In the mid-1970s, when the teenaged Eugene Ong decided that he wanted to become a hairstylist, he looked to the prominent industry veteran Roland Chow as a role model.
“Then, almost all hairdressers were women. And Roland was so glamorous, all my friends’ mothers were always talking about him,” recalls Ong, the director and founder of Urbanhair.
“Women of a certain social standing all had their hair done by him.”
Through serendipity, Ong’s first apprenticeship was with Christine Wah, Chow’s top assistant.
“Christine would tell me how exclusive his salon was. Roland even had a drawn curtain around each client for their privacy.”
The curtains were also there for another reason. The hair maestro did not want observers to “steal” his skills; only the privileged few could watch him in action, recalls Ong.
Born into the upper crust of Shanghainese society in 1926, Chow fled to Singapore in 1949 to seek refuge from the communists.
Chow first made a name for himself as a fashion designer; he was often described as the “Mr Dior of Singapore” in the 1950s.
Later, he focused his career on hairdressing and supposedly became Singapore’s first Paris-trained hairdresser.
He literally shaped more than the coiffs of Singapore’s high society tai-tais; Chow influenced their tastes too. He was also a prominent columnist who often shared his thoughts on the latest fashion and lifestyle trends in the local newspapers and magazines.
On January 12, 2012, Chow passed on at the age of 86.
His life story came full circle with Ong’s when the latter recently received a call about Chow’s rich collection of books, lookbooks, photographs and sketches. Chow’s sister had kept them in pristine condition after his death.
Going through the collection at the Hair & Cosmetology Association Singapore (HACOS) at French Road, Ong says, “These documents are so important for posterity. In this digital age, they would add so much depth into the learning process for young local hairdressers.”
Here, a selection from Chow’s personal archive.
The hairdresser, fashion designer, writer
Chow’s personal archive of inspiration