the wild ride of manic panic hair legends tish & snooky

The women responsible for decades of teen transformation open up about how hair dye can change the world.

by Kristen Bateman
08 April 2015, 2:05pm

Photography Kathy Lo

Tish and Snooky of Manic Panic are living the American Dream in color. Almost 40 years ago, they founded their original store on Saint Mark's Place, dubbed Manic Panic NYC. The two, who were backup singers for Blondie at the time, would travel to England and bring back hard-to-find clothes and hair dye for their store. They would also bring vintage American sunglasses to the UK to sell to their friends there. When they eventually lost their lease in 1989, they moved the business to a boyfriend's apartment. "It was a studio walk-up and we'd have hair dye up to the ceiling," says Tish. "No obstacles could stop us and they still can't!"

Snooky and Tish in their Blondie days. Image courtesy Mani Panic.

Little has changed since the manic days of 1977-the two still sing in a punk rock band and perform at gigs regularly, and new shades of their iconic vibrant hair dye are continuously released with names as colorful as their hues: Cleo Rose, Sunshine and Siren's Song. If anything, hair dye has become Tish and Snooky's main focus instead of clothes and sunglasses. With two salons in California, a retail store in L.A. called Manic Panic Style Asylum, a Color Asylum Salon inside of Ricky's near Times Square in New York, which opened just last year, and products sold within different boutiques around the world, Manic Panic is ever expanding. We caught up with the legendary duo behind the brand, who are now based in Long Island City. As sisters, the two live their brand: Snooky with her purple and turquoise mane and Tish with her's in pink and seafoam green. The conversation is as vibrant as the hair, and there's such an excitement about what they do, that they often end up finishing each other's sentences.

The original Manic Panic store in 1977. Image courtesy Manic Panic.

What does it mean to have colored hair in 2015?
Tish: It's everything. It's not just punk anymore. That was the roots, but it's everywhere and it's so great. It's so versatile. It can be used in a really subtle way, an extreme way or totally high fashion.

How does DIY play into the culture of what Manic Panic is?
Snooky: Tish and I started out with $250 each and we did everything ourselves, with a little help from our friends and a couple of cans of paint. We always had a DIY spirit and still do. We do our hair in the office sometimes if we have an event or something, we'll go to the sink, dye it, wash it, and put a cap on it. Our staff is used to that now!

What's the best hair dyeing advice you can give us?
Snooky: A friend's advice to everyone is to do your hair in a hotel room, but we never did that because we always felt guilty. If we ever dyed our hair in a hotel room we would always clean it up.

Tish: We're good girls!

Tish and Snooky. Photography Kathy Lo.

Do different hair colors represent different things to you?
Snooky: For so many years, I had my hair a bright fiery red, orange color and then I got cancer and my hair fell out with the chemotherapy. When it grew back, I didn't feel like having all that fire and heat anymore. I went for cool colors like purple and blue to cool down after all the heat of the chemo and radiation. It helped my healing, just feeling that I was wearing a cooling color.

Tish: I remember when I did an unnatural kind of orangey pink, I felt more bratty. Each color makes you feel a bit different. If you do a dark purple, you might feel more sultry. It changes your mood.

Which comes first: the product name or the actual product?
Tish: It can go either way. We waited for almost 30 years to do this lipstick color that we finally did, but we toned it down. It's called CS Red, but it stands for Cock Sucker Red! We always wanted to do that and we finally did. It was after our friend who always used to say that. We wanted to do something in his honor but we couldn't exactly say those words so it's our little secret!

Manic Panic HQ in Long Island City. Photography Kathy Lo.

What's your favorite Manic Panic story?
Snooky: There was an older woman in Canada who dyed her hair purple. She said that before she dyed her hair purple she was invisible and nobody even cared about her. Then she dyed her hair purple and she was having the time of her life. All the young people wanted to talk to her, sit with her, take a picture with her. She was so happy in the last years of her life. When she finally passed away they had a service for her, and everyone in the synagogue came with purple hair.

If you could dye anyone's hair, who would it be?
Tish: George Washington because of his wig. Hillary Clinton could be the first president with crayon red hair. Richard Branson should be a bright blue.

Snooky: And Martha Stewart should do a nice lilac.


Text Kristen Bateman
Photography Kathy Lo

Manic Panic