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How to Be a Perfect Brunette

Also known as, how to be Sofia Coppola.

Courtesy Images/Getty ImagesClockwise from top left: Sofia in 2013; Vogue Paris 2004; Louis Vuitton (2); Trios
Sofia Coppola

Bill Murray tells Scarlett in "Lost in Translation," “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” And for the most part, I find that sentiment to be true—except when it comes to hair color.

Plenty of press abounds on the difficulty of achieving the perfect baby blonde hue, but as a naturally dark brunette who has for the past year been searching for the next “thing” after a hardcore ombre phase and knows exactly what she wants with visual references to prove it, I can tell you it's the dark-haired sisters not the towheaded Lisbon ladies of the world that really suffer.

Getty ImagesSofia in 2013
Sofia Coppola

One brunette whose color is always spot on and dominates my Pinterest boards is Miss Sofia Coppola. I have her December 2004 Steven Meisel Paris Vogue cover framed in my hallway and although the photo is black and white, her perfectly imperfectly placed highlights taunt me daily. I rang up Sofia’s colorist and friend Louis Licari and compelled him to share all about her hair. Turns out he’s been taking care of it for 20 years—ever since her dad wanted her to go darker for her role in the "Godfather Part III." Here’s what he had to say:
 

Getty ImagesSofia in 2003
Sofia Coppola

“Sofia is a cool California girl, so she does crave a lightness to her hair. The trick to making it appear totally natural is to keep the root a bit dark, just a quarter inch of root length. When coloring brunettes, the hair around the face is crucial—it shouldn’t be too light. Brunettes often have a yellow undertone to their skin, and when you create lighter colors around the face in similar tones this can wash out their complexions.

I use foils for precision and multidimension. I think bayalage/hair painting is amazing but it's best for hair that is above the shoulders or shorter, otherwise it can lead to the appearance of two-toned hair, which is something we are definitely moving away from.

I also constantly tweak Sofia’s color depending on season. Complexions and styles can vary! I apply shades of dark gold, caramel and even paler gold, but I never go too yellow as I want to always complement her amazing Italian skintone.

I think that is very important when hunting for a colorist: He or she needs to thoughtfully consider your complexion and lifestyle before reaching for the mixing bowl.”

I revisited my cherished December 2004 issue of Paris Vogue which Coppola guest edited (I know, I know, Single White Female, much?) and discovered Sofia favors French Leonor Greyl Eclat Naturel, a nourishing styling cream for dry hair, and Louis Licari shampoos. I also hit the streets of NYC to hunt down some classy brunette broads—couldn’t resist a street style moment. Click through to check out what’s inspiring some of the coolest dark-haired ladies in town and who is responsible for their enviable color. I conducted a more in-depth interview with West Villager and stylist Jessica King because she wins the prize for my "real girl Sofia," not because her hair color is most similar to Coppola's but because I think her hair captures something new that we brunettes are all craving. To quote Jess, “It’s sun-bleached, undone and natural, like I just got back from camp.” Jess also named her second daughter Indigo. Take that, Beyonce.

Photo: Jane HouleJess King and her beautiful hair
Jess King

Jess King, New York Daily News, Fashion Stylist

Q: Any big hair disasters?
A: I've never had a disaster that I recognized at the time. I’ve been ice blonde, had magenta tips, did half blonde/half black—not until later did I realize I looked ridiculous.

Q: Any brunette hair idols?
A: Alexa Chung is my Patron Saint of Brunettes. Lily Aldridge and Gisele have the beachy thing down pat.

Q: How do you describe your desired color to Mai* at Bumble and Bumble Downtown?
A: I always say I want to look haphazard. Sort of random, undone and natural, sun bleached ... like I just got home from camp.

* note from Mai, Jess’s colorist: “I tease Jess’s hair then paint on her highlights. Teasing creates a diffused gradient color. I then apply a neutral rich gold toner.”

Q: Any advice to brunettes hoping to achieve your color?
A: If you are bringing a picture to a salon (which you always should!), make sure that person roughly has your skin—what looks amazing on Julia Roberts would look terrible on Jessica Alba. My look is so low maintenance (I have two young daughters, so it has to be) so make sure the roots in your reference picture are relatively close in shade to your natural roots. I do my hair maybe two times a year max, so it has to work in with my very dark natural color that will grow out over time. If you can get it how you want it, it really is the best—I never have to think about it. The only drawback is haircuts. I rarely get mine cut (twice a year) but when I do, I have to discuss the color with my stylist just as much as when I get it colored! Blunt ends don’t work with my hair color. It has to also be very undone and sort of grown out looking.

Q: Do you find you like your hair color better right after it's been done or as it fades?
A: It doesn't matter because it’s made to look grown out anyway, but usually I really appreciate it about a month after. It still looks great and I still have so much time before I have to go back and get it colored again. When I was a blonde, you get a form of blonde-arexia—you're never blonde enough and two to three weeks after you leave the salon (sometimes even less) you have this itch to go back. I never have that now.

Q: Products you swear by?
A: Honestly, Pantene Pro-V Classic is the best shampoo and conditioner ever. My hair is always so soft and looks awesome after I use it. I've tried fancy, expensive shampoos and they just don’t do it for me. I don't wash my hair that often—once every seven or eight days—because I've built up a tolerance to my scalp’s natural oils. It doesn't smell or look greasy, even on the eighth day. I love Moroccan Oil (although after a while it can dry out your hair) and Fekkai Glossing Cream. Also sometimes I will use Bumble and Bumble Bb Straight Blow Dry, and I always let it dry naturally. I only brush it before I shower or in places it's really knotty or tangled, and usually I will do it before bed so it can get tousled again by the time I wake up.

 

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