Billy Yamaguchi explains how the elements should all come together
Thursday, February 28, 2008 For a hot second, I believe I’m on the set of an infomercial. There’s tranquil music playing, and a cup of green tea is handed to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cher – or worse, Jessica Simpson – popped up out of nowhere with a camera crew in tow.
The reality is I’m visiting the hair salon at the award-winning Lake Austin Spa Resort and looking at myself in a mirror.
Hairstylist-to-the-stars Billy Yamaguchi, the author of “Feng Shui Beauty,” is standing behind me, explaining how I could have the most amazing hair if I only embraced feng shui principles. (And, presumably, grew more hair.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about personal style and beauty lately. Earlier this month, I was one of the only guys in the audience for the Dove-sponsored beauty session with panelists including “Beauty Myth” author Naomi Wolf at the University of Texas.
Austin has been my home for almost a year, and I always tell out-of-towners that it’s a pleasure to live here because Austinites tend to express themselves with their clothes and their looks more than in the East Coast cities where I’ve lived. So I was open to hearing what Yamaguchi has to say about personal style and how we can take our look to a new level.
“You basically have three seconds to make a first impression,” says Yamaguchi in a very comforting voice. “Have that first three seconds be a home run to where people are like, ‘Wow, who’s that person? I want to get to know that person a little bit longer.’ This is what feng shui does.”
But come on, how is feng shui, which I might use in setting up my new house, in any way related to the follicles on a person’s head?
“It’s a science that turns itself into an art form,” says 45-year-old Yamaguchi, who owns several salons in California and visits Austin several times a year to meet with clients who spend about $440 for hair and makeup styling. “Feng shui literally means wind and water. The wind is your breath and shui is water, what we’re made out of.
“There were a lot of people who have been really skeptical. But you start to see patterns happen over and over and over. There’s no way that I can be mistaken unless that person didn’t want to truly express themselves.”
Most of us, whether we like it or not, find a style that works and stick with it instead of pushing ourselves creatively — something that’s easier to do in a city like Austin.
“Austin people, to me, are chic,” Yamaguchi says. “They’re interested in looking sassy. They might not want to look like (the people looked) when I was in Dallas doing makeovers.
“It seems when I’m here in Austin, the women like to be a little more chic. It’s a very incredible market for us because people are interested as long as they can understand the message.”
The key to unlocking one’s personal sense of style is to understand who you are now, says Yamaguchi, whose client list has included Julia Roberts, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Aniston, Heather Locklear, Miley Cyrus and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
By embracing the person we are today, we’ll get a better look, he says. So that means not ripping out a photo from Vogue or InStyle to mimic a celebrity look or stroking your stylist’s ego by letting him give you a cut that’s not right for you.
While I’m sitting in the hot seat, Yamaguchi takes me through a typical session with a client:
“If I were to ask you, ‘Marques, a word or words to describe your personality,’ what words would you choose to describe Marques?” he says.
Oh, no, we’re going to talk about me in the third person. This can’t be good.
I pause and laugh to buy myself a few seconds. “I would say determined.”
“What color would you choose to describe ‘determined’?”
Another pause. “Red.”
“Perfect. It’s a fire element in feng shui. Give me a word to describe how Marques lives?”
“I live a hectic life.”
“What color would you choose to describe hectic?”
“What you’ve chosen is a water element.”
From those questions, he’s able to determine what styling tools he’ll use and what look might work. Even though I deal with fashion every day, Yamaguchi tells me that to find balance in my five elements (in Asian cultures, those are earth, fire, water, metal and wood), I should enhance my look with earth tones such as oranges and browns. Thankfully, he agrees that my new square glasses offer me a certain edge rather than my beloved Gucci glasses.
Ultimately, Yamaguchi believes that because our personalities and lifestyles are constantly changing, so is our personal sense of style. Therefore, a person might want to add highlights or lowlights this month, and later in the year, select a bob over a longer look.
“You have to have all of the five elements in harmony,” he says. “I’m not trying to box people in. I’m trying to get to know who they are at that time, and that can tell me a lot.
“Some people get married. People have children. Children move on. People get divorced. Some people’s wives are trying to be whoever their husbands want them to be. I think it’s important for them to be who they are spiritually.”
Yamaguchi is right. I haven’t taken it to a spiritual level, but our sentiment is the same. I always hope to encourage people to express themselves in the now. And that might mean taking a worthy risk such as a hair color change or finding the ideal color palette for a wardrobe.
“My goal is for people to be connected to who they are,” Yamaguchi says. “I don’t get tired of it. I get to see the story happen every day.”