Is any part of fashion not touched by South Korean influencers? I think not. Standards of facial and physical beauty, what outfits are cool and edgy, how hair should be done – all has been swept up, if not shaped, by the long and unwavering reign of K-pop.

Such is the apt context for the first PORTRAITS interview of this year, a beloved section of HSD we will continue to focus on throughout 2016. This time our limelight is trained on Baek “James” SoonSik, a celebrity hairstylist from South Korea whose fleet fingers, fit physique, and fashion forwardness are well-known on Instagram.

James and I first met at his SOONSIKI salon in Hongdae, where I was honoured to be styled personally by the man himself. He’s had a string of successes throughout 2015, an admittedly enjoyable but busy year for him, including trips to Cannes, Paris and Kuala Lumpur. We’ll get into that, but of course, we’re most intrigued about his many effortlessly suave looks – and any tips he can give us on looking well-coiffed in the new year. It’s all here in the following interview.

HSD: Tell us briefly how you got started, and how long you’ve been in this hairstyling business. 

JAMES: I graduated from university with a degree in architecture but I wasn’t excited about working in that field. Knowing about my interest in hair, my family recommended that I go into hairdressing. Come to think of it, I’ve been in this line for 15 years, and running my own business since 2005. 


HSD: Thanks to the K-Pop wave and Korean idols, hair trends from Korea have become very popular all over Asia and the world. What is unique and different about Korean hairstyles, compared to, say, Japanese styles?

JAMES: Koreans are very sensitive to changing trends, and our clients get sick of something quickly and are always willing to try something new. This creates competition and as a result, it also generates many new ideas. In Japan however, I find that people are more traditional and protective of their culture and character.

HSD: Who are some K-Pop idols you’ve worked with?

JAMES: Famous korean hip-hop stars like Jay Park, Roco, Grey, Crush, Zion-T are some of our customers.


HSD: Besides the SOONSIKI HAIR salon chain, you also have BOMBMME, a barbershop concept targeted at men. How is it different from the services at SOONSIKI? Why did you start this alternative concept?

JAMES: SOONSIKI HAIR is a trendy salon for mainly women, and also men who enjoy stylish and artistic hairstyling. The customers are mostly from the new generation in Korea that wants some unique, fashionable styles to reflect their personality.

On the other hand, BOMBMME is a concept barber shop created for men only, focussing on more traditional cutting and shaving services. The male customers come from different age groups. For example, we have father and sons coming in together, as well as groups of male friends. The concept of the barbershop evokes a strong sense of masculinity.


HSD: You’ve done lots of travelling this year. Tell us about the work you were doing with L’Oreal in Paris and Kuala Lumpur.

JAMES: Yes, 2015 was indeed a valuable year for me. I traveled to Cannes and Paris, and met with many famous hairdressers from all around the world. I learned from them some great ideas on how to further my brands in the future. I also had the opportunity to visit Malaysia to conduct some hairdressing training, teaching local hairdressers Korean hairstyling techniques, as well as personal techniques and ideas I developed from my job.


HSD: What do you think are the major hair trends for men in 2016?

JAMES: The key trend is ‘natural’. In Korea, men’s hair will follow the old fashion trends with pomade and a bit of part, or natural fall, with any length of hair. Have you watched the movie Casablanca? The gentle, natural style will be the trend for the whole year.

HSD:  What tips do you have for men who want to get a trendy haircut? What should he look for, and how should he communicate with his stylist?

JAMES: With social media and the Internet, many guys are coming to us with photos of what they want to look like. Gone were the days when we had to use catalogs and scrapbooks to communicate with our clients. That being said, it’s still important that we hairstylists try always to discuss with the client and advise him on the best style to suit him and his lifestyle.

HSD: You are always dressed stylishly when you are at work! How would you describe your personal style?

JAMES: For work, I wear something comfortable at SOONSIKI, but I will usually wear a suit at BOMBMME. I prefer something easy because I like to go to the gym after work. When necessary, I use some layering to create versatile styles. I also like to observe how other people style and pick ideas that might suit me.


HSD:  Do some style icons inspire your looks? If so, who are they?

JAMES: Not really. I work in a trendy industry so I spend a lot of time looking for trendy things. By process of elimination, I might pick 100 looks, condense it to 10, and finally pick 5 of them. That’s all.

HSD: Are your clothes tailor-made, or do you buy them off the rack?

JAMES: I like my suits tailored.


HSD: What is/are the most important fashion item/s in your wardrobe?

JAMES: Hats, ties, belts, socks, gloves, mufflers, etc. I like accessories for outerwear.

HSD: I can’t help but notice from your social media posts that you work out a lot and have a fantastic build. Can you describe your fitness regime? 

JAMES: I try to work out early in the morning. Ironically, I started to work out because I have a bad case of herniated cervical disc. Because of that, I cannot lift very heavy weights – but I am not quitting. I try to build muscle mass and that has been my motivation to carry on.


HSD: To have such a ripped body, you must be watching your diet (or you have great genes). Can you tell us your diet secret?

JAMES:  I eat vegetables, chicken breasts, fruits and kumura (sweet potato). I avoid carbs and if I want to have carbs then I will go mountain climbing, because I told myself that I can eat whatever I want when I go up the mountain. To keep in shape, diet is as important as exercise. I also take a profile photo twice a year, and that has also kept me motivated to stay in shape.

HSD: With such a busy work schedule, how do you balance your work, fitness, and private life? What’s a typical day or week like for you? 

JAMES: To be honest, I barely have time off from work. If I do, I like to travel, or spend time in the mountains. I live my life with a planner, so I can schedule my daily exercise and work. I do work in the capacity of a CEO of different brands, so I’m happy to be able to manage my time that way.

HSD: Do you have any major plans in 2016?

JAMES: In 2016, I will be improving on my brands SOONSIKI HAIR and BOMBMME . I am also planning to expand my salons, and to communicate with customers through seminars. I will also need more time to get ready for growing my market beyond 2016.


HSD:  Just one more… can you share a style tip to our readers?

JAMES: My style tip for everyone is to explore the SNS (social media). Today, you can see so many style ideas from people on SNS. So see, feel, and enjoy.