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Move over Milan, Phnom Penh style making a splash

By: Bronwyn Sloan Posted: January-01-2006 in
Bronwyn Sloan

Think world cities of style, think Paris, Milan, London, Tokyo... Phnom Penh? Well, in the hairstyle stakes, Cambodia just put itself on the map, taking two gold medals at the 11th Hair Olympics in Japan this month.

Sun Heang, a 27-year-old mother of one and proprietor of Christina's, captured the attention of judges in Tokyo at the Asia Pacific Hairdressers and Cosmetologist Association (APHCA) Hair Olympics, taking out the best show cut and best hair cut categories.

Once Cambodia was the heartland of the Communist-style bob, and under the Khmer Rouge both up-market hairdressers and their wealthy clients were sought out for elimination, but the strong showing of Cambodia and Heang at the "Olympics" has highlighted the rapid change in the culture since a 30-year civil war ended a decade ago.

Avante guard hairstyles have earned the ire of modern critics in a traditionally conservative culture as well in recent years. Last year, panic swept salons after a rumor spread that police had been ordered to stop and fine young women with red rinses because they posed a threat to public order.

But after such a strong showing this year, Cambodia has a good chance of actually hosting the next Hair Olympics. Members from the 17 member nations have voted to put a proposal to the Cambodian government next February, according to Heang and Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea.

Although most Cambodian hairdressers and barbers still rely on basics - a mirror nailed to a roadside tree, a pair of blunt scissors and a cut-throat razor which has usually seen better days - as the middle class grows, so too does the number of trendy salons, and eye-catching hairdos are a must for the country's social set and those attending its increasingly glamorous weddings.

APHCA includes a diverse range of countries from wealthy to less well off, including Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Bangladesh, Thailand and India.

Heang, who has trained internationally, said she competed for the sake of national pride, and to teach the international community that Cambodians can cut with style, but that the national recognition she has received has been a welcome surprise.

"Cambodian people are very skilful hairdressers. What we have lacked in the past is modern equipment," she said.


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