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Copper hair is having a moment

To successfully persuade Milla Jovovich to dye her hair a career-defining shade of bright copper for Luc Besson’s 1997 sci-fi classic The Fifth Element, hairstylist Ward Stegerhoek appealed to her ambition. “I said, ‘Do you want to be a supermodel, or do you want to be an actress?’ ” recalls the visionary Dutch-born pro, who is perhaps best known for helping craft the artfully disheveled hair of the ’90s via his long-standing collaboration with the film’s costume designer, Jean Paul Gaultier. Jovovich’s bleached roots and neon undertones achieved Besson’s vision of someone who “looked like she came from 20,000 years in the past and 20,000 years in the future,” successfully cementing the “radioactive, almost alien” color into the pantheon of movie moments turned mood-board-mainstays.

According to colorist and Bleach London cofounder Alex Brownsell, Jovovich’s specific tone is behind the brand’s Tangerine Dream, a bright-auburn semipermanent dye that recently eclipsed its popular Rosé, a candy-floss pink, as its best-selling product. “Red and copper are traditionally colors for excitement,” Brownsell suggests as to why the off-kilter color seems to be having a moment: Filled with how-tos and DIY coloring tips, the #copperhair hashtag on TikTok has nearly 25 million views and counting. “Everyone always wants to make a statement after something big has happened,” adds Victoria Hunter, colorist and co-owner of New York City’s Whittemore House Salon, who took model Ariel Nicholson to a rich shade of cinnamon for this month’s cover shoot. “Hair is a natural thing that people go to on an emotional level.”

Emotions are apparently running high. During lockdown, FKA twigs debuted ultra-saturated copper curls, while Bella Hadid began the new year with a set of chunky, Ginger Spice–inspired face-framing highlights; her sister, Gigi, soon followed suit with long, fiery auburn strands for her post-baby debut at Versace’s fall show. “Right now, [it’s about] these dipped-in-Kool-Aid tones and a DIY henna look,” says New York–based colorist Jenna Perry, who, in addition to helping Bella become an instant E-girl beauty icon, has also given actresses Maude Apatow and Grace Van Patten the copper-top treatment. “My specialty is balayage, but I’m noticing a lot of people don’t want to take themselves that seriously right now,” continues Perry, a natural redhead.

It’s not just ’90s nostalgia that’s driving the colour’s comeback. There’s a collective desire for a fresh slate—and becoming a redhead is a change for almost all of us: Only about 1 to 2 percent of the population has naturally red hair. “We came out of the last year like different people, and we want to look like different people, too,” says author Jacky Colliss Harvey, whose 2015 book, Red: A History of the Redhead, chronicles our cultural depiction of these genetically rare heroines. “In 19th-century paintings there was this image of the bohemian woman—always with a shade of wild red hair,” explains Colliss Harvey. “She was the one that everybody wanted to be if they were going to declare their own individuality, independence, and selfhood.”

And you need strength of character to willingly embark on this kind of double-process dye job. “Red-toned hair colors are really high maintenance,” admits Perry, noting that the color requires salon visits every six to eight weeks, and at-home gloss or color conditioners, such as Davines Alchemic Conditioner or Evo Fabuloso Colour Intensifying Conditioner, in between. Even Jovovich subjected herself to weekly touch-ups to maintain Stegerhoek’s blonde-at-the-base, flame-through-the-ends design. “She really did go all the way, and that’s why she nailed it,” he says. But there’s room in the red-led revolution for commitment-phobics, too. “We’re at a point where you can try something for the weekend,” Brownsell says of semipermanent colors, such as Bleach London’s pastel-gold Awkward Peach, which fades in one to five washes. “It’s not going to damage your hair—and you can always switch it back.”

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