We go on a search for salon style in Phnom Penh.
Hair. Beautiful hair. There is nothing like the feeling of freshly washed hair, or the instant state of elation that a new style or color can bring us.
Previously, Cambodian women only attended salons in preparation for parties and ceremonies or for a simple cut and hair wash, and men barely entered a salon at all, preferring a quick 5000 riel ($1.25) barber cut. But clients are now becoming more daring and seeking vibrant colors and different hair styles, like extensions, braids, or dreadlocks. And as luck would have it, professional salons in Phnom Penh are now meeting the demand.
Nestled in a quiet laneway in a leafy street in the popular BKK region of Phnom Penh, you will find Ego Hair Salon. The salon has a trendy, homely feel, partly down to the beautiful original wooden house is it based in. Clients automatically feel relaxed and comfortable enough to discuss their hairstyling needs (or any other topic during the almost compulsory hair appointment chitchat).
Owner Thida Sithan En is proudly Cambodian and has 15 years of experience in hair design and fashion, as well as an international license as a hairdresser from Schwarzkopf Professional Japan. In 2014 she became the first Cambodian woman to join the stage at Tagami Sun, the Japanese Beauty Hair Show in Tokyo, part of an event attended by 1000 people. In her home country of Cambodia, Thida is sought after as a hair stylist and has been involved in events such as the Naga World Fashion Show, Cambodia Miss Grand, and Cambodia’s Next Top Model, on top of magazine, movie, and TV show projects.
Specializing in all hair types, including Asian hair, African hair, and Western hair, Thida uses quality Schwarzkopf and Japanese products as well as her own handmade organic hair treatment crafted from coconut oil, aloe vera, honey, and lime.
As an apprentice hair stylist is pampering me, Thida is testing a vivid red color on her own hair. “I’ve never had red before,” she chuckles. The timer goes off and she heads to the plush black reclining chair to have the red coloring rinsed away.
Two fashionably dressed French-speaking women walk in and discuss braids and hair extensions. Thida runs through the options and adds her own suggestions. A gentle lecture on hair care follows as one woman is seated and attended to, and the other excitedly books in for hair extensions at a later date.
Thida’s own hair is blow dried by a Japanese friend who styled her hair as a treat for International Women’s Day. The results are stunning; a vibrant hair color and a stylish short cropped cut. “It’s French!” she exclaims, proudly admiring her new look in the mirror.
Thida’s prices are extremely reasonable considering she uses high quality Japanese and organic products. She offers stylish cuts and coloring services at a fraction of the price of other Western-run salons but at a much higher quality than most locally owned salons that use inferior products.
She’s also the go-to person in Phnom Penh for African hair and extensions, a favorite amongst the African community for her ability to repair and manage dreadlocks and the complex needs of African hair. Blazeal, a well-known Nigerian performer and songwriter, frequents her salon and has recommended her to many others in the community for skills that are so difficult to find in South East Asia.
Thida tells me she is very proud of the word-of-mouth advertising that takes place for Ego. “I’ve never had to pay for advertising,” she says humbly. She has a steady number of regular customers, though she wishes more local Cambodians would try out her services. “People fear hairdressers in Cambodia, they don’t trust them,” she says. “I love my country and I want people to know that they can trust Cambodians, that we are becoming more educated and aware than before.”
Matt Fairfax, co-founder and Director of Kate Korpi, had also noticed customers’ reluctance to try bolder colors or different hairstyles. But since opening in 2014, the salon has seen a marked increase in Khmer clients seeking a more Western approach (particularly Khmer-Americans).
Another bold step is clients considering shorter hairstyles where previously long hair was coveted. Natural waves are also being embraced and Matt feels very proud to be part of these changes.
Matt’s salon is one of the most prestigious in Cambodia and has clientele mostly from the expat community. While the majority of the clients were previously women, now 30% are men. The staff at Kate Korpi encourage their clients to understand the importance of higher quality products, and use the well-known Italian range Davines along with Dermalogica skin care.
It’s heartening to note that salons such as Ego and Kate Korpi administer programs to help underprivileged Khmer people develop the skills necessary in order to generate income in their communities, usually in the form of outreach services and training programs.
Another salon that comes with high recommendations based on its quality, affordability, and commitment to improving the community is Open Arms Beauty Salon, operating since 2008. Located on popular street #155 near Russian market, the salon had humble beginnings. It was opened in order to create employment, and now has nine young stylists who have received extensive training by western hairdressers.
Ego Hair Salon, together with Schwarzkopf Professional Japan, supports Cambodian Children Without Borders and works with disadvantaged teenagers and mothers, sharing Japanese beauty skills in order to help Cambodian hairdressers improve their education and skills and boost their income. Thida also runs a beauty school from her salon offering short- and long-term courses ranging from basic hairstyle techniques to professional coloring and complicated hairstyles.
Ego Hair Salon is located in Street 63, just south of Mao Tse Toung, and opens every day except Monday. The salon often has visiting hair designers from Tokyo, so appointments are essential by phoning 0977 255 064. To book with Open Arms Cambodia call 017 239 057, and for appointments with Ego Hair Salon phone 097 725 5064.
BY: TARA ROSE