Wednesday, August 24, 2016

[FACES] The Charismatic & Talented Nicholas Chua of The Soloist Salon

A life filled with memories and stories like growing up struggling, financially, playing in a band, jamming with friends after school, drawing portraits and comics, behaving mischievously like skipping classes or getting into fights, then moving onto selling jeans, boots to earn a living, right down to taking up hair lessons and subsequently winning the coveted REDKEN IDOL competition in 2006 and now owning and running his own hair salon with another two founding partners, how would one categorise such a personality? 

An entrepreneur in the making? Or a man who has come full circle in life and is now learning to take his own stride, after much life experiences? Perhaps a bit of everything as the way we see it, it is such colours in his life that made him who he is today - a man who treasures the good times but will not forget the hard times from the past that made him stronger today. Yes, we are talking about our FACES personality, NICHOLAS CHUA, one of the founding partners and proud owner of The Soloist Salon, our official hair partner (in crime *_^), which we introduced previously here. Do read on as it is a roller coaster ride from here onwards. 

This is his story and this was our conversation that day.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Ever since I was very young, I love jeans, boots, denim, leather. Things that are very industrial, that was in high school. I was also into playing the electric guitar and formed a band before. My older brother was the lead singer and we played grunge music. It lasted about two years or so back in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. 

I was also very fond of arts. I drew lots of portraits, comics and creative work. My comics were very popular among friends in school those days. The stories in my comics were always about school time, fighting, basketball, etc. I was very mischievous and sometimes would skip school, but my grades were still surprisingly good. Arts and music were my solace in life while growing up. I even saved up my own money just to buy myself a guitar for jamming.

I wanted to be a fashion designer, but financially, my family could not afford tuition for fashion, so when we moved to Johor, one quirky chance led me to realise that haircutting can be a profession too! Partly also due to a Japanese movie called A Beautiful Life that I happened to watch.

So after quitting school in Form 3, I was working at a small store selling jeans and boots. One day, I got into a horrible fight and was thrown into lock up for 3 days 2 nights. That was when I was 18 years old and I believed that became the turning point of my life. Staring into the packet of rice in my hand in the cell, I thought to myself, "What have I become? Why such a studious student with good grades previously ended up in a place like this?" That was when it hit me hard that I needed to do something with my life from then onwards. I needed to change. In order to save up MYR5,000 plus to study hair, I went to Johor Bahru at the age of 19 to be a waiter. I even had to take up lots of other odd jobs like being a DJ, working in karaokes and bars. 

At the hair academy, we learnt about science and chemistry. I love science. I am that sort of person you need to reason with me with logic and theory. I am quite a stubborn and determined kind of person. I would not back down. I would forge on no matter what if I had decided to do something.

Within half a year, I became a stylist, from an assistant. Then I started to be a trainer, then a lecturer in the academy, then became a director eventually.

What do you love about hair?
That sense of achievement, when your customer comes and tells you that you did a great job and happy with it. It allows me to create something. That ability to create new things in hair excites me.

How do you know what sort of hair suits a certain person?
Beauty is very subjective. I feel it is all about whether you want to accept that colour, or cut, then your attitude has to be able to adapt to that colour and change accordingly, the mood that you have in you for that as well. It is a question of whether you are prepared for that change. It is like an actor. A good actor has the innate ability to adapt to different roles he or she plays and would still be able to pull off that different character each time he or she chooses to. The skill of a hairstylist or colourist is important, but more importantly, I feel is the fashion sense that particular hairstylist has in him or her.

Do you love being a trainer?
I love lecturing as I love to talk and share my knowledge and experience. Later on, I started to realize our salon needed to set up a creative and education team. So, I decided to take up the challenge. I handled big shows like the REDKEN 50th anniversary hair show, which was a huge success and that was another mile stone of my professional life, which I cherished tremendously.

What do you think makes a good hairstylist?
Apart from skill, that fashion sense that you have is crucial to me. You need to get the spirit of a good hairstyle right. If a hairstylist does not have that good sense in him or her, a good hairstyle, cut or colour cannot be achieved. This sense can be acquired through observation, study, reference, research and through learning process.

What is your strength as a hairstylist?
Talking. I am good at explaining things in a systematic and convincing manner, maybe because I love teaching or transferring knowledge to others, I find it truly stimulating and engaging by doing so. Even if you are communicating with your customer, telling the person about hair cut, style, colour or what suits the person, it is indirectly a form of education. In fact, it is a part of our service, being a professional hairstylist, something that I feel we must do.

How about turning your interest in hair into a full fletch business, is it a challenge?
If you are a creative person, it also helps in your business. Even in business, we need to be creative and take on a different perspective. It involves branding and marketing. In the hair business, we are in a way helping others in branding and packaging themselves, the image and what not. If you take that and apply to your own business, it is only natural and not something that is difficult to achieve, I feel.

How are you branding your salon, The Soloist Salon?
It stems from our interests, all three of us, the founding partners. We all love creative things. We like to be a little different, something that has character. From the name The Soloist itself that we chose, we hope that we could stand out, through showcasing each of our unique talent and skill. The name represents us as individuals, one entity who has our own unique sense of style in hair and fashion, yet, when we come together as a team, we ignite a collective notion of uniqueness, a different form of identity – one which is uniquely our own voice, with a sense of character and style that is hard to ignore. We would like not to conform to mainstream. From our salon concept, look and feel, our work right down to our branding, we hope to achieve that sense of differentiation and we hope it comes through even in the space here at the salon, that we painfully created, ourselves, over the months of renovation. We feel in some ways, it is still a work in progress. 

We wanted that Vintage Industrial concept to our salon, therefore, a lot of the finishing to this space is purposely textured or worked down to a certain way to achieve that worn-out industrial look. From the wall, ceiling right down to the furniture, lightings, fittings, the choice of bricks and the overall aesthetics of the interior design.

What does it take to be a great entrepreneur?
One needs creativity, you can’t be rigid in this day and age. Look at how social media transforms someone’s life now. For instance, even if you only draw comics, or does makeup, as long as you stand out, unique and do things in a creative manner and dare to be who you are, you can even be a youtube sensation and be successful in what you do, and do what you love. There is no such hard and fix rules now to things and what you can do. Sky is the limit for an entrepreneur.

Hair cut or colour, which one you love?
They are very much interconnected. Hair cut is all about structure. It is like your body, whether you look fit or not. If you have a good structure, which means your body is fit, then that is the basis to look good. Hair colour is like clothings, the ones you put onto your body. It can enhance and compliment your entire look. Each has its own function. If you have a good hair cut, just a plain all black or a simple brown coloured hair, it would be enough to make you look good. On the other hand, if you may not have a great structure or body shape, you can still use colour or clothings to beautify your entire look. Of course, with both elements put together in a good way, you will get that 200% perfect desired result, don't you think so?

What’s your future plan for The Soloist Salon?
We would love to create an education team, would love to open up to different salons to come together, to learn, to exchange ideas and knowledge. I read somewhere that says something like this, “Arts is created with the heart, design is created with the brain.” So as a hairstylist, one needs to have the heart of an artist and the brain of a designer.

What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt so far being in the industry?
Don’t forget your root. Don’t forget why you started in the first place. It is for the love of hair, not necessarily for money or fame. The intension has to be for the best hairstyling achieved. Therefore, education is important.

Who influence you the most in your industry?
Every stage, there is someone whom you would look up to. For instance Vidal Sassoon. A man change the world with a pair of scissors. He gives me much inspiration.

What is the most challenging moment in your work?
Doing hair for different people from different background and culture. For instance, in the Western world, a blonde has many facets to it. Fashion sense and style also varied. For instance, a Westerner has very different hair texture, varied taste and a different notion of what beauty is all about, compared to Asians, or even other ethnicities for that matter. We need to be able to study, understand and try and learn and adapt to it. What looks beautiful to say, a Middle Eastern, European or perhaps an American may not be the same for, a Japanese, Taiwanese or a Korean. So, this can be a fun thing to discover.

What’s your definition of beauty in hair?
It is very subjective. But if you want me pinpoint, this is what I have discovered. Most of us go through this stage whereby our earlier creative work is almost always very “loud”, avant garde, experimental. During that time, you feel it is beautiful, but as you progress over time, your notion of beauty changes. It gradually becomes less “noisy”, more substance, deeper, simpler, streamlined, minimalistic, and more approachable and harmonious. If I were to do a hair color, even though it is rainbow hues, it would be a softer one, everything needs to be more subtle, yet in an interesting way that it is captivating and pleasing to the eyes. I love something structured, yet has a softer silhouettes. That is my style now. For instance, precision hairstyle is blunt, yet I would like to make it soft in terms of shapes or lines.  

What sort of hairstylist are you?
A versatile hairstylist maybe, haha! 

First experience cutting someone’s hair, what was it like?
Anxious and excited. It was at the hair academy. My first hair cut at the salon was a student hair cut, actually. No one was keen to cut that person’s hair, so I took up the challenge and offered to cut the hair. I have always believed that one needs to be brave enough to take up new challenges. It is like a piece of vast green land, how do you stand out and not be drowned by the rest of the people? You just need to believe in yourself and go all out to do your best. You need to be daring enough to showcase your ability to the world.

Nicholas had this to say about himself, at this point when we felt like it was almost towards the end of our conversation, which we were so reluctant for it to end, honestly. 

I am a man with a story. I am proud of that. The journey of my life is an unbelievable one. I have been growing. My attitude also changed a lot, especially this year. Back in JB, I feel that I was over-confident, due to my achievements, to an extend, can come across as proud. When I came to KL for new experiences and work, my spirit was dampened due to the success of other people and the challenges that I faced almost forced me to the point of giving up hair work.

Nicholas was a REDKEN ambassador for 2 years (2013 – 2015). He has this to add.

With the amazing team of The Soloist Salon. Hair cut, colour and styling. Visuals via LUMINNEJ's Instagram

Don’t be affected by how others look at us. Do our own things, do what we love to do. Previously I was too aggressive. Now, I take it with a pinch of salt in life. Look at things in a different way, and understands this hair industry better. In person, I would be more relaxed as well now. I won’t be afraid of competition. I became more modest and grounded. There is never short of a way to succeed in life and I believe the road to success has not just one, but many.

We think Nicholas is absolutely right about that. That very afternoon, the conversation with this talented and thinking hairstylist almost took on a form of a movie, each scene unfolding right in front of our eyes (and ears), each one propelling us to an even more exciting chapter. We most definitely found our happy place when it comes to our hair matters, and some good company and friends too!

We shall look forward to talking with the other two founding partners, Marcus and Eewen in the near future. Till then, if you are keen to have a great hair cut, colour or treatment, do check The Soloist Salon out for yourself. You will be pleasantly surprised by the team! A huge thanks to Nicholas for your time, we shall be seeing you very soon.

The Soloist Salon
Ansa Kuala Lumpur Hotel, Lot 1.5, Level 1, 101, Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Tel: +603.2448.9000). Opens daily from 10:30am to 08:30pm.

Have a lovely midweek, lovelies and stay happy always *_^

With love, 

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Thanks so much for dropping by and say hi. Love to hear your thoughts and will read them all! See you again *_^

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