Arya Vong Kim (L) works on a customer’s hairdo. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days
Arya Vong Kim, a hair stylist, lived in France before opening her first salon in Cambodia with her husband in April 2009.
Currently the owner and house stylist of a beauty salon in her own name, and the only distributor of L’Oréal products in Cambodia, she is committed not only to bringing quality and style to hairdressing, but also to bring meaning to the phrase “to see and be seen”. Stephanie Ip caught up with her on the latest trends, on being fashionable, and on finding the perfect look for a great night out.
What kind of people usually go to your salon? Women, men, locals, foreigners?
Everyone, both men and women. We have a lot of expats. A lot of people from the embassies come here. Also people from the ministries, and local upper-middle class people. Teenagers sometimes come here for a haircut as well. Local Khmer teenagers come here too. They have bad haircuts outside, and they come here to fix their hairstyles.
Are people influenced by western pop culture or Asian pop culture?
Expat customers, they like [the trends] in Europe. Khmer, they prefer a Korean style. It’s normal because of the TV culture.
Korean style and western style is different. Korean technique has more “slide”, they put more layers into the hair, and they also do a half perm, starting from the middle of the head. They like wavy, but not real curls.
For women this season, a popular cut is a short, shoulder length perm, with heavy curls on the bottom. Very Marilyn Monroe-like. It is a retro style, we take inspiration from the past and modernise it. It goes very well with heavy eyeliner and red lips. Classic, but modern. Also people like long and heavy styles now, instead of choppy hair with many layers. People also like bangs. But in Cambodia, with the hot weather, nice bangs are very hard to keep. But fashion changes every season. Before, people liked ombre hair. They liked having dark hair on top, and then become lighter and lighter. It looked very natural when your hair grows.
In Singapore, all the ladies had the ombre look.
How do people – especially local Khmer people – want to look?
People want to look natural. It’s a different idea from the past. People don’t come in and say, “I want short hair”, or “I want this and that”. It’s all about being natural. If you look back in history, back in the 80s there were a lot of perms. In the 90s, a lot of straight hairstyles. But now it is okay, if you like straight, we do straight, if you like perms, we do perms. Sometimes they come in with an idea of what they want, but some also come in and say it’s up to you, you are the professional.
Has their style changed from the last five years?
The local styles have changed because they travel more often now. They see more of the world. Now they want good products, good hairdressers, good service. It’s not that they didn’t care about their hair before; there was just no market for quality products. No one was there to tell them how to take care of their hair. No one was there to tell them that after colouring, you needed treatment. People just cut and go.
So would you say local people are becoming more fashionable?
Yes. In Cambodia, a lot of people are young. Old people just like to colour their hair. But teenagers, like European teenagers, like to change their hair every month. They like to have different style, different colour. A lot of girls visit this salon, more than boys. Two girls for one boy. They want to be beautiful. Girls have a lot of competition to see who has the best style. A lot of Khmer people will also come in to improve their hairstyles. Some of them first come in with very bad haircuts – and we cannot change it in one go – but we change their style little by little.
Do people come to fix their hair before going for a night out?
Yes. People like to fix their hair before a big event. Sometimes they like to have a bun, depending on the event. We style hair for weddings, openings, birthdays and so on. People also like to get their hair done before going out for the night. It used to only be expats, but now both local and expats come to have their hair styled.
You also do their makeup. What kind of makeup styles do people like?
People like natural. They want their skin tone to look natural. If you’re darker, they stay darker. If you’re whiter, then we keep your skin tone white. They just want perfect skin.
For gala events, I like to give my clients a smoky eye look. The most popular eye makeup look is the thick eyeliner look.
What makeup I put on my clients really depends on the face of my client. Each client is unique.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Ip at firstname.lastname@example.org