updated 8 Dec 2011, 18:58
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Fri, Nov 04, 2011
The Star/ANN
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Winnie Loo has the best of both worlds
by Fiona Ho

FOR Winnie Loo, the doyenne of Malaysian hair designers, the salon is a playground. "If you enjoy doing something, it's not really work - it's fun," she says.

In spite of her jam-packed schedule, which often calls for visits to fashion capitals such as London and New York, the founder of the ubiquitous A Cut Above chain says she is still very hands-on.

"I'm actually working in the salon most of the time whenever I'm in the country. There's no such thing as being a lady of leisure for me," the 50-something Loo reveals.

She is clad in an auburn tie-dye top and a matching brown skirt that flares from the waist. It is a simple enough ensemble, but Loo still looks every inch the formidable force of fashion she has long become.

But Loo insists she is no diva. The stylist, who opened her first salon in Kuala Lumpur in 1979, now has 17 salons to her name but she is still far from settling down. "It's very important for me to stay focused. I'm not someone who can just sit back and relax. I'm still a very grounded person who loves what I do and I always want to be better."

Despite the platitudes, Loo's placid demeanour belies a childlike earnestness that immediately reels one in. Her wide eyes sparkle as she relays her passion for hairdressing during our recent interview at her salon in Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur.

She also shares her long-time fervour for the performing arts. "I enjoy musicals and I try to catch them whenever I can. They're just beautiful," she says with a smile. Loo, who sports an asymmetrical bob she describes as "sassy" and "on-the-go", adds that some of her best hair creations were inspired by the musicals she has seen. She pays special attention to details like make-up and intricate costume designs.

Most recently, she attended the We Will Rock You musical in London's West End. And such is Loo's candour that she admits to finding the set's ensembles to be rather plain. "I thought the lead singer was a little too dressed down. But when you think about it, the lead is actually just dreaming about becoming famous but he is not there yet, hence the plain outfits.

"I'm from the image business so I'm inclined to scrutinise what the actors are wearing," she elaborates. "I think hair and costume are such essential elements as they help channel a sense of authenticity into any show. For example, you can't do a musical that is set in the 70s and have girls in the cast looking like girls on the streets today."

Loo found an avenue to foster her love for both hairstyling and theatre when she teamed up with the award-winning musical company, Dama Orchestra nearly 11 years ago.

"Musicals are something I have always been passionate about and I have been working with Dama since their early days. They were looking for hair sponsors then. Of course, we agreed and we offered to do their make-up as well," she recalls fondly.

"A Cut Above practically grew with Dama. We were with them from when they were doing much smaller productions till now. We even followed them to places like Shanghai to help them out with their shows. We try to be a part of them whenever we can."

Her team is so dedicated to the arts they even attend meetings and fitting sessions with performers to make sure everything goes according to plan. "It's important for us to follow them through the process to get the whole thing perfect," she says.

Loo's team lent that same tenacity to Dama's latest production, In Perfect Harmony - A Malaysian Musical Journey. She calls the musical, which was presented by The Star with SP Setia Bhd Group, Dama's "best effort yet."

The production, which chronicles the changing Malaysian psyche from the 70s to the present, saw swathes of elaborate costumes - mostly feathered up and sequinned, or in shades of glitzy neon, as well as quirky hairstyles from across the decades.

"We came up with concepts that we thought embodied the essence of each era," Loo explains.

Loo strove for realism, and admits it is no easy feat having to prep up performers for the show. "We had to make sure the kind of hair and make-up they had on were reflective of the era they were in. We even had to cut and style wigs to recreate looks from the 70s."

It is Loo's favourite era too. "I grew up in the 1970s with Abba and Saturday Night Fever, so the musical certainly brought back some great memories."

"Of course, I wouldn't be caught wearing clothes from the 70s now," she says with a laugh. "But it's always nice to take a step back and reflect on how far along we've come. We were young and we had fun. I think we did pretty well."

You'll be surprised to learn that Loo also fancies an occasional dose of Bieber. "I think he's quite cool. I love Pavarotti but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy music from the current scene. I don't think music should have an age. If you enjoy something, it doesn't matter if it's a current hit single or a song from a century ago."

The entrepreneur herself has been dabbling with the performing arts. "I've been training to sing for the past five years," she reveals.

She is also part of an all-girl choir group called Glitterama. While it may sound like the perfect name for a showy K-pop group, Loo says the choir was set up in 2006 to help the sick and needy.

Last September, the ladies managed to rake in RM312,000 for 30 charitable homes across the country by singing at a charity dinner.

"I think it's pretty amazing that we get to do what we love while helping out the less fortunate," Loo says.

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