EAST VILLAGE — Strange Beauty Show isn't an easy place to describe.
It's a salon. They do all kinds of hairstyles, hipster "dude cuts" and exotic dye jobs. They tie dreadlocks and offer makeovers for blushing brides, aspiring pinup girls and cross-dressers alike— near Ashland and Division.
But the joint's also an art gallery and occasional music venue where customers can play vintage Nintendo games, buy art off the wall, watch a rock show and listen to punk while they wait.
If you think it might be the kind of place you would expect artsy sisters with '90s rock tendencies and Strawberry Shortcake sensibilities might dream up over too many beers at a dive bar, you'd be right.
"We came up with the idea for a small art gallery, slash hair salon while sitting at Millie's Tavern on Wellington," Virginia Olenick says of the night she and her sister, Audrey Olenick, cooked up their plan.
"It was an idea that just gained momentum. And I guess when that happens it's the kind of thing that you know is meant to be," said Virginia.
They successfully created a vibe at Strange Beauty Show, 1118 N. Ashland Ave., fueled by Virginia's stint in art school, Audrey's record collection and their mutual desire to find out "how cool it would be we had all our old s--- we like here in our spot," she said.
On weekend nights, they've been known to invite customers to hear a band play or watch an independent film project. And every two months or so, they host a "gallery opening" to welcome a new artist's work.
On May 17, for instance, they'll feature photographer Angie Zimmerman's exhibit "In between Ashland Avenue," a collection of photo collages capturing the salon's neighborhood.
Eight years after their barroom dream became a reality, the sisters of Strange Beauty Show have found themselves at their second location and the center of a rather serendipitous cultural phenomenon — all of that stuff they loved from the ‘90s has become cool again now that it's "retro."
"The ‘90s have made a comeback,and we certainly like it," said Audrey, 30. "It's cool that the stuff we grew up with and think is cool and like to have around the salon is cool again only now it's retro. And some people come here because they like our kitschy stuff."
While flannel shirts, stonewashed denim and throwback Nintendo games have spiked in popularity, Generation X hairstyles, some would say thankfully, are not the trend of the day.
But, the Olenicks agree, extreme hairstyles suitable for the grunge look — specifically the growing, celebrity-inspired, Pinterest-fueled trend of dying your whole head in a combination of bright colors and even premature silver — are hot, hot, hot.
"When we first opened, people would be more likely to get one chunk of purple hair, and now customers ask for it all over and more extreme," said Virginia, 35. "It's been interesting to see people come in and show us images of extreme colors that they want. And we have stylists who are very talented and artistic … with experience making it happen."
Recently, Strange Beauty Show stylists have painted hair bright pinks, purples, pastel lilacs, and sea greens. A multicolored rocker cut in perfectly melded metallic blue and spring green shimmers like a fishing lure on a warm summer morning.
"Those looks are becoming more mainstream. You see more celebrities with exotic hair color, like Katie Perry," Audrey says. "It's something people see on Pinterest or Tumblr now, and they come in and say they want it."
Frankly, most Strange Beauty Show customers come for simple cuts, styles and natural color dye jobs like any other salon.
But it is a place that embraces the "strange" in its name, and a brunette's request to be transformed into a fuchsia-head, or a businessman's desire to get his face done before an evening of cross-dressing isn't all that bizarre.
"You know, just the other day someone called to ask if we could send two ladies over to give him a massage," Audrey said.
"And we said, "No," Virginia said definitively.
Strange Beauty Show might not be your typical salon.
It's kitschy, artsy, sometimes weird and hard to fit in a box.
But the Olenicks want you to know it definitely is not that kind of joint.