By Tracy Turo, Green Queen Co-Founder & Co-Publisher
A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of spending an afternoon with Hong Kong’s eco hair pioneer, the one and only Emmanuel Faipoux, founder and veteran hair stylist of the eponymous Emmanuel F hair salon. The salon has recently moved to Bonham Strand in Sheung Wan, and I wanted to get a feel for the new space. Plus, I had been ignoring my curly tresses for too long, and it was time to tame the serious beehive I was sporting.
Like many a Frenchman, Emmanuel is stylish and an aesthete, and like many a hairdresser, Emmanuel is utterly charming and extremely easy to talk to. The gift of the gab is something of a requirement for this profession, after all. Emmanuel looks at my hair for five whole minutes, reviewing strands and length and texture, and then, with the presumptuousness that only the French can pull off, informs me that it is all wrong. I need a complete overhaul. New length, new color, new layering- the works! No one has ever spent so long assessing my hair. I am in the hands of a true professional.
Emmanuel started with giving me a much needed hair cut. Whilst he was chopping and evening, Emmanuel told me his story. In a twist of fate, he actually got his (hair) start while serving in the French army. The army barber was leaving his post and since his girlfriend at the time was studying to be a hairdresser, he thought, why not give it a go. Ironically, while said girlfriend was stuck going through years of training in the French system, Emmanuel started cutting hair after two-weeks of training. Unlike in other countries, French army barbers used scissors and not buzz clippers, so he learnt how to cut hair properly. What started as a lark became a lifelong passion, one he still practices every day over thirty years later.
After the cut, I am sent to the shampoo room to receive a protein treatment. I’ve always known that I have extremely dry hair (I use obscene amounts of conditioner), but I didn’t realize that my hair is also severely protein deficient. Since protein makes up over 80% of your hair follicles, this is a problem. Emmanuel explains that maintaining the proper balance of moisture and protein is essential for strong and healthy hair. I make a mental note start doing protein treatments at home.
My first trip to the shampoo room was magical. All I could think about was why on earth doesn’t every salon have a shampoo room just like this? Let me set the stage: the room is entirely black (walls AND ceiling), has calming music, LED lighting in the ceiling that look like the starry night sky, and is wonderfully, blissfully dark. Rarely have I felt so relaxed. I don’t want to leave…Later I discover more futuristic design touches like the extendable walls (for increased privacy) and the hairdryer worthy of The Jetsons. Emmanuel F’s chic is testament that anyone who thinks eco equals not luxurious is categorically wrong.
After my escape to serenity, it’s time to fix my extremely brassy curls. I’ve been dying my hair since I was sixteen. I decided at the time that 1) I never wanted proof that my hair was no longer blonde, and 2) I decided that if I always dyed it, I would never when I started going grey. An odd concern for a teenager but there you have it. Needless to say, I am experienced in the world of hair coloring. I have tried everything from highlights to home dyeing and been to countless stylists and experimented with many brands of hair color. This isn’t my first color rodeo. It is however my first encounter with such an eco-friendly, non-toxic process.
As Emmanuel is mixing the color for me, he invites me to come and smell the products. An odd request perhaps, and I am hesitant due to my severe allergies (I am sensitive to everything, from perfume to candles to cleaning products). But the point is that there is no unpleasant odor at all. The scent is fresh and clean, with no harshness or chemical residue. For the first time in my life, I am able to breathe comfortably around hair dye.
The salon works with Organic ColourSystems, a UK hair dye brand that never tests on animals, engages in eco-friendly production practices and uses recyclable packaging. More to the point, the product range contains zero ammonia, is made from certified organic ingredients when possible, and has one of the lowest percentage of toxic chemicals on the market. The science of hair color is actually quite complicated, but to make a long story short, most dyes need to use ammonia to get the dye to enter your hair shaft, which is damaging to your hair, or they use a lower-performance substitute that doesn’t damage your hair as much but doesn’t work as well either. Organic ColourSystems has managed to create a system that maximizes results without fading, and allows your hair to stay as close to its natural pH level as possible, meaning less loss of protein and moisture. The eco touches at the salon go past the dye products. Emmanuel and his partner wife, herself a hairstylist, spent countless hours testing numerous fabrics to find the perfect one to replace the mountains of disposable foils that highlighting hair entails. Their commitment to making more responsible choices is so very inspiring.
Many years ago, while living in Taiwan, Emmanuel had an organic awakening after a bout of cancer. Unsurprisingly, the experience changed him and he realized he wanted and needed to provide his customers with better, safer choices so he made the transition to using products with cleaner ingredient labels. In 2008, he opened the Emmanuel F salon in Central’s Nexxus Building. The salon defied Hong Kong’s beauty industry status quo with its VOC-free wall paint, eco-friendly interiors, recycled-wood furniture and non-toxic products. At the time it was a risk. Most of us were blissfully unaware that walking into the average hair salon meant exposing ourselves to numerous hazardous chemicals that have links to all sorts of health issues, including cancer. In 2016, his entrepreneurial elan seems extremely prescient. Today, Emmanuel F is the city’s leading eco-conscious salon and spa.
His passion for green living extends beyond haircare. Emmanuel is a true wellness eco-warrior, bringing a packed organic lunch to work every day, and working to instill the importance of a sustainable diet in his staff. He positively beams while sharing with me that his many members of his team have adopted a healthier diet thanks to his example.
While a business’s eco philosophy is important, it would be a waste if the results weren’t there. I can honestly say that Emmanuel gave me the best haircut I have ever had. I had originally asked him to keep my locks longer. Instead, and to my chagrin on the moment, he cut off way more than a few inches. The next day, I looked in the mirror and saw my bouncier, shinier, easier to manager well-cut tresses. My hair has never looked better. Without styling, it sits perfectly once dry. The rich, layered color is perfect and two weeks later, there is zero fading. I am left with deep admiration for this talented human who dedicates his life to making Hong Kongers beautiful in the safest way he knows how.
Along with a full service hair salon, Emmanuel F also offers a huge range of nail services, makeup, facials, massages, body treatments and more. Visit them at UG/F, The Pemberton, 22-26 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan. Call +852 2167 8280 or email email@example.com for bookings.
All images courtesy of Emmanuel F.