Wertz had never undergone such a dramatic makeover before, and in most circumstances wouldn't have been able to afford one. She was one of the first to avail herself of the Huntingdon Valley salon's new Starving Artist promotion, which offers free makeovers to visual artists willing to bring a piece of their work into the salon and place themselves fully in the hands of its stylists. They respond with a new look created with the artist's work in mind.
"Artists put all this creativity and vision into their work, but they might be reserved, almost shy in their own personal image," said BLue owner Will Bostock. "This is about unlocking what we see in them but they may not allow themselves to see."
Photographer Rebecca Adair, a recent graduate of the University of the Arts, brought a piece she'd shot with a pinhole camera using a 20-minute exposure time. A mysterious, semitransparent figure sits, fading away against a hauntingly bright background. "This is part of a series that is all about memory," Adair said. "Each image has a personal meaning to me, but each of them is ambiguous enough that anyone can have their own interpretation."
Adair admitted she had trepidations about the makeover. "I was worried because [my work is] kind of colorful, but I'm not a colorful person. I'm glad that Will grabbed onto the parts that I like about my work. I haven't cut my hair since December and that was at Walmart, so I needed this."
Bostock drew on the diffused, translucent feeling of the photo to devise Adair's new look. He cut her hair to shoulder-length, and stylist Billy Nicgorski teased and bleached locks of her loose brown curls.
"Her picture has that airy, otherworldly feeling," Bostock explained, "which gave me the idea of doing her curls so . . . you get that sense of standing on an air vent like Marilyn Monroe. The idea is to give them something that represents who they are. It's fun to see them how they are and to say, 'I see you like this.' "
Nicgorski continued, "I feel like this is the Hunter S. Thompson way to do hair."
Minus its more debauched extremes, Thompson's gonzo attitude might be an apt description for BLue's take on hairstyling. Bostock, a native of the area, has owned BLue for 14 years, the last seven in its current location - what was once the Lady Washington Inn. "It had been a hotel for almost 200 years and there was a tavern here at one time," Bostock said. "So it had this great energy because it was a place where people gathered."
He tries to maintain that energy today, hanging work by local artists on the walls, and hosting live jazz bands on Saturday afternoons. "People get healthy working here," said Nicgorski, who has known Bostock for the better part of 20 years. "The environment is cool. Will's got a great vision and when he designs or creates something, it's going to be awesome."
The Starving Artist promotion is a community-oriented initiative. While the artists don't have to donate the work used for their makeover inspiration, those pieces that do stay will be auctioned off at a party at the close of the open-ended promotion, likely in November. Proceeds from the auction will go to Startup Corps, a Philadelphia nonprofit that helps young entrepreneurs. Bostock foresees future installments, with free makeovers for musicians or dancers or writers.
"Everyone who works here is here because they wanted to be a part of something creative, something different," Bostock said. "Day to day you don't get to do full-blown makeovers with asymmetry and multilayered colors. This is a great opportunity to really push the envelope. And the artists will be our advocates, rocking great hair on the street."
While they have run advertising targeting the creative community in the past, this promotion is their most aggressive outreach to cultivate artistic clients, and it's in keeping with the approach Bostock has taken over the years that has allowed him to maintain his vision.
"You can't just sit back and wait for it to come to you," Bostock said. "In the city, you might be lucky enough to have it just show up on your doorstep, but here we have to be forward."
Artist Stephanie Righetti brought in a painting she'd created of a bright orange flower, rendered in acrylic and metallic pens. At the end of her appointment, orange blazed through her black hair, which now eclipsed one eye as it fell to her shoulders.
"I was really bored with myself," she said. "I love this, and I'm someone who always hates how I look. But this is like a work of art in itself."