Los Angeles is infamous for its niche beauty "treatments" (Goop-recommended crystal vagina steaming, anyone?), so if there’s anywhere in the world that would have a hair salon just for blondes, it’s here. Located in an up-and-coming stretch of the city known for its Ethiopian restaurants and thrift stores, the first clue that BLONDE / BLOND might not be your average hair salon is the neon flashing sign in the window reading "Home for Wayward Blondes." Once inside, the whiff of bleach, a massive mural saying "Come on in, we’re blonde," and pictures of famous blondes — Mossy, Pattie, and, er, David Bowie — remove any doubt about the hair color of choice here. Kendrick Lamar and Miley Cyrus are on the playlist; presumably Frank Ocean’s Blonde would’ve been too obvious a choice.
Founded by Caitlin Richardson in 2013, BLONDE / BLOND specializes in what it calls the art of being blonde. "There are more shades of blonde than any other color, and getting it right without damaging the hair is an exact science,” Richardson tells me, as she painstakingly fixes micro-foils to the head of her first client of the day. Madison, 25, a veterinary nurse from Culver City, is settling herself in for an eight-hour appointment with (what else?) an iced blonde latte from Starbucks in hand. "It was actually my boyfriend who discovered this salon after another stylist ruined my hair — it was splotchy — and I came home crying,” says Madison. “Caitlin worked her magic over two nine-hour days and now I’d never go anywhere else. If you want to get the results, you have to spend the time.”
For most people, going for gold takes effort (only around 2% of the population is naturally blonde), and as a species, we’ve been finding ways to lighten our locks for thousands of years. In ancient Rome they used pigeon droppings, wood ash, and quicklime. During the Renaissance it was horse urine, squirted into hair and fitted into an open visor called a "solana." Whether because of their association with youthfulness, their rarity, or just because they're flattering, flaxen locks have long been prized. It’s said that Marilyn Monroe refused to allow any other blondes on her sets. Hitchcock liked to cast blondes because, he said, the color is "like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints."
Currently, the bright-blonde heads of right-wing pundits like Ann Coulter and Kellyanne Conway, and First Daughter Ivanka Trump, have meant that peroxide has become politically charged, roped in with a particular brand of white privilege.
“There are so many types of blonde out there,” Richardson insists. “There’s Surfer Blonde, there’s Socialite Blonde, College Blonde…” The colorist, who has a background in painting, a tattoo of Eva Perón on her upper arm, and is today wearing her hair piled into a messy bun, describes her own shade as “Ralph Lauren blonde,” and tells me that she’s been blonde all her life, "bar the dark ages in my 20s". Her favorite blondes include Lara Stone, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and — somewhat incongruously — Jane Goodall, the primatologist.
I had imagined that BLONDE / BLOND might be full of Legally Blonde-style sorority sisters with their tiny dogs, and many of the clients I meet are indeed white women in their 20s. But the salon is committed to inclusivity, and finding everyone their perfect blonde, regardless of age, skin tone, or natural hair color. There’s Deborah, 58, who works in IT and has been bleaching her hair platinum white for six weeks. “I was amazed when I discovered there was a salon just for blondes,” she says. “But I love this color. People tell me I look 10 years younger.” There’s Brandi, 30, who’s Black and training as an assistant under Caitlin, and has blonde “baby lites” in her extensions. As she mixes up the lavender-colored bleach we talk about how many Black and Latina women come to the salon to go blonde, inspired by the likes of Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez.
Vanessa, 26, who's of Mexican heritage, has worked for Caitlin for six years and specializes in ethnic and textured hair blonding. “I think blonde is intriguing because every strand is different,” she says. “I didn’t ever imagine that I’d end up working in a hair salon just for blondes. I always joke that the blonde life chose me.” (Vanessa has a way with catchphrases: I later overhear her telling Brandi, “If in doubt, foil it out!”) Kyza, 29, an assistant who has recently moved to L.A. from Arkansas, estimates that she tears off over 1,000 foils on a busy Saturday.
As someone who’s naturally a rather fetching shade of mouse, I’ve experimented with various blondes over the years. There was the inevitable Sun-In fail in my early teens, the stripy highlights for most of my 20s, and even a Courtney Love-inspired peroxide-white phase. I’m currently growing out some ancient balayage, or, as Caitlin puts it as she holds up a wedge of my frazzled, half-assed ombré: "You look like you’ve spent six months at the equator.” When designing the perfect shade of blonde, Caitlin takes into account a client’s lifestyle, career, wardrobe, daily schedule, and even their workout plan. Although I’d love to go blonder, I’m not dedicated (or rich) enough to spend every six weeks in the salon, so Caitlin suggests doing some "reverse balayage," which involves coating sections of my hair in a conditioning mask, wrapping it in plastic wrap, then applying a toner to even it all out.
Caitlin’s clients book their appointments months ahead, send her Pinterest boards with their desired blondes, and visit the salon from as far afield as Dubai, Paris, and Australia. But after three hours in the white leather chair, I’m done. “You’re a perfect Natural Dark Golden Blonde,” announces Caitlin triumphantly, as she takes pictures of my new look to add to the salon’s Snapchat story. I strike a pose in front of the selfie-ready ring lights. BLONDE / BLOND has another satisfied customer.