Think Differently, Work Fast: A Visit with Haircolorist Jo Blackwell-Preston

New York City is a hustle and bustle metropolis; it’s expected that salon clients demand services that are not only speedy, but done with meticulous results—even if the service they desire requires more time. But, let’s be honest: Manhattan isn’t the only place these days where clients want to be in and out of your chair 30 minutes ago. Today’s consumer is savvy, informed and very much raring to go. This shift in client needs makes it so that you have to think creatively, as Jo Blackwell-Preston, founder of Dop Dop Salon in Soho, Manhattan, did when I recently popped in to have my haircolor done.

See, I kind of let things go for a bit. I was working that ombré color that granted me maybe too much flexibility with when I needed to get it refreshed. By the time I sat in Blackwell-Preston’s chair, my strands were in a sorry state. My Level 5 natural hair had become peppered with what I like to call my “sparkle highlights” (read: grays) to the point of looking muddied in indoor lighting situations. My ends, which had once been a bright flaxen blonde, had dulled, broken and yellowed. I was not a pretty sight.

Before: A sad case of ombré, complete with “sparkle highlights” (grays)!

But I was hesitant. Why? Because as a client, every time I’ve sought a major hair redo, it’s taken whole afternoons to get the right results. I certainly don’t have six hours to wile away at the salon—and I’m willing to bet the majority of your clients don’t either. Even four hours can be a stretch—though it’s definitely a timeframe I’m more willing to work within.

As I settled in to Blackwell-Preston’s station (at 5 p.m.), I showed her my pictures of a blonde Fergie (circa 2013) from the Black Eyed Peas. Her hair was bright, light and very blonde. I thought that an overhaul to my hair—Level 5 roots and mid-lengths that transitioned into hyper-yellow ends—would require multiple visits and countless hours. After all, the narrative in my head said: My blonde ombré certainly will fall off. My dark roots will certainly need multiple toners and hours of work.

But Blackwell-Preston thought differently—and I mean that enough to repeat it: She thought “differently”—and creatively. She used a product in a way she hadn’t before. To break my base, she used L’Oreal Professionnel Majirel Cool Cover. In fact, the results netted such a wonderful outcome, she called over several colorists to witness the color. “I wouldn’t usually use this product to break a base, but because you told me during our consultation that you had concerns about your hair lifting too warm and brassy, I instantly thought of it,” she says. Blackwell-Preston notes that Cool Cover will keep my hair ashy without having to lighten my base. “It’s about getting rid of the darkness. But we also want a cool foundation, and this will stay cool between appointments,” she says. “Now I know I can use Cool Cover for breaking the base. To me, this is a breakthrough. I can tell you this much: I’ll be using it a lot now!”

From here, she applies highlights that get me three-quarters* of the way to that Fergie hue. One and a half hours in, and I’m so much blonder than I had ever thought I’d be in such a short period of time.

“I think people pay for speed,” Blackwell-Preston says. “I do a new client every 15 minutes, and none of my techniques take longer than 15 minutes. So I feel a need for speed.” She breaks down my appointment: Fifteen minutes for the single base break; 15 minutes for highlights; a little time under the heater; 15 minutes for a haircut; less than 15 minutes for blow-drying and finishing. “We didn’t do two things at once on anything; everything is done separately,” she says proudly.

When I tell her it regularly takes six hours to achieve what she did on my hair, she exclaims, “People in New York City are busy! They don’t have hours. That’s why I’m busy, because I do it fast. They’re busy, powerful, productive women. They want to look like they spent five hours in a salon, but they want it done in less than an hour.”

Her next client, a newspaper editor, nods her head. “We’re busy women; we’re on deadlines,” she says—and as I exit at 6:30 p.m. on the nose, I couldn’t agree more. —Karie L. Frost

* Full disclosure: Before I left, we agreed that if I felt the color wasn’t blonde enough (she erred on the side of caution), I could come back in a day—and I did. This wasn’t a bad thing; we discussed me being open to that during my consultation. Blackwell-Preston wanted to make sure my newly flaxen hair didn’t overwhelm me. On my second visit, she added a few more highlights and, one hour later, I was 100-percent Fergie-fied. Altogether, I spent only two and a half hours total in her chair, and I did have the look of someone who spent much more than six.

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