It cuts both ways
A good hairstyle depends on the stylist knowing how to handle your particular type of tresses, write Tara Jenkins and Karen Pittar
New Hong Kong arrival Lucy Jones booked her first hair appointment at a funky salon in Causeway Bay. 'With hindsight I suppose it was a leap of confidence, given that the salon staff didn't speak much English and I was clearly their only Caucasian client,' she says. 'But from my office window I'd watched Asian girls leaving the salon, looking a million dollars.
'The haircut was a total disaster. The stylist kept laughing, and calling his colleagues over to feel my 'baby hair'. He just didn't know how to deal with my fine, limp, jaw-length bob. The haircut - a layered crop - was so awful I cried in front of the mirror every morning for weeks.'
We've all had the haircut-from-hell experience, but you can minimise your chances of ending up with an inappropriate cut by ensuring your stylist knows how to deal with your type of hair. Experienced hairdressers agree it is impossible to handle Asian and Caucasian hair in the same way because each one's texture is unique, and there are definite techniques and styles that suit Asians rather than Caucasians.
Celebrity hairstylist Kim Robinson goes one step further. He says every individual, no matter what their ethnicity, has different hair. 'It's very difficult, for example, to paint all Asians with the same brush. Hong Kong Chinese are different to Singaporean Chinese, to northern Chinese, to Japanese ... There are so many different hair textures and skin textures,' he says.
'You need to work on an individual basis and listen to the client. Every woman wants something that works for her, feels good, looks good and is easy to maintain, even though she might be inspired by a look in a magazine.
'In general, Hong Kong women are very aware of international trends and want to be a part of that, but they need to understand the limitations of what their hair can do and understand that what they see in the magazines doesn't always carry through to the street. Don't over-torture the hair by colouring, straightening and perming,' Robinson says.
Paul Fok of Indulgence on Lyndhurst Terrace says that because Asian hair is relatively coarse, thick and straight, it requires much more technical work to create variations and styles. 'The most important task in cutting Asian hair is to create texture, because straight or flat hair is very common. The cut should create an impression of softness to lighten up dark hair.'
Rive Chow from ii Salon in Central says delicate layering best suits Asian hair. 'As the hair is typically thick and coarse, volume and frizzing can often be an issue and hairstyles drop out easily. Layers underneath can effectively improve the result. We typically blow-dry the hair after shampooing to see the whole shape before we start cutting. We then divide it into many sections and cut in smaller bundles, whereas with westerners we usually cut hair in larger sections,' Chow says.
Robinson says Asian hair is harder to work with as it doesn't have as much movement as Caucasian hair. He warns that if you want to go with this season's Victoria Beckham bob, to be careful not to go too short. 'The VB bob is long in the front, which works well, but if you cut Asian hair too short at the back it can look rather manly as it sticks out at the neckline. It doesn't look feminine,' he says.
Stylist Eddie Wong Ho-yin of Triple Edge also warns against cutting Asian hair too short. 'Short styles such as bobs suit Asian hair because of the volume, but if you cut Asian hair too short it will stick out, especially on the crown area and the fringe above the eyebrows,' he says. 'Asian hair is difficult to cut. You have to do it step by step from the bottom to the top. It's like constructing a building - the foundation is very important.'
Caucasian hair can vary greatly, depending on nationality, says Fok. Although generally fine and full, it can also be naturally curly and sometimes even frizzy. When having hair styled in Hong Kong, he says, 'you need to be careful not to cut in too much texture, because with Caucasian hair there is less weight in the ends, leaving curls or waves pointing in different directions, causing even more frizziness.'
Robinson says popular Asian methods such as over-layering or thinning can lead to problems with Caucasian hair. 'Over-layered, thinned-out hair that has been razored and shredded through gives a blunt look and works on coarser hair, not fine, soft hair. Caucasian women generally want to create a soft, flowing, feminine look.'
Wong says Caucasians tend to have more volume than their Asian counterparts: 'For bulky hair it's good to have different colour tones because they help with separation and definition. Both long and short styles look good on Caucasian women, but I prefer longer hair. With a natural wave it looks sleek and sophisticated.'
Robinson, who has styled the locks of the rich and famous including Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn and Kate Moss, says Hong Kong is traditionally a long-hair market and the upcoming season's look is big, loose waves, long layered and pulled off the face - slightly Brigitte Bardot.
'There are a lot of bobs, such as the VB bob, that will infiltrate the local market, but to a lesser extent. Beckham is not a role model here - Hong Kong role models tend to be more feminine.'
Wong agrees. 'The coming winter is all about glamour, elegance and femininity - whatever makes a woman sexy.'