Freddy Sim had been cutting clients’ hair at Vancouver’s Moods Salon for less than a year when its owners suggested he engage his competitive spirit. Those owners, Tania Becker and Chad Taylor, are Vancouver hair royalty. Tania works her styling magic backstage at Paris, London, New York and Milan Fashion Weeks, often in tandem with Blanche Macdonald’s own Prince of Fashion Makeup, Jon Hennessey. Chad is a regular backstage at New York and Paris Fashion Weeks, and the resident ‘Hair Expert’ for the Globe and Mail, Fashion Magazine and the Vancouver Sun. They know talent when they see it.
“I was thinking about entering the Contessa Awards in the Newcomer of the Year category,” explains Freddy, “but Tania and Chad said, ‘No, no, go big or go home.’ I thought, are you kidding me?”
Freddy entered a collection of photos illustrating his artistry and was nominated in the categories of BC Hairstylist and Multicultural Stylist of the year. After only eight months behind the chair at Moods he found himself in Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle Conference Centre surrounded by Canada’s finest stylists at the Contessa Awards Ceremony. Accompanied by his colleague, Johanna Libbey, Freddy nervously waited for the evening’s events to unfold.
“The Award for Multicultural Hairstylist was announced first. Johanna won and dragged me up on stage with her. BC Hairstylist was announced later that night. They announced my name and showed my collection on the giant screen. The walk to the stage was the longest of my life. I had to give a speech with the spotlight on me and probably 1000 people watching, knowing that it was being broadcast live on the Internet too. I was very emotional and still feel very honoured.
“The next year I was named the Multicultural Stylist of the Year. I was far more prepared that second year at the Contessas. I knew I’d have an interview and photo shoot backstage the moment after I won! I’d chosen three ethnically diverse models for my collection. I like to think of myself as a well-rounded stylist and the Multicultural category allows me to challenge myself, work with different hair textures and showcase beauty across different ethnicities.”
It’s only natural that Freddy has become a Canadian hair superstar. He had a passion for hair before he’d even arrived in the country.
“I was born and raised in Brunei until I was 18. It’s a small country and it isn’t exactly fashion orientated. Since I was little I’d always dress and do my hair differently than most people there. Why be same when you can be different?
“I knew I wanted to be a hair stylist since I was a little boy. My Mom loved going to the salon. I would follow her there and loved the atmosphere. I would look at them and try to figure out how they would cut hair, blow-dry and colour. I enjoyed the friendly environment, but I loved the creativity. I found it fascinating. What can you do with someone’s hair? There are a million things you can do. I remember one day my Mom’s stylist said, ‘I can see Freddy becoming a stylist when he grows up.’ She was right!”
After Freddy moved to Canada he immediately started exploring his creativity, both as a dancer and an aspiring beauty professional.
“I started doing the makeup and hair for my dance friends and people kept telling me I should go to Hair School. I would watch music videos and look at fashion magazines and try to figure out how they achieved the looks.
“At the time my Dad expected me to go to university, but that wasn’t me. Being a hair stylist was my dream so I was willing to fight for it. I started cutting my family’s hair and they helped persuade my Dad that I should go to Hair School.”
Once the decision to attend Hair School had been made, it didn’t take long to choose where he’d be studying.
“Blanche Macdonald had such a good reputation,” agrees Freddy. “I asked around and my friends all knew people who had studied there. People in the fashion industry told me to check it out too. I could see the quality of the work that they were putting on line. I just went for it!
“I took the program seriously, but I wasn’t stressed at all. I had so much fun. I was always excited about what I was going to learn each day. I didn’t have to hand in math homework, so it didn’t feel like school to me. I loved styling, I loved photo shoots and I loved working backstage!”
Freddy’s infectious enthusiasm and natural talent were recognized by his instructors at Canada’s top Hair School, one of whom gave him the ultimate vote of confidence by sitting in his chair to get her hair coloured.
“When we started taking clients in the School Salon I was nervous at first. But every time I finished a cut it wasn’t bad at all. The instructors trusted me and I was making clients happy. Tyana Nichole, one of our instructors, was my first ever colour client. She was so confident that I could do it.
“One day Shashi Seth came into the School Salon and announced that two hair stylists had bailed on a fashion show at a Ferrari dealership downtown and they were looking for volunteers. I thought, why not? We took a cab there and suddenly there were nine models staring at me and my classmate, Angelina Celeste. I felt so happy seeing the models on the runway and thinking ‘I did that hair.’ I realized that this was what I wanted to do. I enjoyed the pressure.”
He’s been relishing that pressure of ever since. Freddy’s creations have appeared in magazines like iMirage, Elléments, Salon, Canadian Hairdresser and Fresh (where he styled Canadian fashion icon Jessica Mulroney) and he’s worked alongside photographers and creative directors including Philip Jarmain and KT Auleta.
“It’s all about social media and developing industry connections. I keep getting more and more jobs. I love doing editorial work. Clientele is important, but of course 95% of clients want something safe and wearable. The editorial work allows me to flex my creative muscles.”
The first of those editorial shoots was a big one, as Freddy was recruited to style the hair for the Blanche Macdonald Makeup Program brochure.
“I didn’t know that when I arrived and was kind of stressed when I found out,” he laughs. “On a runway show you have to do exactly what the key hair stylist is asking for. But on a shoot it’s more flexible. Tyler [Udall, Fashion Director at Blanche Macdonald] asked me to bring in photos of what I wanted to do. He had ideas too so we met halfway on what we’d both wanted to see. It’s a conversation. When I know the models I’ll be working with I can think about the kind of texture I want to bring to the shoot and take it to the next level. I can prep wigs, hairpieces and accessories beforehand to create more drama. Once the makeup and wardrobe is in place it’s very exciting. I love working with talented people who have a passion for what they do. It’s always a great energy. Together we can create magic!”
It’s not just models being treated to Freddy’s wizardry. Clients at Moods get to experience his remarkable talents on a daily basis.
“I like the balance of editorial work and seeing clients in the salon. I like making people happy! A cut and colour don’t have to be dramatic for my client to feel transformed. Sometimes something simple can enhance a client’s natural beauty. I love exceeding clients’ expectations and hearing them tell me how great they feel. That’s so rewarding! They trust you, so you have a big responsibility. The real pleasure is from the client’s feedback when they love it. They don’t only look pretty. They feel pretty. That means a lot to me. I want to see big smiles on their faces. Return clients come back for a reason.”
Freddy’s just beginning to make his mark in the hair business. He’s come a long way already, but his creative journey could take him anywhere.
“There’s still so much to learn. The minute you stop making mistakes is the minute you stop learning. Obviously a hair stylist doesn’t want to make mistakes, but you have to try to push yourself and do your best. Trust yourself! Fashion is changing so fast and everyone’s hair is different. I work with stylists who have 20 years experience and we’re all still learning.
“Don’t doubt your vision. Whatever the vision is, you can achieve it! If you don’t do it you’ll never know how amazing it could turn out. Stay motivated, stay passionate and stay humble!”