The Duane Reade at 40 Wall Street hosted the chain's 50th birthday party this week. The ripe-for-marketing festivities included the chance for a lucky contest winner to win $1 million (she won $5,000), a set by D.J. Clue, and a Darryl Strawberry signing (he wasn't the first celebrity in, though — Donald Trump stopped by the opening party last week). But the most extraordinary thing about this evidently glamorous Duane Reade is not the celebrity appearances or fun contests, but the beauty-salon services you can get done there every day of the week. These include: blowouts, hair conditioning treatments, manicures, and brow threading. All services are affordable and take walk-ins. Yesterday, I went to experience the new salon firsthand to find out if the addition makes sense for the store or if it's just weird.
When you walk into the space, you are greeted by a hologram of a woman projected onto a flat cardboard cutout shaped like a person, just like technology I've seen at a trendy New York Fashion Week presentation. She tells customers about everything they can do in this new store and directs me upstairs to the hair salon.
Around the corner and up the escalator, at the counter for what the store calls its Look boutique, a few women are already making appointments for the next day, which the cashiers diligently recorded in an appointment book I haven't seen the likes of since I took piano lessons fifteen years ago. The counter also seemed to function as a cashier, so there was no escaping the reality that this salon, though it is very salonlike in terms of equipment and setup, is still in the middle of the drug store, and some Wall Street banker could ruin any spalike ambiance by sauntering over to pay for his Gatorade at any moment. I told them I wanted a blowout. Immediately. Luckily, there was no wait.
The hairstylist explained that I could get a shampoo and blowout or a conditioning treatment with the shampoo and blowout. I opted for just the shampoo and blowout, and paid before I was escorted to my seat. Blowouts are $35 to $45, depending on length, so mine would cost $45. I was the only person in the salon, which had just a handful of blowout stations. The stylist handed me what was essentially a white lab coat-bathrobe hybrid to wear for the treatment, explaining they use Phyto products exclusively. She would choose a shampoo and conditioner most appropriate for my hair type. Then, in the sticky hot weather, my hair was wavy and frizzy, as it tends to be, and evidently dry enough looking to warrant the moisturizing Jojoba goods.
"So what look are you trying to achieve?" the stylist asked as I sat in the chair facing the mirror over a counter with a sink in it.
I hadn't planned in advance for this since I only ever get my hair blown out after a haircut, but being a fashion writer with a singular focus of late, there was only one answer: "Kate Middleton," I said. "You know, with the bouncy curl at the end?" This is not my personal taste, but I was dying to see what she would do with such direction. Also, I want to BE KATE, as we all do.
"Ah, I got you, I got you," she said, understanding instantly. She turned me around in the chair and pushed a button to electronically elevate and tilt back my seat so that I would be at sink level. That was a fancy touch. What was less fancy was the pressure of the faucet used to wet my hair that caused backsplash onto my eyes and forehead, but I don't think this is the stylist's fault so much as the sink's.
"The foam activates the jojoba," my stylist explained. "We let it sit for a little bit." I'm not sure if my seat was elevated too high or if I was just nervous about the Duane Reade jojoba foaming on my head, but the muscles in my lower neck began to tense uncomfortably in a way they don't when I'm at my usual salon with my usual stylist. She rinsed out the shampoo, added conditioner, and combed out my hair in the sink, whacking the wide-tooth implement against the basin as she did. This was new and rhythmic.
Throughout the service, a couple of shoppers filtered in and asked about booking appointments and prices, but the inquiries seemed more along the lines of "drug stores DO THIS now?" as opposed to serious. The salon is somewhat shielded from the main store, but its two doorways are wide enough for customers to gawk at you from afar as they buy their Cover Girl. No one else came in for a blowout during the hour it took for mine, though my stylist explained the response to the treatments had been tremendous. "We're still trying to gauge what the busy times are, but we were extremely busy all day yesterday," she said. Before working at Duane Reade, she worked at a product-testing salon, and before that "practically every other salon in the city." I asked if lots of girls had come in asking for the Kate look. "You're the first," she said. (Really, ladies?) "But you're the first to have the hair type for it." Since there was no waiting room at this salon and there were no magazines in the vicinity, she worked without a photo.
After we agreed Kate is stunning, she and William look like the happiest, sweetest couple ever, and Pippa and Harry should totally get it on, she finished off my ends with a curling iron for the full Kate effect. If I were the kind of girl who wanted celebrity hair, this curling iron finish would probably really jazz me.
The end result was, as my girlfriend told me later at a bar, more Miss America than Kate Middleton. The curls were more spiraled outward than tucked under, but the overall effect was pretty in that put-together way a lot of girls want from a blowout. The products didn't make my hair feel super soft and fancy, but the look was pleasant.
I suppose $45 is not bad compared to what some salons in Manhattan charge for the same service. (My usual salon charges $60 for a blowout, independent of hair length.) I think the blowouts are too expensive given the quality of the hair products — they left my hair with a Pert Plus–esque coarseness — but the women who work there definitely know what they are doing.
But the best thing about the Duane Reade experience was how lovely the staff was along with the utter lack of pretension — sort of the way Kate Middleton is, in our collective ideal versions of her. What woman hasn't decided to upgrade her beauty routine and walked into a fancy New York salon only to feel, well, like her outfit is too ass-y to belong in there in the first place? That doesn't happen at Duane Reade. And that wouldn't happen if you met Kate Middleton.