Everyone has people in their life that they will never forget. Sid grew up in a small town in Mississippi, and it astounds me and the girls that he can remember the name of every neighbor, every teacher, and every classmate going back to kindergarten – all of them; first name, last name. For me, it is a bit of a blur. Names from all of the different towns and schools kind of float around in my head without the clarity he got from living in the exact same house for 18 years. My standouts are the extreme highs and lows... the low being Mr. Koch, the mean gym teacher who was so fierce about the rope climb. It was such pressure trying to shimmy up to the ceiling with the entire class watching you. Or dodgeball – to this day I cannot understand actually standing in a line and waiting to get hit with a rubber ball. Miss Look, on the other hand, was the kind art teacher who made me feel special in fifth grade. (She was very young and very pretty and very soft-spoken... of course.) I can still remember her praising the painting I completed for the Pop Art Logo project – instead of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup, I did the Mayflower moving van logo. Wow. As a mother that choice now strikes me as tender and a bit sad. At the time I was just thrilled by the compliment.
These people, high or low, are no longer in my life, and while I may remember their names, I have no real reason to think of them. But Xanthipi Joannides is another story. She was a boss of mine at Glamour, where I went after I had spent a year and a half at Vogue under the relentlessly dramatic Polly Mellen. Humiliated on a daily basis, nails chewed to the quick, I had developed more fortitude there than I ever thought possible... even after the sixth grade rope climb. At Glamour, the pace and intensity was not nearly that of the 13th floor that was Vogue (metaphorically it was more like the 11th floor; a few notches down.) It was still deadline-driven, but securing Look #17 from Calvin's spring show was not life or death. So I was not prepared for the easygoing, low-key, cool boss that Xanthipi would be for me. She was amazingly interesting-looking... very petite, with red hair and a strong nose. Just really striking. She was Greek (can you tell?) and lived out in Connecticut, with what seemed to me a very European, multigenerational way of life – my dream, actually! Her mother lived with her and helped with the children, and her husband was the stay-at-home parent. Ahead of the times in 1989. On top of that, they were close friends with their neighbors Keith Richards and Patty Hansen. Just way, way cool.
Anyway, I think of Xanthipi nearly every day. NOT because she was one of the women who taught me about work and life and fashion, though she was. But because she taught me to use the hair hook that I would use EVERY day for the rest of my life. It was a complete gamechanger. Who knew that it would be so transformative, but I can tell you that this little trick has turned into my most useful skill. (That, and being able to whistle VERY loudly with my fingers – I do not remember who taught me that over a long summer in Wisconsin, but I should, since that was a gamechanger too.)
With this hair hook, I can make a chignon - that STAYS PUT - in a matter of seconds. I have very thick hair, and I am way too impatient to take the time to blow-dry it. So being able to roll out of bed, run a brush through my hair, stick a pin in it, and race out the door, is helpful and wonderful. I can even put it up after a shower, while it's still wet, and it stays even better that way. Of course a ponytail is just as fast – and I love the look of a bun or a braid. But with the pin you get this clean, chic little shape, and it won't leave a hard crimp in your hair like a hair elastic will. This is why it has kind of been my signature since age 27. I myself have passed along the favor, and taught other women what Xanthipi taught me. And I am telling you now... you really do need this magic hair hook. I love them so much that we make a few versions in solid brass. My latest favorite is the slim one – but mostly because it is the newest. I have been wearing the thicker one for years. And my friend Kendall Conrad makes a sterling one that is beautiful if you are more of a silver girl. You can do almost the same thing with a long straight pin, too – it will just look like more of bun. We make really pretty, simple brass ones that are heavy-duty enough to not slide out. It's the more elevated version of putting your hair up with a pencil.
It is a real treat to have options that can be dressed up a bit and feel more luxurious - my original go-tos were the plastic tortoise ones I would get from the fancy drugstore just up Madison from the Glamour office. Even better were the ones from France – they looked mostly the same but just seemed to last longer and didn't snap as easily with the weight of my heavy hair. Go figure that the French would have cracked the code on chignon accoutrements! But after a while they would always bend or break at the tips, so to me, one made out of metal is genius. There IS a trick to it that takes a little practice. Basically you gather your hair into a ponytail, then twirl it into a bun against the back of your head and roll it upwards. Insert the pin from one side, and then do a sharp U-turn even closer to your head to secure it TIGHT. I twirl mine clockwise, and put in the pin from the right side, but I think it could go the opposite way if you're left-handed. Try it out and let me know. Once you've got it, you can take your hair up and down in seconds. There are lots of Youtube videos that will show you how, but for me, it was the hands of Xanthipi (actually, we called her by the more Americanized name Cynthia) patiently guiding my own hands through my hair and encouraging me to "feel" the pin digging in and out of the chignon to make it stay just so. I am forever grateful. And maybe now you will be, too!
a quick tutorial - background music is for Xanthipi