Inside Job: I tried to become a hairstylist at ContestaRockHair

You ever washed your boss’s hair? That’s weird, right?

Photographs: Yang Xiaozhe
What's the weirdest thing your boss has asked you to do? Get their lunch? Pick them up from the airport? Resign? You ever been asked to dye your boss’ hair? I have. Does this mean she trusts me? Or is it something I should be bringing up with HR? Either way, it’s happening and I don’t know how to feel.

For clarification, this isn’t a weird power move. I’m not being taken advantage of – it’s my latest foray into the world of Shanghai jobs and this time I’m styling hair at the Changle Lu location of incredibly cool Italian hair salon ContestaRockHair. My model/guinea pig for the afternoon is none other than Time Out Shanghai Editor-in-Chief Amy Snelling.

'It's sort of like painting and I take this too literally, dishing out brush strokes akin to a decorator painting a bathroom wall'

Under the watchful eyes of Contesta’s ambassador Emanuele Santopaolo and hairstylist Summer, I’m asked to create an ombré effect – a style that sees the hair get progressively lighter from the roots down to the tips. This involves the use of bleach, which basically means I could quite easily ruin Amy’s hair and our professional relationship in one false stroke of a brush.

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I myself have reasonably unstylish curly hair which an ex-girlfriend once described as ‘yeah, it’s fine, sure.’ It pretty much takes care of itself and I don’t have to put much effort into maintaining it. So, this makes me moonlighting as a hairstylist quite an audacious hypocritical move. Like being given fitness advice from an overweight personal trainer who stinks of cigarettes, or receiving criticism about your oral hygiene from a dentist who’s missing half their teeth, you don’t really want me styling your hair.

'You ever washed your boss's hair? That's weird right?'

The first part of the process is simple: brushing the hair. Brushing any tangles out of the hair makes applying the bleach easier and ensures the colour will be distributed evenly. I brush Amy’s hair sort of like how a trainer would brush their horse. I simultaneously remove any knots and any chance of a pay rise in the near future.

Before the bleach is applied, the hair must be separated into sections, which Summer shows me how to do using hair clips. To apply the bleach, you place a section of hair on a piece of foil and then you brush it through. It’s sort of like painting and I take this slightly too literally dishing out brush strokes akin to a decorator painting a bathroom wall. Summer quickly takes over before any irreversible damage is done. Amy is visibly nervous.


The next step is letting the bleach set, with the hair wrapped in foil to help it take effect. The longer the bleach is left in, the greater the effect the hair dye will have. I’m then tasked with washing out the bleach, after which the colour can be added. The hair is again split into sections and the dye is brushed in and left to set for ten minutes or so. We add some tones of ash to complement Amy’s blonde hair. The final stages are washing out any excess dye and a blowdry.

You ever washed your boss’ hair? That’s weird, right? There was a photographer there and I don’t know if that makes it better or worse. Amy and I will not be making eye contact for the foreseeable future…

The final result is actually pretty good (mainly thanks to Summer) and the next day when I see Amy in the office, her hair hasn’t fallen out, which is always good. So, if you need your hair styling or dyeing, go to Contesta. Don’t worry, I won’t be there...

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