Professional stylists attend beauty trade shows to discover latest trends and industry happenings from big brands and platform artists. I worked this circuit for years, during which I noticed a preoccupation with straight smooth silky hair as the shining embodiment of American beauty. The marketing angle changed from "Straight" to "Frizz Free" to "Smooth and Silky" but the hair always looked more or less the same, which, as a lover of deconstructed textures, tapered edges, and offbeat styles I thought a shame, and something I challenged with the way I cut and styled.
In 2010 I was prepping a model at America's Beauty Show in Chicago. I wanted to add soft wavy texture to the hairstyle; as this was an impromptu decision, I didn't have all the necessary tools to do a perm to hand. No problem, I thought, as I asked my assistant to go to the trade show floor to purchase the perm rods I wanted. But at America's most prestigious beauty trade show, no vendor had a single rod. It was a light bulb moment. The perm, as we knew it, was dead.
There were some good reasons why a service that was a staple in the 1980s had fallen so spectacularly. Old-fashioned perms could damage the hair, especially if it was fine or fragile. Plus, perming reduced color options, smelled off-putting, and became synonymous with the tight crisp curls that nobody wanted to look at or touch.
The more I thought about it, though, the more it rankled. A quarter-century on from the perm's heyday, surely the technology could be improved? Surely we could create more contemporary, healthier, sexier shapes and styles? Why had the industry let such a lucrative service perish? As a salon owner and professional manufacturer could I change the perception of texture so that Main Street would want something other than a sleek straight style?
I considered the negative connotations of perming, and of how waves and curls had come to be thought of as untidy, inelegant, outdated. This opinion was encapsulated by the British newspaper, The Independent, which in 1997 ran a story titled, "Let's Get It Straight: Curls Are History...." The article told us "Nothing typecasts a girl quite like a head of curls," called ringleted hair "the Miss Havisham look," and revealed "natural curlies are... opting out of a bad hair life."
Conversely, as a professional stylist, I celebrate the kaleidoscope of hair types, shapes, and textures I find amongst the ethnic diversity of the Big Apple. The originality of New Yorkers inspires me to think of different ways to create great hair. But with the negative connotations ingrained, and with the aggressive marketing making most people see straight hair as the most beautiful, how could I return the world's eye to sexy waves, bouncy shapes, curvy styles, the visual interest of textured tresses?
Twelve months of research and development led me to the ARROJO American Wave System, launched in the spring of 2012. It's not only the name that is different from a perm. A perm uses Ammonium Thioglycolate to break the hair bonds so that the hair can be restructured into curls. Breaking the hair bonds so aggressively is damaging, which is why the hair got dry and crispy. Nowadays, advancements in technology mean we don't have to break the hair bonds in the same way. American Wave uses cysteamine, a much gentler chemical, and modern ionic waving lotion to recondition the hair as it restructures the texture. It goes into the cuticle gently, without roughage, frizz, or breakage.
Other benefits also make American Wave a departure from the dowdy days of perming. It works with almost all hair colors; it's compatible with the modern bond strengthening services that also help to maintain vibrant healthy hair; it's long-lasting, with textures gently fading away; it's scented with eucalyptus to mask the odor; and rather than hard rollers, we use soft tools and high fashion editorial styling techniques to create a bespoke and fashionable texture for each client, not generic "poodle perms." As important, the service is enjoyable, not scary; the after-care is easy, not difficult; and the hair is fun to touch and play with, not hard, crunchy, or frizzy.
Since its launch we've shown American Wave-made hairstyles at a cornucopia of global hair and beauty shows, shared it with thousands of professionals who have been certified by the ARROJO brand to practice the service, produced American Wave-inspired editorial images and videos, and in the salon we've used it to make the timeless elegance, beauty and grace of texture a part of the identity of many New Yorkers.
Mindful of the need to change perceptions, we avoided the P-word, encouraging others to do the same, while promoting the idea of American Wave as a texture revolution to fellow stylists, clients, and media. The technology, techniques, and results featured everywhere from The Today Show to The Chicago Tribune to Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Allure.
Concurrently, texture slowly began to trend. In 2012 images of Rihanna wearing a curly shag circulated on social media; in 2013 Allure Magazine stated "more women--celebrities included--are embracing their natural texture instead of fighting it," while girls with curls were told to "go big, like Beyoncé."
Recently, we've felt the interest in texture moving from a trickle to a torrent. With unerring timing Julianne Hough used Instagram to share her new permanent texture beach wave with her fans. The image went viral and suddenly everybody noticed, rather than polished coifs, that editorial imagery and runway shows are showing free flowing waves and curls. Quelle surprise, texture is cool!
StyleCaster came to see us in SoHo to try American Wave for themselves; interest--from stylists who want to be certified so they can practice the service in the salon and clients who want to enhance their hair's texture--is unprecedented. Pioneering products like ARROJO American Wave are instigating a new wave of curl. Women are realizing that today's permanent textures are not your mother's perm; chic chicks are attracted to the idea of wearing popular styles like beach waves with no preparation, curling tongs, or protective products required.
High-end texture services are back in style. I am proud to be on the front line of the trend, and to be part of a healthy, free-spirited, and unrepressed approach to beauty. Hair should make you look and feel young and carefree, sexy and fun and fabulous. So boost your body and bounce, enhance your natural texture, make your roots pop, create sexy tousled beach waves and curls suited to the easy-going and versatile fashion and beauty zeitgeist.
All you need is to American Wave.
P.S. By happy serendipity, with modern permanent textures enjoying a renaissance, Nick Arrojo was invited by Cosmetologists Chicago to present American Wave Trends & Techniques at this year's America's Beauty Show, Chicago.
By Nick Arrojo, Owner and Founder of ARROJO N.Y.C. and author of two books, Great Hair: Secrets to Looking Great and Feeling Fabulous Every Day, and Milady's Standard Razor Cutting by Nick Arrojo
Follow Nick Arrojo: Twitter // Instagram