updated 4 Jul 2013, 20:16
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Mon, May 13, 2013
The Straits Times
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Be blown away
by Natasha Ann Zachariah

Beauty salon decor has taken a hairy turn - in a good way. A new breed of hair and grooming outfits here is eschewing the usual mood lighting and mirrored interiors for quirkier concepts.

In hipster enclave Ann Siang Hill, traditional English barbershop Truefitt & Hill, which opened two months ago, is fitted out like a gentlemen's club.

At six-month-old hair salon Blow+Bar in Rodyk Street, customers can sip their choice of tipple and tinker away on iPads while their tresses are washed.

The latest kid on the block, Prep in Mandarin Gallery, offers blowouts - a concept that is popular in America.

Stylists there only blow, dry and set hair based on one of five styles chosen by the customer.

Prep's owners engaged well-known creative agency, Asylum, to create a cosy vibe with a mint green theme and wood panelling. A custom-designed styling area seats four, so customers in groups can indulge in girl talk as they glam up.

Prep, which opened last month, already draws regular customers such as Ms Peggy Choi, who goes there once a week to get her hair done.

The owner of business investment start-up The Straits Network, who declines to reveal her age, says: "Most hair salons have too many lights, too much noise and a lot of other things going on at the same time.

"At Prep, it just feels so good, especially when you go on the weekend. It's a bit of pampering, a treat for yourself."

[email protected]

We Need A Hero

Where: 57 Eng Hoon Street, 01-86, tel: 6222-5590, open: 10am to 9pm daily, go to

Real men do wax. So when it came to designing this month-old hair removal and grooming salon only for the boys, Spa Esprit Group's brand director Jerry De Souza upped the testosterone indoors.

Mr De Souza, 41, who is also behind the sassy, sexy interiors of Strip and Browhaus chains of salons, both run by Spa Esprit Group, says: "I'm always creating stores for females and the colours there can't be too hard and need to look like they have a girl's touch.

"With this one, I could play more with something that guys like."

The result of a month-long design and renovation process is a 1,200 sq ft cowboy saloon. Well, sort of.

Huge red stars, reminiscent of a sheriff's badge, are plastered on wooden panels. Adding a touch of the Wild West are four wall-mounted horns - two feature buffalo skulls - bought from Britain and the United States.

The reception desk is covered in gold-plated squares and a leather print of two bulls anchor the swanky area. Mr De Souza was inspired by the air vents he saw on buildings on trips to Brooklyn in New York, so he mirrored the pattern on the booth, and the walls behind it.

Behind the reception, stripes in two shades of blue run down the walls - his way of paying homage to his favourite men's designer Thom Browne, who is known for stripes on his clothes.

The barbershop chairs and plaid-clad hair-wash basins were customised for the store.

The reading corner comes with two vintage B&B Italia chairs for buddies to hang out at after their shave and cut.

Those who take up a grooming package starting from $500 are also served Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey.

The outlandish designs had contractors pulling their hair out, trying to complete the intricate detailing the best way they could, says Mr De Souza.

He also had to modify some things in the design mock-ups, such as doing away with concrete hair-wash basins because they were not comfortable, and a ceiling that featured wooden carvings.

Mr De Souza, who started out in costume design and previously owned fashion store The Oppt Shop which had outlets in Queenstown and Heeren, says of those "do-over" moments: "I'm always fighting with the contractors to get my ideas through, but these were just not workable ideas because you have to look at functionality, aside from the aesthetic.

"Also, design can get expensive, so you want to make sure you keep it to the basics without creating something that's too intimidating."

The salon's design budget was about $350,000.

On having to design and build the space within such a short time, he says: "Most designers are able to create many versions of the store before they actually decide on the final one.

"There's no prototype for me. I just have to build and make it work."

From the outside, We Need A Hero is a little tough for first-time customers to zero in on. Its white-washed exterior, complete with a huge glass window that looks more like a shop display, hardly looks like a typical barbershop - there are no red, blue and white revolving stripes outside.

He says: "It could work against us in a way. But from all our outlets, people have come to expect us to do something fun and fresh."


Where: 01-32 The Watermark, Robertson Quay, 7 Rodyk Street, tel: 6238-7338, open: 10.30am to 9.30pm (Mondays to Thursdays), 10am to 9.30pm (Fridays and Saturdays), 10am to 8.30pm (Sundays), go to

Ladies, leave the car keys at home when you head down to Blow+Bar.

With this salon serving glasses of Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc as you get your hair coiffed in front of a bar-like counter, you might be forgiven for thinking you have ended up in a trendy bar.

Secondary school friends Diana Goh and Ashley Soh, both 30, set up the salon-cum-bar concept amid the cafes and bars in Robertson Quay. The place offers regular beauty services such as blow drying, manicures and pedicures, massages and hair colouring.

Ms Goh says: "You cannot bring the salon to the bar, but you can bring the bar to the salon, which is what Blow+Bar has achieved."

It seemed inevitable that the duo would set up a beauty salon together.

Ms Goh previously worked as a marketer for the SK-II global team, building the skincare brand across China and in the ASEAN region. Ms Soh worked for hair product brand L'Oreal Professionnel, marketing its products.

To help design the 450 sq ft shop, they roped in Mr Mark Khoo, who spent five years leading the global counter design for SK-II.

One of the issues the trio grappled with was the height of the counter. The idea was for customers to be able to see their hair being blown in a mirror as they sat at the bar. Mr Khoo, 39, who now runs his own design agency red.D retail design, says: "If it was too low, it wouldn't have the feel of a bar. But if it was too high, then people couldn't see themselves properly in the mirror."

The dual concept sees champagne bottles placed next to hair products on the shelves. A "menu" of the services provided is printed on a wall-mounted mirror, much like in a cosmopolitan bar.

The owners and Mr Khoo also went back and forth on the paint colour for the salon, finally deciding on a particular shade of red.

Lighting also had to be perfect, between a blend of warm and cool lights, instead of one or the other.

Tapping on his experience creating counters for beauty brands, Mr Khoo says: "The mixing of lights was intentional because some light looks better on the skin, and it also enhances relaxation and creates the ambience we want."

Thinking of the working woman or frazzled mother squeezing in a visit, the trio paid close attention to detail. There is a diaper-changing station in the toilet and iPads for customers to catch up on work.

Ms Soh says: "It was essential to get everything right, even down to the colour of the walls. We're customers at salons too, so we know what customers want when they are coming in."

Ultimately, the owners say they are trying to inject a casual feel to the place, where girlfriends can hang out with one another and, well, grab a drink.

Ms Goh says: "Blow+Bar was never just about being a salon for hair or nails.

It was meant to be a social place where you can sit back and truly feel relaxed by yourself or with friends after a long day at work or for a pampering weekend."


Where: 03-34 Mandarin Gallery, 333A Orchard Road, tel: 6732-6123, open: 10am to 8pm daily, go to www.prep

So you have spent $39 getting your mane glossy and tousled, in a blowout called The Great Gats-Beach, at Prep. But the thought of stepping outside, where the rain or humidity threatens to ruin your do, now fills you with dread.

Never fear, the women behind this one-month-old outfit at Mandarin Gallery have thought of it all. The salon sells specially designed merchandise, such as terry cloth-lined shower caps and umbrellas to protect your hairstyle. There are also cloth tote bags in three designs.

From quirky names for blowouts to a semi-hidden washing pod for privacy to a select music playlist, every detail in this Asylum-designed salon is well chosen.

Asylum's design director Cara Ang says the 580 sq ft salon was designed with clean lines and in a cool shade of mint green to make customers feel at home. "We didn't want something with a glamorous gloss, but a place that felt cosy and like being home."

The beauty salon offers only blowouts, or blow-dry hairstyling, and basic hair treatments for men and women. There is no cutting or dyeing at this salon.

The venture was started by secondary school friends Jacelyn Soh, Yishi Lian Teh and Jacqueline Chang, all 27, who met at Raffles Girls' Secondary School.

Ms Lian and Ms Soh left their investment banking jobs last June while Ms Chang, who was in London, gave up her business development job in the lifestyle and F&B industry there and returned home in December to start the business. The trio took classes at a hair salon chain to understand what kind of products and hairstyles they should use and create.

It was important that they get the design right, rather than recreate a common look familiar in most salons here.

Ms Chang says of the concept: "We go for blowouts from time to time and it wasn't easy to find a place which had a nice ambience and price."

Drawing on their experience as customers, they ensured that their salon had space for groups of girlfriends to stay together - hence a communal seating area where they can get their hair done together.

Keeping to the chilled-out feel, the owners chose white, mint green and oak-wood panelling for the whole theme - something that would please both sexes instead of being overtly feminine.

As the shopfront is wide and open, they created a washing station that was shielded from passers-by so that customers are not caught in a "vulnerable" moment, says Ms Soh. "We wanted it semi-enclosed so that you are not so exposed when you're lying down with your eyes closed."

The salon also has an "accidental" photography wall - it is in the wash area - for trigger-happy customers who want to show off their tresses on Instagram.

The wall, which has alternate strips of wood and mint-green panels, was at first intended only as a feature wall, but then patrons kept taking photos in front of it.

Another design feature that is sure to have passers-by doing a double take: an art installation of sorts, in the window.

Five hairdryers seemingly blow to topple a vase.

Ms Ang says: "We hope to change it every couple of months to create something different. It's not your regular salon advertising where it has pictures of women with nice hair. It's quite unexpected in a retail environment."

Truefitt & Hill Singapore

Where: 9 Ann Siang Road, tel: 6223-5263, open: 10am to 9pm Who says the men don't get it? This barbershop in Ann Siang Road is all about pampering dudes - in a proper English fashion.

Step into the two-month-old Singapore outfit of the London chain and you instantly feel like you are in a members-only private men's club. It helps that the interiors, and service, are modelled after its strong English tradition.

The floors are decked out in graphic mosaic tiles, with walls covered in yellowed photographs.

Inside the manicure-pedicure room are rows of typewriters mounted onto the wall, which are also displayed on dark wood display cases.

As a tribute to the Peranakan and Chinese heritage of the area, flower motif tiles particular to Peranakan houses line the side of two treatment rooms.

Little knick-knacks such as fire engine-red letterboxes and Union Jack chests dot the 1,100 sq ft shophouse, while chandeliers add a touch of grandeur.

It seemed like a natural choice for Mr Marc Nicholson, chief executive officer for the shop in Singapore, to go with British furniture stalwart Timothy Oulton to provide furniture for the store here. Mr Nicholson, 44, who has two silent partners, also worked with local interior design firm Museum ID to create that quintessential British barbershop look.

The former advertising man says: "While elements such as each barber station has exact dimensions, which are standardised by Truefitt & Hill to have the best shave and haircut experience, we were also allowed to have a different design from the other stores.

"It's not like we're running a McDonald's that has to be the same in every country."

The barbershop, which still has the red, white and blue light on the outside, was established in London in 1805 and is the world's oldest barbershop. Since then, more outlets have opened in Las Vegas, Toronto, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Nicholson hopes to run a place where customers come by to relax even if they do not need a shave. They can get a drink at the bar - martinis, gins and whiskies - or get their shoes shined or their shirts pressed. If they want to get refreshed, they can also use the shower facilities at the back of the house.

The Canadian, who used to get his hair cut in a barbershop with his father, says: "I'm just a guy who has a romantic notion about setting up a traditional-looking barbershop, like the ones I went to before. This is an oasis for men where they can pamper themselves without feeling insecure."

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