One of the latest trends in hair removal involves one of the most basic tools: a spool of thread.
Threading is an ancient technique -- used mostly for removing facial and arm hair -- now practiced in the Middle East, India, Asia and Eastern Russia.
No one in the Valley knows more about threading than three Russian ladies at the Elizabeth Arden Salon and Spa at the Biltmore Fashion Park (2472 East Camelback Road, 602-553-8800).
Esfira, Raisa and Berta all hail from Uzbekistan, where threading, they say, is a womanly rite of passage.
Generally speaking, according to Esfira, in Eastern Russia girls don't begin having their faces threaded until right before they get married, and bridal showers revolve around the practice. The showers are held one week before a wedding when female friends and family get together to eat, laugh, sing, dance and rip the hair out of the faces of blushing brides with nary more than a little piece of string.
Once a woman is married, threading becomes as much a part of her beauty routine as using a razor to shave one's legs is here in the U.S.
The ladies compare today's threading methods to waxing, in terms of pain, price and the length of time it lasts. But Esfira, Raisa and Berta claim threading is much gentler on the skin, improves circulation, and won't remove the color from a tan the way waxing can.
Berta offers to demonstrate the technique on Raisa's cheek as Raisa rolls her eyes and boasts of having a gentler touch than her thread-wielding friend. First Berta wraps the thread around her neck and secures it with a twist, then winds it around the first three fingers of her right hand. Taking up the slack with her left hand, she begins to work it across the woman's cheek, rhythmically, in a way that suggests she would be great at yo-yo tricks.
Raisa's cheek is soon hairless, smooth and glowing.
That episode alone is a little odd, considering it takes place behind the Red Door, in the city's swankiest shopping mall. But that's nothing. Just after Raisa's threading, a slightly bedraggled, slightly hairy woman meanders into the salon and begins speaking rapid Russian to the threaders. It turns out she is a Russian Gypsy who just happened into the salon. After some haggling, the Gypsy accepts the opportunity to have her eyebrows threaded by Berta in exchange for reading her fortune.
First Berta dusts the Gypsy's brow area with talcum powder, then, rather than removing a spool of thread from her jacket pocket, she pulls out a two-inch knife. It's explained that before one's brows are threaded, the arch must be created with some precision plucking. Berta's instrument of choice isn't tweezers; she prefers to use a dull knife with the blade pressed firmly against her thumb. Her deft handling of the knife as she thins a small patch of hair millimeters from the woman's eye is impressive.
After the arch is created, Berta dusts the area to be threaded with a bit of talcum powder, then takes out her spool of thread, and much string-flinging ensues. All fears of a violent end to eyesight aside, when Berta is finished, the Gypsy woman's eyebrows are perfectly arched and the skin around them devoid of fuzz. She looks dramatically better kempt.
With threading, there's a little pressure, a little pulling, and a little -- but just a little -- discomfort.
Because threading can be time-consuming, it is ideally suited for smaller body parts such as the eyebrows, cheeks or forearms. Anyone needing hair removed from a larger area than that needs to look to one of the other hot trends in hair removal hitting the Valley.
Sparkles in Brazil
The Brazilian was made famous when Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw traveled to Los Angeles a few seasons back and lifted her leg during a bikini wax -- but Julie Snooke of Waxworks in Scottsdale (7146 East First Street, 480-663-7756) did her first Brazilian 20 years ago.
Back then, just a couple clients wanted the almost-bare-down-there bikini wax. Now she does 40 a week, and Snooke keeps busy. She's even making waxing a family business; her daughter will join her this month.
For $50 a pop (literally -- read on for explanation), clients get very special service.
Snooke makes her own wax. Through trial and error, she has developed a secret formula.