|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 28, Tuesday February 21, 2006|
Beauty in evolution
One of Dhaka's busiest beauty salons and it was the evening before a festival day. Imagine the scenario. It's like a nest of the honeybees, only the honey is missing. Modern gadgets that look like factory equipment, all sorts of liquids that resemble lab elements, alongside a blend of traditional ingredients like henna or neem paste and a touch of deftness of the beauty workers, all of these make a modern beauty salon. Shaping and reshaping appearances, giving the best trendy looks is the theme of the business, and women of all ages are simply craving for it.
Imagine the scenario 40 years ago: there were no beauty salons in Dhaka city. Before that our grandmothers or in some cases our mothers or aunts weren't very much used to all the terms that we know of today. All they had were henna or turmeric paste, rose water, neem leaves, and multani mitti, which was enough for them of course. These ingredients still exist. However; the modern arts and crafts of grooming have taken over. The scenario had changed gradually in the past three decades. Words like facial, threading, manicure, pedicure, rebonding and so on bubble around in the air when you enter a beauty salon.
The first beauty parlour in Dhaka with formal setting and crew was established in 1965. The name is May Fair and a Bangladeshi born Chinese woman Carmel Hsieh founded it.
Back then the Chinese women were the most interested parties in the business. In fact it was solely their trade. Hsieh, born and brought up in Bangladesh, was in her early 20s when she opened the salon. She only had a few Chinese women helping her. Before that some other Chinese women tried their hand in business at home. They did not have any formal setting of a parlour. One of them was Lucy L Lee. Later on Lee opened Hong Kong Beauty Parlour. May Fair, however, is the legendary salon that inspired many more women to join the business. It became the new-found hangout for an entire generation of women.
In the beginning Hsieh knew very little about local beauty traditions. She could not even do a traditional bun back then. Soon she had to learn all about it as her salon became popular among Bengali women. Hsieh migrated to Canada in the 1990s. This writer was lucky enough to have a chat with Carmel Hsieh as she was paying a short visit to her daughter Monica Hsieh, the person taking care of the salon now.
Hsieh remembers, “My first customers were foreigners living in Dhaka, even a few movie stars and singers used to visit my parlour. Later on, a few ladies from Dhaka's elite society became my regulars.” And that's that during those days. The average middle class were nowhere near the trend till the end of the '70s.
There was no Bangali salon up until 1977. In that year Zerina Asgar and her parlour Living Doll appeared on the scene. She is the first Bangladeshi woman to become a beautician and own a beauty salon. She was trained in Pakistan. The image of women we see today, the association of beauty in Bengali women was to some extent fashioned by this lady. The salon first opened at the Naya Paltan area but later on it changed location.
Asgar always preferred Bangali women as workers. Asgar recalls, “I remember all the beauty workers were Chinese. They all knew Bangla but hardly used it, which made me very uncomfortable.”
“I always hired Bangali girls. I wanted to see their faces. Today I am proud that they prevail in the scenario as beauticians”, she adds. Some of the second-generation beauticians including Kaniz Almas of Persona, is her direct student. Asgar is always attributed for her contribution in bringing Bangali women to the business.
She is also given credit for bringing the middle class to the parlour, “ When I first started, western styles were very popular. I remember some of my customers wanted to look like Jane Fonda”. Former movie queen Bobita and singer Runa Laila turned the heads of many women with their stylish haircut and trimmed, arch shaped eyebrows. “My customers were mostly wives of the army officers, movie stars and society women”, she says. She also remembers, “In the '80s the craze was Princess Diana's haircut among the urban women”.
After these three salons the beauty industry mushroomed. The middle class found their identity and the women belonging to the class started to enjoy the taste of grooming. By the mid 80s, trips to beauty salons became a regular affair for the urban women. And then came the VCR, the square black box that acquainted the ladies with the sex idols of Bollywood. Rekha, SriDevi and Dimple, became the living goddesses for many. The 80s was the decade when Bangali middle class women, especially the urban women, had a major fascination with Hindi film actresses. The images of women had a complete makeover. They built a permanent bond with beauty salons. Beauty parlours became shrines for many, where they tried to reproduce the appeal of the on-screen goddesses.
The 90s saw another new development, the satellite TV, which brought Bollywood to the doorsteps of every Bangali household. Zee TV, Star Plus, Sony and their soap queens overrun the scenario entirely. The image of women in Bangladesh, the whole hot new craze is sometimes a direct import from India. The trend still exists all around the country with many women wanting to look like Aishwarya, Rani or Karina.
The 90s also saw the arrival of several new faces, the second-generation beauticians like Farzana Shakil, Sadia Moyeen and Nahid- sophisticated, and educated in grooming. With all the latest gadgets and techniques, stunning décor and corporate environment in their outlets, this new generation has taken the beauty business to the next level. They've created a new definition for grooming. Once the hobby of a homemaker is now a complete profession.
By Shahnaz Parveen
By the way
Books are the best reminders of your heritage and culture. A trip to the Ekushey Boimela might be the perfect solution. Remember to pick up some for your children as well, to nurture their interest in Bangla Literature.
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