In the shadow of Cityplace, on a nondescript stretch of Belmont Avenue, an unintentional “mermaid district” has taken shape. At 4311 Belmont sits Blue Mermaid Spa, a tranquil sanctuary offering self-care in the form of massages, facials, and anti-aging treatments. Next door at 4301 Belmont, not at all related and on the other end of the beauty spectrum, is The Mermaid SEAlon, a converted house that now supplies Kylie Jenner-level transformations via hair extensions, injectables, sparkle spray tans, and Swarovski-studded acrylic nails—selfies strongly encouraged. You will know you are at The Mermaid SEAlon, as opposed to Blue Mermaid Spa, as soon as you step out of the car. Because here, even the parking stops have been given a makeover, painted with an iridescent sheen and topped with crystal knobs. “Of course, everything has to be extra!” Katie Rogers squeals.
Katie—the 32-year-old mastermind behind the salon and creator of Mermaid Hair Extensions by Katie Rogers—is so much extra that it’s hard to know where to begin. She has an extra mass of brunette layers and extra silicone in her breasts. Her heels are extra high, which makes the “tall drink of wine” extra statuesque. She is extra bronzed, extra candid, extra confident, and extra ambitious. She is also—unless you have humiliated her on national TV, as Paris Hilton once did—extra nice. She is a small-town girl turned big-city hustler with a rags-to-rhinestones story, as if sprung from a mad biologist’s petri dish marked “Super Dallas.” And all of this extra-ness is why Katie has an unusually enthusiastic following for a hairstylist. For her 141,000 Instagram followers, she is the definition of #goals.
But right now, Katie is just trying to get today’s client settled. The raven-haired beauty in the salon chair has just driven five hours from her family’s thousand-acre ranch in Beaumont, Texas, to sit for nearly three hours as 24-inch strands of some other human’s hair are attached to hers, for which she will pay close to two grand. But it’s worth it. She’s a horse trainer in a rodeo, where hair is literally big, and the other kinds of extensions she has tried have damaged her hair shafts. “You can see what I’m coming back to,” she says.
“Can I get you a cotton candy Champagne?” Katie offers. This is the salon’s signature beverage, a flute of Champagne garnished with two gummy bears and a cloud of cotton candy sprinkled with edible stars. The horse trainer opts for a “mer-mosa.” That is, mind you, just a mimosa, but nothing in Katie’s SEAlon can be basic.
The space has been outfitted by a company called Redoux Couture that made custom rococo sofas and armchairs in hot pink, turquoise, and leopard print. If Marie Antoinette had fled to a cottage on the Jersey shore, this is what her home would have looked like, a heavily mirrored parlor where she could tidy her tail with pink toilet paper and cuddle with an emotional support dog named Scuttle, a Maltese-Pomeranian mix whose ears, paws, and tail are dyed a different jewel tone every three weeks.
As another stylist prepares the tray for the rodeo beauty’s hair extensions, Katie walks around to the selfie station. In front of a white wall brightly lit by two Nova ring lights, she tells her Instagram followers where she got today’s outfit—a ruffled leopard-print top tucked into booty-hugging faux leather pants, and 4.5-inch fuchsia heels with poufs of fur running across the toe. “Today I have total boss bitch vibes,” she says. “So I got my blouse from Upscale last week, my leather pants are from Fashion Nova, my shoes are from Forever 21—and my face is from God and plastic surgery.”
My introduction to Katie Rogers started with Femme+Garcon. Two years ago, I got a hot tip from another editor who heard from her Russian waxer that there was a warehouse in the Design District selling knockoff Hervé Léger bandage dresses to all the hot girls in Dallas. I visited the off-the-grid boutique, tried on a dress, died at the sight of my mom bod in body-con, then spoke with the owner, a handsome screen-printing entrepreneur with teeth so whitened they nearly glowed blue. I asked him who wore his clothes. He rattled off a couple of names, then added, “And of course Katie Rogers.” Who? “You don’t know Katie Rogers?”
Katie herself asked me the same thing when I dropped by her former “mermaid room” in the downtown salon Studio 1514 on a quest to find out more about local party girls’ beauty regimens. After describing how to create “Barbie legs” (a mix of Sally Hansen leg makeup and NYX liquid illuminator) and her favorite drink at The Tipsy Alchemist (the one served in a lightbulb), she stopped and asked, “Do you know about me or where I live or anything?”
Two years later, this past summer, when I saw Katie on Instagram cutting a ribbon with 3-foot pink scissors to open her SEAlon, I figured it was time to find out about her, and where she lives, and everything.
When the apartment door swings open, Katie is wearing a sheer, floor-length, fur-trimmed robe and an open-mouth smile. She gives me a hug and a tour of her place, which is furnished by the same Louis XV-meets-Las Vegas company that did her salon, including a huge mirror in the front entrance with the words “Too Glam to Give a Damn” drippily painted in hot pink.
She shares the 3,500-square-foot apartment with her best friend of 12 years, Summer, a stunning 5-foot-10 blonde who works as a medical esthetician. Both women have closets the size of bedrooms. In fact, I suspect Summer’s closet is meant to be a bedroom, and the space that holds her bed is actually the dining room.
Katie mixes a can of Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso and half a bottle of Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino over ice, a concoction that will soon be knocked over by her leopard-printed Bengal cat, Snickers, who sits at the edge of the bathroom vanity, watching the caffeinated sugar drip down a 20-drawer makeup tower (not a disaster: the housecleaner, who comes three days a week, is en route).
She ushers me past floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with hundreds of 5-inch heels and into her bedroom. In Katie’s world, serenity is a giant crystal chandelier, a custom neon sign reading “Fuxking Gorgeous” (yes, even the way Katie spells the F-word is extra), and an ear-piercing Bachelor in Paradise episode projected on the wall opposite her bed.
“I was just kidding, I don’t really wear this when I’m getting ready,” she says, dropping the sheer robe to reveal a pink satin one that stops just below her panty line. “It’s just for photo shoots and stuff. Were you surprised?” She looks at me expectantly as she slips on a cat-ear headband to finish her makeup.
I was not surprised. And I was also not surprised that she asked me if I was surprised. This is something she does a lot: fishes for my take on Katie. So do you think I’m interesting? What do you like most about me? She may be a mermaid, but she has a sharklike appetite for attention. It’s that hunger for the spotlight and an unrestrained personality that helped her make a name for herself, and, more important, make rent when she arrived in Dallas in the late 2000s.
Growing up, Katie was traded back and forth every year between her stable father in California and her wild mother in Arkansas or Missouri—wherever her mom had a new boyfriend. Relief came at 14, when her dad got full custody and moved her to his family’s East Texas ranch in Quitman. (Town motto: come grow with us. Population: still less than 2,000.)
After a brief stint at Tyler Junior College, which she left because “it was really hard and there were no hot guys,” a boy lured Katie to Plano. The relationship didn’t survive, but her lease on a townhouse did, and she took a job at Hooters to get by on her own.
One night, a girlfriend took her to Kinki Lounge on Greenville, a nightclub bathed in red velvet that was cashing in on the bottle service trend. When Katie was introduced to the owner, Kent Washington, she greeted him by meowing in his ear. He offered her a go-go dancing gig on the spot.
She wasn’t the best dancer—more Britney-style gesturing to the lyrics—but she employed a strategy that has served her well over the years: she played to the ladies. “The wife will tell the man if it’s time to buy more bottles or tip the dancer,” Katie says. “So I’d always flirt with the girls.” To this day, Katie’s fan base is predominantly female. And even when she posts a skimpy poolside pic, its mostly women leaving peach and fire emojis in the Instagram comments.
When the club was short a cocktail waitress one night, she hopped off her platform to fill in and discovered an innate knack for salesmanship. Instead of telling patrons that bottles were $300 each with a $600 minimum per table, she told them a bottle cost $600, but she would bring them another for free. She was soon popping more bottles than anyone else in the club.
“She’s savvy,” says Washington, the former boss. “She’s never not selling. She has a knack for selling herself, selling her personality. She lives in her own world to the point where it’s like she’s going to make everyone else live in that world, too.”
She may be a mermaid, but she has a shark-like appetite for attention. It’s that hunger for the spotlight and an unrestrained personality that helped her make a name for herself.
She also earned some extra scratch by selling the Amy Winehouse-esque bows she fixed in her hair. When women complimented her, she would present them with an assortment: one for $25, two for $30. Each one cost her $2 to make. (Her first website, bowsforhoes.com, is now defunct.)
Sometime after her breast enhancement but before the nose job, she served a table of casting directors and landed on Paris Hilton’s My New BFF. It was essentially a Bachelorette for friendship, but instead of dates, Katie and the other bikini-clad contestants had to pole dance for a crowd at a Las Vegas pool party, pet Siegfried and Roy’s aura-gauging baby tiger, and dig through a 7,000-pound cupcake to find a prize—all in the pursuit of becoming “besties” with the over-bleached socialite.
Katie only lasted three episodes, but the clip of her exit was memorable enough to be replayed on YouTube nearly 100,000 times. As Paris leans in for a goodbye hug, Katie blurts out, “Beep beep beep,” which, according to gossip sites, covered up the words “Good luck on your next porno” and, as Katie would spell it, “Fuxk you.”
Upon her return to Dallas, Katie was more popular than ever, yet she knew she couldn’t pop bottles for the rest of her life. She wanted more. She wanted a rich husband. But no man was going to take a cocktail waitress seriously. First, she needed a degree.
As it turned out, the one-time college dropout was a beauty school genius. She became class president and earned A’s. “People were cheating off my tests,” she says. When she graduated, she got a job as an assistant at Studio 1514—a short-lived position, because within a month, Katie had her own chair, and not long after, her own assistant.
She took an extension class and couldn’t believe how terrible the instructor made the model look. The hair strands were thin and none were placed above the ear. “It looked like a mullet,” Katie says. “The girl looked so sad.” Katie and her assistant began experimenting on each other, combining two strands of hair extensions into one thicker extension and attaching them higher on the head.
Katie, an early Instagram adopter, took before-and-after pics of one of her first extension clients and added “#mermaidhair.” Just like that, Katie did what Pollock did with splatter paint or that dude who came up with the PopSocket. How did no one else think of this first? She calls it “the thickest hair in the sea.”
“Now, I am my rich husband,” Katie says.
While Scuttle long ago lapped up his Puppuccino, the extra whip on Katie’s venti Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino is melting into sludge. She is knuckles deep in the rodeo beauty’s hair, looping even sections into microbeads, inserting extensions, and clamping the beads down with needle-nose pliers. The $1,950 extensions will last six months to a year, depending on how they’re cared for, and it will cost $150 to $200 to have the beads moved up every six weeks.
In most salons, a stylist might do a head of extensions once a week or so, but in The Mermaid SEAlon, there are five extension specialists. Katie has trained more than 250 “mermaid makers” around the world to use her hair, and she has five people working in the salon’s back office to fulfill orders of human hair that is sourced from Malaysia and fabric-dyed in China in 70 different shades. (The salon also has stylists for non-mermaid hair, a boho braid specialist, nail techs, a nurse practitioner for injectables, and a spray tan specialist who offers sparkle tans.)
As Katie loops, her wheels turn; she’s always thinking up new ideas for her brand. “You know what we need?” she says to the other stylists. “A hair menu.” It should also include the salon’s drinks—oh, and it should be presented in a treasure chest. She turns to me and says, “Next time you come in, we’ll have that.”
That’s the difference between Katie and those of us who walk on land. “I think it, I execute it,” she says. It’s a key to success too simple for business books. Her line of Roco Lashes—“short for rosé couture because, it’s like, all you need in life is Champagne and lashes”—comes in nine different styles named after Katie’s best girlfriends. She explains: “I wear lashes every single day, and I was like, might as well make my own, so I just googled how to do it, found a manufacturer, and designed the boxes.” She makes it sound like changing the filter on an air conditioner.
She also carries “Katee shirts,” tank tops emblazoned with such phrases as “Feed me queso and tell me I am pretty,” and her own collection of “glamcessories,” including the Beach Brush, Dolphin Wand curler, and the Diamond Seahorse Straightener, which, when I ask how many rhinestones it took to cover the entire tool, she instinctively sees an opportunity. “I don’t know, but that would be a good contest. Guess the Number, and the winner gets a free straightener,” she says.
Though the salon’s atmosphere is loud and buoyant—today there is an animated discussion about the feud between Nicki Minaj and Cardi B—Katie is admittedly a micromanager. She wants the volume on the flat-screens playing ’N Sync and Beyoncé videos to stay at level 27. The receptionist now uses an industrial machine to make fresh cotton candy every morning, because the prepackaged stuff wasn’t fluffy enough. Katie has a professional photographer on-site every day to take “after” photos, and she directs the shots with meticulous detail. “When she flips her head back, get a tick, tick, tick of her hair in the air,” she tells the photographer. She says she just wants girls to have nice photos of themselves, but it’s also brilliant advertising. For every woman who posts her cascade of glossy waves on Instagram, there are hundreds of potential clients clicking “like.”
Katie is a “celebrity stylist” in the sense that she has styled several reality stars, including LeeAnne Locken, but before spending time at the SEAlon, I felt it strange when she acted like she was a celebrity. A few months ago, she broke up with her boyfriend, a dead ringer for Adam Levine, and posted the news on Instagram with a lengthy statement about how she loved him but loved herself more and asked that everyone give them privacy during this time. It seemed a little much for someone who doesn’t, say, regularly appear on a screen larger than an iPhone.
But now I realize that those who know how to game Instagram are able to produce their own interactive reality show and attract their own set of devotees. Katie can take only one client per day now because she is so often pulled away to take “shelfies” with other clients and visitors next to the oyster mural on the building’s façade. At one point, I watch two young women from New Mexico, in town for a Luke Bryan concert, walk through the door. They say they were sitting in the car for a while, too nervous to come in. Katie calls for a round of cotton candy Champagne. A fiftysomething mom wearing a mermaid pin freaks out when she sees Scuttle, and a young esthetician getting her first set of mermaid extensions fangirls all over Katie.
For some, the obsession is permanent. Katie was just joking when she told her followers she’d give a free set of extensions to anyone who got a tattoo of her. She got so many responses that she had to cap the offer at the first 10.
But mostly she is inspiring a young generation of cosmetologists. Her newest extension specialist, Cory, a 28-year-old fresh from Monahans of West Texas, where he was, as far he knows, the only gay man in town, had been following Katie on social media since she first started seven years ago. He says she’s a role model, and he uses about a million “awesome”s when describing what it’s like to work with her. “Sometimes people hate getting up and going to work,” he says, “but I bust my butt because she busts hers.”
Katie and Cory decide to dine at Town Hearth after work. A restaurant with 64 chandeliers seems an appropriate place to end our day. After she takes a sip of her dirty martini, I ask who her idol is. “Myself,” she says and swears that’s her real answer. She is prone to flashes of comical narcissism (e.g., “I’m a nice girl in, like, a pretty girl’s body”), but I will give her this one.
It wasn’t anyone else but her who hustled her way out of slinging wings to building a mini glamazon empire. She alone saved the cash to open a SEAlon, and she’s already socking away to open her next three in Los Angeles, Miami, and perhaps Las Vegas, where there are plenty of “naked ballerinas” who need quality extensions. She alone has conjured up a whole new world where mermaids and gays are free to slay, a glittering escape from the ugliness of reality.
A few minutes before I say goodbye, Katie whips her head around, and, in a baby voice like the one Britney Spears uses when singing, she asks, “Have you ever met anyone like me?”
I think about the billboard ad she bought for herself near NorthPark a few holidays ago. I think about how she regularly tricks Favor drivers into delivering Olive Garden to her apartment even though it’s far out of range. I think about how she keeps her Instagram account private because “you have to buy a ticket to see the show.” I think about the themed birthday parties she throws for herself every year, like “Katie in Kandyland,” for which she hired Oompa-Loompas to carry her into the club. I think about her purple-pawed dog and her giant silicone coconuts.
“No, never,” I say.