By ONG CHIN HUAT

Arriving at the Saujana Hotel and Resort in Shah Alam, Selangor, is akin to turning up at an idyllic, far flung resort without hopping on a plane. Surrounded by verdant greenery and well-manicured gardens, not to mention two 18-hole championship golf courses adjoining the property, this place is a hidden gem in the Klang Valley. The minute my car veers off the highway onto the slip road and proceeds up the driveway of the Saujana Hotel, I immediately feel an air of peace and serenity, the stresses associated with the hustle and bustle of city life melting away, even though I was only 30 minutes from the city centre.

It was at this beguiling retreat that I was having lunch with Datin Winnie Loo. We had arranged to meet at the hotel’s newest restaurant, Charcoal, which opened its doors in June last year.

STARShe’s a striking vision in a soft peachy pink confection complete with a matching Hermès Birkin bag and accessorised in baroque pearl jewellery. Her make-up is immaculate and her hair is perfectly coiffed – but of course it would be. As the founder and chief creative director of the A Cut Above chain of hair salons which she founded 36 years ago, considered by many as the country’s most prestigious, Winnie is certainly at the top of her game.

I’ve been a hairdresser for 39 years and I still love what I do

I compliment her on her hair colour. “It’s a blend actually, but it’s from the family of matte ash with highlights of light blonde,” she says. “It’s a cool colour (as opposed to warm tones) which suits me, unlike those from the red and copper family which makes me look tarty.”

As for her current hairstyle, she says she has decided to go shorter because “I don’t want to have long hair anymore and this style feels good on me.” She tells me because of her round face – or as she calls it “bubbly” face – she can’t have extremely short hair. But she isn’t complaining about her genetic gift. “I love my bubbly face because no one knows my real age! It’s my moon cake face that makes me look younger.”

Winnie tells me she just got back from a refresher course at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in New York.

“People think I am nuts to attend such a course and continue studying, but I am still very hands-on. My friend says I should be training the instructor but I believe in strengthening my basic skills and being reminded of the fundamentals of hair cutting,” she says.

She says everything begins with a good haircut. “You can have the best perm or colour but if your haircut isn’t right, it wouldn’t bring out the best in the hairstyle,” says the lady who started off and specialised as a hair cutter.

Winnie says she’s a wash-and-go girl. “I wash my own hair every night in the shower, blast it dry and then go to sleep. I wake up the next morning with great looking hair, so I just shake it out and I’m good to go!”

I ask what her advice would be for blushing brides preparing to walk down the aisle. “Most brides-to-be think they need long hair on their wedding day but it’s not really necessary,” Winnie reiterates. “If you have short hair, you can ask a good hairdresser to style something special.”

“It’s really about choosing a nice hair colour, choosing a style which suits your wedding gown or going for a treatment so your hair shines on your big day.”

She tells me she spends about 70% of her time these days attending to clients and the rest of the time managing her business, with her husband, Datuk Richard Teo who is the MD, and her son Marcus, taking the reins of management and business development respectively. She also spends a considerable time teaching in her hairdressing academy and her School of Charisma which she co-owns with two other partners.

With her eyes lit up, it is clear Winnie lives and breathes her profession. “You’ve got to be passionate in what you do. It is no secret that passion has gotten me this far. I’ve been a hairdresser for 39 years and I still love what I do … that’s what keeps me going.”

This is the excerpt of an article which first appeared in Life Inspired.