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Men’s K-Popping Colour Trends

Do you know BTS? If not, you will soon – for regular users of social media, they’re becoming impossible to ignore. This seven-member South Korean pop group has the biggest fan base in the world, breaking records left and right to see them selling out stadiums across the world (including Wembley Stadium for two dates in June). It’s rumoured that Twitter has had to adjust its algorithms otherwise BTS would consistently rank as one of the top worldwide trends from the sheer amount of mentions. Yeah. They’re probably the biggest thing you’ve never heard of. The UK has been a little slower than the US, who has embraced them with bemused admiration, but 2019 will likely see that change.

BTS was named as one of TIME magazine’s Next Generation Leaders, while fellow K-Pop band EXO covers Vogue Korea

For an Asian, non-English speaking act to have reached the upper echelons of US celebrity in the span of a few short years shows just how quickly worldwide trends are able to travel and create influence outside of their expected spheres. If all you know of K-Pop is Gangnam Style then take another look – the musical exports of South Korea are hugely varied and immensely talented, combining music, dance and style for an explosive visual combination.

In fact, spotting a change in the hair styles and colours of K-Pop group members is enough to send fans into a frenzy, often heralding the imminent launch of new music. Groups regularly change their looks for each release, creating specific avatars of themselves to best convey the style of the song or album’s genre. Dark colours hint at moody releases, while pastels and vivid shades suggest fans can expect a bop.

Park Nae Joo

We spoke exclusively to Park Nae Joo – colourist to the hottest starlets and groups in South Korea including BTS, EXO and Twice, and owner of new salon Bit & Boot in Seoul, about what goes into the planning and creation of these show-stopping looks.

“The most important thing is to make sure that the colour suits the artist,” he said. “I check the outfits, colours and styling for each group’s concept carefully. I also pay attention to global trends and fashion weeks all over the world.”

With intense formulas needed to both lift and maintain his clients’ darker natural hair colours throughout their busy schedules, Nae Joo’s product choices are essential. “I use a wide variety – I think products made in the UK and the US are really good for unique and vivid colours. Japanese products are very good for pastels – I especially love a brand called MILBON from Japan. These days I’m regularly using colour treatments and shampoos to maintain colour and condition.”

So are we seeing worldwide influences, such as the rise of K-Pop, having an effect on consumer trends here in Blighty? Well, maybe. For salons that have made a name for themselves for their creative colour services, the uptake has been noticeable. At Live True London, director Valerie Maine notes that “we find that a lot more men are requesting a wider range of colours than ever before. While grey blending and natural tones are still very popular, silver and ash colours are growing in popularity. We have also seen an increase in men requesting more vivid colours such as blue, green and purple.”

At Barber Below in Manchester, owner Rob Czlapka has a plethora of clients who embrace bold shades. “We’ve found the majority of guys still aim for platinum or silver blonde. However, as an inclusive barbers that supports the LGBTQ+ community, we have a fair amount of pastel and bolder colour requests. Bleaching services for male clientele have seen a huge spike – a lot of our LGBTQ+ clients are really into anime and K-Pop, which has influenced their choices, and a lot of our clients use celebrity references like Kanye West’s pink or Troye Sivan’s blonde.”

Jim Shaw, owner of ESSENSUALS and ESSENSUALSMEN, Billericay, is more cautiously optimistic. “There has definitely been an increase in the number of male clients requesting more creative colour work in the salon,” he agrees. “The 21st century man is much more fashion conscious and is constantly looking ahead to the latest hair trends and how they can update their look. Colour is currently booming in the industry, and I think going further into 2019 we will see men become more experimental with colour.”

In Leeds, Wella Professionals UK & Ireland technical director and Russell Eaton creative director Robert Eaton is also seeing a more open approach to men’s colour, mainly within ash blondes, dark shades and anything that has a cooler tone to it. “Footballers tend to be a big source of inspiration still for many male clients,” he adds, “and as they have become more adventurous with their hair so too have male clients. Global hair trends now tend to spread to different countries very quickly.”

It’s a similar story at Ross Charles Hairdressing, with a noticeable increase in colour for men – although more creative colour still seems to be lagging. “Freehand colouring is a service we have noticed a considerable spike in amongst our male clients, particularly men with shorter hair to add texture to their look using colour instead of cutting.” Ross notes, adding that longer haired clients are requesting glossing services, while highlights, balayage and root stretches are also on the rise.

“We are seeing males that want an all-over blonde that is then toned to create a bespoke finish, or who want that platinum/grey colour. Compared to a few years ago this is quite creative for our male clientele and I do definitely feel there has been a shift in the popularity of men’s hair colour,” Ross says. “In our salon in particular we tend to find that our male clients are more creative and fearless with their cuts rather than their colour. It will be very interesting to see how the current trends and styles we can see on fashion catwalks etc. will filter down into the regular male client over the coming months and years.”

“Ultimately, I feel there is a lot more we could do to promote wearable colour and cut enhancement techniques for male clientele,” says Gareth Williams, Headmasters colour lead and creative ambassador. “We have a sophisticated Micro Wand technique, where micro highlights are placed around the hairline where the sun would naturally lighten, which is very popular. It takes less than five minutes to apply and doesn’t feel like a normal colour appointment, which can often dissuade male clients.”

Perhaps K-Pop colour isn’t such an unlikely prospect after all.

BTS for US Vogue