Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Weighing In on the ‘Callista’ Gingrich

 
 EARLIER this month, two mysterious phone calls came into the Toka Salon in Georgetown, a sparkling emporium that tends to the hair atop some of Washington’s most powerful and prominent heads.

Told that the owner, Nuri Yurt, was with clients, both callers said they sought his opinion of Callista Gingrich’s hair — the strikingly perfect platinum bob, with the distinctive over-the-left-eye swoosh, that has increasingly captured the attention of hairdressers, journalists, and women of a similar demographic worldwide. 

Both times, the callers declined to leave a message, saying they would call back — creating a moment of political frisson at the salon. Mr. Yurt, known for styling Laura Bush when she was first lady, was left to wonder whether the calls were from the campaign itself. Was Mrs. Gingrich interested in switching stylists, and perhaps going for a softer, more touchable, more Laura Bush aesthetic? 

“If I have an opportunity, sure, of course I would like to change that look,” Mr. Yurt said of Mrs. Gingrich. “Her friends and people who know her, they say, ‘Nuri, you should put your hands in it.’ But I never had any chance.” 

Yes, there are pressing issues facing the nation, from unemployment to foreclosures. But there is still room, it seems, to contemplate the fixed pale-blonde halo framing the delicate head of Newt Gingrich’s wife. She has been asked about her hairdo “at every stop,” said Kellyanne Conway, a pollster and senior strategist for the Gingrich campaign. “Men say, ‘I love your hair,’ women compliment her and then say, ‘How do you keep it so perfect?’ ” (The secret: hair spray, specifically Kenra Volume Spray 25.) 

Callista Gingrich’s bob is the latest addition to a distinguished roster of political hair to be parsed for meaning, from Hillary Clinton’s headbands to John Edwards’s $400 trim to the Sarah Palin up-do that even many Democrats grudgingly admired. Mrs. Gingrich’s hair is only the second-most-talked-about of the current campaign season, with her husband’s rival, Mitt Romney, coming in first. Hair is, literally, an extension of politicians’ selves, inviting scrutiny, Facebook posts and hair punditry: What does it say about them? What does it really say? 

Cindi Leive, the editor in chief of Glamour magazine, said it was unfair to judge campaign hair, which exists “in its own realm,” by runway and real-world barometers. 

In Mrs. Gingrich’s case, Ms. Leive said: “I’m just kind of fascinated by the aerodynamic properties involved, and how she gets it to do the exact same thing every time. I couldn’t get my hair to do the exact same thing every day for nine months if you gave me a billion dollars to do it.” 

Political hair, Mrs. Conway agreed, must be seen in the context of a churning campaign that is “uncertain and dynamic and ever-changing.” 

“If you can grab onto four or five things that you can control and that don’t change,” she said, “that might be the proverbial anchor in the storm.” 

So what does the flaxen bob convey? Mrs. Gingrich is “a very fastidious, meticulous, polished person, and that is reflected in her hair,” Mrs. Conway said. 

Others have been less generous. On The Daily Beast, the fashion critic Robin Givhan wrote that Mrs. Gingrich’s “eerily flawless” hairdo, along with other elements of her style, exuded “an excruciating prissiness.” She wrote: “Youthfulness is not her obsession. Control and order are.” 

Gawker wrote that the “butter-blonde helmet is a feat of modern engineering.” 

Holly Allen, of Slate, spent four hours in a Georgetown salon getting her hair colored and cut in an effort to replicate the Callista. Without the signature hair spray (the stylist refused), the bob was a different, more natural, beast. “Why does she do it?” Ms. Allen wrote. “To conform to some ideal of the ‘Washington wife’? To look older, bridging the age gap between her and Newt?” 

(The slender, fair-skinned Mrs. Gingrich, 45, is her 68-year-old husband’s third wife, and began dating him when he was married to his second. All of this may rule out certain hairstyle options that could appear too suggestive, like the popular tousled, sultry looks known as “bedhead” and “beach hair.”) 

Dozens of people have weighed in on Facebook posts. “I absolutely love, love Callista Gingrich’s hair,” wrote Stan Patten, a retired English professor from North Carolina. “It is the one immovable object in a rapidly changing world.” 

In fact, Callista Gingrich’s Hair has its own Facebook page. “Ron Paul challenged the other candidates to a bike race,” one commenter wrote on the page. “Seems clear to me what Newt would wear to protect his noggin. ...” On the day of the Florida primary, another commenter posted, as if addressing the hairstyle, “You were definitely a bit shy of the perfection we’ve come to expect,” adding, “I hope you’re okay!” 

Hairstylists across the country have also taken notice. In interviews, several expressed a longing to see her hair an inch or so longer, perhaps with some layering. Many said they would add some “depth” to her color, to make it more varied. Mostly, they were mystified. 

“Not getting political, because I don’t mind Newt, but gosh, I wish she’d lighten up a little bit,” said Jeffrey McQuithy, the owner of Vis-à-vis, an upscale salon in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. “If I could just reach through the television and kind of shake her hair a little bit, that would be great.” 

 One client, Patricia Queen, recalled sitting down in Mr. McQuithy’s chair recently, and requesting this look: “Something spunky, with movement and natural, a little edge but we don’t want it too edgy. And don’t do a Callista on me.” 

Ms. Leive, of Glamour, could have predicted that. “Is it hair that the average woman who is not married to someone running for president is going to walk into a salon and say, ‘Give me the Callista?’ ” she asked. “Probably not. But it’s doing something specific. It’s sending a message that this is a woman who is not leaving anything to chance.” In a way, Mrs. Gingrich’s hairstyle is an interesting departure from the traditional role of a first-lady hopeful: to humanize her husband and be his more relaxed, down-to-earth half. On the other hand, perhaps some candidates need less humanizing than others. Has anyone ever accused Newt Gingrich of being too controlled? 

For example: Mr. McQuithy, a Republican who hasn’t decided whom to vote for in the primary, said that while Mr. Gingrich’s “ideas and tenacity” are admirable, “there’s all sorts of loose-cannon issues.”
Put that way, might not helmet hair be a reassuring counterpoint? 

As far as the nuts and bolts of the look, Mrs. Gingrich provided some clues, via Mrs. Conway: She has had the look, which she describes as a “classic bob with a swoosh,” since March 2010. She gets it cut once every five weeks, on average; when traveling, she will go to a local salon “when necessary,” but in the morning she generally styles it herself. “It is simple to maintain and does not take much time for daily prep,” Mrs. Conway said. (Mrs. Gingrich declined comment on the color.) 

So what about the tantalizing whispers at the Toka Salon, that Mrs. Gingrich might be considering a new stylist? Not so, said Mrs. Conway; Mrs. Gingrich is sticking with Tatjana Belajic, of the Sugar House Day Spa and Salon in Alexandria, Va. She is, Mrs. Conway said, “very happy” with the status quo.
Deconstructing the ‘Callista’
 
L IKE many hair professionals, Brad Johns, color director at the Halcyon Days salon at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and Chris Cusano, a stylist there, have their own thoughts about what Callista Gingrich should do with her hair. Mr. Cusano would “layer it a little bit,” and cut the hairspray. Mr. Johns would like to see her hair longer, and a darker, more varied blond. 

“Hair color is the icing on the cake, and the cake is the cut,” Mr. Johns said. “And that is too short of a cake and too much one-color icing.” 

Still, they agreed to speculate on the steps that lead to the Callista. 

Cut: “It’s basically just a blunt cut bob,” Mr. Cusano said. Sounds simple. 

Color: That depends on the underlying shade. On gray hair, Mr. Johns might recreate the look using Wella Light Pure Gold Blonde. For those without gray, he might use Clairol High Lift Golden Blonde if they were blond as a child, or Clairol Arctic Blonde if they were not. 

Styling: It’s probably teased with a teasing brush or comb, Mr. Cusano said, then smoothed out. The signature swoop could be achieved by simply brushing the wave, then setting it with hairspray. 

Product: Mr. Cusano said any drugstore brand should work. Mrs. Gingrich, through a campaign aide, disclosed that she uses Kenra Volume Spray 25.



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