How much is a headful of long, thick, shiny hair worth? That all depends: If you are the one shaving it off and selling it, you might fetch several hundred dollars. If you’re a client of Mahri Martens-Tomas, a hair augmentation specialist based in Denver and Los Angeles, purchasing even a portion of that same mane could set you back well over $10,000.
“I’m wearing about three ounces right now,” says Martens-Tomas, 59, who has a head of brunette bra-strap-length hair that would look right at home on a statuesque 23-year-old Ukrainian woman—which, incidentally, might be exactly where it originated. “I charge $5,000 for the first ounce and $4,000 for each additional ounce. I put 7.2 ounces on one of my clients. She wants the fullest, thickest hair she can get.”
Wearing an official-looking white lab coat at her Beverly Hills headquarters—offices that she shares with plastic surgeon Randal Digby Haworth—Martens-Tomas could pass for a surgeon herself, though she might have trouble cramming all that hair under a surgical cap. And the cost of one of her services is about the same as an eyelift. Most human-hair vendors sell extensions by the “bundle,” or small cluster, to salons. A consumer who is buying a full head of extensions might, depending on the salon, spend anywhere from $800 to $5,000. And yet, on average, the process at a salon costs less than half of an initial placement with Martens-Tomas, whose clients then schedule maintenance appointments every three or four months, flying in from all over the country or paying for her to come to them.
Having never been a stylist, Martens-Tomas traveled a unique path to her current status as one of the world’s most expensive specialists in extensions (she prefers her proprietary term “microtresses”). “I was studying mathematics at [the University of Colorado at] Boulder, and to put myself through school, I did some modeling,” she says. “They could clip pieces in for photo shoots and make your hair look great. Then I’d have to take them out, and I’d have my own thin hair again.” After college she became an interior designer. “That may seem kind of strange, but to me, math is about finding balance,” she says. “I’d look at a room and think [about] how to balance color, proportion and scale. It was always an a-plus-b-equals-c equation for me.”
But all the while, the model-mathematician-decorator was obsessed with her hair. “Even when I was 10 or 20, I had thin hair and wished it was thicker,” she explains. “I tried everything. In the late Eighties I came to Los Angeles and spent thousands of dollars to have extensions glued, sewn or bonded into my hair. The results didn’t look natural. It was often painful. And it damaged the hair that I did have. By 1990 I said, ‘Maybe I should just do this myself.’”