BabyCakes ConversationsAura FriedmanErin McKenna

Years before the Ombre hair trend had a name, Aura Friedman was busy tinkering with the look which she called her “surfer highlights”. Her beachy bleach method was made famous when she painted them on MIA’s signature ‘do years ago. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Aura a few years back, and with each appointment, she takes me on an adventure of wild and feminine color. Below is a conversation I had with Aura over bleach and peach toner last week.

When I met you, I knew you were my hair match because you were the only colorist who would go nuts on my hair the way I always wanted to during my wildest hair phase in high school. When did you start exploring the more experimental techniques you have come to make so popular?

“I have always loved playing with paints and mixing colors. That is exactly how I play with tones and colors on hair. I do, however, love beauty, so although I experiment quite a bit on hair with colors and tones, I will only use them on a person if it is flattering to their skin tone, eye color or eyebrow color. I’m also very thoughtful with my placement, always keeping things organic and emulating nature.”

One of the most noteworthy things about you is that you take your clients hair to the edge but still make us look polished and glamorous. It’s such an art to maintain a balance between the two. What’s your trick? 

“Keeping the look organic by emulating nature, keeping the roots darker, end lighter… no matter what color or shade. I also like to accent areas, eyes or bone structure that are an asset and stand out. My goal is to always bring out the beauty and character of the person I’m working with.”

Danielle Levitt for 'Hero' magazine

Before I started seeing you, I had a few safe highlights here and there.  You took me to champagne blonde, and then to a light mauve-y brown, to rich dark brown, then paprika red, then strawberry blond and now back to my more natural tone… Do you find many of your clients doing more fun things with their hair when they see what you can do?

“I’m not sure exactly what comes first – whether it’s that creative minds gravitate towards me or my work and abilities attract them – but I am lucky to have fun open-minded, adventurous clients who trust me to keep their hair from being too gaudy or gauche. I am fortunate to be coloring some of the coolest ladies in NY and LA.”

I notice that you do these incredible color palates on your clients’ hair that are so adventurous and stunning, but you keep yours natural. You’re like a bartender who doesn’t drink! What’s the story?

“For my palates, I am often inspired by art, fashion and film. Lately, the RoseGold and peachy tones have been an exploding trend. I have created those tones for the Peter Som show – Som has a lot of ’60s influence in his work and on his inspiration board for hair and make up.  I have always been amazed by the art direction, hair color and glamour depicted in Playboy magazine in the ’60s and ’70s – those hair colors and tones and matte finish in the magazines influence my palates. Gustav Klimt has a gamete of rich golds and RoseGold that are huge for the spring. My boyfriend, being an artist and painting and creating around me, is a huge source of inspiration.”

In high school, Linda Evangelista was the model on the scene and I was infatuated with her ever-changing hair colors so much that I began dying my hair on my own hoping to get similar results. You can imagine the horrors I went through, but the worst was when I tried to go from dyed brown hair to platinum blonde. It was canary yellow. Tell me about the first non-professional dye job you ever did – was it on your own hair or a friend’s? Any tips for someone wants to experiment at home?

“I did play with friends’ and my hair in middle school and high school. When I was 13, I was friends with this straightedge hardcore band in San Diego called Struggle. We shaved many Mohawks, bleached them and made them green, turquoise and pretty much every gamete. I colored my hair purple when I was 15 with direct dye and made the entire bathroom purple and my hands purple. I was on my to go see Porno For Pyros and I had purple-tinted sunglasses from RonJon Surf shop. I think I saw purple blotches all summer. I definitely do not recommend any kind of home bleaching. If you want to throw a vegetable dye on your natural hair, have fun. In the end, you will probably need a professional to fix it.”

You created MIA’s signature dark rooted hair with bleached ends. What was your inspiration? Did you collaborate with her on it or was it all you? It was quite serendipitous how all of this fell into place.

“I had just gotten on the floor as a colorist full time at Bumble and Bumble and I had to present a model to Micheal Gordon and Howard and Raymond McClaren. My theme was surfer hair color (I even had The Ventures playing at my presentation), which is a version of what everyone calls “ombré” now. It derived from surfer sun bleached hair, so it’s very organic. I was at a Timberline VMA party and MIA was standing in the bathroom line. We chatted – I don’t think at that time many people recognized her, so she was a bit flattered. I was so happy to be able to tell her what a great artist she is that I didn’t give her my card, so I came back to her and gave her my card. She said she wanted to do the Faith Evans color black on top blonde on the bottom and I said she was in luck because that was my specialty.”

One thing that makes me really trust you as a colorist is that your range spans from uptown girl highlights to the more wild and free downtown pinky colors, but under all circumstances, the clients end up looking so effortless and polished. Talk about that!

“I like to be able to chameleon myself and to be able to deliver whatever color is most suitable to the person. I prefer to paint, but unfortunately some have had bad experiences. I am able to foil just the same and it is never a problem. Suitability is extremely important.”

I’m going to go ahead and say that you were partially responsible for that ’90s Nirvana style pink, green, blue and purple hair that has made a comeback. What triggered this for you? Was there a moment?

“Those where the years of my coming of age, when my style was formed (no matter how bad it got), my taste in music and when I started working in a salon at the age of 15, in summer 1992. My dream guy had burgundy hair and blue eyes.”

Sky Ferreira

If I wanted to dump BabyCakes to be a professional colorist, what would you advise me to do? Do I have to go to school or would you suggest I start out assisting?

“You have to get a license to even shampoo a head, so school is a must. Assisting is extremely important. I had to assist all over again – after being a colorist for over 3 years – when I moved to NY. It was worth all the blood, sweat and tears and got me where I am now.”

Which Real Housewives hair do you wish you could re-do?

“Hmm… I don’t have cable because my boyfriend was addicted. Kim, on ATL – worst wife ever.”

Tell me the truth: what do you really think of Lindsay Lohan’s Victoria Gotti ‘do? What color do you think is best on her?

“I love her closer to her natural red tones – gingers are unusual and beautiful. She also looks beautiful with her dark brunette color. It’s very striking on her. There where some blondes that where okay on her, but the white blonde made her look cheap.”

Who has the best hair in the world? 

“You do! I love Florence Welch’s hair.”

Okay, final question. Lets be real: do you prefer to do blondes or brunettes?

“I love it all. Blonde – if it’s appropriate – is beautiful… strawberry blonde, ginger, peach and apricot rule!”

Cclient Aline Weber on the cover of 'Número'

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  1. Thanks Erin for a super cute thorough interview! I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!