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I Tried Marsala as a Hair Color

Turns out Pantone's Color of the Year looks pretty sweet on your head.

A few months ago, Pantone announced that 2015's Color of the Year was an earthy wine red called "marsala." While it was immediately obvious that the anointed shade would work well for leather bags, lipsticks and wall colors — ideal for the downstairs bathroom of my adult dream home — Cheryl and I only had one question: How would it look on your head?

Sure, plenty of people dye their hair variations of natural or unnatural red — but marsala is a very particular shade. Pantone's swatch is deep and a bit brown, with an opaque, grayish tint. It's not the type of thing you can readily recreate using a box of red from the drugstore. So I called up master colorist Aura Friedman to see if she'd be down to use her wizardry to make me marsala.

Well, not me, exactly — but a wig that I could pretend was my hair. To be honest, I was afraid of the commitment (I am a millennial, I live in New York). But in my defense, it does look charming on my bookshelf now, like a very well-trained pet.

The wig was pre-bleached (human hair), so Friedman's assistant started out by dyeing it orange with a combination of Manic Panic's Electric Tiger Lily and Psychedelic Sunset, which she said would help the main layer of red hold its tone better. She left the color in for 20 minutes before rinsing it out, sans shampoo. (By the way, watching someone work frothing orange hair dye into a limp wad of hair in a sink at an upscale salon is both dissonant and very soothing.)

For those of you who are planning to dye your own hair, here's a tip: Use cold or cool water to retain as much of the pigment as possible. Hot water opens up the hair follicles, and red is especially susceptible to washing out. If your sink doesn't accommodate a human head and you don't want to jump into a freezing cold shower, lukewarm will do.

Yum. Photo: Eliza Brooke's iPhone

Yum. Photo: Eliza Brooke's iPhone

Hair pre-dyed, Friedman started doing her thing, using a whisk to mix together Vampire Red (blood-like), Inferno (a brighter red), Venus Envy (green) and Raven (black), adding in some Sally Hershberger Hyper Hydration conditioner to lighten it. Since the majority of the concoction was red dye, a dollop of green gave it a browner tone without stripping it of its warmth. A dot of black added depth.

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Manic Panic colors tend to take to the hair pretty much the same way they appear in the bottle, Friedman explained, but you do need to take into account the hair tone on which you're layering it. In this case, making the wig orange first gave it an underlying brightness even after the whole thing had been painted red.

Side note: A bowl of creamy, whipped hair dye resembles colored cake frosting. You may feel the urge to sample it. Also, I was not the first to ask Friedman for marsala hair — another girl had come in the week before requesting the shade.

After the color had time to process, hairstylist Jae Cardenas took his scissors and razors to the wig — now happily on my head — and, in accordance with the styling principle we'd agreed upon, "f--ked sh-t up." Since the wig was already bobbed with bangs and the color was so kicky, we decided to go with a jagged "Fifth Element"/Karen Elson inspired cut. After blow-drying the whole thing, Cardenas used a curling iron to add some extra texture.

Also, a word to the wise: Don't attempt to put a wig on for the first time by yourself. It'll be a mess. Better tucking in your thumbs at the front to hold it in place as your teammate pulls it over the back of your head. 

The final results. Photo: Eliza Brooke's selfie

The final results. Photo: Eliza Brooke's selfie

I felt very much unlike myself leaving the salon, looking as I did like a television spy on an undercover operation, and went to go meet a friend for noodles in Chinatown. In the fluorescent light of the real world, a look like this stands out, but more so, I found, when you take your wig off halfway through dinner to relieve your real hair of the two dozen bobby pins stuck into it.

The verdict? I'd definitely consider doing marsala for real. Until then, you can bet I'm taking the wig out for a spin.