Before high school, I never paid much attention to my hair. It was so long (down to my lower back) that my mom would just braid it every morning before she left for work. My favorite was and still is, the fishtail braid.
By junior year of high school my hair had gotten shorter and shorter. It eventually reached a bob-length. But more than the cut, thanks to one of my childhood best friends, I became fascinated with color. We would spend weekends in my friend’s bathroom while she died chunks of my hair bright red, blond, or whatever color we felt like that day. And the bleach-caused damage was well worth it.
I moved onto real highlights in college which I thought looked great at first, but hated the straw-like texture my hair became about month or so afterward. There was one specific instance when I came home and saw that the bleach and had actually seeped into the collar of my shirt!
Then one day, my hair-dying friend got this amazing haircut and I immediately wanted it too. It wasn’t anything extraordinary, but it was a cut that I thought was trendy but still safe for me to try. Excited, I booked an appointment with the Ulta salon that she went to.
Photo in hand, I sat down in the hairdresser’s seat and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Jean” she said, and proceeded to give me the best haircut I had ever had at that point. I was in love. With both my hair and her.
For years after that, I refused to go to anyone but her. I would drive two hours home from college just to get my haircut. When I moved to Downtown Chicago, I would drive back out 40-50 min to her new location in Sola Salons. Even when I moved to DC, I would try to hold out on haircuts for as long as I could (I unfortunately had to find a substitute). And when it came to my wedding, there was definitely no other option: it had to be Jean.
Our hairdresser relationship had turned into a friendship. I trusted her with anything to do with my hair, whether it was cut, color, or styling. My mom and sister would now only go to her and I happily recommended friends as well. Her work was amazing to me and my hair never stopped receiving compliments even when the cut and color grew out.
One of the reasons why I was nervous about moving to New York was because I wondered whether I would find someone like her.
You’re probably thinking, there are a million amazing hairdressers in New York! But the reality is that you still have to find the one that works for you. So I set about my meticulous research.
Of all the online, and yelp-like reviews I read, there was one salon name that stood out: Dlala Salon. They were much more affordable than most other New York salons, and their stylists had great reviews. It was a perfect place to start but I was so nervous.
I told my new hairdresser that a trim was sufficient, but she took a closer look at my hair and made a few suggestions. She seemed knowledgeable, so I let her cut my hair in the way she felt was best. It wasn’t the cut that I had in mind when I went in, but it looked much healthier.
I continued going back to her, but only for cuts. She was really sweet and smart, and I felt comfortable with her but was still nervous about asking for color. I was also traveling a lot at the time so was able to hold off on color until I went back to Chicago and saw Jean.
During my cuts, I would watch other hairdressers in the salon recommend really fun types of cuts and color, and watch their clients walk away looking like new people. I wanted that. But I had no idea how to ask for that, so I just left it alone.
One day during a cut, my hairdresser told me that she was pregnant and would be going on maternity leave soon. I was definitely happy for her, but then thought, “Could this be my opportunity to try one of those “edgier” hairdressers?”
When it was time for my next cut, I called to book my appointment. “Who would you like to book with?” they asked. I quickly sorted through my memories and remembered a bubbly woman whose style and work I really liked and tried to describe her. “Oh, Coco, yeah sure!” the women responded.
Admittedly, my first cut with Coco left me underwhelmed, she basically just cut some of the length and gave me a trim, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that she was setting me up for all of my future cut and color.
From that day forward, she took me on the best hair journey I have ever been on.
Every appointment would start and end the same way. I would arrive, sit in her chair and ask her what she was feeling. She would work her magic, and I would leave feeling like a fresh, new person.
I lived in New York for 6.5 years, 5.5 of which I spent going to her consistently.
During those years she changed my hair part based on the look, introduced me to ombre, various lengths, bangs/no bangs, various types of balayage, various colors: blonde, beige, grey, pink, violet, and any appropriate brown in between. And every look that she chose for my hair was months ahead of each trend. A lot of these looks are viewable on my Instagram profile: @ifstyledanced.
My friends noticed too. They’d first comment on how much they loved the new look, and months later tell me how they started seeing the trend popping up in different places. As you can see, it wasn’t hard for me to recruit new clients for her.
Until I met Coco, I had never met anyone that was a scientist just as much as they were an artist. She’s able to explain every process that she performs on your hair from the impact that one or more chemicals can have to the surface of your hair down to how it affects the inner core of each strand. Each look she has in mind for you is an image that she’d pull out of her head and use magazines to help better explain to you. She would even carve out parts of magazine landscapes as a way to show you the exact color(s) she’s going for if she doesn’t have her swatches on-hand.
Now I say all of this as if this is how she is with everyone. The truth is that she is very cognizant of how her clients feel and would happily be as conservative as they want her to be. I, however, gave her full reign to my hair with the only caveat being that I worked in a client-facing corporate environment. Even then, I was even willing to try the pink as long as it was subtle.
I trusted Coco completely. She was one of the reasons why leaving New York was so hard.
You might be thinking wow, this is so cheesy, or, how do you have such an attachment to hair? But hair to me is probably the only physical thing that I feel I can truly control about myself. Well until now, as I doubt it’ll withstand the Hong Kong humidity without a helmet.
Changing up my hair is how I feel fresh again. Whether it’s for a new season, new events, new project, or new career, it makes me feel as though I’ve hit a mental reset button for whatever might be ahead.
I always wonder how I’ll find someone to replace Coco now that I’m in Hong Kong. Luckily, she’s still willing to advise me over Whatsapp and I’m SO thankful for it. But when comes time for the actual cut or color update, where will I go?
We’ll see in the next few months…
Blog edited by: Betty Ho