On March 5, I attended Pratt Institute's annual juggling festival (sadly, their last). I have attended many of these over the last 36 years of business and in many ways these events are like family reunions to me - an opportunity to reconnect with many customers, some of whom I have known for decades.
This is a subculture and over the years, other subcultures allied themselves, particularly the poi and fire spinning community and most recently, hoopers - see Viktoria's Secret here and Supercute here. Many are part of the Burning Man community. The festival was held in a large gym and from time to time I would circulate, invariably meeting newcomers.
My eye was drawn to a small group where hair was being examined. I made the acquaintance of Allison Kocar (upper left photo) who, it turns out, was a customer and had been to my showroom but I had never personally met. She was engaged in conversation about her hair extensions which I found extremely striking. I learned that these were rooster feathers, dyed various colors.
I wanted to learn more and do a story. I asked her who does this type of hair installation. She knew of a couple of women. We exchanged emails and within a few days received two names. I chose to contact Masha Lunara - the name sounded intriguing. Masha was extremely receptive to my request to photograph a session. On Saturday April 16, she arranged an afternoon with six models.
Everything was set and I left for for a boutique located at 47-38 Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, Queens. I had expected a hair cutting salon, but found instead Etherea L.I.C., a clothing boutique. I was expected, I was greeted by Adriana the owner and asked if I was the photographer. Masha had called, concerned she was running a little late. No matter to me, it was a rainy day and I had set aside the afternoon.
Masha arrived, quite feathered and easily mistaken for a bird. She explained that for her, this was a spiritual process and that she typically sets up her work space as a virtual altar. Over the course of the afternoon, six women had hair extensions done. The variety of hair styles and colors ran the gamut. Decisions had to be made jointly by both the client and Masha - how many feathers and what color(s). I had full cooperation in a controlled environment, so taking photos was a pleasure. See my photo gallery here.
For some reason I had expected the environment of the hair stylist - running water, shampoo etc. However, the process involved only a few special tools and supplies - pliers for crimping, small tubular silicone coated micro links, hair clamps, a hair hook threading tool, scissors and hair clamps. Hair and a feather are slipped through the micro beads and crimped in place. They can be easily moved or removed.
Feather extensions can be washed, blow-dried, brushed or even curled. They can last up to several months. I can understand the attraction since the extensions are semi-permanent and not damaging to the hair in any way. The end result is quite natural looking and when using undyed feathers and matched to a woman's hair color, blends nicely.
Two and a half hours, the pleasant cooperation of six women and 111 photos later and I should have been satisfied, but I was curious about this rooster business. Perhaps I would be able to find a nearby rooster farm to take photos and include in this story. However, some investigation and I quickly learned that these were not ordinary rooster feathers at all. And all roads seem to lead to Whiting Farms in Delta, Colorado.
My call of inquiry was met with a very pleasant response. I did not expect to speak to the man, however I was told that Tom preferred taking these calls himself. I called the next day - Tom was extremely congenial, apologizing for not returning my call the previous evening as it was too late. He answered all my questions along with follow up emails.
Tom Whiting holds a PhD in poultry genetics. The roosters are bred specifically for the fly fisherman. The Whiting line derives from the genetic stock of early pioneers in breeding for dry flies: Hary Darbee, Andy Miner, Ted Hebert and Henry Hoffman. In 1989, Whiting purchased the Hoffman business. Birds are raised for about one year to obtain the quality needed before harvesting. Whiting Farms supplies over 650 shops worldwide. The feathers are sold as pelts. The grizzly hackle is most desired. The subject is deep and broad. If you are interested in more details, see the Whitings farm website here, a short film here. Tom Whiting supplied me with an official statement directed towards women concerned with the raising, treatment and harvesting of roosters for feathers. You can read it here.
Feather extensions are fast becoming the rage with fashionistas and Hollywood celebrities, male and female. Salons nationwide are getting into the trend and the Internet is full of dealers, supplies and videos. The demand however has resulted in a shortage of feathers, with women purchasing feathers from fishing supply shops. When visiting the Urban Angler for Part 1 of this story (see here), staff member Tony confirmed this trend at their shop with women coming in and purchasing bundles of hackles at once.
With some shops out of stock, many anglers are not pleased to be competing with the fashion industry for fine feathers. Tom Whiting takes it all in stride, anticipating that this will be a short-lived trend. But for the time being, fishermen will have to share a crowded nest with fashion and find they are Birds of a Feather Tied Together :)
Note: My thanks to the models and Masha Lunara. You can contact Masha here.