The Manic Panic Sisters: Everything We Know We Learned From Drag Queens

Tish and Snooky talk about Manic Panic's early days at the opening of their first-ever salon.

When I was thirteen, my best friend Caitlin invited me to her house to listen to music and talk about boys until my mom got off work. While we were jamming out to the Thompson Twins, Caitlin produced a temporary hair color spray and asked me if I wanted to try it. Without any hesitation, I pulled off my Catholic school uniform blouse, threw a towel over my shoulders, and proceeded to tip my ends cobalt blue. I topped the look off with a giant streak down the front. I was in love.

My mother, however, was not. She threw my head under the kitchen sink as soon as we got home. I watched as my technicolor hair dreams literally went down the drain.

Later, in my freshman year of college, I discovered Manic Panic at a local CD store/head shop near campus. Thanks to that find--and Manic Panic founders Tish and Snooky--I’ve had a couple of dalliances with colored streaks and full-on vibrant cherry red. (I was OBSESSED with The B-52s singer Kate Pierson's hair.)

First-generation punk pioneers, sisters Tish and Snooky made a name for themselves performing at New York's Bowery Lane Theatre and singing backup for Blondie. In 1977, they opened NYC's first punk boutique, called, you guessed it, Manic Panic.

I’ve been an admirer of their amazing, rebellious, multi-colored vision of beauty for decades. Recently, I got to meet them in person at the opening of the first Manic Panic Salon at Ricky’s NYC on Broadway. The salon is everything you'd expect: magical, effervescent, and dripping with rock and roll anarchy.

The sisters didn't disappoint, either. Snooky wore a larger-than-life, violet and turquoise colored Victorian hairstyle accented by twinkling lights. She took my arm and escorted me upstairs to the salon, where Tish was getting her neon pink hair done by David Scissorhands, a dashing stylist with two-tone lime green and black hair. Lucky me, Tish and Snooky were in the mood to chat.

How excited are you to share this salon with New York City? Can we expect more salons to come?

SNOOKY: It’s our dream come true. Ricky’s is the first to license our name for a salon in New York City, and hopefully they’ll do more and more. This is the first one, but there’s talk of doing one in another store and hopefully another and another and another . . . You can get everything done here: cuts, color, whatever you want. The fabulous David Scissorhands is a magician with hair.

To what do you attribute your sense of style and beauty?

SNOOKY: We were sort of taught by drag queens because we were in this show at the Bowery Lane Theatre called 'The Palm Casino Review' back in 1973. They taught us everything we know about lashes and glitter and glamour.

TISH: Our mother was an artist, so we used to play with her stuff. She had these tiny vials of glitter that we just loved and would always play with.

SNOOKY: Our Aunt Madeline used to bring us bags full of those little Avon sample lipsticks, and we'd put on every shade.

Do you ever get tired of the glitter and glamour? Like, do you ever want to normalize your look a bit?

SNOOKY: We’ve always loved beauty and loved hair. We’ve never thought about having 'normal color' hair--it just didn’t seem as fun. [Tish nods in agreement]

Tell me how you went from tiny NYC boutique to global brand.

SNOOKY: The first thing was the boutique. We sold whatever we wanted, like cosmetics and hair color, just anything we thought was cool we would sell. And it just grew and grew.

TISH: When we were forced to leave Saint Mark’s Place after 12 years because the rent was quadrupling, and our landlord promised we could move back in within a year at a reasonable rent, and then he reneged after a year, by then we were doing wholesale of the hair color and the cosmetics out of my then-boyfriend, now-husband’s walk-up studio apartment. We were packing the boxes ourselves and then rolling them down the stairs, driving them up to UPS and shipping them off.

SNOOKY: Always at the last minute, of course.

What's your advice to those who are hesitant about bold or bright hair color?

SNOOKY: You could start with a little streak or a highlight over dark hair. Some of our darker colors, like our reds and purples, give a really nice highlight--nothing terribly extreme, but it’ll get you hooked.”

And with that, the fairy godmothers of punk beauty floated off into their party, greeting a line of guests and fans that snaked around the store.

The Manic Panic Salon is located at Ricky’s NYC on 1412 Broadway.