By Dong Sun-hwa
Video by Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min
When K-pop behemoths like BTS and EXO want to elevate their looks to the next level for their schedules, they first turn to hair designer Park Nae-joo. Monsta X, NCT, GOT7, The Boyz and Golden Child are also among the acts Park has been styling for.
With combs and scissors in hand, the hairdresser has traveled to all parts of the world with the singers. He even headed to Las Vegas last year to do hair for BTS at the Billboard Music Awards.
Many would wonder how he came to work with such big-name stars and became one of the most sought-after hair stylists on the K-pop scene. Park, the CEO of hair/makeup salon Bit&Boot ("comb and brush" in Korean), gave an answer during a recent interview with The Korea Times at his shop in Gangnam-gu, Seoul.
"EXO was my first K-pop band, which I have been working together with since the members were idol trainees at SM Entertainment," the reserved but passionate hair designer said. "I came to work with celebrities (like EXO) for magazines, advertisements, music videos and albums a few years after I kick-started my career as a hair stylist at a salon in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province."
When asked about the rationale behind his "popularity," Park was initially bashful, but soon said: "I have been trying offbeat styles ― which deviate from something ordinary ― because I used to work for magazines and advertisements (that pursue uniqueness). This possibly could have appealed to people."
He added: "In the case of BTS, I have been styling the singers since the band's release of its second album. Following the launching of Bit&Boot in 2018, I grasped more chances to collaborate with other stars."
EXO's Kai, Baekhyun and BTS's V are those who pay most attention to their hair, Park said.
"The three have a deep interest in their styles and often give ideas and suggestions to me," he said. "On the other hand, EXO's Sehun is relatively indifferent to his hair and usually goes with the flow."
Park, whose career spans over a decade, also disclosed how he works in harmony with the K-pop acts.
"Our hair team first discusses the group's new concept and outfits with the record label's visual team," he said. "After drawing a big picture, we decide on the details such as the hair color and styles for each member, considering the color combination.
"Then we use our design drafts that we gathered after the collections and figure out which ones match the members' garments, hair condition and length. Since we first introduce this year's trend to the members ― instead of directly asking them to try what we offer ― many of them say they are comfortable working with us."
|K-pop stars' hair designer Park Nae-joo speaks during a recent interview with The Korea Times at Bit&Boot, Seoul. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min|
However, since the singers frequently change their hair color to exhibit untapped sides, their hair is always vulnerable to damage. But Park has a solution.
"We provide a regular step-by-step repair service after coloring," he said. "But even before dyeing, we lay a long-term plan to single out the most appropriate color that would less affect the singers' future activities."
Park moved on to explain his own philosophy, saying he values "texture" more than "shape."
"First, I use a mousse and a hairspray to try out various shapes and continue this until I find the best form," he said. "I then apply various types of hair products to create vivid texture. Once the shaping ― which can be thought of as planning ― is done, it does not take long to do the hair.
"I believe it is crucial to meet the wants of my clients. Even if a bald-headed person comes to my shop, I can use hairpieces or other items to style him in a way he wants."
However, Park's fame has given him a schedule as hectic as that of the celebrities ― he could only have one day off a year before the outbreak of COVID-19.
Working with A-list celebrities may be a dream come true for many, but for Park, the opportunity comes at the expense of his private life.
"Honestly, the quality of my life is very low due to an intense workload," Park said. "I stayed abroad half a month prior to the pandemic and could hardly go home to spend time with my family. My schedule is often all booked before six months."
He also said he is often in a slump.
"There is no specific guideline for a hairdresser, which means I have no way to find out where the end in my career is. It is also hard to know if I am improving or not."
Nonetheless, the hair designer revealed he loves his job and it feels rewarding when his clients pull off remarkable musical feats sporting the hairstyles he creates.
"The singers are now like my brothers rather than clients," he said.
Park concluded the interview by hinting at the hairstyles that will be in vogue this summer.
"Classic blue color is hot these days," he said. "Undercut was popular among men last year, but for 2020, long and multi-layered hairstyles ― such as the 'shag' and 'wolf' haircuts ― will take over."