We spoke with Uyen Huynh, who took home the Saskatchewan/Manitoba Hairstylist of the Year award at the 30th annual Contessa Awards.
Tell me about your collection. What was the concept behind it? How did you decide on which colours and techniques to use?
The whole photoshoot was put together to inspire my students. The subject of mental health kept showing up in many of my students, who are trying to cope with depression or anxiety. I wanted to show them how I use photoshoots, competitions and creative work to help my own depression, because I’m a survivor of the Vietnam War.
We started putting together the collection and I started creating some of the pieces and had the students help me comb and braid some of the hair. I didn’t plan on entering. I was working on an inspiration project, so I didn’t have a storyboard or mood board. I was just working on how to inspire them with the tips and tricks I’ve learned. I just wanted to show them how to do a full headpiece, how to incorporate long hair extensions with real hair and, for the last look, I wanted to show the students how to use all of her hair. It’s whimsical and avant-garde.
I decided I was going to [photograph] the collection myself, to practice as a photographer. I’m not a professional photographer, but I’ve been dabbling in photography because I shoot my own stuff on my own social media to tell my story.
We shot this collection at [MC College]. The three models I used were also students from the school. They also had mental health issues, so I chose them particularly because I wanted to help boost their self-esteem and help them see how beautiful they are. I wanted to give the makeup artist, who is also a student, the opportunity to showcase her work.
What does winning this award mean to you?
It’s definitely life-changing. After I won this award, I came back to coach at the school, and I had students tell me that they were suicidal and watching the whole collection go through helped them cope. It helped them see that there is a brighter side and that they can use their creativity as a hairdresser to help themselves and help others. It was actually very emotional when I came back to school.
I didn’t have any intention on placing or winning, but I love Contessas. I haven’t competed in the last couple of years, because I had a major breakdown from my survivor’s guilt. Even though it’s been 36 years since the Vietnam War, I still deal with it every day. So, coming back and shooting with the students was a way to help them cope with their depression and it also helped me on my journey of healing. So, winning and being on stage was just fantastic.
Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Doris Tan from IBS (International Beauty Services); she was my dragon lady mentor. When I first met her, I was too nice, and people just stepped on me all the time. She took me under her wing. She guided me and got me to be stronger. I am here because of her.
How would you describe your style when it comes to photoshoots? Any special rituals/how do you stay on track/what’s in your kit?
Any time I shoot something, it all depends on how I’m feeling. Sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s light, but I always gravitate towards more avant-garde styles, because avant-garde is a platform that is able to bring out my creativity more. When you do avant-garde, it’s unlimited.
If you weren’t a hairstylist, what do you think you would be doing?
All the stuff that I do now, I probably wouldn’t do if I wasn’t a hairstylist. But I found that being a hairstylist gave me the platform to do everything else. For example, I would become a therapist, but I’m already doing that now for my clients. I would be a coach or teacher, but I’m doing that now because I’m teaching at MC College. I would totally be a motivational speaker to tell my story so that it can help others, but I’m already doing that—I do stage work and I teach at the university about my refugee story. I would be a photographer, but I’m already doing that because I’ve incorporated that into my hairdressing. I’m writing a book, and everything that I’ve done with my photoshoots and stories I’m able to put that into my book. Working with charities, such as growing my hairdressing and makeup program in Vietnam, to help give back to underprivileged people and growing a program here to help people find their inner artist. If I wasn’t a hairdresser, I would be doing one of those things, but because hairdressing has given me the platform to do all of those things.
What’s next for you after your win? Anything you’re working on or any goals you have that you are hoping to achieve?
I know that after winning this award, it’s been the best award that I have. I’m working on growing my charity programs and using the programs to help people like I’ve helped my students.
Name/Nom: Uyen Huynh
Category/Catégorie: Saskatchewan/Manitoba Hairstylist | Styliste Saskatchewan/Manitoba
Salon: Vanity Hair and Esthetics, Saskatoon
Makeup/Maquillage: Halle Anderson-Jung
Wardrobe/Stylisme: Uyen Huynh
Photos: Uyen Huynh
Other: Megan Migneault