Hair’s the thing

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Text and photos by Michelle Anne P. Soliman

White lights illuminate quite a narrow space. A variety of colorful and stylishly coiffed heads fill the shelves. At the corner on the right are hairstyles for everyday use and special occasions such as weddings and parties (i.e. Ariana Grande’s high ponytail); on the left side are eye-catching multi-colored styles with varying lengths (spotted: Marie Antoinette’s bouffant); and at the center are hairstyles worn by Wonder Woman, Cinderella, Snow White, and is that Chiyo Sakura? For a second, it felt like entering a dressing room shared by popular celebrities and fictional characters.

In a hidden corner at Fisher Mall’s second floor, a shop filled with wigs and hair accessories with its name lit in flashing pink letters contrasts with the lineup of retail clothing stores. The wigs’ various styles, lengths, and colors tempt a passserby to look around and possibly purchase one. A good investment to your beauty arsenal — it’s a classic, it’s reusable, and does not expire.

BACK TO THE ROOTS
What started as a five-piece display of wigs for mannequins grew to become a business currently carrying a thousand styles and counting.

Actress and owner of Lynelle House of Hair Fashion Jennifer Sevilla arrived for the interview at the store’s Fisher Mall branch in a black-and-white striped long-sleeved blouse and white trousers. Her long brown hair cascaded a few inches below her shoulders.

“I really have a passion for hair. I liked experimenting with hair especially when I was in my teen years in That’s Entertainment (GMA Network’s teen-oriented variety show which aired from 1986 to 1996). I would change my hair constantly. [And] we had production numbers that had us wearing wigs from time to time and altering our looks with costumes,” said Ms. Sevilla enthusiastically in her gentle voice.

“Critical lagi ang buhok (Hair is always critical)… It instantly puts me in character,” Ms. Sevilla added about hairstyle as a critical part of characterization.

The actress explained that in 2004, the wigs functioned primarily as accessories to her then-boyfriend’s (now her husband) mannequin business. Ms. Sevilla told him how important wigs were for her work, making it convenient for actors to change their looks or character on set.

In October 2007, they opened Lynelle House of Hair Fashion’s flagship store at V-Mall in Greenhills, San Juan.

“It’s really experimental. It’s not like a basic need like clothes. Mahirap ito kasi hindi mo laging kailangan bilhin everyday (It’s a challenging business because you don’t have to buy the product everyday),” Ms. Sevilla said.

The actress thought it was a good idea to make wigs accessible to Filipinos and avoid the need to spend on expensive ones abroad. “If I can just have a place where I can gather so many styles where people can conveniently try on and buy, it would be nice,” she said.

Like new parents deciding on a name for a baby girl, Ms. Sevilla and her husband chose Lynelle (which means “pretty”) for the store.

“It’s funny because we did not have a child yet, but we were already looking for a baby name,” she said — the couple wed in November 2007. “We wanted a name of a person, specifically of a girl, which has a nice ring to the ears, is easy to remember and is associated with beauty,” Ms. Sevilla said in a mixture of English and Filipino. “The first name we decided on [became] the name of the store.”

What started as a small mannequin wig business in Tutuban, Manila has since branched out to Greenhills in San Juan, Makati, Cebu, and Quezon City.

AN ACTOR’S INSTRUMENT
While the business started out to fulfill a personal need, it eventually found itself serving several niches. “Initially, it (Lynelle) was made for actors like me because I found it very convenient to use [wigs] for an instant change of look in the tapings,” said Ms. Sevilla.

“When we keep changing scenes. [For example] forgetting to shoot a part of a wedding scene where an actor had curly hair. But you have already shampooed and taken off your curls. There are contingencies on set. ‘We need to go back, one scene we need to retake…’ So, they had to set your hair again. Just imagine how tedious it is to do it again,” Ms. Sevilla explained speaking in a mixture of English and Filipino. The people in the television and movie productions, stylists, and fellow actors saw the advantages of using wigs as convenient energy savers, and also a way of giving the actors time to rest.

Screen and theater actors, comedians, and comedy bar performers would as her about wigs, and then eventually visit the store. She also received requests for popular personalities. Her clientelle grew through word of mouth since they didn’t advertise.

Soon, the market expanded to include cosplayers looking for character wigs, and people who simply liked wearing wigs.

MEET THE HAIRSTYLES
At this point of the interview, we took a tour around the store and Ms. Sevilla showed samples of the products.

The wigs, manufactured in and imported from Asian countries, come in two major types — synthetic and human hair.

The synthetic wigs are made of Japanese Kanekalon synthetic fiber. It is classified into Class A and Class B — synthetic Class B wigs have a shinier finish.

The selection also includes regular wigs that have interlayered wefts attached to skin-friendly lace caps with a fixed hairline; and the Lynelle-pioneered lace front wigs with sheer lace at the hairline that gives a natural look as if the strands grew from the scalp. The latter sort may be re-styled due to its movable hairline.

Hair irons and blow dryers cannot be used to style synthetic wigs as heat damages the fiber. However, minimal hairspray and water-based coloring spray allows the user to be creative with the product.

The human hair products on the other hand, can withstand the heat from blow dryers and curling irons. It may also be dyed permanently.

Lynelle also sells Keira, its own brand of hair extensions which come in 12-, 16-, and 22-inch lengths. Ms. Sevilla noted that the business started with 16-inch extensions meant to add volume and length for thin hair or use them as highlights. The 12- and 22-inch extensions came later along with darker shades. The hair extensions are either clip-ons or semi-permanent stick hair which is a strand-by-strand attachment temporarily attached to the user’s real hair for a given period.

Ms. Sevilla makes it a point to keep up with trends. “I’m constantly updating myself. I always watch, read, observe, think, and experiment. Somehow, now it’s so easy because you can see the coming trends online. We keep up and we make sure that we have them.”

This is evident through the interesting selection of character wigs on display — from Marie Antoinette’s bouffant to Queen Elsa’s long braid, Harley Quinn’s ponytail to Wonder Woman’s dark waves. “It’s fun because it’s ever-evolving,” Ms. Sevilla commented.

CHALLENGES
“The fact that the hair is not a basic commodity is very challenging for us,” said Ms. Sevilla, “and since providing our clients with quality products is key for sustainability and for them to come back.”

Ms. Sevilla explained that a client who purchases a high-quality synthetic wig which would last him/her a few months or years (when not used often) would probably not purchase new products every month. “A regular person would not keep on buying every month even if they like to…Pero ayaw mo naman mag-provide ng product na sirain para lang balik nang balik. At saka, ’di na sila babalik kapag pangit ang quality mo (You wouldn’t want to provide a product that easily breaks just so the customer comes back often. They also wouldn’t purchase your products again if they are of low quality).”

Hairs stylists, celebrities, beauty queens, and theater performers have frequently used their products. “We are thankful that when people need something, even the clients would tell their family and friends where they can find us,” Ms. Sevilla said.

THE UNEXPECTED ROLE AND VALUE OF HAIR
“I don’t know if I’d call it accidental or maybe, it was destined somehow,” Ms. Sevilla said of producing wigs for cancer patients.

“I think it started with my mom. In 2005, she was [undergoing] chemotherapy. She had lung cancer… At that time, we only had a few choices for short hair. We did not have human hair wigs then. We manufactured human hair and more pixie styles because of her.”

Slightly teary-eyed, Ms. Sevilla continued: “Going to [chemo], she’d wear a wig. I know her face, eyes, and heart would light up. I’d feel that she’d feel better in an instant when she looks in the mirror. She’d feel that ‘It’s still me.’ And it’s very important for somebody who is struggling, when you’re physically deteriorating because of the strong medicines of [chemo]. The disease is also fighting you and you’re fighting back. Your sense of self is important. Your physical well-being is directly linked with your emotional well-being.

“It was devastating for her when she was losing hair. And having her wear a wig in the chemo was something. She was back… Ang saya-saya niya (She was so happy).”

Her late mother used to bring wigs to fellow patients who were also undergoing treatment. “That is the heart of Lynelle. We cannot stop caring for families… That simple hair pala can do wonders for somebody. If that’s what we can extend to another person, why not?”

When asked about how it feels to have started this business that has grown to extend help beyond entertainers, Ms. Sevilla said, “This is beyond my imagination, myself, and how we imagined things. [It’s] so fulfilling. [It’s] so heartwarming to see that there are more and more people benefiting from simple products. Like this one (she points to a wig on display), when you see this hair, it doesn’t mean anything. [But] when you have someone wear it and a character comes to life, or if someone is having his or her struggle physically be overcome and getting better every day with the help of wearing a wig, suddenly this thing becomes significant.”

For its 10th anniversary in 2017, Lynelle hosted an afternoon event and donated wigs for more than a hundred patients of the Kasuso Foundation, an organization which caters to the needs of breast cancer patients with whom they have been working with since 2013. Lynelle also extends its help to Alopecia Philippines, an organization founded by singer/songwriter Abby Asistio which aims to spread awareness about the condition which leads to hair loss and gives aid to patients.

Lynelle House of Hair Fashion has branches at Fisher Mall in Quezon City; V-Mall Greenhills in San Juan; Dela Rosa Square, Makati; and J Centre mall in Mandaue, Cebu.

For more information, visit www.lynellehair.com.