May 15, 2009
A good hairstylist not only gives you the best possible cut, but also shares a strong bond
Don't tell your husband or boyfriend, but the main man in your life may well be your mane man. Yes, we are talking about your hairstylist. After all, he has the power to make you beautiful and he regularly caresses your hair in an intimate one- on-one relationship.
You can rely on him at all your important milestones: for an updo for graduation, a power-dressing cut for a job interview or dressed tresses for your wedding.
It is not just your locks that he cares for.
Some hairdressers like to be your friend, pampering you as well as preening your perm - think celebrity coiffeur David Gan, who lavishes his regular clients with expensive gifts such as bird's nest.
Others are commando crimpers whose authority is never to be questioned. You quiver in your chair but the fear is worth it for the follicular fabulousness that results.
Then there are the salon smoothies, the good-looking groomers who are experts at the big tease.
Experts acknowledge the cosy relationship that often springs up between a stylist and his customers.
Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, says: 'Visiting a hairstylist is a positive experience so you'll want to see him or her again.
'Plus there is continuity in the relationship because you will return every one to two months and pick up from where you've left off.'
Experienced scissor-hands Gary Low, 29, a senior hairstylist at Passion Hair Salon, notes: 'When you spend a few hours each time in close proximity with the client, there is a tendency to strike up a very strong rapport.'
The best barber princes are aware that they do not just shape customers' hair, but their confidence as well.
'Some women like compliments, while another wants to boast about her new car. But the best hairstylist is a chameleon who is anything his customer wants him to be,' says Dr Wang.
However, both hairstylist and client have to understand the boundaries of their relationship, warns Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre.
'A client might become obsessive and visit the hairstylist every other day just to spend time with him. Conversely, she may mistake his compliments for sexual harassment,' he says.
'But of course, there is nothing wrong if both parties are single and a romantic relationship eventually develops.'
Urban gets to the root of the client relationship with four hairstylists - The Boss, The BFF (Best Friends Forever), The Romeo and The Guy Pal.
THE GUY PAL
David Mercer, 46, director of Toni & Guy Singapore at The Heeren
Years of experience: 30
'As a tall angmoh, I can appear intimidating. So when I meet customers for the first time, I focus a lot of energy on making them feel comfortable.
Instead of standing behind them when they are seated, for instance, I tend to pull up a chair and sit down so I can converse with them at eye level.
My aim is to put people at ease and befriend them so I can give them information they need, which will allow me to do my job properly.
We will talk about hair first, but the conversation will eventually open up all sorts of other topics.
I can talk about anything under the sun. It is important for a hairstylist to be well versed in a variety of topics to connect with the customer.
Many of my customers, both male and female, are now my friends and we hang out at bars or restaurants.
One of my customers now collaborates with me on photography and design projects.
I guess it is possible that some customers may develop a crush on me because a very strong relationship with the customer is built.
But this is a non-issue as I don't even think about my relationships with my customers in this manner.
My wife Henne, who is Toni & Guy's marketing director, started off as a good friend. I saw her in a bar in London and went over to tell her I wanted to cut her hair.
She became a house model for Toni & Guy, we became friends and now we are happily married with one daughter.
To me, being a hairdresser is more than just cutting hair.
It is about striking up a rapport with your customer, giving them a great experience at the salon, becoming friends with him or her and being able to translate elements of their likes, dislikes and their daily life into a haircut that will work for them.'
Evande Loh, 42, international director of Shunji Matsuo Hair Studio at Wellington Building
Years of experience: 24
'It is all about negotiation and being tactful. When customers say that I dictate what their hairstyles should look like, that is only partially true.
I would never cut a customer's hair without them agreeing to it first.
What happens is that I will discuss with the customer until we settle on a style that both of us are happy with.
The moment a customer walks in, I will already have an idea of how I can improve his or her hairstyle.
A short girl with long hair, for example, would look taller if she cut her hair short. But people often walk in saying they just want a trim.
So I will explain to them what I want to do to their hair, then ask them to think about it while they get a wash. Usually, after some consideration, they agree with my suggestions.
So really, the secret to getting my way is to be diplomatic.
It is the long-time customers who have become my friends that are comfortable with me telling them what to do with their hair. They know that I understand their hair well and will give them something they like.
Sometimes, customers come in with pictures and insist on a particular cut, but I know it won't turn out well.
If they still insist, I will tell them: 'If it's not nice, it's not my fault.'
This is usually enough to get them to change their mind.
I have also turned customers away.
Once a girl with long and limp rebonded hair asked me to give her a haircut with multiple layers.
I told her I would not cut her hair in that style because it would make her hair look even thinner.
She left without a haircut.
Why do I bother negotiating with customers instead of giving them what they want?
They come to me because they trust me. They know I can make them look good or they would go to another hairdresser.
So it is my responsibility to come up with a flattering cut for them or I would not have done a good job.'
Vinn Wong, 36, artistic director of Action Hair Salon at Paragon
Years of experience: 19
'The moment you walk into my salon, you are already my VIP.
I won't be nice to you just because you are a tai tai.
I don't like being fake because others can tell when you are pretending. I believe this is why my regulars have been with me for a long time.
One of my long-time customers still pays me the original $40 rate I used to charge back when I was working in Far East Plaza 11 years ago.
I tell him: 'If there is no you, there wouldn't be me.'
My most loyal customer has been with me for 15 years, since she was a student. Now she is married and her kids and her husband also come to me.
When I am cutting a customer's hair, you will never see me stopping in the middle of the job to go talk to someone else or to give another person a consultation.
I want 100 per cent perfection, so I will make sure I finish one customer's hair before I move on to the next.
Whenever I can afford the time, I will stay on after the haircut to help with putting in her highlights or to blow-dry her hair.
Every Christmas or Chinese New Year, I give presents to my regulars, who number about 100 in total.
I don't buy them branded goods, but I try to give them something personal that they will appreciate.
Sometimes my regulars will tell me about their relationship problems with boyfriends and husbands who cheat on them.
I listen and give moral support.
They confide in me because they trust me and treat me as a good friend.
Weddings are special occasions which I celebrate with my customers.
When a customer of 10 years got married, I did her hair for her wedding dinner as her wedding gift.
I wanted to do it for free but she insisted on giving me a hongbao for good luck.
So I finally accepted the hongbao but returned her the money.'
Yohei Sugakawa, 26, hair artist of LS Philosophy at Thong Teck Building
Years of experience: Eight
Rate: $90 for men; $120 for women
'Let me set the record straight: I do not hit on my customers. Neither have I been romantically involved with them.
Perhaps I am popular because the Japanese community here is small, so there are not that many guys whom Japanese women can communicate with. I guess my Singaporean customers are interested in me because I have a different view of the world.
Once, a friend told me that one of my regular customers wrote a post on her blog about how she liked me.
I had to pretend that I did not know anything the next time she came for a haircut.
I have gone out with some customers though I do not consider them dates.
To me, I'm just making friends.
There was this Japanese customer who I went out with a few times. She was quite cute and was good company but also too young at 18, so I stopped as I felt she could be my sister and I did not want to give her the wrong idea.
I remember a Singaporean customer once telling me that she liked me. She called me at my salon and after inviting me to a barbecue party, she asked me if I had a girlfriend.
I told her no and she asked: 'So there is a chance for me?'
My reply: 'I guess so'.
It is not that I am leading her on, but that I would rather leave things open-ended.
There was also a customer who started stalking me. She sent me SMSs and even followed me back to my apartment once.
The lesson I learnt is that when customers start showing too much interest, it is time to keep a distance. I just keep it very professional and talk only about hair.
I always say that I'm single. It is similar to how celebrities always say they are unattached and, yes, I do enjoy the attention.
As a hairdresser, I need to keep up customers' hopes by keeping things a little mysterious so that they will come back for more.
My boss agrees it's good for business.'