The New Ombré: Ecaille, a.k.a. Tortoiseshell Blond

tortoiseshell blond


I was never one of those girls who envied my blond friends. Growing up, all my favorite characters were brunette, from Jaclyn Smith on Charlie’s Angels to Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island to Veronica on Archie. But ever since Korean American model Soo Joo Park walked down the catwalk a few years ago, with a blond mane rivaling that of Rita Ora, I’ve been enlightened. After dipping my toe into the ombré trend this past summer, I was ready to get a bit more adventurous. So I went to see Korean American colorist extraordinaire Cherin Choi of Ramirez Tran Salon in Beverly Hills, California, who took my brash and brassy ombré to a more sophisticated tortoiseshell blond, perfect for the cooler months.

Choi used a mix of ecaille (“tortoiseshell” in French — “a fancy word for babylights in different tones of brunette,” she says) and balayage, which is the act of painting the bleach or color on the hair. She started with a base color using Pravana ChromaSilk 4n/5n, 20 vol, which she likes for “how matte and cool the natural tones are.” She then balayaged the ends using Pravana’s new Pure Enlightenment Balayage Kit, developed by Vietnamese-Chinese American balayage expert Guy Tang for extended open-air processing and healthier hair, and painted baby highlights on top of the head. Finally, Choi toned the highlights, making sure to keep the shades cool to counteract any brassiness, which she says is important because “Asian hair always pulls warmer and can go brassy if not lifted to the right levels.”

After six painstaking hours (and a fabulous cut from stylist Candice Nicolle), I ended up with fine highlights ranging from caramel to honey, with cool blond highlights framing the face. And this look is low maintenance: Since the highlights are so fine, as my hair grows and the color turns warmer (an inevitability with my Asian hair, says Choi), I’ll end up with a more ombré look — just in time for next summer!

ecaille products

From left: José Eber Hair Quickshine Infrared Blow Dryer: My hair’s been through a lot to go this blond. I’m switching to a portable, professional grade dryer with gentle far infrared 1 light, which decreases drying time by more than half. Pravana NEVO Moisture Rich Shampoo: Use a sulfate-free shampoo, says Choi, to care for your color. Drybar Blonde Ale Brightening Shampoo: “Purple shampoo is best when your hair gets too warm,” says Choi. “If you’re seeing too much gold or orange, then give it a good purple wash.” Don’t overuse it, though, she warns: “The color can get dull or too ashy.”


Written by me, originally published in Audrey Magazine.

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