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‘Do or Dye : Hair in the ‘90s? Go for color--any color. And if you’re feeling bold, move on to the fried and dyed, the poufed and puffed. And for the baddest of bad, the Afro is back.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The weapons of choice included hot combs, flat irons and styling gel. The soldiers--clad in the antithesis of drab Army fatigues--hit the battlefield in updated Afros, chromatic ribbon curls and razor- sharp wedge cuts.

War had been declared--the “California Hair Wars"--and stylists from around the country converged at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel on Sunday for some fierce strand-to-strand combat.

Before a crowd of 1,700, hair designers from 23 salons across the country showed off the breadth of their artistry--from fried, dyed and laid to the side to poufed and puffed to sheared and shaved.

At stake were the reputations of rising stars in the hair world.

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“Who’s the Baddest? We’ll let the crowd decide!” promised the flyer.

But they couldn’t be too bad. Nudity and profanity--say, in song lyrics--was expressly forbidden by Hair Wars organizer David Humphries. “We want this to be a family show,” he explained.

(And it was--until a pair of male models stripped off their leather coats, then stripped off their designer jackets to reveal very defined chests, then stripped off their designer pants to reveal very colorful thongs.)

With a burst of strobe lights, the show began. A disembodied voice seductively described what the audience was about to see: “A flip, a dip, a wrap . . . " Oooo . Aaaahh .

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The designers set the mood with throbbing music (including, inexplicably, the theme from “The Pink Panther”), dramatic costumes and hip choreography.

And no one walked down the runway. Naomi, Claudia and Elle could all learn a dip or two from the “I’m Beautiful, Dammit!” struts of the models of varying ages and sizes.

Interpreting it all was LaToya Pearson, the self-described “internationally known commentator” whose dulcet tones launched the proceedings. She delivered a peppy poem that summed up many a look: “Short and sassy/she’s so happy/because her hair/isn’t nappy.”

The stylists themselves weren’t so profound. When asked to describe their own particular hair philosophies, they all seemed to be reading from the same script.

“I’m trying to bring the ‘70s to the ‘90s,” said Maury, the barber from Chicago’s Straight Drama shop.

“We like to do classic, avant-garde looks of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and give them a ‘90s twist,” said Cheryl Parks, owner of In Vogue Hair Designs in Upland.

What gives hair the all-important ‘90s twist?

First, color--any color. Hair as green as the real dollar bills taped to a model’s swing skirt. Or streaked as blindingly white as lightning. An L.A. salon called the Mane Cut Above featured four models in gold, silver, red and black Afro wigs and matching satin gowns. Later, the models discarded their wigs and their hair color still matched.

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Parks created candy-colored ribbon curls as well as red, black and green sparkling Afro puffs (paired with cascading mane and sexy trailing bang).

Shape also informs the ‘90s twist. If you ask Maury the barber, he’ll say, “I just call them Afros,” but he’s done more than that. While the old Afro was an unleashed reflection of the demand for black power, this new version projects controlled, assured power with shapes perfect and still, as though cut from marble.

Sunday night’s event was the second Hair Wars that Humphries and his partner, Garey O. Fields, have staged in Los Angeles. To give the evening a strong community appeal, USC basketball coach Charlie Parker was honored with a service award. After he took a turn on the catwalk.

In the end, though, the event was about the celebration of the latest and greatest in hair. As Pearson encouraged after every stroll, “Give them a hand for the hair.”


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