Interview with Tish and Snooky, Founders of Manic Panic (pt. 1)
interview by rachel lee
photos by meg wachter
Tish and Snooky Bellomo, the brilliant founders of Manic Panic, channeled a DIY ethos in the creation of their company, one I came across in my amateur hair styling career. Before starting Manic Panic in 1977, they had made a name for themselves by singing in punk bands, and wearing their unique look (think ripped tights, ironic nun outfits, and fuchsia hair). Tish and Snooky sold their hair dyes, clothes, and accessories at the original Manic Panic store on the Lower East Side’s iconic Saint Marks’ Place, a street that was home to the punk scene in New York in the 1970s. Manic Panic was the first punk store in America, selling everything and anything they thought matched their look. “All of our products are still things we really love,” Snooky told me. “We wouldn’t sell something if we didn’t love it.” A walk through their office in Long Island City, Queens has the look and feel of the original punk shops scattered around lower Manhattan today. Their walls are covered with newspaper and magazine clippings featuring their products, posters of gigs they played and musicians they idolize, and celebrities wearing Manic Panic colors in their hair (Cyndi Lauper, Rihanna, and Kelly Ripa are just a few of Tish and Snooky’s personal favorites).
When the sisters started out in cosmetics in the late 1970s, there was no market for non-natural hair dye colors – they literally changed the game by selling bleach and semi-permanent dyes in a huge array of crazy colors. Forty years after starting the company, Tish and Snooky are still as involved in Manic Panic as they were when they started out, and still dyeing their hair – Snooky prefers cooling blues and purples, while Tish wears whatever makes her happy.
It’s hard not to feel inspired to dye your hair after talking to two pioneers of the hair dyeing industry. After I met Tish and Snooky, I went home, cracked open every window I could, and unwrapped the boxes of bleach and dye they gave me. They had mentioned receiving fan mail about just how transformative Manic Panic can be, but I didn’t believe it for myself until I rinsed off my hair and looked at my ultraviolet ends. I finally caught the hair dyeing bug.