Carol LaMere is a beauty. Half Russian, half Native American, her hazel eyes, raven hair and high cheekbones make for a lethal, and a little intimidating, combination. With her captivating looks comes an equally captivating history. Known as the “Pioneer of Hair Extensions,” and affectionately known as “The Carol,” LaMere has worked with an array of major celebrities, from Michael and Janet Jackson, to Cher and Courtney Love. We recently got a glimpse into The Carol’s fascinating star-studded career, featuring portraits by her son, Nikko LaMere.
You were born in the small town of Bute, Montana. What made you want to make the move to LA?
“As a young kid, even though I didn’t live in Hollywood, I thought I did. I think I just wanted to so bad. I had 13 brothers and sisters. I would make costumes for them because I was good at that kind of thing and I would make my own little films. When I would see movies, I thought people really did dance in the rain.”
What brought you to the world of hair and makeup?
“I always wanted to do hair. I cut and styled my mom’s hair. I always was artsy. When I moved to LA, I attended Elegance International for special effects. I created amazing masks [and] prosthetics—I was really good. The thing was, women weren’t getting hired for special effects then. It was all men. I got frustrated with that and started doing make up and hair, instead. That’s when I started working with photographers. They liked me because I could do both makeup and hair, so they didn’t have to hire two people. Then when I worked with Michael [Jackson], I met Herb Ritts. I really enjoyed Herb because he didn’t use all the lighting people use now. His black-and-white was amazing. Nobody can do it like he did.”
You worked with Michael Jackson and the Jackson family extensively. What is your favorite memory of Michael?
“I have a lot of memories of him—a lot of great memories. He was a prankster and I’ve always been kind of like that. I realize now maybe it wasn’t very nice. One of my best memories of Michael […] he was such a prankster. Michael would rig a door, and when somebody would come in, you know someone from the record company or someone real conservative like that, a bucket of water would just fall on their heads.
I remember once Michael called in the middle of the night and he asked if he could come over and pretended he wanted his hair shampooed. He didn’t really want his hair shampooed, he just wanted to talk. Sometimes he just wanted to talk. He was that kind of person.
Oh and in the ‘Black or White’ video, those curls you see in his face—those were mine.”
You’ve worked with so many celebrities, many very major names. What is something that you’ve learned from doing so?
“I always found the really famous ones easiest to work with. Maybe it’s because I didn’t treat them any differently than other people. Having money or being famous doesn’t make you any different. I didn’t treat them any different than I would a woman who came from no money. Actually some of my favorite clients were Madam Alex’s women that worked for her. And I loved working with strippers, I really enjoyed working with them.”
Why is that?
“Just because I liked making them sexy. You can’t do that with everybody […] I mean if you have a woman and she’s a lawyer somewhere, you’re not going to put hair down to her waist. You’re going to convince her not to do that.
I also did the cover of Playboy [and] several covers of Penthouse. I really loved working with them. I did many magazine covers [and] billboards. I never got credited, though.”
“Well, at the time there was a very secretive nature about hair extensions, which were, and are, my specialty. That’s why people loved working with me. I never talked about who I worked with. They called me Hollywood’s best kept secret. If it wasn’t for me, half the shit that’s out there wouldn’t look that good, and you can quote me on that.”
In your family, you’ve nurtured artists like Sky Ferreira and Photographer Nikko LaMere. Has art always run in the family?
“My husband was an amazing artist. Sky’s mom Tonia is an artist and a poet. From the time Nikko was little, he always was great in the arts. He’ll probably get mad that I’m telling you this, but he was an amazing tap and hip-hop dancer. I think with Sky And Nikko, I stayed on them. I would take Sky to dance classes and to gospel choir. She could sing from the time she was little. Sky hummed before she talked. One time, we took a belly dancing class together. I would bring them with me on shoots. They were always around it.”
Carol on a few of her celebrity clients:
On Cher: “I got the job with Cher because her hairdresser at the time got into a fist fight with his partner and they put him in jail. I was never the type to take people’s clients, but he called me and asked me to step in, so I did. Cher was great. I ended up doing her hair for the video downtown where she had on all the chains. She was a very nice lady.”
On Courtney Love: “I really enjoyed Courtney because we would sit and she would tell me about her life. I could only go over and do her hair at midnight though, because she was a night owl. A lot of recording artists I worked with were like that. They would stay up all night and work, so that’s when I would work on them. I did her for the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.”
On Melanie Brown: “Melanie, ‘Scary Spice’ I guess you all call her, we became really close. I’ve seen a side of her probably most people don’t see. And I enjoyed doing her hair. I used to put all kinds of extensions on her. I really enjoyed her.”
On Princess Sara of Rialdi: “I worked with her for a long time without knowing she was royalty. Once she asked me, ‘Don’t you ever wonder why everybody calls me your highness?’ and I said, ‘Well I just thought you were some rich bitch.’ She laughed and laughed. I loved working with her.”
You’ve led such an interesting life, would you ever consider writing a memoir?
“Absolutely. I really want to actually. I just need the right ghost-writer.”