The thing is that Southern belles (who, as we all know, are tough as nails and the real bosses of all the territory below the Mason-Dixon Line) still prefer to appear soft. It is more effective, after all, to look like the magnolia and not the steel.
This philosophy is very much in evidence at the Diva Colour Studio, where we go at the crack
of dawn because they are too busy to work us in any other time. Diva is where everybody comes to get her hair done. They come from Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta and of course from all over Memphis to see Roy, who has been working on the sophisticate angle so long he's almost got it. Roy's father was a hairdresser, and Roy himself has been doing hair for 27 years, which means he must have started at age eight. He and his partner, Ted Cortese, grew up together; they always wanted to do this. Once, at a hair show in Paris, they won all these prizes and they stood on top of the Eiffel Tower and vowed they wouldn't stop there, they'd be the best Now, says Ted, they're in business together, their wives like each other, life is sweet. Roy has patented his own hair color, the only all-natural perm (so you can color and perm at the same time), and his own relaxer for black hair. A company in Minnesota is launching his "high definition" hair color; he's doing a chain of salons. In the summer he commutes to his Gulf Coast condo. He doesn't even do cut and blow-dry anymore, but for us he'll make an exception.
"No matter what I say," Roy tells me, "You will hear me finish with the word soft " The first thing he wants to soften is Georgia's hair color. We are back in the land of the natural, as in "I want to get rid of the stripes and make it look a little more natural. The tragic mistake people make when they're highlighting is they do stripes." I don't tell him that in Palm Beach this is not a tragedy but an art form. He's already at work, mixing nine different colors, working with a fine-toothed comb, toning down some of the blond bits, putting his own blond on thin, thin pieces, putting a third, darker color in the back because "hair underneath is darker. I'm starting around the crown where the hair is not naturally exposed to the sun to add depth and get rid of these chunky bits."
They are dying to cut Georgia's hair to shoulder length, the preferred length of their clients, but she is having none of it. They are also dying to give her another one of Roy's inventions, the underperm, an all-natural perm on big rods underneath the top layer of her hair to add volume-but she won't go for that either. While she's having her nails done-a soft (naturally) pink-Anne and I decide we want in on this act. Maybe it's the sadistic hour, the lack of sleep, I don't know, but the next thing I know my roots are being done and I'm getting a perm, something I haven't done-for good reason, I now realize-since I was a senior in high school. But Roy says if I do it only from the crown back, it'll add height and volume, just like Margrit's hairpieces.
Meanwhile, partner Ted tells Anne he can't see her beautiful eyes, so he takes her straight hippie hair and softens it with a layer or two around her face. Then he tells her if she lets him highlight it, it will look "like two lights are shining on it." The amazing thing is he's right. She's dazzling. Her gorgeous green eyes are luminous, and her red hair looks like it's been kissed with gold. I, on the other hand, have acquired a bit too much softness for my taste. Then Roy assured me as he cut that he was "keeping the line; I'm just making it softer around your face." Yes indeed, but I have been work ing on long Galliano-style waves in front, not a trillion feathers, and a sleek flip in the back instead of hunks of permed layers. I scratch it off to research and worry that the staff back at Stephen Knoll in NewYork is going to kill me,but it is worth it just to get my hair washed by the fabulous Rita, a Toni Braxton look-alike in bright orange leggings who clearly keeps the salon together and with whom I discuss the wonders of barbecue.
. Also, I have to say the color is marvelous, shiny as hell,a totally natural-looking brown. The makeup artist, Lee Keating, leans his head over to show me his hair, also colored and permed by Roy. "Touch it," he says. "Isn't it soft?" It is, actually, and so is Georgia's, really blond but subtle, like the makeup Lee puts on her face. It's a message he's trying to push When I do lessons, I have clients bring their own makeup, and I try to eliminate the blues and greens. Memphis women still paint eyes to match their clothes." On Georgia's eyes he puts maize and almond, and pink on her cheeks and lips to match the nails."The hotter it gets, honey, the pinker they go." Roy adjusts his color for the season as well. "Starting about February or March, I start lightening it up, so by the time you hit high June it's blond. Then I start taking it back again starting in late August, September, , adding the natural color back into the hair."
By that clock Georgia has definitely hit high June or maybe even July, but she looks great; she could be queen of the Cotton Carnival or chairman of rush week at the Chi O house. She has lots of loose curls that we casually pull up off her face. Roy tells me he doesn't do updos anymore. Even at night the most he'll go for is a loose French twist. "Look," he says, "if you have a gorgeous gown, nothing detracts from it more. than a big hairdo."
It is his last pronouncement, and just hours later it proves to be true. We are at lunch at the Four Way Grill on Mississippi Avenue, profoundly grateful to be eating the best fried chicken and corn-bread muffins in America, served by a very amused Miss Dot, who has never seen a person as skinny as Georgia eat so much. But there she is, munching on a big bowl of turnip greens and a whole plate full of mashed potatoes with her gorgeous face and her new soft blond hair, and the only thing the ladies at the next table can talk about is her dress, a full-skirted red-and-white-checkered DKNY number. "Oh, Lord, I haven't seen one of those in years," referring to the crino- line underneath. "I used to love to wear a dress like that every Easter." "The skirt comes when you sit down, you know." "I know, but I hear those dresses are coming back." Dress discussion out of the way, they finally look at Georgia. "You sure are pretty." Yep, and soft.