Just as the Toronto restaurant scene has found success with simple niche menus (Porchetta, Poutini’s) so too has the local hair industry. First there was blo, which opened three years ago and exclusively blow-dries hair, and, now, doll bar inc., a salon that specializes in hair extensions.
On a recent visit, I find owner Melissa McKenzie “growing” a ginger’s hair from 8 to 20 inches by fusing strands of Indian locks (the most compatible with straight Caucasian hair) to the customer’s real hair using infrared light (the same technology used to whiten teeth) and glue. The 35-year-old McKenzie claims doll bar is the first extension-only salon, and her prices ($398-$649 for a full head of extensions) are about half the regular industry cost.
McKenzie unofficially opened the salon last week in the airy, white-walled space at 1099 Queen St. W., previously home to the Industrial Storm furniture store, and plans to hold the official launch in a month. She calls the set-up akin to communal dining: rather than looking at mirrors on the wall, clients sit around the large, glossy-white square bar in the middle of the room facing a receptionist (who will continually offer to grab you something from the Starbucks across the street).
If you’re thinking this all sounds very Sex and the City, you’re right: while I’m there, a DVD of the show is paused on the flat-screen TV, baby-pink glasses of water are served on silver trays and McKenzie, who has rich brown wavy hair (made longer by extensions, of course), both looks like and has the doting manner of Charlotte York.
She opened her business for a simple reason: long hair makes girls feel hot. “The feeling is like working out for an hour and having great sex combined,” says McKenzie with pep, twirling a ginger extension between both hands while her client gets a hair wash. “I think everyone in their life should try it—like, instantly long, bodacious, sex-bomb hair.”
After being a hairdresser for eight years all over town, McKenzie realized girls were tiring of paying the usual $800-1,200 salons charge for extensions. She noticed ads popping up on Craiglist and Kijiji by people offering to do the job for $300 from their home, but when clicking on before-and-after pictures, noticed the environment and results weren’t always professional. After offering the service from her own condo, McKenzie decided to turn her passion into a full-time business. She plans to open a few more Toronto locations starting next year and eventually bring the concept to Montreal, New York, Vancouver and Vegas.
So far she’s had about 16 clients, and isn’t worried about finding more. McKenzie insists when she believes in something—whether a brand of lip-gloss or hair extensions—she can convince you to try it. Indeed, after explaining the process to a few girls who walked in off the street, McKenzie easily persuades them.
“My girlfriend’s getting married in January and we’re all going to get extensions for the wedding,” says a girl with short-blonde hair. “This sounds just about right.”