Bill Watson dressing the tresses of a supermodel in a fashion show. Provided to China Daily
A New Zealander is helping hairdressers bring touches of London, Paris and New York to the hairdos of Beijing
This was obviously going to be a good-hair day, and for almost an hour and a half none of the dozens of trainees attending a seminar in Beijing dared even nip out to the toilet. All this time these hair professionals had been transfixed by Bill Watson, one of whose colleagues described him as "pure magic", a man who has been a regular at all kinds of fashion events from London, Milan, Paris and New York for the past 13 years.
Watson, giving a seminar aided by a long-haired Chinese model, was bathed in flashes from mobile phones and digital cameras.
Watson is one of the most well-known hairdressers with Toni & Guy, a British chain with 400 salons worldwide that is also the official sponsor of London Fashion Week. The New Zealander has taken part in more than 200 fashion shows worldwide, and has won many awards for his hairstyling.
In fact Watson has commercial ties with many well-known brands such as Bottega Veneta, Ghost and Max Sports, and is a hair stylist for numerous magazines and media outlets.
Most of the Chinese students at the Beijing seminar had little English, but that did not seem to matter as they lapped up all that the guru from the land of the long white cloud did and said.
Watson says it is this kind of enthusiasm that has drawn him to China after 18 years of globetrotting.
"The first thing I noticed was how big the country is and how big the cities are. The next thing I realized was how hard everybody works in China, and you start admiring their diligence and their passion to be good."
In June Watson was appointed education director for China and the southern hemisphere at Toni & Guy Academy, after being director of the international-education department in London, where the chain's headquarters are located.
He will work with Frankie Chan, the artistic director of Toni & Guy in North China, to present the latest fashion ideas and skills to the Chinese market and young hairdressers in order to push the chain's development in China, the company says.
"My role is working with the staff in the salon," Watson says. "There are so many talented young hairdressers here and I can help to train them. What a wonderful thing to do."
Originally from the New Zealand capital, Wellington, which has a large Chinese community, Watson says his affinity with the culture goes back to his childhood.
"I grew up with many Chinese friends, and their mums fed us a lot of Chinese food. I caught my sense of Chinese culture from there. It's very nice to finally move to China, since I know so many people who are from here."
Before moving to China, Watson had been visiting the country for nine years, sometimes twice a year, as part of his job.
Since first landing in Guangzhou almost a decade ago he has noticed a huge change in the hairdressing industry. In those days, he says, there was little more to cutting hair than cutting hair.
"But now a lot of major fashion brands have moved in. There are more references for them to draw from. Chinese people have got the international taste of fashion."
The company's official history says the founders, the brothers Toni and Guy Mascolo, opened their first salon in south London in 1963, taking after their father Francesco, who was also "a hairdresser of tremendous talent".
Changing with and adapting to the times has been one of the keys to Toni & Guy's success, Watson says. Yet this success has never stopped it chasing even more success.
"Sometimes, 'Why?' is more important than 'How'?" Watson says. "I hope to provide more ideas to the young Chinese hairdressers who will treat each Chinese customer personally, rather than simply following a trend. That would be boring."
Watson is particularly enthusiastic about the country's rich ethnic mix, and the many dialects.
"There are so many things that I had never seen before. Chinese culture is very beautiful, and I appreciate (being able to) keep myself inspired."
Being inspired may be one of the most important things for people in the fashion world, but even inspiration has its limits, Watson says.
"Can you be inspired by Gucci? Well, it's good to be Gucci, but you can only copy it. It's hard to be inspired by it though."
When Frankie Chan and Watson visited the Forbidden City when he was last in Beijing, the New Zealander was fascinated by the historic figures, particularly the hairstyles of emperors' wives.
"Those little things have somehow made their way into my work. When I went back to London I took them back with me. If you look at our magazine now you can even see a bit of Chinese influence."
Watson is now keen to visit Xi'an, home to the famed Terracotta Warriors.
Apart from learning more about Chinese history and culture, he is also keen to work with young Chinese fashion designers.
With so many young Chinese studying around the world now, Watson believes they will bring home what they learn and make things happen in China.
"The mixture of Chinese culture and world trends is being reflected in the work of young fashion designers, which can be really exciting."
(China Daily 09/14/2012 page28)