A look at the lives of hot male hairstylists

5 of Singapore’s best-looking male hairstylists tell us what it’s like to be them

Junda Chen, Chief Creative Director at FDP Prestige Hair Care
Junda Chen, Chief Creative Director at FDP Prestige Hair Care
01 Sep 2016

Junda Chen, Chief Creative Director at FDP Prestige Hair Care

If this handsome face looks familiar, it’s probably because you know his owner by another name: Hagen Troy. As it turns out, Junda Chen is a bit of a multi-hyphenate, having forged a singing career, written songs, and even designed the hair salon where he serves as Chief Creative Director. “I like to beautify things,” he says. “I’m quite a romantic and at the same time, a logical person, so I want to make dreams come true in a functional way.”

He credits this to his mother, who is an international beauty pageant judge and has been a beautician with a chain of salons since the 1980s. “My mum used to say that if you know how to beautify a ‘not-appealing’ person or place, then that’s it. But if you beautify a person who is already beautiful, then you haven’t done anything, your skill is not there.”

You sing, you write songs, you design, you do hair – how are you passionate about so many things? Being a hairstylist started off as a convenience, but I never really wanted to do that until I went to the UK, where I studied interior architecture for honours degree. I went into a salon in the UK, and there was a lady who actually tried her best to look at my face and do a consultation. I thought that was very different. Back in the 80s or 90s, you would just say “I want to cut it this way” and they just cut it without a consultation. I thought about what my mum said about skill and I realised these two things are linked together.

I’ve never really thought of this as a business – it’s just me, when I start something, I want to finish it well. My passion is really to just make sure that everyone comes in without much confidence and goes out a totally different person.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
It started with my ex-girlfriend in the UK. I could always see the potential in her. I’ve always liked to dress people up. If you really want to know what’s a challenge, some people cannot see their own potential, and in order to break that and have them have an open heart and let you unleash that.

There are people who are very spontaneous and there are people who are very afraid of change. My ex was kind of like that, she was looking at it in terms of “okay, I’ll let you do something, but don’t do it too drastically.” That made me feel like I wanted to do more! Her hair was really long and I cut it really short and fixed it so that it fit her face shape. That kind of became my signature: drastic changes, from really long to really short. 

Junda Chen, Chief Creative Director at FDP Prestige Hair Care
Junda Chen, Chief Creative Director at FDP Prestige Hair Care
01 Sep 2016

Junda Chen, Chief Creative Director at FDP Prestige Hair Care

What do people need to be prepared for when dating a hairstylist?
I’m a very neat person, actually, but because of my meticulousness, that person would have to at least look clean and presentable and not messy, because being a workaholic, I would look at details like “ok, maybe that one inch”, “oh, your colour’s coming out”. But I’m not picky in that manner.

My career moves me to look at the details. That sometimes is good and sometimes is bad. It makes your choices even more limited.

Have you ever gotten attention for your good looks?
Before I was doing music, there would be people who would sort of stand outside the salon. But when I started singing and writing more songs, and people knew who I was, they knew where my shop is, so they again, would come here, walk up and down, or call and pretend like they wanted to make an appointment. One of them was a guy calling in, and it was always the same voice and same person, sometimes he would change and make himself sound like a girl, and he would make an appointment but not show up. He just wanted to make sure that my time was empty, and what he would do is wait outside, and if I came out, he would run to see me and ask me for my autograph.

What is the biggest misconception people have about being a hairstylist?
People always think “you can’t study, you’re not good at academics, therefore, you become a stylist”. You think of stylists as one level down, but even the president needs someone to fix their hair. I think people have the misconception that hairstylists are uneducated, but I beg to differ, people in the creative field are very smart – I myself have a first-class degree in interior architecture. I always share with my colleagues and the people that I train that you should not be looked down on that way.

The other misconception is that we’re always hard-selling things. I can’t speak for other salons, but I always take pride in my personalization and consultation – you can keep hard-selling something to that one person, if it doesn’t work, they’re going to give you one chance, two chances, then maybe stop coming back. If you don’t need a perm, I’m not going to tell you that you need a perm. Do what suits you, not what you don’t need. But open your heart, not everyone is bad.

On trends:
I like it natural, actually. I don’t only do things that I myself like, like with my consultation, it’s about what the other person wants. But when you see a lot of too many things – every girl wants ash grey and everyone wants to look like a granny – I don’t have a problem with that, as long as the tone matches, and you don’t look like a piece of paper, that works! But I still like to go back to the basics, I’m kind of old-school.

Sham Adam, Leading Stylist at Salon Vim
Sham Adam, Leading Stylist at Salon Vim
01 Sep 2016

Sham Adam, Leading Stylist at Salon Vim

Sham Adam is a busy man. In addition to serving clients at Salon Vim, he trains others, trains himself, and gets involved in marketing.

Turns out that he’s a bit of a therapist too: At the opening of Salon Vim in Wisma Atria last month, he told us that he has to be adept at switching from topic to topic, as he usually serves more than one client at a time. One day, he received a text from a client who had observed him running around the salon. “It’s not just about haircuts, you need to encourage them a bit,” he said. “My client texted me to say that I did a good job encouraging other people, that even though they think their life sucks, I still listened to them.”

Far from being harried, he’s chatty, upbeat, and considerate: after our interview, we spotted him buying pastries at Paris Baguette for his colleagues in another branch of the salon. Awww.

Tell us about your journey getting to where you are today
In hairdressing, it’s pretty tough. At first you need to go for a fundamental training, and that’s only the ticket into the hairdressing line. That doesn’t mean you can be a hairdresser. You still need to work as a technician or an assistant in your apprenticeship.

Did your parents support your decision to go into hairstyling?
At first, not really. My mum always wanted me to become an accountant. I studied it for half a year, and I think that was not really wanted to do. I got a good result, but I feel that I am more of a hands-on person, that there’s an artsy person in me. I used to like music and drawing. I believed that if I could be hands-on, it would be much better.

What is the toughest part about being a hairstylist?
Insecurity. When you first step into the line, you are not sure whether you can do it, and you just keep working. When you work with any occupation, it’s not just about working hard but working smart, you must know every detail and be in momentum with how the world is changing. Every three or four months, things will change and you need to keep up, otherwise you will be out, and that’s very challenging.

I thought of changing my job last time – about 10 years ago, the flying thing was quite hot. I went for the [flight attendant] interview, I got in, I went for the second interview, and then it struck me: why did I go into hairdressing? Because I love it. I can’t just give up on that. If I want to succeed, I needed to really focus on it. So I changed my track back to it and never looked back. No pain, no gain, right? 

Sham Adam, Leading Stylist at Salon Vim
Sham Adam, Leading Stylist at Salon Vim
01 Sep 2016

Sham Adam, Leading Stylist at Salon Vim

Why are you so passionate about hairstyling?
I don’t see myself as just a hair-cutter or just dyeing hair, I think we are creating an image for people. I think hair is something that is very important and so difficult to handle. Where we can beautify them, so that they do less maintenance on a daily basis, that is something I feel very satisfied about.

On meaningful experiences in his line of work:
There was a customer who came to me before, when she came to me she was 17, who had a really, really bad injury on her head, with a huge scar. She was introduced to me by a friend, and when I looked at her, she started crying because she didn’t know anyone who could cut her hair. She told me she had a car accident and a very deep cut, and had an operation on her head, so she was begging me to tell her what she should do. She had really long hair because she didn’t know what to do and it got kind of stuck [together] because she couldn’t really wash it. And we both ended up satisfied. I did a short cut but I was able to cover the scar so she was really happy. She still comes to me, actually! That was the best experience.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about being a hairstylist?
They think we are always flirty, but we have to be friendly to our clients so sometimes it gets misinterpreted as flirting! (Editor’s note: Sorry ladies, he’s happily taken!)

Do you cut your girlfriend’s hair?
Of course I do! And she’s also been my model at events. She’s quite adventurous because she’s a designer. She allowed me to do whatever, she trusts me.

How did you two meet?
Friends introduced. Not in a hair salon!

Have clients ever asked you out?
I’m quite serious about my job, I don’t really go out with my clients unless we’ve known each other for more than 10 years. That we already have a relationship, we’re more than a client and a hairdresser and we know what to expect from each other. This is a real, pure friendship though and I try not to cross over the line. I do have to reject a lot though, I say “I’m really busy” or even better, “My girlfriend is waiting for me.” But some people are very persistent and keep trying to get attention from you.

Maybe the think they’ll wear you down.  
Nah, I don’t think so. (laughs) 

Gary Lau, Stylist, Salon Infinity Singapore – Aveda Salon
Gary Lau, Stylist, Salon Infinity Singapore – Aveda Salon
01 Sep 2016

Gary Lau, Stylist, Salon Infinity Singapore – Aveda Salon

If you’re the type of person who enjoys long chats with your hairdresser, then Gary Lau is your guy. The affable stylist can talk about anything, from travel – because his clients hail from all parts of the world – to childrearing, since he’s the father of one, with another on the way.

Midway through our interview, Gary shows us his hands.

“See many hands? They don’t look like the typical hands of a hairdresser,” he says, attributing their rough appearance to his experience working in a factory at the age of 17.

Why did you decide to become a hairstylist?  
I am from a very “kampong” area in East Malaysia. My brother went to Singapore to work and came back looking very different, so I followed him! I know that there is a gap between my level of education and the level of the people here, so I came here to upgrade myself. I couldn’t speak English before at all, but this industry is very good for me, I can improve myself and at the same time make friends.

Tell us about your previous jobs.
I worked at a factory as a factory operator at age 17. It was a wiring tape factory where you coat the glue into the PVC. But I felt it was very boring and I had no future there. The problem is that I like going around and making friends. But in that job, it was very difficult to find time to communicate with others. And people look down on you. I’m the type of person who looks for jobs where I can improve myself. I wanted to find a job where people respect you and where it is easy to make friends.

I’m also attracted to jobs that are not boring, where you can wear whatever you want. Honestly, I only wore this outfit today because I knew you were coming and were taking photos! As a hairdresser, if I wear very “smart” or tight clothing, I have a hard time moving around. But I do agree that you should put effort into being trendy, presentable, and stylish because a first impression is important: clients want to feel that you are confident. 

Gary Lau, Stylist, Salon Infinity Singapore – Aveda Salon
Gary Lau, Stylist, Salon Infinity Singapore – Aveda Salon
01 Sep 2016

Gary Lau, Stylist, Salon Infinity Singapore – Aveda Salon

How do you deal with angry customers? 

I try not to show the customer that I am angry. One time, I gave a customer a very small trim. Suddenly, he was in a really bad mood, saying that it is so different than what he wanted, and he said this in front of so many people. If I cannot settle a matter, I ask my colleague to come, and I ask my customer if he wants others to help. But this person kept saying “I DON’T WANT”. I did not want to cause a scene so I offered to give him a discount. And the next time he came back...he still looked for me! I realised that what had happened that day was not my problem, it was the customer’s problem. So even though you’re just a stylist, you must handle everything, all the (does hand motions).

What are some ways that your customers have encouraged you?
When I got married, my customers came and gave me ang bao (red envelope). Then when I had a child, they bought gifts for her. I was really touched. These are customers who have been with me for years. I’m very touched…from being single, to a married man, they have been with me. 

What sets you apart from other hairstylists? 

I treat all my customers as a friend, everyone is equal, so we cannot be “this one is very rich”, everyone is equal, this is very important. Some customers want special treatment. I try my best to give them what they want, but I have my limits. The second time they come back, you need to give him the same thing. Everyone is equal. All pay the same amount. No matter what, if even my boss comes, I will feel the same way.

I don’t believe in hard selling, even if my earnings were bad that month. Give your customers what they need! Don’t make it so that every time they come back, they need to buy something new.

Has a customer ever asked you out?
So far, when the ladies come to me, it is because they run a business or they want me to buy insurance from them, since I have kids already and they are regular customers. Or they ask me to join their multilevel marketing. They think that because I have many customers, it is very easy for me to sell the products!

Finally, since you’re a father, do you cut your own kid’s hair!
Of course! Every nine months. I am a family man, and at the end of the day I still need to support my them and work even harder than before. I just try my best to make every customer happy. 

Kenneth Tan, Style Director, TONI&GUY Mandarin Gallery
Kenneth Tan, Style Director, TONI&GUY Mandarin Gallery
01 Sep 2016

Kenneth Tan, Style Director, TONI&GUY Mandarin Gallery

On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone who can carry a conversation, but who has a quieter presence, Kenneth is the hairstylist for you. Despite being soft-spoken, Kenneth says that meeting people is the best part of his job.

“For hairdressing, it’s very personal,” he says. “If the client comes to you, it means that they trust you. We’re probably the people outside of the ‘friend category’ that are closer to them.”

Like any good hairstylist, he’s takes pride in his consultations, which have helped prevent any misunderstandings between him and his clients.

“I always give my professional opinion. If the client wants something that is very unsuitable for them, I would advise them not to, but if they really want it, I will do it for them. At the end of the day, I am not doing it for myself, it is for them, so they need to be able to feel good in that look. I will always cater to them.”

How did you become a hairstylist?
Right after secondary school, I took a hairstyling course full time for a year, then worked at a salon for 2 years. Initially, I chose hairstyling out of curiosity. But after doing hair, I started to feel it was always about making people happy. When someone’s hair looks good, that’s one less thing for them to worry about.

For me, the process was very, very smooth. The initial challenge is that right after National Service, you have had no contact with hair at all. But once I got the hang of it again, everything went pretty smoothly. I got pretty lucky.

How did your family feel when you chose to go into hairstyling at such a young age?
Initially, when I talked about doing hair with my parents, they were totally against it. My mum suggested that I start working in a salon first. So before I started my course, I was working with my mum’s hairdresser for a few months. So after that, when I told her “I still like doing hair”, she let me take the course. But even a year later, she was telling me, maybe you want to do a career change? You want study other things as well? This was a period when my parents were asking me whether I want to change. Only after NS and when I started doing this for a few years, or when they see my work – sometimes I do competitions—it’s then that they said, just do what you want to do.

Kenneth Tan, Style Director, TONI&GUY Mandarin Gallery
Kenneth Tan, Style Director, TONI&GUY Mandarin Gallery
01 Sep 2016

Kenneth Tan, Style Director, TONI&GUY Mandarin Gallery

Trends are always coming back, but there will be slight changes throughout. Just take men’s fashion, for example: right now, the trend is more of the clean, gentlemen’s looks. That was popular during the 80s or even the 70s. In the 90s and 2000s, it wasn’t like that. But now it’s coming back. Even though it looks the same, the technique and way that we style it is actually pretty different, since hairstyling products are always evolving.

Everything is always about continuous education. Building the basic foundation is very important. But even after learning most things about hair, it will still be about constant education – be patient, work smart, and be ready to meet new people every day.

Would you say that being a hairstylist has improved your social skills?
[Being able to read people] is one gift that hairdressers need. We meet new people almost every day. We need to understand quickly, faster that other people, we need to be able to read body language.

Previously, when I was younger, I didn’t meet a lot of new people. It was around the same circle of friends. I was not good at talking and socializing. I started to learn how to engage people better, how to start a conversation, how to continue a conversation.

Don’t be nervous and shy about talking about yourself. In order to continue a conversation, you need to understand the interests of the other party. The age group is important, [details like] whether they are studying or working….

Do you have a specialty?
I’m very good at cutting – cutting is my specialty, both long hair and short hair. For hairdressers to be good, if they are able to master a bob-length kind of haircut, they should be okay with most other things.

On befriending customers: 
It’s okay to meet people [outside of work], it’s not weird. Even if they don’t treat you as a friend only, and they’re thinking of something else, it’s okay. But of course we need to be friends first. Is it considered weird? If they come here, and the both of you connect, it is okay, we can explore more opportunities and even meet more people through each other.

What is the nicest ways your clients have shown their appreciation?
My clients who have known me for a while – and even some of the short term clients, who have known me for a year or so – during festive periods like Chinese New Year or Christmas, they write me a card, that’s really thoughtful. Or when they know it’s my birthday, they message me as well. These are the little things that make me feel that hairdressing is a personal thing, where you meet friends and not just customers.

Ken Hong, Salon Director, Evolve Salon
Ken Hong, Salon Director, Evolve Salon
01 Sep 2016

Ken Hong, Salon Director, Evolve Salon

Given his two decades of experience, you would think that Ken Hong, whom we met at the launch of John Frieda’s new Miraculous Recovery Shampoo and Conditioner, was always passionate about his job. It started off as practical job for someone without an education to make money, but with time, his skills and passion grew until he became the Grand Champion in the Goldwell International Trend Zoom in 2008, Valencia, Spain.

Despite being a little older than the other hairstylists we interviewed, Ken could fit right in with the hipsters milling around Tiong Bahru: he wore a white shirt patterned with skateboards, and had his hair tied into a lovingly conditioned man bun. 

How did you become a hairstylist?
This is a long story. I started working once I was 12. At that point, I had stopped schooling and just worked in coffee shops and restaurants. From age 12 to 15, I worked in a kampung. Then I moved out of the Kampong to Johor Bahur, where I worked in the service line at the malls.

The mall exposed me to hair academies. I realised that there were people there who could teach me to style hair. So I began to explore the possibility of doing this, if I could do it without an education.

At around 16 or 17, I started an apprenticeship at one of the hair salons. I told my mentor that I really wanted to be a hairstylist, but that I didn’t really know how to write. So could I still do it? And this fellow told me that I couldn’t!

Around two years later, I made a friend in the same line of work. When I asked him the same thing, he said that I could!

How did your family feel about your decision?
When I first entered the academy, they all objected. I managed to gather a sum of money, around 1000 ringgit. The course was 3000 ringgit. When my family found out, they offered to give me back the 1k if I didn’t enroll. They don’t want me to waste the 2k. They thought it might be something I’m just going into for fun and that the passion might not last. Plus, hairstyling was regarded as a more feminine job and people thought guys shouldn’t go into that industry.

So did it feel like a dream come true when you were finally able to work in a hair salon?
During the first couple of years in JB, it was more about survival. This was something I can do without having to read or write. It was for practical reasons. It was something I was good at, that I could do for a long time. In the last half a year before coming to Singapore, I realised that this was not the direction I wanted. Day to day, it was a lot of client servicing, and it was quite monotonous, and I wanted to explore options like joining competitions and doing editorials, which is what I do now for magazines. So I decided to come to Singapore to find salons that could train me and give me opportunities to do what I really wanted to do.

Now that you enjoy your career, what do you like the best about it?  
Aside from working on editorials, I like working with customers. Day to day it’s always about making a customer satisfied and getting good feedback. I’ve been in the industry for 19 years, and I’m at the point where I enjoy creativity, and getting the kind of opportunities to go overseas for shows or to represent a brand. 

Ken Hong, Salon Director, Evolve Salon
Ken Hong, Salon Director, Evolve Salon
01 Sep 2016

Ken Hong, Salon Director, Evolve Salon

Tell us more about meaningful experiences you have had serving customers
I know some expats whose contract in Singapore only lasts a few years. Even after they get their last haircut, they make it to a point, one week before leaving, to give you something, to have a chat with you. They don’t even visit to get a haircut, but in the capacity as a friend. And when they give me photos, it’s very touching but sad because you’ve forged a relationship over the past couple of years and now the person is leaving.

What do you need to be prepared for when dating a hairstylist?
Hairstylists’ working hours are quite long, but quite comparable to any other office hours out there. It’s not much of a thing to be “prepared for” – it’s like dating anybody else! I have quite a good work-life balance, and on holidays, there’s a cutoff time for appointments. I have a very normal life.

What is your unique selling point?
I’ve been in this line for 19 years. Experience counts for something. I’m the type of person who likes to understand his clients before he gives them a haircut: what they want, what they don’t want, what they are looking for. And being able to go to the extent to do that consultation also comes with experience.

Speaking of a “miraculous recovery”, what’s the most drastic makeover you have ever had to do?
Well, this isn’t exactly a conventional makeover, but I had a client who was an Indonesian socialite. She would specifically request a traditional hairdo done, the kind you would see only onstage, for regular errands like shopping. It wasn’t even for a special occasion! So that was pretty dramatic.

 

Photos by Toggle

More in this series: 
Coffee princes of Singapore
A look inside the lives of handsome hawkers
Get ready to swoon over Singapore's 5 hottest fitness guys
Nights out: Meet 5 of Singapore's hottest bartenders

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