Lee Younghyun is the founder of Masterpiece, a hair-salon located in the still relatively low-key neighborhood of Sangsu, Seoul. The salon is frequented by fashion models, editors, and many other heavyweight influencers. In this interview, conducted by MUTZINE's Editor-In-Chief, Younghyun shares her origin story and her ambitions of extending the reach of her cultural capital even further. Sangsu is quickly becoming a hub for cultural revolution in Seoul and Masterpiece is at the center!
Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Interpretation Euncho Park, Photography Ana Fernandez
How did you choose the path to become a hairstylist?
Younghyun: Well, as a child I liked to draw. I studied at a private art school from ages 6 to 14 years old. When choosing a high-school I thought that the chances of becoming a successful artist were slim, so I decided to study something creative and interesting but also practical.
Where did you receive training?
Younghyun: I’m originally from Jeolla-do, so I found a beauty school in Seoul because I had an interest in Japanese beauty trends, especially Nail Art, and that school in particular specialized in it. I didn’t end up pursuing nail artistry because my teacher at the time told me that I wouldn’t make much money as a nail artist. At the time Nail Art wasn’t as popular in Korea as it is now.
During your formation years, who were you role models?
Younghyun: I never had any role models. If I had to, I would choose my mother as a role model. I’m also Christian so when I have hard times, I pray. Now that I think about it, I guess I wish I had a role model in the industry though (laughs).
Why did you decide to open your own hair-salon?
Younghyun: I have 13 years of experience at this point and for over 10 years I had to endure physical and mental strain. It felt like no matter how much I worked, I was only earning money for my boss. I really wanted to quit along the way, but my boyfriend has always been supportive. Over time, after working in salons in Cheongdam-dong and Hongdae, I have built a loyal clientele and naturally the next step was to open up my own shop. I felt ready to have my own space and work for myself. I also wanted to make a space that my customers would love.
I'm wondering, how did you go about landing on the name Masterpiece?
Younghyun: My boyfriend helped me come up with lots of possible names. I didn’t like any of them though because they honestly sounded lame. One day, after a brainstorming session, he randomly came up with Masterpiece, and I loved it!
Location is important too, why did you open Masterpiece near Sangsu station?
Younghyun: I didn’t choose this neighborhood because of its popularity. I opened Masterpiece two years ago and when I would pass by this street I really liked this particular space. I asked the landlord several times to please rent it out to me and she always refused! Finally I was able to convince her and you know after I opened the shop, the surrounding area started changing too with new cafes and restaurants.
Your impact! You know, when paging through Cracker Your Wardrobe's final issue I saw you were featured and that's how I learned about Masterpiece. Can you tell us a bit more about your relationship with the now defunct street-fashion magazine?
Younghyun: I’m close to Cracker's Editor-In-Chief, that's why I was featured in the farewell issue, and a while ago he invited me to be featured in the 'Real Story' column too. They followed me as I made breakfast and got ready to go to work, simple stuff like that. (laughs)
Who is your typical customer? What do they ask for?
Younghyun: Most of my customers are very into fashion, this doesn’t mean that they are all one type of customer though. The age range is from early 20s to late 30’s typically and everyone has distinct styles but they definitely care about their appearance. Foreigners also come to my shop occasionally. They seem to find it through Instagram. The association with certain fashion models seems to attract them!
How did the connection to fashion models come about?
Younghyun: When I was younger I worked part-time at a shop in Dongdaemun and many of the models and people who now work in the fashion industry were my co-workers, so over the years we have remained close and they are now my clients. They have also referred their friends.
What's your signature approach to styling?
Younghyun: I like natural styles, nothing too extreme. If a customer wants something drastic or extreme I try to meet them in the middle.
What are the most common requests these days?
Younghyun: For guys, these days many of them request dreads and thick perms. Girls typically ask for natural hairstyles and extensions. The popular colors are red, orange, grey, and really bright yellow bleached looks, as well as ombré.
Do you have predictions for next season's trending hairstyles and colors?
Younghyun: Fashion changes so quickly here, it’s hard to keep up or predict what will trend and everyone likes different styles anyway, there isn’t a single one. But I think these days for example guys are into middle parted hairstyles and that will probably remain fashionable for a while.
Younghyun: I don’t really plan things too far into the future but I’d like to create a big culture brand where people can enjoy Masterpiece in a variety of ways beyond the hair salon. I now also run a bar with the help of my boyfriend just a few steps away from Masterpiece called Grangzo and I opened it after only a month of planning. I do things spontaneously this way, that’s also how Masterpiece first came about. I believe in my instinct and just go with the flow!
Visit Lee Younghyun at Masterpiece and Grangzo located near Sangsu station, exit 2!