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What we talk about when we talk about Hair Wars

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In an age where a showdown between Kanye and 50 seems to draw more attention than so-and-so's potential running mate, maybe the spotlight is aching to warm another subset. That's just what David Humphries, Detroit-based founder and producer of Hair Wars, thinks: "The rappers have been in the spotlight since the early 1980's and it's bigger than ever. But it's time for a new type of celebrity." Enter the hair star...
So here we go: David "Hump the Grinder" Humphries (pictured with George Clinton) dishes on Motown, presidents, "hair theft," and what it's like to be the vanguard of "Hair Entertainment."

David, Hair Wars has a giant fan base--comprised of people passionate about experimenting with aesthetics, and probably also some people who don't know much about hair show culture but who relish its OTT aspects and want to seem hipper than they are. Which, hey, includes me. What do you think is so attractive to people about this movement?

It's creativity in its rawest form. We represent the artists and entertainers with imaginations, along with skill. The sky is the limit to these hair stylists' concepts. They are true hair entertainers and they create their own stage names, their images and coordinate stage performances - bringing you a barrage of fantasy hair that will explain why some people treat them like underground rock stars.

sdIt seems people consider "the hairy-copter" the pièce de résistance of Hair Wars. Can you talk a little bit about its importance in furthering your brand, or do you think there are pieces that deserve more attention?

The Hairy-Copter is definitely our signature piece. The first one was created in 1991 by the late great Mr. Little, and a photographer from the Associated Press came to the show and put it on the wire. It ran world-wide, and ever since, everyone's been wanting to see it again and again"“ and several stylists have created different versions. We even held Hairy-Copter contests. People definitely connect Hair Wars with the Hairy-Copter and it does help promote our name and the hair entertainment industry. Sometimes But as old as some of the hair stylists think it is, I encourage them to keep showing that Hairy-Copter and it doesn't hurt that it gets lots of media attention. So I tell the stylists who think it's getting old, to keep showing that piece of history. It's like the Temptations have to keep performing "My Girl"--because it's a hit.

One of your newsletters seemed to imply there is an actual hairy-copter. As in, the Air Force One of Hair Wairs. Is this true?

Naw, but some people do believe there's one out there somewhere. We run radio spots sometimes with me shouting over a helicopter soundtrack, giving updates of hair happenings in the streets and salons. However, it would be nice if one of the TV stations let us decorate one of their choppers so we can cruise for real. Who knows, maybe one day we'll have our own, with the Hair Wars logo on it.

What is in a Hair Wars stylist's tool belt?

Cutting Shears, combs, bobby pins, hair clips, hair spray, some silky oil, curling irons, a blow dryer, a CD, and maybe even a battery-operated motor and a serious attitude.

Your nickname is Hump the Grinder. Can you walk us through how this came about?

I'm from a family of "Humps" "“ coming from Humphries and Hump The Grinder came from my dj name when I began doing parties at Oakland University outside Detroit. When I graduated from school, I was going to drop it, but I couldn't "“ the name was out there, so I decided to keep it forever. The name fits me pretty good. I am a "Grinder." I'm like the hockey player who goes into the corner and scraps for stuff all game "“ It doesn't stop.

I understand you have a new book coming out with photographer David Yellen. What do you look for in a good hair photographer?

I met David Yellen and Johanna Lenander when Hair Wars presented "The Battle of America's Hair Entertainers" at the Apolno Theater in New York. He was shooting the show for Life Magazine and he said he wanted to shoot a book about Hair Wars and its interesting characters. He had a hook up with Powerhouse Books and he was prepared to hang out with us on the road. So he followed Hair Wars all over the country for about 2 years and was welcomed inside our world. His skills--and equipment--were top notch. So was his personality--he seemed to be really feeling it. Then when I saw his photos, I'm like damn, you can see everything--the good and the bad, all the flaws, the pimples on the forehead, the glue on the tracks. David Yellen did an excellent job.

As I'm sure you've seen, people can become obsessed with their hair. Have you ever encountered cases of extreme obsession (for example, trichotillomania)?

Yes, I've met people who can't even go to the store without their hair being in perfect condition. They carry a mirror and hair spritz everywhere they go and they're forever touching it up"“-I'm like, why don't you put on a damn hat and leave it alone.

Which celebrity has hair you'd love to get your hands on?

Probably Beyoncé because her weave is so long and silky. Can you imagine how tall that do would stand? And the way she moves, she would work the hell out of it.

You've said one of your goals is to bring "hair entertainment" into the mainstream. What is the essence of this kind of entertainment, and why do you think the climate is right in the United States for this kind of revolution?

I didn't know this was a revolution. I just know that we've been cultivating this hair entertainment concept for a long time. I do see hair stylists as future superstars. I mean, what else is out there? Has there been something out there brewing throughout urban America? The rappers have been in the spotlight since the early 1980's and it's bigger than ever. But it's time for a new type of celebrity. The hair entertainers have their names, their images, the stage performances "“ they are packaged to be stars. And the shows are developing into a multi-cultural event. It's for everyone who wants to be entertained - you don't have to be connected to the hair business to enjoy a show. It has the feel of a sporting event or a concert with mostly women "“ it has a fresh, new, clean-cut approach, with raw and funky edges. It's definitely outside the box. But who knows when the major sponsors will see the value of the hair entertainment industry? There's a chance it may bust wide open in Europe before the U.S.

Who are your inspirations?

Cedric "Ricky" Walker, the creator of UniverSoul Circus. I used to work for him during the days of the New York City Fresh Festival "“ the world's first major rap tour. He grabbed the black circus idea and ran with it. Others who come to mind would be Muhammad Ali, George Carlin, Don King and both my Mother and Father.

What do you think of the hegemony of fashion stylists? Do you feel there's a point at which stylists should let their clients go, or do you think it's acceptable to have someone in your life who tells you what to where and when?

I think the celebrities feel too much pressure about what they should wear. Forget the critics and wear what you feel. Just be YOU. Dress the bgst that fits you and don't worry about winning a fashion award. But many celebrities give the media and fans what they want "“ a fashion war.

How would you define style?

Sharp. Neat. Original. Slick. Head-turning.

What do you think hair should smell like?

Real fruit--like lemons, peaches, bananas and cherries.

We were in touch earlier this year about getting you on Dream Vote, and it broke my heart that we couldn't get to watch you cruising down 75 in your own tour bus. Can you give us an update on where you are with that dream?

I'm still holding the shovel for the ground-breaking ceremony of the Hair Wars Headquarters and the Hair Wars U.S. Tour Bus hasn't left the paper yet--it looks good on paper, too. But in reality, no major sponsors have stepped up--yet. I do feel that the right situation will happen and even more hair stars will be born.

What's the biggest misconception you think people have about Hair Wars?

Lots of folks think it's a competition "“ they're always asking "who won?" Hair Wars is a showcase. It's entertainment. Some think Hair Wars is just for people in the hair business, like a trade show, and others think it's a black thing or it's just for women and gay men. But once they attend an actual show, they realize it's for everyone.

What's the biggest mistake people commit when wearing or caring for a weave?

Trying to make it last too long. It's like a car, it needs maintenance. Get it re-done!

sdDo your stylists copyright their creations? Is there much concern about idea theft, etc. in Hair Wars?

I don't believe it's a practice for stylists to copyright their creations. I'm not sure about how they really could protect their ideas. They do talk about who stole what style and they have their ways of trying to prove they originated a particular design. But yes, there is rampant 'hair theft' going on. And as far as people using the Hair Wars name, lots of people have used it at one time or another, and it keeps my lawyer very busy. Some are innocent "“ but others are trying to be sneaky and try to mislead people into thinking they are the original. Or they'll call it Hair Warz with a "z." But with all of our history and all the documentation on the internet, it will be very hard trying to pass as an impostor.

I live in LA, and people here tend to be pretty obsessed with grooming their pets. Have you ever been approached about styling dogs or any other kind of animal? If you could style the "hair" of any animal, what would it be?

Yes, we've had dog-lovers on the stage a few times, sporting some hair dos that were looking better than their handlers. One of our stylists in Pittsburgh, PA "“ 'Weaven Steven' Noss, was asked to style a lady's poodle for some special event. And she paid much more than an average hair do would have cost. If there was one animal I would style, it would probably be a grizzly bear--if I could keep his big butt still. 

Which technological invention has helped hair styling the most? Is there one you'd like to invent?

I would invent "It Styles While You Sleep Hair Do." Go to bed nappy and wake up happy.

What are you currently reading?

Standing In The Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson. I really like the book (I just finished it today), because it exposed a lot of behind the scenes activity of the Motown sound. These musicians were in the background for a long time, but it was their music that made it happen. I also have a close connection to the early Motown days. I went to elementary school with Berry Gordy's children (Berry, Terry & Hazel). I was real close to Terry and I used to ride in the Motown Records limo sometimes when I would ride with the Gordy's to their house and play in their backyard tree house. erSometimes we would stop at Hitsville U.S.A. (Motown) on the way to the house. Hazel Gordy was my dance partner at one of her birthday parties, where just about everyone from Motown was present, and we got $2 each for winning the dance contest. And plus, I played the upright bass in school, starting in the 4th grade. So there were many reasons to get a hold of that book. Berry Gordy is also one of my idols because of how he created stars from the streets of Detroit "“ very similar to what I've been doing with the hair entertainers. 

If you had to advise 2008 presidential candidates on their hair, what would you say?


Most of the 2008 presidential candidates have real simple hair. I would like to see something done to Hillary's do. ewIt has potential, but it's very bland. She needs to add some extensions so it can flow more. I can see some streaking in the hair to add color and some layers to give it that "˜up-to-date' flavor. She would look 15 years younger and it would add some sex appeal and probably help her attract the younger voters. Right now, I would say she's sporting a "˜granny do.'

ertWhich president has had the best hair?

President Ronald Reagan. When the helicopter landed on The White House lawn, his neck would be flappin', but his hair always stayed in place.

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Natasha Zinko
This Just In
This Jeans-Inside-Your-Jeans Look Will Cost You $695
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Natasha Zinko

Besides a few updates here and there, the classic style of denim blue jeans hasn’t changed much since the late 19th century. Now, a London-based fashion designer wants to disrupt the wardrobe staple. Their revolutionary new idea? A second waistband sewed on top of the first one.

According to Mashable, these high-waisted double jeans from Natasha Zinko are retailing for $695. Wearing the pants makes it look like you forgot you already had jeans on and put on a second pair on top of them. But buying two pairs of designer jeans to wear at once would probably be less expensive than owning this item. The double jeans are actually one garment, with the high-waisted inner pair stopping at the hips. Boasting seven pockets, they’re not entirely impractical, but having to undo two sets of buttons and zippers sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

Model wearing double jeans.
Natasha Zinko
There is a market for high-end blue jeans disguised as fashion crimes, as Nordstrom proved earlier this year with their $425 pants covered in fake dirt. The Natasha Zinko double jeans have already sold out on

[h/t Mashable]

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Lucy Quintanilla
13 Stylish Facts About dELiA*s
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Lucy Quintanilla

Millennial women across the United States will remember rushing to their mailboxes after school to grab the hottest catalog of the ‘90s: dELiA*s. The groundbreaking magalog, which debuted in 1994, was, by 1998, sending out 55 million catalogs a year. REaD oN fOr A fEw fUN fACts aBoUt dELiA*s.


Stephen Kahn and Christopher Edgar, former Yale roommates, were in their 20s when they started dELiA*s in New York in 1993. Kahn—who, after Yale, had studied political philosophy and Victorian history at Oxford—had taken a job at the brokerage firm PaineWebber and was studying for his MBA at night. But he was bored. He wanted to run his own company. “I was interested in being more creative,” Kahn told Crain’s New York Business in 1998. “And I wanted to make a lot of money.” He convinced Edgar to leave his comparative literature Ph.D. program at Columbia University to start the company. Kahn provided $100,000 of his own money, and his father provided another $100,000.


In the early ‘90s, 90 percent of catalogs were aimed at women aged 30 to 50; it was seeing fashionable undergrads at Columbia that inspired Kahn and Edgar to launch a catalog aimed at selling clothes to college-aged women. They called the catalog dELiA*s. (Where that name came from is a mystery.) Initially, they created 20,000 catalogs and, in 1994, hired students to distribute them around college campuses.

But the response from college women, Kahn told Chief Marketer in 1998, was “lukewarm.” After running ads for the catalog in a few magazines, they found a new market: the college students’ little sisters. “We got a huge response from high school kids,” Kahn said. “So basically the market found us.”

They expanded their customer base to include 10- to 24-year-olds with the goal of giving girls who might not live in areas with tons of shops for them an opportunity to buy cool clothes. (Fortune’s summation of the company’s strategy, from a 1997 article, is too amazing not to share: “Today’s average 14-year-old girl in Des Moines is just as hip to what’s hot as the 14-year-old in suburban Los Angeles … She, too, wants shiny avalanche pants and baby-T’s, but she’s stuck in the backwoods with nowhere to shop but her local Wal-Mart. Delia’s body glitter, like Dorothy’s red shoes, transports her from the farm to Melrose Avenue.”) “We felt that this group was not well served,” Edgar told The New York Times in 1997. “There wasn’t a recognition of these kids as real consumers.”

The first catalog hit campuses in the fall 1994, and quickly became a hit: Within four years, the company had annual sales of $158 million. When it went public in 1996, Kahn’s 57 percent share of the stock was worth $163 million.


In the ‘90s, it was tough to get investors to put their money into catalogs. According to the Los Angeles Times, they “often doubted that teens will bother to leaf through pages and manipulate measuring tapes.” But dELiA*s was able to land financing by comparing its catalog to MTV’s programming. “We told them to think of us as a ‘channel’ through which you can program different types of apparel brands,” Evan Guillemin, the company's chief financial officer, told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. “We, like MTV, stay constant … but we’ll provide them with a constantly changing assortment of designs and brands.”


The cover of the first-ever dELiA*s catalog
The cover of the first-ever dELiA*s catalog.
Courtesy of Charlene Benson

With its irregular capitalization and engaging photos, dELiA*s was a standout from the start. That strategy came from creative director Charlene Benson and her collaborators. Benson was the art director of Mademoiselle magazine when she got the dELiA*s gig—and she kept that day job for a full year while producing the catalog at night.

How Benson got the dELiA*s job is what she calls a “folksy” story: One of her friends, the writer Hilton Als, met Kahn at an art show, and they got to talking about the catalog. Benson went in for an interview. The office was casual; “It looked like they had collected all the furniture off the street,” Benson tells Mental Floss. “They didn’t really have an idea of what it should be yet. They wanted to know if I knew how to put together a photo shoot, how to do the layout, how to talk to printers. It was more of the business part of it.”

Given pretty much free rein—albeit on a shoestring budget—Benson hired some help and got to work … at night, after she finished at her day job. And though she loved working at Mademoiselle (which was, she says, “wonderful”), dELiA*s gave her a different kind of opportunity. “I did all of the things that I didn’t get to do at Mademoiselle—choose the pictures where the girls were making faces, and have kind of more chaotic layouts, and just have a certain kind of fun and a certain kind of real girl-ness that I always missed working at a Condé Nast fashion magazine,” she says.

That included randomly capitalized type. “We really liked that mixed up and down type,” Benson says. “Sassy had kind of done something like that [before dELiA*s] and we really liked it. But because I was such a bad typist a lot of times my typing would kind of look like that, so it was like, ‘This feels right.’”

Benson didn’t do any market research to create the catalog, but she did look at teen magazines that were available at the time. “When I looked at teen stuff it was a lot of ‘how to kiss a boy,’ or ‘how to know if he likes you.’” She and her team decided to do the opposite: “It was kind of like, ‘Let’s do something where that’s not in the picture yet or maybe it’s not the most important thing to her—that she’s more creative, and she’s more interesting, and she’s more about her friends still.”

The copy in the catalog (an example: “wOulD YoU rAtHeR bE iN a cAve oF sNakEs oR a bAthTub fUlL oF sluGs?”) also reflected that—something Benson says parents appreciated. “I got a lot of nice notes from moms that would be like, ‘Oh thank you for the funny copy. My daughter and I had a really beautiful moment reading it together.’”

The first catalog, which Benson says “wasn’t totally baked,” was a huge success; Edgar came back to Benson in two months and said they’d sold every piece of merchandise. “He was like, ‘So we want to do another one,’ and I was like ‘Wow, didn’t you find that first one really difficult?’,” Benson says, laughing. “And so we did another one. ... I did that for a year and was still working at Mademoiselle and I just basically had no life,” Benson says. After that year, Kahn and Edgar asked Benson to come on full-time, and she left Mademoiselle. “That’s really when we made the catalog grow.”


Though no one knows where the name Delia came from (Benson calls it "one of the great mysteries"), according to Jim Trzaska, dELiA*s' photo producer, there was a fictional Delia who “was supposed to be a girl’s girl who loved hanging out with her friends above all else, and dressed for herself rather than to attract boys. That naturally set the tone at the photo shoots as well.”


A page from the Summer '97 dELiA*s catalog.

Rarely will you find a girl in a dELiA*s catalog smiling; she’s more likely to be making a funny face or looking like she’s having the time of her life. They were looking for a particular type of girl, Benson says—someone who was expressive. "Sometimes I would ask them, 'Do you want to be an actress someday?' The actual shoots were super fun. We just had the funniest crew, and the stylist that we worked with consistently, Galadriel Masterson, was just really, really funny and she had this way of teaching the girls how to be on set and how to express themselves. She had a really good idea for how to put the stuff together because we weren’t match-y and we weren’t outfit-y. We just shot a lot of film until we got the funny pictures we wanted." Benson brought on Kevin Hatt to photograph the early catalogs, and later, Mei Tao shot them.

According to the models who participated in those shoots—who typically had already appeared in teen mags like Seventeen—they really were awesome. “Every single one was fun,” model Kim Matulova told MTV. “There was always a lot of energy and it was very natural, unforced, and spur-of-the-moment. [The photographer] would just turn on the music and let us girls do our thing, and he’d capture it.”

The photographer shot on Polaroid, and the models would get to take some photos home at the end of the shoot. “I have a huge box at my mom’s house full of old Polaroids and outtakes,” Matulova said.

A page from the Summer '97 dELiA*s catalog.

The crew also had a strategy for getting girls to let loose. “One thing that always got a big reaction from everyone on set was a fake boy named ‘Billy’ who was invented by our lead stylist, Galadriel Masterson,” Trzaska told Refinery 29. “Depending on what kind of mood we needed from the model, ‘Billy’ could be anyone from a shady ex-boyfriend to a bratty little brother or a gay best friend. He definitely helped us get the shot on more than one occasion.”


Miranda Kerr, Brooklyn Decker, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Cassie, and Krysten Ritter all struck a pose for dELiA*s back in the day.


Courtesy of Charlene Benson

According to Chief Marketer, by August 1998, Delia’s was receiving 3000 to 5000 catalog requests every single day. (Some outlets suggest the number was as high as 7000 requests a day.) The company had a whopping 5 million names in its database, each one accompanied by its precise order history.

According to The Cut, 4 million people—or 10 percent of the 40 million female Millennials currently living in the United States—have requested a dELiA*s catalog.


Not surprisingly, dELiA*s' massive success led to a number of “magalog” competitors, including Zoe, Wet Seal, moXiegirl (or mXg), Alloy, Airshop, and Just Nikki. But Kahn was not threatened by the competition. “People will try to play catch-up,” he told Chief Marketer. “There will be a shakeout on the imitator side. Most of these guys will lose a lot of money for a long time.”


Droog, a.k.a. dELiA*s for boys, launched in 1998. Though it, too, aimed for a market Kahn and Co. thought was untapped, its approach was different than its big sister’s: Instead of being shot in a studio, Droog was shot in fields and parking lots. Its centerfold featured a car, shot head on, bearing a license plate which read “Droog.” The name was the result of a company contest. It was, Kahn told Catalog Age in 1999, a “natural progression from dELiA*s” that featured “streetwear, workwear, and urban and athletic lines.”

Sadly, Droog did not find the same success as dELiA*s; according to Catalog Age, it folded in 2000.


Contents, which featured roomwares for teens, launched in the late ‘90s. Says Benson, who collaborated with a designer named Whitney Delgado on the catalog: "I love the pictures so much, and those crazy rooms that we built."


A Delia's storefront.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Following the launch of its website in 1998 (which, according to Chain Store Age accounted for two to three percent of the company's total sales in just two weeks online), dELiA*s began opening brick-and-mortar stores in 1999. Creating the look of the stores was, according to Benson, a tough but rewarding assignment.

To help, the company enlisted visual merchandiser Renee Viola and hired store designer John Farnum, who had worked with Nike. “The tricky part was like ‘OK, we have this thing, it looks like this and feels like this in print. How do we bring what’s happening here into the stores?’” she says. “We didn’t want to lose what we had. From a design standpoint and a building creative team standpoint, it was super fun—I haven’t been in a store development process that was so collaborative since. It was quite wonderful.”


In 2003, amidst decreasing sales, dELiA*s was sold to Alloy, its former competitor, for $50 million. (Catalog Age called it “one of the hottest pairings in teendom since Britney and Justin.”) Alloy at first absorbed the company; then, two years later, spun it off again so it was a separate entity. In 2014, after it lost $57 million, dELiA*s filed for bankruptcy; all of its retail locations and its website were shuttered by March 2015.

But that wasn’t the end. In early 2015, Delia’s was purchased by Steve Russo and other investors and relaunched that August. “In speaking to women who came of age in the ‘90s, they all said they couldn’t wait to receive their dELiA*s catalog in the mail after school,” Russo told The Huffington Post. “The company in those days was visionary, with its inclusive product assortment. We saw an opportunity to revive that excitement in every girl again through print catalogs, exciting new social media campaigns, and a strong e-commerce presence.” You can shop here.


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