In the fashion world, ombr√© usually refers to a fabric dyeing process that produces a pale-to-dark gradation of color. For our purposes, the order is reversed, but the idea is the same nevertheless¬--hence the name. Technicalities aside, there are many fabulous things about this hair color trend: it's highly economical, incredibly low maintenance, and works with any texture or tone. It also can easily be dialed up to a punkish look (just ask for high-contrast hair √† la Alice Dellal) or down to a subtler gorgeousness (per Rose Byrne), depending on your personal style. The only thing that's really required is a little length, but even cropped-hair girls can try it, albeit with a slightly different effect.
The hair trend can be attributed to repeat trendsetter Erin Wasson, who's worn a version of this graduated hair color for some time now. The secret to her enviably effortless look lies in the magnificently talented hands of Laurie Foley, the owner and artistic director of L'Atelier de Laurie in the East Village. Foley refers to her technique as "hair painting," an apt description of her highly customized process of using different brush strokes¬--perfectly placed, yet strategically erratic¬--to achieve a progressively lighter, very nuanced ombr√© blonde. While undeniably artful, the appeal is in its purposeful imperfection; one could image Wasson came by her hair color naturally, the last lingering souvenir from a lost summer or two on Tobago. Hair guru Harry Josh also gives his uber-fashionable clientele these labor-intensive hand-painted highlights. Though the detailed process is certainly a time commitment (such artisan work requires about four hours), we'd wait twice as long if the results meant our hair approximated Rose Byrne's masterful mane.
In addition to Wasson's blonded-out style and Byrne's chestnut locks, we also adore Nicole Richie's warm iteration, which was created by celeb-fave George Papanikolas of the Andy Lecompte Salon in West Hollywood. Papanikolas first took Richie's hair several shades darker to a medium light brown, and then used balayage technique to add highlights, starting at her natural center part. Using bleach, he painted golden blonde v-shaped tips on the ends of her hair. Then, to graduate the color, he went through her hair in big horizontal sections, backcombing each one before applying bleach in an arrow shape to the ends of the hair. (The backcombing will help diffuse and soften the highlight, giving hair that sun-kissed, natural look.) Papanikolas applied a similar regime for Shanae Grimes' shoulder-length locks; first he gave her balayage highlights to add progressively lighter color to her hair, followed by a round of bleach at the tips to emphasize the contrast.
Whatever ombr√© variation you opt for, just remember that even though it's low-fuss and budget-friendly hair (constant root touch-ups will be a thing of the past!), you still need to take care of it. Since you're lightening the tips so much, the ends of your hair will be ultra fragile, so definitely invest in some restorative products. Laurie Foley highly recommends Alterna's 10 line, specifically the 10 Shampoo ($60) and 10 Hair Masque ($55), as an after-care necessity. She also advocates limited shampooing (the fewest times per week you can handle) and switching to sulfate-free products to protect the color. George Papanikolas agrees that it's crucial to repair the hair and suggests using a rich conditioning masque like Joico's K-Pak Reconstruct Deep-Penetrating Reconstructor ($19) to infuse hair with much-needed moisture. In addition to these shampoos and masques, you should also protect your hair before styling. Harry Josh tells his clients to pick up a bottle of John Frieda's Frizz-Ease Hair Serum Thermal Protection Formula ($9), as it gives parched locks shine, shields color from UV damage, and protects hair from (damaging but necessary) hot styling tools. Whatever you use, just make sure to treat your lightened ends delicately for the ultimate ombr√© hair!
Photos of Erin Wasson and Alice Dellal from Getty Images; Photo of Nicole Richie, from Splash; Runway image, from ImaxTREE.