out gray is best done cold turkey — the more color you add to blend it out, the longer it’s going to take to get rid of the old color. I usually tell clients to embrace headbands, scarves and other hair accessories to disguise the growth." Robinson adds that for someone like Maayan, who works in fashion and is expected to present a certain image, her hair might have been particularly distracting. "Growing out gray is very difficult when it comes to making yourself look pulled together," she adds.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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After looking at Maayan's three inches of gray grow-out, her natural dark-brown color, and the dyed hair, Robinson decided that taking Maayan all the way gray was out of the question. "Gray can only be created by nature, and if you want to replicate that, it will require very pale white highlights and weekly toning to keep it silver-looking. You don't want to interfere with the natural growth," she says.

Because you essentially have to bleach the color out of the hair, Maayan says this is definitely not something you should try at home — there are too many opportunities for things to go very wrong. "It's almost impossible to recreate natural-looking gray hair chemically, which is why usually professionals don't even attempt it," warns Robinson. Trying to save a few $$$ by doing it at home could result in orange or yellow streaks, so definitely talk to your stylist if this is a look you are considering.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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While Robinson couldn't safely take Maayan all the way gray, she could help her make the re-growth look more blended and hide that harsh line of demarcation. She did this by creating highlights that followed the natural pattern of the gray growth.

"She had no gray around her face, only her natural dark brown color, and I didn’t want to try to create more maintenance for her — the whole goal was to make this process easier! It was best to go with the natural gray pattern she already had and to enhance that."

Robinson went through Maayan's hair, strategically pulling out sections and then bleached them. After the dark pigment was removed, the hair strands looked brassy, so Robinson toned each highlight to get rid of the yellow undertones. A toner and toning shampoo are your best friends when you lighten your locks, and something Maayan will need to use weekly on her silver strands to help keep them from getting too brassy.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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Says Robinson, "She now has a unique hair color that's completely natural-looking and really flatters her. I was happy that I was able to help create a look to complement her natural hair color and complete her already amazing style."

"I don't feel different, funny enough," says Maayan. "I see the white when I look in the mirror, but other than that I don't think about it that much. That’s how I know it was the right way to go: It feels like I just took off a mask, not like I am in a costume."

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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With her old hair color, Maayan often wore it pulled back or used headbands to conceal the harsh demarcation line between the colors. With that problem now solved, Maayan needed some new style ideas to help her showcase her unique new hue.

"My goal was to give her eye-grabbing appeal, which wasn’t too difficult as she’s already a beautiful girl," says stylist Ryan Trygstad.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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For the first look, he created retro "Housewife Hair" inspired by the '40s, as a nod to Maayan's throwback style. He created a deep side-part, then used large hot rollers to set the hair and create soft, bouncy curls.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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Once the hair had cooled in the set, he released the curls and sprayed them with hairspray, then used his fingers to comb the curls out and soften them even more, without losing that bounciness.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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According to Trygstad, the biggest complaint he hears from women who are going gray is the change in texture. "Most people, when they go gray, their texture changes —more coarse, more curly. It can be hard to know what kinds of products to use on newly gray hair," he says.

When in doubt, ask your stylist. They'll be able to recommend products that will help you make the most out of your new hair texture and address its specific needs.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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Maayan was a big fan of this look, begging us to let her keep it for the rest of the shoot. "I often wear my hair with natural wave, accentuated by curlers," says Maayan. "I love how he styled it; he really understood my aesthetic and it was such a pleasure to have this experience with him."

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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For the second look, Trygstad wanted to give Maayan a chic, sophisticated way to update her everyday ponytail. According to Trygstad, many women with gray hair don't know how to style their locks in a way that will really accentuate its unique beauty, so they just resort to sloppily throwing it up.

"Choose looks that suit your personal style. It will take a bit to get used to it, but once the gray grows in, you’ll feel more comfortable. You can also play with more dramatic makeup, like a strong lip or liquid liner," he says.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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For Maayan's refined ponytail, Trygstad used the roller-set hair as his base, building off the volume of the curls to create what he called that "classic Barbie ponytail."

He started by backcombing the entire head, to give hair that "swollen" volume throughout the crown. He then pulled hair back with a thin elastic, leaving the hair over the ears soft. To finish, he took a small strand of hair from the outside of the ponytail and wrapped it around the elastic to streamline the style. Shine spray and hairspray helped to create the lacquered finish and hold needed to keep the style in place.

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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"These looks were both great for Maayan because she has thick hair that takes a set well," says Trygstad. He loved the ponytail in particular on her because "her face is very angular, so she looks amazing with her hair off her face."

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
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"I wore a ponytail all through my teens, and on most rainy days, so this is a natural [for me]," says Maayan. "The pony Ryan tried here is a new look for me, something I might try if I have time to do all the teasing. I generally don't use product on my hair, so this would be a transition."

Overall, Maayan was pleased with her new look, saying that she felt it helped release her from the fears she had of the common views society has about women with gray hair.

"My mom loved it, and that was really meaningful to me. Younger friends said they thought it was cool, but for me it's not so much about how it looks, but how it feels: Being at peace with how I am aging is the only thing I concentrate on with this experience. Losing the pigment that universally represents sexuality and fertility is definitely something we’re confronted with in our culture today, but what I loved about this experience was that it didn't really have to 'mean' anything. The issue of mortality only applies if you dwell on it. It's kind of an old-fashioned notion to think gray is 'old.'" Hear, hear!

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh

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