A Winnipeg hairstylist is turning heads in international style magazines after whipping up a hairstyle that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to a highly Instagram-able new drink.
Kelly O'Leary-Woodford is the mastermind behind the "unicorn frappuccino" hairstyle, named for the colourful limited-edition beverage from Starbucks that recently made a splash on social media feeds everywhere.
Since creating the look and posting a picture of it on her Instagram feed a few days ago, O'Leary-Woodford's work has been featured on the websites of some high-profile U.S. magazines — think People, Cosmopolitan and Teen Vogue — plus U.K. sites like Metro U.K. and Huffington Post United Kingdom.
"It's crazy," said O'Leary-Woodford, who is the co-owner of Sapphire Hair Lounge in Winnipeg.
"People are so excited. People Magazine? I never would've thought that somebody like that would share. I've never had a newsperson call me, ever. Us Weekly, those are the ones that are crazy."
O'Leary-Woodford has long specialized in vivid hair colours, and says the hairstyle came together as a "funny fluke."
"I think I had the idea, like, 'Oh, it would be cool if I could do a colour and do a side-by-side and get the drink,' but the opportunity just presented itself," she said.
"I had a client that coincidentally asked for those colours, and then as I was squirting them into the bowl, I said, 'I bet you this looks like the frappuccino.' And then I looked at a picture and then I sent one of my staff members out, and was like, 'Get me a couple! Let's go!'"
The client was a trouper, O'Leary-Woodford added.
"Putting the straw in [the client's hair] was her idea, so that was hilarious."
Risky move for Starbucks?
So what makes a drink so exciting to consumers that a hairstyle photo travels the world?
University of Manitoba professor of marketing Fang Wan said it's a smart blend of newness, creativity and scarcity — that is, the limited run of the unicorn frappuccino, a "flavour-changing, colour-changing" iced beverage that's topped with "whipped cream-sprinkled pink and blue fairy powders," according to Starbucks.
She likened it to a similar wave made by the chain's pumpkin spice latte, which she said was caused by the addition of an unusual ingredient at the right time — that is, fall.
Wan said bright, visually prominent design isn't new in product design, but still feels unexpected in food. She said Starbucks found a winner by creating something that's perfect for posting online.
The catch is that many people don't love how it tastes, Wan said, citing social media and Reddit posts to that effect, and baristas have been vocal about how arduous it is to make.
O'Leary-Woodford herself said it definitely isn't a new favourite.
"It's really good for three sips," she joked. "We bought a huge one and it was $10 and it's a bit much for me. But I liked it better than I thought I would."
But Wan guessed it was a calculated risk for Starbucks, taken with the goal of making an established brand feel fresh and drum up attention for the chain.
"I can see this is a daring, risky [move], but also remember, it's only a week. Five dollars, six dollars, and it's part of this hype," she said.
"People want to participate. It creates a conversation. It creates a small, short movement … I'm going to get one today."
Wan said the boost in attention is good for O'Leary-Woodford, too — and Winnipeg itself.
"I'm sure for her it's no big deal. Based on my little bit of research on her, she's very creative," Wan said. "But to ride with the tide of the craziness of this phenomenon, she is a celebrity, and it's very good for us.
"People always say Winnipeg is the hub of the artist and creative talent. I think Kelly is a very good endorser, and if anything, representative of the community of Winnipeg with more artistic appeal."