As with most successful people, a combination of timing, talent and passion has underpinned the career of French hairdresser Emmanuel Faipoux. The founder of eco-chic salon Emmanuel F, he was a trailblazer when it came to the use of organic products in Hong Kong, demonstrating that a natural approach and sophisticated style are not mutually exclusive.
So, it may come as some surprise that his career began in the most unexpected of places: the French army. Emmanuel was in his late teens when he enlisted to do his mandatory national service. After initial training, he was sent to a camp in Germany where the hairdresser at the base was leaving two weeks after Emmanuel’s arrival.
“He was a professional men’s hairdresser and he said to me, ‘You are going to watch me for one week and I will show you how to hold scissors and cut, and you will ask questions, and then the next week you’ll cut the hair and I will watch you,’” Emmanuel recalls.
Not only did he survive the crash course, he immediately fell in love with hairdressing. “When I started to do my first haircut, that was when I knew I wanted to do that job,” he says. “It was kind of cool – you start with something, you cut and you shape and you have this power of changing someone’s look. The hair is what is most obvious when you look at somebody – you cannot hide.”
To this day, Emmanuel attributes his skill in hairdressing to his time cutting men’s hair. “Cutting hair for 10 months in the army camp made me a very good hairdresser. I was cutting every day – it was the best-ever school, even if it wasn’t a common one, as I only worked with a comb and scissors,” he recalls.
“Hairdressers who have worked with short hair, in my experience, are good at women’s haircuts because it’s about precision,” adds Emmanuel. “You can’t hide any mistakes on short hair. Short hair shows everything!”
A Shock Diagnosis
But while the skill and technique that are the hallmarks of an Emmanuel F haircut date back to this experience, his passion for natural products had very different origins. Once he left the army, Emmanuel quickly established himself with one of the most prestigious salon chains in France: Jacques Dessange. He rose through the ranks and by his late 20s was in Taipei to open a new Dessange salon. It was here that life took an unexpected turn.
“I was doing what I loved to do – I was growing this famous franchise, I was in contact with Mr Dessange and the headquarters in Paris in the Champs-Élysées,” he remembers. “I was there for 15 months when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer – I was only 30.”
Within a week, Emmanuel, his wife Severine and their then five-year-old son had packed up and returned to France where he underwent chemotherapy. He overcame the disease, but his experience left him with a lifelong commitment to health and wellbeing, which is a key influence at Emmanuel F. After his recovery, Emmanuel and his family, which had by now expanded to include a daughter, criss-crossed the globe for work. He spent time in the US where he worked for Dessange in New York, before moving to a new salon in Tennessee where, as the “only French hairdresser in Nashville”, he had customers queuing up. A love of Asia then led him back to Taipei, before he came to Hong Kong almost 20 years ago. Within a few years, Emmanuel decided to open his eponymous salon, originally in Pottinger Street before moving to the current Sheung Wan address.
Opening his own salon gave him the opportunity to combine his skills with his passion for natural products and create the city’s first green hairdressing business. “The idea came from my personal belief – I was not motivated by the fact it’s fashionable,” he says. “My background of being touched by cancer led me to believe that it’s the right direction.”
It’s hard to imagine, but initially people were so sceptical about organic products that they had to be persuaded to use them. “At that time, a lot of customers – and, more particularly, hairdressers – thought that it would never work,” he recalls. “The challenge was enormous – I had to convince people I wasn’t crazy and that natural products were as good as chemical products when it came to colour and being able to last.”
His persistence and vision have paid off. It’s now nearly 10 years since Emmanuel developed an alternative to chemical salons, proposing instead a first-class hairdressing and spa service that uses only natural, organic and therefore healthier professional products and environments for his clients and his team. The timing couldn’t have been better too. “Now,” he says, “if you don’t have organic products, you may lose customers.”
Emmanuel F is located at UG/F, The Pemberton, 22-26 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan. 2167 8280 | emmanuelf.com
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This article first appeared in the October/November 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.