When financial consultant Tammy Lee, 32, walked past Korean hair salon Walking on Sunshine at Orchard Central a few weekends ago, she did a double take. The sun-lit salon resembled a garden rather than a place to get her hair done. She goes to a regular hairstylist but says, “I may come for a shampoo and blow dry to experience the space”.
Lewis Lim, co-founder of male grooming salon Sultans of Shave, spent S$150,000 fitting out his outlet at Jewel Changi Airport with a dome-shaped ceiling. He has three other outlets and he has spent pretty much the same amount on the interiors for each one.
“The sum varies a little depending on the size of the space and the requirements,” he says. It is money well-spent as, “we aim to create a sanctuary for men to be pampered in a space created with them in mind, so that grooming isn’t a chore or an afterthought”.
While getting a quality haircut and shave is still the priority for clients, local beauty and grooming brands are increasingly spending more on designer-led interiors to set them apart from the competition.
It’s all part of creating a lifestyle experience that savvy consumers crave, and Lynda Wee, adjunct associate professor, division of marketing, at Nanyang Business School agrees that standout interiors are one way to do it. “After all, some people get hair done as a way to pamper themselves. A colour and cut can take up three hours, so if someone is to spend that much time doing their hair, a nice interior helps to relax and enhance the experience.”
But the real draw will still be the quality of the services offered. “While interiors enhance, the real litmus test is still the stylists’ skills, outcomes and products,” says Dr Wee.
Skills aside, here’s how some grooming spot have upped their own style quotient.
An exceptional shave
Having run Sultans of Shave, a chain of male grooming salons since 2013, co-founder Lewis Lim knows that when clients step into one of their outlets, “they are looking for more than just a haircut they’re here for an experience”.
He adds: “The way a space looks and is designed is an essential component of this experience, from the scent in the air, to the colours and layout of a space. This all has an impact on a person’s mood, feelings and visual experience, be it conscious or otherwise.”
At its newest outlet at Jewel Changi Airport, award-winning interior design firm, Laank, was commissioned to design the interiors. “Jewel Changi Airport is a high profile and visible location, so we wanted a designer who would not only help us to stand out in the mall but also translate our quest for the finest barbering experience into design,” says Mr Lim.
Cherin Tan, Laank’s principal and creative director, found inspiration from the salon name. “We asked ourselves, ‘how would a royal barber look?’ So the key thought of a palace was our inspiration for the space. We looked at castles, temples and other buildings with grand architecture,” says Ms Tan. “The dome is an iconic structure in grand buildings, so we used that as a key feature in the salon.”
Ms Tan created a dome over the main barbering area, while arches at the main entrance and inside the salon evoke the aura of Ottoman palaces.
Mr Lim adds: “We also didn’t want to lose the communal feel of a traditional barbershop and Cherin came up with the idea of a central rotunda to house all the wash basins. The dome and rotunda also serve as a homage to Jewel’s centrepiece, the rain vortex.”
Besides the eye-catching ceiling, Ms Tan says that another key aspect of the space is the customised intricate flooring, a series of black and white tiles laid out in a radial pattern, which was inspired by royal palaces. “But to avoid looking overly historicor old, we used a blue gradient as a modern and masculine touch to envelope the dramatic ceiling and walls,” says Ms Tan.
With a cosy 800 sq ft space to play with, Ms Tan also faced the challenge of creating multiple touch points within a compact 800 sq ft space. There had to be a retail space, a waiting area, a main grooming space, a VIP room and a private space for staff.
The final solution included a waiting area coupled with retail, centre-facing seats in the grooming area, and hidden doors in the walls that lead to the VIP room, and a staff area.
Sultans of Shave, Jewel Changi Airport, #04-240
The new hair salon
Walking on Sunshine isn’t a name you expect for a hair salon, but that’s not the only way the Korean company stands out from its competitors. Clients may well step into its Orchard Central outlet thinking they’re there to buy a potted fern rather than get a shampoo and cut.
While most salons make do with a plant or two on its reception counter, Walking on Sunshine is literally an urban jungle.
Founder Luke Yi says, “Hair salons in Singapore or overseas are pretty much the same. They have looked the same for many years, so why not spice things up?”
The Korean expatriate who grew up in New Zealand and Australia where life was surrounded by nature, decided to create a garden theme at his hair salon. There is greenery at each seat, and even flowers hanging above the shampoo area.
His clients, largely the millennial crowd, are loving it. Instead of mindlessly thumbing through the pages of old magazines or scrolling through their phones, they are snapping pictures of themselves having their hair done surrounded by plants and also at specially set up photo spots.
The salon is unofficially Singapore’s most Instagrammable hair salon. “If our clients are taking pictures, it means we are doing something right,” quips Mr Yi. For the record, his clients are returning also for the professional hair services.
The greenery is a mix of real and artificial plants. Anything below eye level are real, while artificial plants are displayed above eye level. A gardener comes in every two days to take care of the plants.
Mr Yi adds that the garden theme is more than a marketing gimmick. The indoor plants, such as the peace lily and monstera, help to purify the air and “get rid of the chemical smells in a salon”, he says. “Having greens also instantly makes a place feel more relaxing.”
He also runs a cafe of the same name adjacent to the salon, which is also surrounded by greenery.
The plants are such a hit with clients, that Mr Yi has also started selling them. “Customers have been asking if they can buy our plants, and so we started putting small pots of plants on sale a month ago,” he says. “Our gardener ensures that our plants are constantly replenished.”
Mr Yi is no stranger to creating hair salons with a difference. He also owns the Singapore branch of Leekaja Beauty Salon, a well-known chain from Korea. The salon at Mandarin Gallery has birch tree trunks in them which complement the dark wood furniture, creating a forest-like feel.
He is in the midst of opening two more salons, one at Ngee Ann City and another at Bugis Junction. He declines to reveal too much for now but says, “plants will definitely feature largely in them too. They won’t be like your conventional salons.”
Walking on Sunshine, Orchard Central #03-07
Leekaja Beauty Salon, Mandarin Gallery, #03-13
First timers to the recently opened Kew Organics Facial Bar at Cluny Court may wonder if they have accidentally stumbled into founder Lily Kew’s apartment. The exterior of the flagship spa on the third floor of Cluny Court, and accessible only by lift, resembles a home more than a beauty salon.
A cosy sitting area has been set up on the balcony, with a garland of flowers draped over the balustrade for that added homey effect.The salon’s signage is the only giveaway.
Ms Kew, who started the brand in 2014, was attracted to Cluny Court’s colonial architecture and its location beside Singapore Botanic Gardens, which she felt was ideal to provide her clients with a getaway from the bustle of the city while still being close to town.
The 1,500 sq ft space is home to two of Ms Kew’s brands – Kew Organics, which offers a range of face and body treatments, and Sugar K Organic Peel Bar for express facials.
The bedrooms in the apartment have been converted into treatment rooms for Kew Organic’s clients, while Sugar K’s express facials are done on reclining chairs in a separate area.
But, while the treatments are designed for time-strapped individuals, the experience isn’t rushed. Instead, the cosy waiting area, fondly nicknamed the living room, and the balcony welcome clients to relax and linger.
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“I also selected a soothing colour palette of grey and beige and furniture with a minimalist feel to it to create that cosy ambience,” says Ms Kew.
Ms Kew installed metal grilles in the living room, and they work well to demarcate the public area from Sugar K.
“The living room was conceptualised to embody the feel of a relaxing getaway from the city. While waiting for their appointments, clients can chat with our therapists on their skin needs over a cup of hot red date tea,” says Ms Kew. “We dressed up the balcony as an area for clients to relax, recharge and have a sip of tea.
I want them to leave each facial feeling relaxed and recharged, and creating the right ambience adds to it.”
Kew Organics Facial Bar, 501 Bukit Timah Road, Cluny Court, #03-03
This article was originally published in The Business Times.