A CUT ABOVE

Expat Living (Hong Kong) - - Body & Mind - BY MELISSA STEVENS

As with most suc­cess­ful peo­ple, a com­bi­na­tion of tim­ing, tal­ent and pas­sion has un­der­pinned the ca­reer of French hair­dresser EM­MANUEL FAIPOUX. The founder of eco-chic salon Em­manuel F, he was a trail­blazer when it came to the use of or­ganic prod­ucts in Hong Kong, demon­strat­ing that a nat­u­ral ap­proach and so­phis­ti­cated style are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

Train­ing Ground

So, it may come as some sur­prise that his ca­reer be­gan in the most un­ex­pected of places: the French army. Em­manuel was in his late teens when he en­listed to do his manda­tory na­tional ser­vice. Af­ter ini­tial train­ing, he was sent to a camp in Ger­many where the hair­dresser at the base was leav­ing two weeks af­ter Em­manuel’s ar­rival.

“He was a pro­fes­sional men’s hair­dresser and he said to me, ‘You are go­ing to watch me for one week and I will show you how to hold scis­sors and cut, and you will ask ques­tions, and then the next week you’ll cut the hair and I will watch you,’” Em­manuel re­calls.

Not only did he sur­vive the crash course, he im­me­di­ately fell in love with hair­dress­ing. “When I started to do my first hair­cut, that was when I knew I wanted to do that job,” he says. “It was kind of cool – you start with some­thing, you cut and you shape and you have this power of chang­ing some­one’s look. The hair is what is most ob­vi­ous when you look at some­body – you can­not hide.”

To this day, Em­manuel at­tributes his skill in hair­dress­ing to his time cut­ting men’s hair. “Cut­ting hair for 10 months in the army camp made me a very good hair­dresser. I was cut­ting ev­ery day – it was the best-ever school, even if it wasn’t a com­mon one, as I only worked with a comb and scis­sors,” he re­calls.

“Hair­dressers who have worked with short hair, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, are good at women’s hair­cuts be­cause it’s about pre­ci­sion,” adds Em­manuel. “You can’t hide any mis­takes on short hair. Short hair shows ev­ery­thing!”

A French pi­o­neer hair­dresser in Hong Kong shares his re­mark­able story.

A Shock Di­ag­no­sis

But while the skill and tech­nique that are the hall­marks of an Em­manuel F hair­cut date back to this ex­pe­ri­ence, his pas­sion for nat­u­ral prod­ucts had very dif­fer­ent ori­gins. Once he left the army, Em­manuel quickly es­tab­lished him­self with one of the most pres­ti­gious salon chains in France: Jac­ques Des­sange. He rose through the ranks and by his late 20s was in Taipei to open a new Des­sange salon. It was here that life took an un­ex­pected turn.

“I was do­ing what I loved to do – I was grow­ing this fa­mous fran­chise, I was in con­tact with Mr Des­sange and the head­quar­ters in Paris in the Champs-Élysées,” he re­mem­bers. “I was there for 15 months when I was di­ag­nosed with tes­tic­u­lar can­cer – I was only 30.”

Within a week, Em­manuel, his wife Sev­er­ine and their then five-year-old son had packed up and re­turned to France where he un­der­went chemo­ther­apy. He over­came the dis­ease, but his ex­pe­ri­ence left him with a life­long com­mit­ment to health and well­be­ing, which is a key in­flu­ence at Em­manuel F.

Af­ter his re­cov­ery, Em­manuel and his fam­ily, which had by now ex­panded to in­clude a daugh­ter, criss-crossed the globe for work. He spent time in the US where he worked for Des­sange in New York, be­fore mov­ing to a new salon in Ten­nessee where, as the “only French hair­dresser in Nash­ville”, he had cus­tomers queu­ing up.

A love of Asia then led him back to Taipei, be­fore he came to Hong Kong al­most 20 years ago. Within a few years, Em­manuel de­cided to open his epony­mous salon, orig­i­nally in Pot­tinger Street be­fore mov­ing to the cur­rent She­ung Wan ad­dress.

Eco Fo­cus

Open­ing his own salon gave him the op­por­tu­nity to com­bine his skills with his pas­sion for nat­u­ral prod­ucts and cre­ate the city’s first green hair­dress­ing busi­ness. “The idea came from my per­sonal be­lief – I was not mo­ti­vated by the fact it’s fash­ion­able,” he says. “My back­ground of be­ing touched by can­cer led me to be­lieve that it’s the right di­rec­tion.”

It’s hard to imag­ine, but ini­tially peo­ple were so scep­ti­cal about or­ganic prod­ucts that they had to be per­suaded to use them. “At that time, a lot of cus­tomers – and, more par­tic­u­larly, hair­dressers – thought that it would never work,” he re­calls. “The chal­lenge was enor­mous – I had to con­vince peo­ple I wasn’t crazy and that nat­u­ral prod­ucts were as good as chem­i­cal prod­ucts when it came to colour and be­ing able to last.”

His per­sis­tence and vi­sion have paid off. It’s now nearly 10 years since Em­manuel de­vel­oped an al­ter­na­tive to chem­i­cal sa­lons, propos­ing in­stead a first-class hair­dress­ing and spa ser­vice that uses only nat­u­ral, or­ganic and there­fore health­ier pro­fes­sional prod­ucts and en­vi­ron­ments for his clients and his team. The tim­ing couldn’t have been bet­ter too. “Now,” he says, “if you don’t have or­ganic prod­ucts, you may lose cus­tomers.”

“I had to con­vince peo­plethat nat­u­ral prod­ucts were as good as chem­i­cal prod­ucts”

Em­manuel F is lo­cated at UG/F, The Pemberton, 22-26 Bon­ham Strand, She­ung Wan.2167 8280 | em­manuelf.com

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