Best Dye Jobs, Pedicures and Tiptop Flip-Flops

I have always clung to the belief that “shrimping,” i.e., toe-sucking, though not the most revoltingly incomprehensible sexual aberration known to man, is still pretty gnarly. Feet should be tended and soothed–not slobbered over.

Then, last week, I went to Rescue, and now I find I am more than ready to revise my opinion. Improbably located on the cusp of Chinatown at 21 Cleveland Place, near the formerly model-infested Police Building, Rescue (431-3805) offers a pedicure which is more like a Japanese kaiseki meal, with course after course of scrapes, oilings, waxes and scrubs, each more gourmet than the last. Random highlight: an elastro-collagen mask coated with paraffin, which de-wrinkled 15 years off my “plates of meat” (cockney rhyming slang for feet).

Ji (pronounced “Gee” as in “whiz”) Baek officiates at her “aromatherapy nail spa” in the highest ocelot-print Blahnik Mary Janes imaginable. She’s a stylish, opinionated Korean dynamo whose boutiquey salon is, despite the aromatherapy handle, devoid of irritating New Age shenanigans. “I can’t stand that tinkly music, it makes you want to pee,” she said. “And I got into aromatherapy because it’s sensual–plus I can’t stand the smell of acetone. Every salon in New York reeks of it except mine.”

Other pluses:

1. Cell-phone signals will not penetrate the tin ceiling–nobody can interrupt your pamper-athon.

2. Ji actively encourages vain, superficial girly chat.

3. An Autoclave sterilization system heats up the clippers and probes to 375 degrees.

4. Second location (8 Center Market Place) opening June 15 = more appointments.

Make sure you get the “The Works” ($60). The penultimate course of this pedicure is a dreamy foot massage with a combo of Burt’s Grapefruit Complexion Mist and Arnica Massage Oil.

As I lolled in a post-orgasmic torpor on Ji’s hand-stitched pillows, contemplating my now-suckable toes, I was unexpectedly offered nail polish by a young Japanese girl named Ayumi–maybe she thought I was a hormonally imbalanced woman–and I absent-mindedly nodded my head. As she lacquered my toenails, the stench of acetone eclipsed all the natural aromas and, like a beauty-shop version of Proust’s madeleine, the acetone brought back visions of my mum enjoying a fag at the kitchen table and redoing her French manicure while listening to Perry Como. I breathed deeply. Aromatherpay, shmaromatherapy.

Subtle highlights look suburban and fake. André Viveiros at the Garren New York Salon on the third floor of Henri Bendel (841-9400), agrees wholeheartedly. “Ditsy highlights are a leftover from the 80′s,” he said. “They’re supposed to look natural and they never do. The sun doesn’t give you little blond bits all over your head, only hairdressers do that. The sun lightens your hair in chunks.”

André knows about peroxide. Under Garren’s auspices, he performed the meticulous dye jobs for this season’s Versace ads. “We wanted the models to look like imaginary, edgy children for Donatella,” he said. “We bleached their eyebrows as well. The whole thing took seven hours. I wouldn’t recommend it. The maintenance on a dye job like this is unbelievable.” (Roots have to be dyed every three to four weeks for $150 and up.)

Since not every girl has the stamina to deal with the interpersonal ramifications of walking around New York looking like an ice-blond hellcat, I insisted that Garren himself give some realistic alternatives.

The legendary coiffeur had no shortage of suggestions. “The horseshoe; a two-tone look, like a five-year-old girl who has spent the summer at the beach–a crescent of blond hair which goes from the crown to each corner of the eyebrow.”

The horseshoe ($350) will need to be redyed at the beginning of August (starting at $150). An alternative look: Thick graphic highlights around the face (also $350) will take you right up to Labor Day.

Though the horseshoe and facial highlighting will not totally bugger up your hair, I strongly recommend picking up half a dozen precautionary bottles of Garren New York color-stabilizing shampoo with ginseng ($30 for 8 ounces).

Isabel Toledo, the Cuban couturier, keeps her feet clean with the biggest snowshoe-size flip-flops she can find. “New York is dirty,” she said. “My flip-flops are men’s size 12. It’s like taking my own floor around with me.” Make sure they are really huge, and that you are extremely stylish, or it will just look as if you bought the wrong size.

Shoot me if I start buying flip-flops on the Web, but you can if you so wish: Flipfloptrunkshow.com has thongs, mules and slides from about 17 designers (from $10 to $355). If you don’t find what you want (I didn’t), just go out to a store and buy the bloody things the old-fashioned way.

I scampered into the Gap after seeing its inviting flip-flop promotional materials displayed in the window. The orange men’s flip-flop ($9.50) was my instant choice–it’s a masculine orange, very Krishna. Then I noticed the Gap women’s flip-flops: more kicky designs, and much thicker soles. Being a short person with a small foot, I couldn’t resist …

If you are surfer butch, or exquisitely nelly, then the pansy- and begonia-adorned flip-flops ($12.50) are O.K., sort of. Since I am somewhere on the continuum between the two, I opted for a dark-brown pair with a multicolored striped sole ($9.50). I wore them to the beach on Memorial Day weekend. Everything was fine until I slathered Skin So Soft on my feet. Then everything went all nasty.

A wayward chemical in the Skin So Soft dissolved the colored stripes in a matter of minutes. The resulting goo started to erode the rubber soles–within 15 minutes my feet were stuck to an odious mixture of volatile melting rubber and congealed paint. Bon appetit!

If someone is snapping your picture, for God’s sake, say, “Thursday” and not “Cheese.” The word “Thursday” puts your lips, tongue and teeth through a miraculous series of animated articulations, all of which are fascinating and camera-friendly.

This nifty tip was wrongly attributed, by me, to Irving Penn, the greatest photographer of all time. Vogue executive fashion editor and Penn studio veteran Phyllis Posnick assures me that she has never heard Mr. Penn instruct models to say “Thursday.” “If a model is spacing out he will snap her out of it by instructing her to ‘See something!’ she said. “But no ‘Thursdays.’”

Maybe it’s Scavullo? Either way, it works.

While experimenting–for your benefit–with the new Stila nail colors, Nymph, Muse and Grace (Barneys, Bergdorf, Saks, Sephora, $12), I had several epiphanies:

1. Muse, the color of a homemade banana iced lolly, is the spiffiest of the three.

2. By the time I had finished painting three nails I had gone way beyond any Proustian remembrances–I was high as a kite.

3. The Stila polishes, like many others on the market, are unbelievably subtle, barely hiding the irregularities in my ridgy middle-aged fingernails–but the smell … hmmmm .

4. Nail salons, of which there is a scary proliferation, are the new crack dens–and you girls are all addicted.