Calayag cut

A salon is like that. It relaxes the inhibition to open up or overshare.

But Henri Calayag, hairstylist to the stars and often billed as the country’s best hair designer, would never cut and tell.

Snipping away on a regular in his titular atelier institutionalized by many in the social register, he recalls tall tales about Escolta, the Makati and Cubao of his generation.

Some weekends in the 60s, Calayag and his father would shop at Aguinaldo’s, his childhood’s equivalent of Rustan’s, for sundries that, he said, made him a sucker for fashion and good taste — a fatherly crash course, perhaps, about self-acceptance.

There’s some kind of a wrench whenever Calayag interrogates his own memories as he invokes his father, the empathy for a little gay boy in the past who learned his way around hairdressing at 11 and a childhood emotionally charged but otherwise endowed with happy thoughts.

What little recollection yields to the fact that his father wasn’t quick to anger and was rather the balancing act to “a mom who was the disciplinarian.”

“He was a good provider. We were the first in our neighborhood [Caloocan] to have ever had a TV set. And a bungalow!”

It’s the same father who, he said, was mostly absent.

He collects the wayward fragments of his memory as he gathers up a clump, tends the tresses and trains the woman’s head to the mirror dimension, looking camera-ready and poised for a role at the red carpet.

“Is the length alright?”

Mr. Calayag regards his profession as an intimate practice, his vision and aesthetics heavily relying on his knowledge of a client.

“In my process, I have to know you first. It’s sensorial [to make up] when there’s [nary] a [need for] conversation. You should also treat your hair designer like your doctor.”

It’s not about what’s new at the beauty aisle, or whether a client can usurp catalogs as arbiter of trends. One can pull off a balayage or an ombre, a curly bob or a Kardashian signature, “but your hair designer has to know your history or where you’re coming from.”

Where Mr. Calayag is coming from is an apt parenthetical question.

He has networked his way up to sear his name in big-town telephone books and earned his stocks in the trade to be invited everywhere. He said he did it mostly on his own.

Exposing his feelings is difficult.

He reduces it to: “All I have to say about them is that they’re good parents and that, in our household, there’s no question about me being gay. There’s no strain.”

But hairdressing as an art is like filmmaking in telling a story: There’s a director’s cut.