On a sunlit morning in downtown San Francisco, step into the brick-and-mortar three-story building across from Neiman Marcus, between the La Perla store and the Jimmy Choo next to Chanel. In the elevator, press the button for 5 and you will arrive at Carmichael Salon and Color Bar. It was founded by Angela Burke and Russell Thompson, two of the most talented colorists you’ll find in the Bay Area or anywhere.
The space is beautiful, bright and inviting. Natural light floods through large windows, and the view of high buildings hints at the thrum of the city’s dazzling pulse. Inside the salon, the energy is quieter and relaxed, an escape from the rush and stress of city life. The environment is alive with the excitement of possibility and change that these creative women and men are capable of. The walls are lined with framed article clippings about the salon and their “Best Hair Color Salon” awards from the Bay Guardian in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Carmichael is especially renowned for its stunning color skills – Angela and Russell are experts with over 25 years of experience each, which is why TV, finance, and tech stars in the Bay Area seek them out. The clientele is well heeled but not afraid to experiment. Allure and the New York Times are only a couple of the outlets that have sought their consultation. A few minutes with Russell yielded some great information.
When was the salon founded and how?
Carmichael Salon and Color Bar was founded in 2008, two months before the stock market crashed. It was a stressful time but we are so fortunate to have some very loyal and supportive clients that got us through that rough first year. I started the salon and a year later Angela joined me. We had worked together before and we knew of each other’s commitment to excellence and quality customer experience.
Can you give us some background info on yourself and the sort of clients you’ve worked with?
I started doing hair over 25 years ago in L.A. After five years training in LA, I realized I really wanted to be in San Francisco. I never color and tell, but my clients have been celebrities, musicians, models, and my most favorite are the brilliant men and women I work with every day. They are all super smart and changing the world in their own ways.
What drew you to coloring?
I knew I loved color from the first time I touched my first tube of hair color. I am a painter as well and the two arts feed off each other.
What is the most complex type of color processing?
The most challenging color process is corrective color. Hair is a living fiber, each head is very different. Corrective color requires rebuilding the damaged hair before we can create an even, beautiful shiny color. I love taking something that no one else will touch and making it into a treasure.
Cheryl, their lovely receptionist, greeted me warmly and made sure I was absolutely comfortable. The first part of my appointment was with Tania Aragon, a brunette with striking glass-green eyes. She is a Tier 2 stylist and colorist (stylists are at levels from tiers 1-3, 3 being the highest) who specializes in curly hair and is a curly-haired gal herself. We decided on an overall tint with a glaze, but something low maintenance, so going darker rather than lighter was a natural choice. Tinting my hair with blue would come out nearly black à la Dita Von Teese.
Tania first gave my hair a luxurious shampoo and condition with products from Two Boys and a Girl, an organic, color-safe hair care line exclusive to the salon. Carmichael is continually trying to keep up to date with green and organic technology in the hair industry, something else that drew me to them. I was also happy to find out that a certain percentage of the profits goes towards meals for low-income high school students.
Sitting at the color bar between Angela and Russell working on their clients, I watched as Tania mixed Pravana Chromasilk’s Vivid Blue.
Tania was a student at Miss Marty’s, a beauty school in the Mission, when her talent was spotted by Kenny Berk, an educator and Angela Berk’s husband. She tells me that her favorite hair icons are Larisa Doll and Guy Tang, Los Angeles stylists strongly demanded (so in demand in fact, that they can’t take on new clients for the time being) for their colorful and experimental colors like neons and pastels, and the ever-popular ombré. Her advice is to do my first home shampoo in the sink, as the blue dye stains pretty darn well.
After my dye-drenched hair sealed under plastic wrap bakes under the heaters and I get another shampoo, I’m passed on from my wonderful colorist to the man who will be wielding the scissors. William Strange sounds like the name of a rock star, befitting someone who takes so much inspiration from the realm of rock music. Yes, that is his real name.
William is tall and slim, with a shock of slightly windswept, cool ash-blonde hair. He’s like a softer version of Billy Idol actually. A punk who grew up on a farm in Lubbock, Texas, with a very wicked wit and imaginative vision.
This is a match made in heaven and we talk nearly nonstop about music and fashion, especially the ’80s and punk. (See my companion interview with William.) William was a human resources consultant before becoming a hairstylist later in life, which fascinated me. During his time learning the craft at Miss Marty’s, he was mentored by Kenny Berk, who happened to have styled hair for many a famed metal band in the ’80s such as Whitesnake. William had worked on Tommy Lee’s hair and shows for New York Fashion Week so I had faith with my tresses in his hands.
My hair was just at shoulder length and starting to flip outwards at the ends, which looked very 1960s. Dated is not my look. I used to have Rapunzel-long hair but nowadays I favor shorter cuts – it gives the image of intent and direction. Hair reflects personality and says something about how the person feels before they say a word. I wanted something rock n’ roll and alive, but also a little polished.
The bob appears to be the cut of 2015 but William’s intuitive foresight for trends called it over a year ago. We looked at British cool girl Sam Rollinson for inspiration. Her bob is her signature look and we liked the slightly androgynous and mysterious look it gave, qualities that can be found in the origin of the style.
William has a talent for looking at facial structure and hair type and sculpting the cut around those elements for the most flattering effect. He has been cutting hair for 10 years now but he is constantly learning as well, continuing to take classes to refresh and master his technique (Vidal Sassoon: precise and meticulous).
I watched in the mirror as lengths of hair fell away to jaw length and I took note of his attention to detail. William’s passion for his craft can strongly be felt and his ability to bring others happiness through this tangible art makes his work meaningful.
The bob was subtly graduated, part Vidal Sassoon-blunt with a few soft layers interspersed to diminish some of the bulk of thick wavy hair. William worked with my natural texture to maintain body and create a saucy, slightly messy bedhead look. At the same time, a blow dry or flat iron could polish it up.
The bob’s versatility is part of what makes it classic. My hair was prepped with Redken’s Pillow Proof heat protectant before being blow dried, then it was spritzed with sea salt spray to add texture and mattify the finish.
The last step was the curling iron. My texture is already naturally wavy but we wanted some extra curl for the style factor.
At the end of it, I felt like one of the models or rock stars ready for the show. I could not have been happier if Sam McKnight had done my hair. The joy and care the people at Carmichael Salon put into pampering and connecting to the beauty in each individual make you feel recharged and inspired. I left feeling more like me.