His story is one of many adoptive citizens. A child born in Vietnam arrives in San Francisco and must learn a new language, new customs and find his way in a new world.
“I came here (to the United States) with my single mother and my brother and I had to motivate myself to fit in, to get myself to school and to try and be accepted. I was always doing research to see what you needed to know and also so I could help my family,” says Kien Hoang, Artistic Educator for Oribe Haircare.
But instead of just conforming, he created. Instead of disappearing, he dared. And instead of erasing his uniqueness he embraced it. Today, a spirit of inclusiveness informs his work, his salon and his life.
“When I was young, I was surrounded by women—my mother and my aunts—and I fell in love with the early 1970’s fashion and music. I would see my aunts all done up with big disco hair,” says Hoang. “I created a look for myself knowing that I wasn’t going to be accepted completely because I didn’t know the language. I used to go to school in bow ties.”
Through fashion he found hair and started cosmetology training while still in high school. “At 16, I was already focused on my career. I went to school, to cosmetology class and worked at the same time. I fell in love with creating textures, deciding what style was appropriate with what look, and also the architecture of hair. I worked with a lot of ethnic hair which was incredible.”
His passion for research and ability to empathize helped when, several years later, he began educating for bumble and bumble. “I was learning how to work with different types of people—those people who are resistant, forward, forthcoming. I was able to come into their salons and share my knowledge.” It also came into play when opening his salon in San Jose, CA.
“My salon is called Umbrella Salon because everybody is under one umbrella, everyone works as a team, and everyone is accepted. Without teamwork, nothing moves,” says Hoang. “I also brought everything I knew—the courage, the patience, the structure, the past, present and future—to helping new stylists understand where things come from. Our mission is to inspire clients, share with our community and understand cultures.”
After years educating globally, he joined Oribe and has made a name for himself at New York Fashion Week.
MODERN SALON: How long have you been in the beauty industry?
KIEN HOANG: I’ve been in the industry since 1990 when I got my license. First, I started as an assistant to an owner of a salon—I did a lot of the washing, sweeping and helping other stylists. I learned all of the fundamentals from the person I assisted for, and they set me on the road to success.
I’ve always been into education—I was an educator before for about 12 years. It was right after I opened up Umbrella Salon in San Jose, California, that Oribe contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be part of their team. Now I’ve been an Oribe educator for close to 8 years!
MS: What’s your favorite hairstyling/hair coloring technique?
KH: My favorite Oribe hairstyling technique is the Double French Twist, it’s very hard to do but it’s great to do when building the base structure of a hairstyle—it’s a fundamental technique.
I love hair painting—it gives you so much freedom with creating multitudes of colors. Certain people look good with vibrant, fashion tones; while others look better in neutral tones. I find a lot of inspiration in nature for my work.
MS: Where do you find inspiration?
KH: I love fashion and looking at what’s trending season to season. I do a lot of research to see what the movement in fashion is right now. I tend to work a lot with designers, stylists and makeup artists when doing photoshoots. This year, I am looking forward to doing a photoshoot with James Pecis, which will be based on various haircuts.
MS: What does it mean to be an Oribe educator, in your own words?
KH: It’s about sharing knowledge, spreading the word about Oribe haircare, and helping stylists stretch their minds and imagination when it comes to styling.
MS: What’s the best thing you’ve learned from a mentor?
KH: Being generous to others and sharing passion.
MS: What do you see trending in hairstyling/hair coloring right now?
KH: Right now is all about individualism. We are seeing a lot of natural waves and curls—from tiny texture, to big afro texture, to loose waves. It’s about finding out how to work with your client’s hair—diving into that individual's personality/beauty and enhancing what they have to make it look better with products.
MS: Who would you love to makeover?
KH: Being a hairstylist, I like to make people feel confident and their best. If I could makeover anyone and have fun with it, I would do Courtney Love. I would love to create a long, shaggy Rock N’ Roll haircut for her reminiscent of her rock band days. For color, I would keep her blonde with shadow roots.
MS: What’s your beauty must?
KH: Treating hair with care and keeping it polished-looking! I believe that it’s crucial for one to take care of their ends so they can do more things to it, like highlighting and hair painting. Always take care of your hair!
MS: What’s your go-to tool?
KH: My comb— there’s an art to combing hair!
MS: What’s your favorite Oribe product?
KH: That’s a hard one...there are so many! I go back and forth between Supershine Light and Grandious Pumping Mousse. Supershine Light is a moisture-based product that leaves hair lustrous after blowdrying—it’s my base for all the styles I create. I also enjoy Grandious Pumping Mousse which gives hair maximum volume and lift.
MS: Are you performing at any upcoming shows or teaching any classes? If so, which ones? What will the topic/s be?
KH: We have a program called “Journey to Mastery” where I am one of the lead educators. This year we are bringing the program abroad, and we’re taking it to an international level! The program will be taught in London, Copenhagen, Thailand, South America and Australia. I personally will spend two weeks in London where I will educate a team of people who will become the new educators in that area.
MS: What are some words of wisdom that you live by?
KH: Share your knowledge. Lead by example. Learn from your mistakes.
MS: What’s your mantra?
KH: Think outside of the box.
MS: What’s the single, most important piece of advice, in your opinion, that you can offer other hairdressers who are looking to become successful in their own careers?
KH: Always do you research. Practice is key. Always keep an open mind.
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