PEOPLE: Meet the punk sisters behind iconic colour brand Manic Panic
Photography: Panos Damaskinidis
Interview: Emma de Clercq + Antonio Celotto
Video: Antonio Celotto
Special Thanks: Manic Panic
Founded in 1977 by Tish and Snooky Bellomo, two sisters from the Bronx, Manic Panic has punk rock roots which other brands could only dream of. The legendary New York hair dye brand, which specialises in vibrant rainbow colours, is favoured by celebrities from Cyndi Lauper to Rihanna. It is also the go-to brand for leading fashion houses, who send their models down runways sporting candy-coloured Manic Panic locks.
Far from being the mainstream trend it is today, having brightly coloured hair in the 70s was a radical style statement, as integral to the punk ‘uniform’ as a pair of Dr Martens or a spiked leather jacket. Tish recalls, “you knew when you saw somebody with bright orange or hot pink hair that they were one of you.” She adds, “Most people were totally freaked out when we started walking down the street with purple hair, people were crossing themselves… they were totally afraid. It was fun!”
“That was the great thing about punk. All of us misfits got together and formed this misfit community… and then everybody wanted to be a part of it”
The sisters, who were back-up singers for Blondie at the time, would travel to England and bring back suitcases filled with vintage accessories, clothing and colourful hair dye to sell. With only $250 to their names, they opened their punk boutique, Manic Panic NYC, in 1977 in St. Mark’s Place. The store quickly gained cult status, becoming a hotspot for New York’s creatives. Bands like The Cramps and Ramones would drop in to stock up on stage attire before performing at nearby clubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. Tish and Snooky describe it as a riotous time, when the East Village was just a “barren, desolate wasteland”, but also the perfect breeding ground for creativity. The brand’s popularity continued to grow and eventually the hair dye took centre stage, with Manic Panic going on to become one of the world’s leading creative colour brands.
Partners in crime in every sense, Tish and Snooky truly embody the punk attitude which has set the Manic Panic brand apart since its birth in the heyday of punk. They still wear their hair in an ever-changing rainbow of Manic Panic colours, “we’re the guinea pigs for all the new colours” Tish jokes. When they are not working on maintaining their hair empire, they perform with their punk rock band the Sic F*cks. INFRINGE met the duo at Manic Panic HQ in Long Island to talk about the origins of this cult brand.
Where did the name ‘Manic Panic’ originate from? Tish: Our mother was working as an art therapist at a psychiatric hospital. Some of the patients used to go into a state called a ‘manic panic’. She said “well, isn’t that a great name for your store?!”
Can you tell us about the original Manic Panic NYC store in St. Mark’s Place? Tish: When we opened our first store in ‘77, we just used to sell everything that we loved. In the beginning no one went down there, just the artists and musicians who lived in the neighbourhood. All the neighbours thought that we were the devil or something, because people would be walking in and out of the store with green and purple hair, mohawks, weird clothes and chokers with spikes all over them…
Snooky: I think rock ‘n’ roll, especially punk rock, is based on being misfits, that was just the great thing about punk. All of us misfits got together and formed this misfit community… and then everybody wanted to be a part of it. Being on the scene in the 70s and 80s was such a magical and special time, I don’t think there will ever be another time like it. I can’t even tell you how happy we are to have been a part of it. You’d go to CBGB’s at night and you’d be hanging out with The Cramps, The Dead Boys, Dictators, Ramones, Talking Heads. We’d be out practically every night. Sometimes we’d sleep in the store!
All the Manic Panic colours have great names, any favourites in the collection? Tish: One of my favourite colour names is ‘Vampire Red’, I guess I always liked vampires. What about yours?
Snooky: I like ‘Voodoo Blue’.
Tish: I knew you’d say that!
Snooky: I like the name and the colour, we’ve always had a real affection for New Orleans, voodoo and rock and roll.
Which colours are you currently wearing? Tish: I’ve got ‘Siren Song’, which I love, ‘Hot Hot Pink and ‘Cotton Candy Pink’.
Snooky: ‘Voodoo Blue’ with a little ‘Voodoo Forest’ in the ends. I think I’ve done every colour range except for yellow, I don’t think it looks good on me. I used to be bright red and orange, but I needed some cooling down so I went to the violets and the blues.
Tish: And [Snooky is also wearing] some of our new colours that we’re testing out. Snooky is the human swatchboard for this. They’re new colours…
Snooky: I don’t know if we’ve named them yet…
Tish: We haven’t named them yet..
Snooky: That’s the most fun part of our job!