“Visage”, “One”, “Hair”, “Music” – Those are the words scrawled on the door of Benky Chan’s business.
A quiet man with peppered hair, Chan has been at it for years. He initially worked his way through hair salons along with other apprentices before branching out with a friend to open their own.
However, about 15 years ago, he realized something else was tugging at him. The lack of privacy, lack of intimacy that most hair salons offer wasn’t for him.
“I wanted more freedom. When I was younger, I worked for other people, or partnered with others to run a small business,” Chan said. “But it didn’t quite fit my character.”
So he left to start his own one-man shop, freeing himself of strings attached to others.
The result was one of the most exclusive hair salon experiences in the city.
“My main focus is not money, and that contradicts partnering with others to do business,” Chan said.
“Launching and operating a one-man shop is not a starting point. It is an attitude. If a one-man shop does well, it can quickly become two men or 10 men, but I keep my shop just for myself.”
Getting a haircut at Visage One is a private, almost confidential encounter. Two mirrors rest on easels; one faces you, the other is to your left. You are the work of art.
White walls are adorned by images selected from quiet moments or intense creation. A small bar flanks the entryway. Everything whispers of careful curation.
On Saturday nights, from 8:30 to 11:30, Visage One transforms into a live music venue, with a rotation of acts to keep things fresh. Jazz and blues musicians fill the back alley speakeasy with chill, wild notes.
Chan had this to share: “Jazz is a chemical reaction. In the ideal place, at the ideal moment, jazz and the room it is in feed off of each other’s energy. One cannot exist without the other. That’s why I love live jazz.”
The bar is simple: water, whisky, beer, wine. To Chan, anyone who walks in is obligated to stop and listen to the music.
He is strict with this rule—no talking is allowed when the musicians are at work. Chan is not against scolding people who talk over the music, and is perfectly fine with throwing them out. He says it is his way of maintaining a culture of appreciation.
In hyper-connected, breakneck Hong Kong, Chan is a man who stands out not only because of his strict adherence to a code of operating a one-man shop, but also by his lifestyle choices.
He does not own a mobile phone, and doesn’t go online. “I wouldn’t know what to do with the internet,” he joked.
In his down time, Chan is more likely to be found engrossed with a classic novel, enjoying imagery that leaps off the page. He has a special liking for stories written by men and women who took their time to soak in a place and its spirit.
“I don’t offer a typical hair salon service. I offer a different pattern of consumption.”
Think of his place as an oasis in uber-commercial Hong Kong. He built a place according to his taste, not for one-size-fits-all retail service.
In return, he has garnered a loyal following: clients who return to him over and over again for hair and music.
Visage One’s landline is the only way to get in touch with Benky Chan if you want to make an appointment for a haircut. Call 2523 8988. Visage One is located at 89-95 Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan. Or, show up on Saturday night for a good show. The shop’s entrance is in the back alley behind the building.
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