Donna Alberico for The New York Times
MANY women go to a salon to relax, but I find the experience exhausting. It’s not just the time-consuming appointments. It’s the vast array of products and services available and the decisions to be made about them, usually while I’m frantically tapping out office e-mails or on a cellphone conference call, pretending to be at my desk.
For the hair: flippy ends or stick-straight? For the brows: thick or thin? For the nails: classic red or tangerine tango? Most often I mutter, “Just do whatever you want,” with sometimes disheartening results.
The beauty industry has sensed my weariness. In the last few months, quick-service hair, makeup and nail salons have opened in New York and other cities, each with a very limited list of pre-chosen looks illustrated with photographs (and often cutely named). It’s a sort of pick-one-from-column-A menu to which clients can point, say “I’ll have that” and then get back to their texting.
At Blushington Beauty and Makeup Lounge in West Hollywood, Calif., ose from seven makeup styles, illustrated in a book in which the same model wears each one, from the bronzed Simply Glowing to the winged-out eyeliner of Cutting Edge.
The London nail-art bar Nailporn offers a dozen custom-painted manicures. At Gotham Beauty Lounge near Bryant Park in New York, there are four makeup options: Manhattan Mineral (light and natural), Lady Gotham (sophisticated daytime), Gotham Glam (smoky nighttime eyes) and the Marquee (for those going on camera).
Yana Paskova for The New York Times
The quick-decision factor isn’t the only appeal. With the guesswork removed, clients ignorant of trends can be sure they are getting an up-to-date look. And the limited variables keep the services fast and relatively affordable. For example, at the new Fekkai Summer Style Blow Out Bar at the Frédéric Fekkai Fifth Avenue salon, clients can get one of five signature blowouts for $50; a standard Fekkai blowout is usually $65 to $85, depending on hair length.
One fan of these businesses is Caprice Crane, a novelist, television writer and screenwriter who lives in New York and Los Angeles. When she’s feeling lazy in either city, she drops by Drybar, a blow-dry outfit that’s an originator of the menu idea (it has an illustrated booklet of style options named after cocktails). Drybar opened in Brentwood, Calif., in 2010 and is to open its 15th store this week, in Westlake Village, Calif.
“I just go in and cross my fingers,” said Ms. Crane, who is in her 30s. She usually orders the Cosmo (loose curls) or the Mai-Tai (beachy waves) and gets predictable results no matter which coast she’s on.
“There is a little bit of difference” between the stylists’ techniques, she said. “There has to be. They’re not robots. But usually they can get it in the general area of what you’re looking for.”
And some customers are willing to pay handsomely for predictability.
At Vênsette, a New York service begun by Lauren Remington Platt that starts at $250 for day packages and $325 for evening packages, the signature looks are as much a selling point as is convenience.
Book an appointment online and click one of the eight makeup choices (among them, Sunkissed, C.E.O., Cat) and seven hairdos (Audrey, Siren). Like a glamorous pizza-delivery service, Vênsette will dispatch to your home a beauty professional it has trained for “flawless consistency,” according to the Web site, to “guarantee the highest quality experience, no matter which team member arrives at your doorstep.” the TLC television series “What Not to Wear.” Plug in your skin tone, hair color and eye color, and the app explains how to achieve any of 10 faces: Black Tie has bold lips and big lashes; Holiday Party metallic highlights.
Most of these services are in the affordable-luxury range. Drybar blowouts are $35 or $40; a Blushington full-face makeup application is $40. For $35, Bb. StylingBar at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street store will create a Downtown Updo, Uptown Updo or other style from its touch-screen look book. At Barrett’s Braid Bar inside the plush John Barrett Salon at Bergdorf Goodman, braids start at $45.
For salons, the established choices are good for business. When Uni K Wax Centers, a Florida chain, began franchising in 2007, the company added a $25 service called Celebrity Brows. Customers select a shape from photos of 30 stars, including Tyra Banks and Vanessa Williams; waxers use plastic stencils to recreate the star’s arch and thickness.
The stencils are, as much as anything, an educational tool for the waxers.
“You can train people to do legs or bikinis all the same way,” said Noemi Grupenmager, Uni K Wax’s founder and chief executive. “But eyebrows are a very personal skill.”
Ordering up another woman’s eyebrows seems mechanical to me, especially if every other client is having what you’re having. At the three Uni K Wax Centers in New York, about 80 percent of the Celebrity Brow customers choose the same celebrity: Catherine Zeta-Jones — because her brows are, well, middlebrow.
“They don’t have much of an arch, and they’re between thick and thin,” Ms. Grupenmager said. “They are nothing very special.”
Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Blushington Beauty and Makeup Lounge in West Hollywood, Calif.
The cookie-cutter feeling was in full effect recently when I bellied up to Drybar and ordered up a poufy Hot Toddy (the only style on the menu for shorter hair like mine). Around me, every Rapunzel-haired customer seemed to have chosen the same Cosmo curls. I pointed this out to my stylist, who charmingly agreed. “It’s like a little hair factory,” she said.
Of course, patrons aren’t forced to conform to the menus — there’s plenty of customizing and substitution. Still, it’s only a short leap to imagine a party full of socialites in the same Vênsette Grace Kelly red lips and Oscar French twist, and from there an entire nation of look-alikes with nothing-special eyebrows.
Carmindy, of the makeup app, calls her highlighting technique being “Carmindized,” and at Gotham Beauty Lounge, I overheard a stylist pronounce to another customer, “You’ve been Gothamized!” Do women really want to be -ized?
Even some proprietors are skeptical of the uniformity they offer.
At a press event when Nailporn opened in April, its owner, Sophy Robson, was surprised to find the beauty-editor guests picking the same manicure: animal-print spots on a pink-to-peach ombré background.
“Girls are funny like that,” Ms. Robson said. “A lot of them are happy to have the same thing as their friend. Personally, I’m the exact opposite. I want something different.”
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