I Got a $1000 Hair Makeover—K-Pop Style

There’s probably no one within my social circle that doesn’t know about my obsession fascination with anything that comes out of South Korea. Whether it’s K-drama, K-pop, K-beauty or K-fashion, I’m infatuated with the culture. But now that I’ve mastered the multi-step skincare routine, bedazzled my nails and survived my first scrub down (and lived to tell the tale), I’ve just about checked all the boxes when it comes to a full K-beauty treatment. All except one: hair.

When it comes to South Korea’s beauty influence in the west, hair care doesn’t come to mind (at least not yet). However, if you were to step foot in Seoul, it’s evident that hair is a major player in the beauty game, with not one girl without colour-treated hair on the streets of Seoul, and shelf after shelf of adorable hair packs, essences and tools. But with a culture where A-list stars (and their stylists) dictate what’s hot in the beauty world, we’re not surprised to see Seoulites rocking every single colour of the rainbow.

So on my recent trip across the pond, I decided to drink the Kool-Aid and get a hair makeover. But I wasn’t going to settle for a cut and blowout. No, I wanted K-Pop-worthy hair. So I messaged celebrity hair stylist Kim Sunwoo and marched myself (and my overgrown bob) to SoonSoo Salon in Cheongdam-dong to see if he was game to update my look. (He was, obviously.)

In case you don’t recognize his name, you’ve probably seen him make cameo appearances in Irene Kim’s Instagram photos. He’s the artist behind the It girl’s Insta-famous hair, which has naturally turned him into a rising beauty star in SoKo, with a client list that includes model Park JiHye, Korean R&B singer/producer Dean and K-pop girl group Black Pink. But for Sunwoo and Irene, it’s more than just a stylist and client relationship. Since meeting four years ago when they were just starting out in their own fields – modelling for her and hairstyling for him – the duo have become close friends, coming up with new hair colour concepts at least four times a year.

“It’s always playful and enjoyable working with Irene,” says Kim. “When we have a new look or any styling ideas in mind we would share it with each other and give it a try.”

Judging by the work he’s done with Irene, there’s no doubt Sunwoo is a colour genius, so trusting him to transform my hair was a no-brainer. When he picked a few strands of my sad, copper-brown hair and suggested updating my look with adjustments here and there, I didn’t blink twice and agreed. No questions asked.

In the two hours I sat in his chair, I’ve never felt so pampered in my life. With a hot green tea in my right hand while Sunwoo and his three assistants swirled colours and hand-painted different tones to multiple sections of my hair, I felt like a K-Pop star in the making. As he meticulously brushed each strand, Sunwoo explained that he was going for an ombré-meets-3D effect. He added lowlights near my roots and classic highlights underneath that peeped through, thus creating an overall textured look. Thinking that was the end, he then went ahead and snipped some layers so it would grow out nicely in a couple months. Though I didn’t know how I felt about the new blonde highlights, who was I to argue with him? After all, it’s just hair.

Then came the bill. I reluctantly handed over my credit card, while wondering if she had punched a few extra zeros at the end. (Note: I did a quick Google search after I left the salon to find out what the average prices are and apparently, luxury hair salons in Seoul are notorious for raising their prices). I’ve never paid more than $60 for a hair treatment, so you can understand how shocking this was all for me. Let’s just say, I should have asked how much the treatment was prior to my appointment, especially in a foreign country. Lesson learned.

훈내솔솔 @deantrbl

A photo posted by Sunwoo Kim (@ksw7789) on

Despite my uncertainty about how much I paid for my new ‘do, I got a lot of compliments from my friends and family, which is always a nice boost to the ego.

So was it worth it? Totally. Let’s just say I’m lucky Kim isn’t so accessible for quick touchups. However, I’m already planning for my next trip to Seoul for another hair makeover. Until then, I won’t be visiting the hair salon for a long time to save up some money.