Bonjour Baliage

The retro hair-painting technique is back.

Randall Nelson
The 1980s marked the glory days for overly processed, teased, permed, and sprayed hair—and the birth of Baliage (ball-y-azh), the system of painting highlights freehand onto select strands of hair that’s now preferred by Hollywood starlets and the New York jet set. Developed by the French to go with their free-form haircutting techniques, it hit Minneapolis in 1987 via hair guru Jon English. The treatment enjoyed brief mainstream success in the late ’80s and has maintained a small but steady following. Now, almost twenty-years later, the second wave of devotees is here—including moi.

My love/hate relationship with hair coloring began when I tried to replicate the beach-blond locks of Beverly Hills, 90210’s Jennie Garth with a bottle of $5 Sun-In and an afternoon at the public pool. A few hours of rays and a lethal amount of chlorine left me with brittle, orangy locks that would have looked more at home on an orangutan. Since then, I have been platinum blond, ebony black, and pretty much every color in between. I have had highlights, low lights, veiling, and toners. After poring through beauty magazines, I found out about Baliage at Jon English Hair Spa—and I immediately booked there with master stylist Daniel Kerscher.

What sets Baliage apart from traditional foil highlights is the freehand application, which is especially great for naturally wavy or curly hair. The technique leaves a soft beachcomber effect, complementing the cut and texture of the hair without any harsh lines or obvious blond streaks that sometime result from traditional foils. Baliage is simple and less time-consuming than foil highlighting. The base price ranges from $60 to $100, depending on the length of hair and color. Kerscher takes large chunks of hair and paints on the highlighting color. The color never touches the roots and is applied heavier on the ends. “This,” Kerscher says, “will give you natural-looking highlights. Sun-streaked hair is always lighter toward the ends.” A roll of cotton sits underneath the roots of the painted hair to keep the color from spreading to follicles. After the highlights are applied and the bleach washed out, a toner is added to reduce brassiness. In my case, the effect was a rich, shimmering, golden tone—and perfectly random highlights reminiscent of a winter spent in Capri.

The eighties comeback may not be entirely bad. Thankfully, it means sun-kissed hair and leggings—not shoulder pads and Aqua Net. Jon English Salon, 1439 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-824-2474.


According to master stylist Daniel Kerscher, you wouldn't wash your silk clothing in hot water and you shouldn't subject your hair to scalding temperature either. He recommends: Shampoo your locks in lukewarm water at the start of your shower. Turn up the heat, message in conditioner, and go about your normal routine. Finally, turn the water temperature back down and wash out the conditioner—but not all of it. Leaving a little will keep hair shafts soft and healthy, protecting them from the elements.