A cut above the rest

With years of experience under his belt, Sung Chien expertly blow-dries his client's hair at 7 Salon in Bellevue. Photo provided by Nathan DeMarre

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

Gone are the days where the only men who could be found at a hair salon were the ones sitting in the waiting area while a significant other or relative got her hair done. Now, this formerly female-dominated arena is experiencing an integration of the sexes as more and more men are stepping across that threshold, into the styling chair.

And it hasn’t stopped there either.

Ezekiel Corley and Sung Chun Chien are part of the ever-growing population of male stylists in the industry. At 25 and 38 respectively, both men are stylists at 7 Salon in Bellevue Square — Corley for almost three years, Chien for almost one — and they both love what they do. Despite enjoying similar aspects of their jobs, the two men have traveled two very different paths to reach this point in their careers.

“When I make a client happy and smile, it makes me so happy,” Chien said.

Chien enjoys making a difference in the hairstyles he gives his clients, making them feel better and seeing the confidence it gives them. Corley expressed similar sentiments.

Chien attended beauty school in Taiwan pretty much right out of high school and worked to earned his license in the early ’90s. He continued working there as a stylist for five to six years before moving to the U.S.

When he arrived he had to go back to school to earn his license to be able to work. However, unlike most who enter beauty school, Chien said that he did not need much instruction because of his previous experience in Taiwan. Basically, he spent most of his 15 months in school accruing the work hours required to earn his license. From his years in the industry, Chien said that things are definitely changing.

“Now a lot of men go to the salons, not only women,” he said. “The percentage is starting to change.”

Whether or not this is because there are more male stylists though, Chien said he does not know. One thing that he has noticed is that many women prefer a male stylist because they like the different perspective a man can provide when it comes to figuring out a new hairstyle.

Satisfied, Corley puts on some finishing touches to Catherine Yu's new cut, Sept. 30. Photo provided by Monica Nguyen.

Ezekiel Corley, who is half-Filipino, never saw himself as a hairstylist.

He was originally enrolled at the University of Washington and planned on attending the business school for marketing and sales. He was introduced to the hair industry, and as a result 7 Salon, through a friend.

It was through this initial introduction that he eventually met Graham Breakwell, his first instructor once he entered the salon’s advanced training program. It has been five years since he began beauty school and Corley said he wants to pursue a career of working at a high-end salon.

The hair industry appealed to Corley’s creative side. He said that he loved art ever since he was back in school (history was his other favorite subject).
“I’ve always loved coloring and sculpting,” he said. “I loved everything about it.”

Corley saw working with hair as just another art form. However, there is a difference between creating something on a canvas or with a piece of clay and creating something on an actual human being. When he creates something on a human being, Corley is able to see their reaction instantly.

“It makes us feel good,” he said of himself as well as his fellow stylists. “That is the most rewarding part of my career.”

In addition to being a stylist at the salon, Corley is also a member of 7’s artistic team, which had two hair shows in September where they showcased models with what Corley called “fantasy hair” versus the more traditional “hair in the chair” styles. For his audition, he presented the team with five models whose hair he styled and out of the 13 people who auditioned, he and one other person were the only ones who made the team.

“It was a great feeling,” he said when he found out.

“Great” is a word that seems to describe Corley’s experience as a whole ever since entering the hair industry. Although women still outnumber men, Corley said that while he was in school, as well as when he joined 7, he was not subject to prejudice or stereotyping as one might expect.

Contrarily, almost everybody was welcoming and excited for him, which made him excited as well. He said that when he told friends that he was going to school to become a hairstylist, they were supportive and asked when he would be able to give them haircuts.

If Corley did feel any hesitation upon entering the industry, he quickly looked to other men for inspiration.

“They’ve done it,” he said. “So I can do it too.” ♦

To learn more about 7 Salon, visit www.7salon.com.

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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