Colour theory and the contribution of colours to hairstyles
Interview with Annie Humphreys, International Technical Director of Vidal Sassoon organization,
responsible for the development of colouring and perming techniques
Q Most people thinkthat when they want to change the colour of their hair, they just need to go to the hairdresser's and choose the colour they want from a shade chart. Does it really work like that?
A Well, no. If a client comes in, picks a colour from a shade chart and expects her hair to turn out just like that, she's going to be disappointed. For example, if you have dark hair and choose a light colour, it won't work because dark hair has a lot of natural pigments. You need to understand how these pigments interact with each other and with those of the colour you want to add. To be a good colourist, you need to know at least a bit about colour theory to be able to make it work for you.
Q So, it doesn't work like "painting" like most people think.
A No, because you haven't got a white canvas, you have to take each person's individual hair colour into account. If you put the same colour on both black and light brown hair the result would be quite different.
For example, what you perceive to be black is in reality blend of blue, red, brown and yellow. Now, if you try to make that hair lighter, the first pigments to come out are the blue. After this has happened, the hair will not reflect blue anymore. This process continues with red, orange, yellow, and so on, right through the colour spectrum. Depending on what colour you want to achieve, you would need to add pigments not naturally present in the hair.
Colours are part of the light, so, what you actually see is what is left after all other colours have been absorbed by the surface of something. Let's take an extreme example. You nay think this chair is grey, but in reality, the grey is the result of the interaction of many bright colours. The surface of the chair absorbs all colours except red, yellow and blue, and the blend gives you grey.
What makes the whole thing complicated is that you operate by subtracting. If you want something to look, let's say red, you need to choose pigments which absorb every colour but the red. If you want it to look green, then you must make sure everything but blue and yellow are taken out. That's why you need a good command of colour theory if you want to be a good colourist.
Q It sounds like you've done a lot of studying. How, when and why did such a theoretical approach become relevant for you?
A Looking back, there were two aspects, technique and fashion. When I started, back in the late 50's, the chemicals available were not very sophisticated. We still used the so-called "progressive colours". With those you had to be very careful and work very quickly because the colours got darker the longer they stayed on the hair. Of course, the other thing we did at that time was bleaching. Then, when more sophisticated colours came in, we could start thinking about doing something more complicated.
The other side of it is fashion. In the 60's people wanted to be noticed, so they liked the colour of their hair to be dramatic. At that time we did a lot of very strong blacks, whites and reds to emphasize the perimeter of the shapes.
This lasted until, in the early 70'sr we started working on the first of the so-called "Texture" techniques, the >Concave<. This technique enables you to achieve particular movements, textures and volume by cutting different lengths inside the hair shape. The shorter hair is stronger and helps direct the longer hair. So you can make hair look heavier in certain parts of the shape and lighter in others. During that time, we learnt new ways of exploiting the synergy between cuts and colours. This made it possible to create new and exciting shapes.
That's where the new colourants came in and where colour theory became key for us. We were already aware of colour theory because we needed it to understand what happens when you take out certain pigments. But we didn't use it to actively deceive the eyes. With the "Concave" technique, we started to explore how we could actually influence the shape perception by using different colours
Q Was this theory your main source?
A Well, we did read other theoretical writings. But this colour theory is so comprehensive. Inspiration also came from impressionists, e.g. from Seurat's pointillism. This gave us the basis for our "Spotlighting" technique which we then developed further into "Flying Colours. There, colour is applied with a comb to emphasize certain areas of he haircut. Because this technique is very flexible it is often a client's first introduction to hair colour. Q Why don't you just explain how all this works by commenting on one of the step-by-step demonstrations |printed in this book? I suggest we take the "Inside-out"? A Well, the amazing thing is that with the new cut and the I new colour, the girl looks more natural than she did before. The cut is a layering technique which gives a rounded shape whilst maintaining a definite outline. Then, to accentuate the shape we used a blend of blonde tones reflecting through the hair.
We did it in this particular way for technical reasons. All those brown and reedy tones made her hair look very flat, which had an influence on her entire appearance. We wanted to make her hair come alive by making it brighter overall, but with the emphasis on the hair layers below the surface of the shape, so generating strong blonde reflexes. And because your eye catches bright colour first, especially the yellow tones, the movement of the shape became stronger.
Her hair glows now - and just look at her eyes, they've come alive. She looks much more natural now - very simple.