Cancer survivors can find comfort, style and custom coiffures in the Crescent City at Fifi Mahony’s.
Native New Orleanian Lisa Picone Love has worn many wigs—on stage as an award-winning actress, on parade floats during Mardi Gras and as a breast cancer survivor.
“I looked like an alien,” says Love about losing her crowning glory of long, thick red hair during chemotherapy 12 years ago. “I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes. It was really traumatic.”
At 37, Love was diagnosed with Stage IIB estrogen receptor positive invasive ductal carcinoma. After eight rounds of chemo, two surgeries and seven weeks of radiation, she was on the road to recovery. As her cancer receded, so did her hair, but her coiffure collection grew.
“There’s nothing attractive about having breast cancer,” says Love. “I was pumped up with steroids and I was bald. But going to Fifi Mahony’s helped me feel pretty again.”
Located in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Fifi Mahony’s, with its pink and lilac walls and ceilings dripping with chandeliers, offers a fanciful refuge for women fighting breast cancer. For 23 years, it has catered to a celebratory city filled with eccentrics who covet eclectic costumes and custom wigs. Offered in kaleidoscopic hues, theatrical themes and wild designs, wigs and headdresses at Fifi Mahony’s cost an affordable $30 to $300.
“We live in New Orleans so there’s a huge amount of costuming and partying going on here,” says Marcy Hesseling, co-owner of Fifi Mahony’s fashion-forward hair and wig salon. “But I’d say about 20 percent of our customers are people who have to wear wigs because of a hair loss situation, and most of that is due to chemotherapy.”
Fifi Mahony’s also sells a stylish selection of textured trim tresses made from silky human hair. From platinum blond or red to brunette or jet black, natural wigs are styled in afros or bobs, cut with bangs, feathered and fringed, and layered with curls or long waves.
“I’m always amazed at women who are going to work and raising children while going through cancer treatment,” says Hesseling. “People think you can put your life on hold, but that’s just not the case. I see people really work hard and go through a lot and have a super positive attitude, and that’s really amazing to me and all we can do is help them look better.”
“Most women receiving breast cancer chemotherapy, over 99 percent, will experience some hair loss,” says Dr. Zoe Larned, oncologist and chair of hematology/oncology at The Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.
“I was working as a marketing and advertising professional when I was going through chemo, and I wanted to look like a normal person,” says Love, who initially sported a synthetic pink bob at the beginning of her treatment and then transitioned to a more natural strawberry blond mane. “You think of Fifi Mahony’s as a costume wig shop, but I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.”
Ochsner Medical Center psychologist Dr. Michele Larzelere says women should consider purchasing a wig prior to cancer treatment to decrease anxiety about hair loss. “Many people conflate their hair with attractiveness
and/or sexuality, so its loss can be a dramatic change to their ‘public face,’” she says.
When you make an appointment, it’s all about you.Lisa Picone Love
“Some may find having fun while shopping for wigs to be fulfilling,” says fellow Ochsner Medical Center psychologist Dr. Tracey Murry. “Bringing loved ones along, trying on different styles and colors may put a positive spin on something otherwise stressful.”
For actress Love, a two-time Big Easy Entertainment Award winner and a regular volunteer with the American Cancer Society, one of the highlights of frequenting Fifi Mahony’s is the personalized customer service. She says it’s what makes this peruke palace a cut above the rest.
“When you make an appointment, it’s all about you,” says Love. “It’s not scary or intimidating because they make you feel special, and they want to make you look your best. It’s almost like going for a spa treatment or going to the salon to get your real hair done.”
At Fifi Mahony’s “wig bar,” personal stylists offer suggestions and expertise and are equipped to wash, condition, cut, blow dry and style your wig. Fifi Mahony’s performs any maintenance needed to ensure a long shelf life.
This house of glamour also teases its diva and drag queen clientele (including pop stars Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry) with a wide array of cosmetics and accessories including faux eyelashes, scarves, headbands, sunglasses and jewelry often showcased in local fashion shows and photo shoots.
“Your hair is something that defines your personality and who you are,” says Love. “Just to be able to put on hair and makeup and feel like a normal person is so important during treatment and recovery.”
Love says she has a dozen wigs she still weaves into her daily and holiday wardrobe even though her own hair grew back within a year.
“After chemotherapy, the majority of women, 98 percent, will regrow their hair, and most women start to note hair growth around three months after completing chemotherapy,” says Larned. Larned says cold cap therapy can help prevent or decrease hair loss during chemotherapy and its success is dependent on the chemotherapy drugs and dosages used, as well as the patient’s hair type and condition.
“When I first started having people come in for hair loss issues, the feeling of helping someone to go to work, go through the day to look better and to feel better about themselves was enormously rewarding,” says Hesseling. “It opened up my eyes. This is an important part of this business, the most important part of this business. We do take a lot of pride and a lot of care with people that come in for that situation.”
Both Love and Hesseling are preparing for the Mardi Gras season culminating on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. Love is planning to parade with the Krewe of Iris, and Hesseling is supplying revelers with pre-Lenten cutting-edge confections – tufts and fluffs gifted with glitter and studded with sparkles.
“The whole vibe at Fifi’s is uplifting and fun,” says Hesseling. “We’re all about experimenting with wigs. Most people that come in, if they’re going through chemo, chances are they’re going to lose their hair. It’s daunting. They’re upset. But honestly, most people leave here feeling more confident, for sure.”
Fifi Mahony’s is located at 934 Royal St. To learn more about the store, visit fifimahonys.com.