There are thousands of hair salons in Shanghai. Plenty of places spend a fortune on marketing and offer Dianping deals to promote themselves. Keen amateurs (ie, not professionals) abound. And while they may be cheap, they vary dramatically in quality, experience, hygiene and products. The several stylists we talked to agreed that the styling level in Shanghai is “not quite there yet” in comparison to other major cities, and the best way to find a good place is to ask people who frequent the salons.
So we talked to more than 25 women AND men to crowdsource friendly advice on recommended salons. This is where it led us! These places are where Shanghai is going for nice cuts in 2020!
The Expat All-Rounder:
Gillian at Alize
Men's cut: 190-340rmb
Women's cut: 220-470rmb
All of my highlighted, permed and/or hipster-fringed friends gave the same answer when I asked them where they get their hair done. Gillian has built a solid reputation among expats in Shanghai since arriving over nine years ago from a tiny Irish town.
So many people told me they “wouldn’t go anywhere else” that I started to wonder if she was slipping them free keratin treatments for the publicity. She’s not (although there is a 15% student discount if you’re looking to save). She’s just good at her job.
With her business partner, Eason, she’s opened two Gillian at Alize salons in Shanghai. The original is on Dagu Lu. (The second is now just an Alize, not a Gillian at Alize.) They’re pitched as a “one-stop shop” for hair and beauty. Gillian and her stylists do coloring, cutting, blow-drying, various treatments, extensions, Japanese straightening, perms, and pretty much anything else you can find on Instagram.
Beauty treatments range from skin tightening to hair removal, lashes, brows and manicures. They can even work on some of these while you’re having your hair fixed. Zero to selfie in record time.
Gillian’s is unisex, and has specials for men on Sundays. In terms of clientele, the range is huge. The majority are expats. The takeaway here is that it’s a crazy popular place, and you’ll almost certainly need to book in advance.
The Stylish Professional:
Men’s cut: 280–480rmb
Women’s cut: 280–580rmb
Bijin is in the airy health and beauty complex within the Kunlun Hotel on Huashan Lu. Old-timers might remember it as Beijing Hair Culture, once home to the one-name Matsume.
It’s a classy space: glass doors and walls, stylish stylists and a mezzanine level with a high ceiling. The salon opened in 2003, and stylist Sun started in 2008 when he moved to Shanghai. The USP here is experience – Sun alone has been cutting hair for over twenty years, and stylists are rarely hired straight out of college – plus high-end products: Schwartzkopf colors and other brands from the US and Japan.
As you can imagine, prices are on the high side, but they certainly aren’t the highest in Shanghai. Sun realized years ago that earning new regulars through Dianping deals was more likely to draw in bargain-hunters than potential lifers, so the focus here is on quality haircuts rather than deals.
Despite being in a hotel, Bijin clients are mostly expats who live in the area, rather than guests passing through. Their reputation has been built up through word-of-mouth and the trust of returning customers, who are mostly coming in for cuts, colors and perm treatments.
When I visited, both customers were foiled and toweled. Scalp and hair treatments are offered, too, and Sun has had a few more experimental customers and models over the years. Largely, though, Bijin is a good pick for elegant basics done well.
The Old School:
Contesta Rock Hair
Men’s cut: 190–380rmb
Women’s cut: 240–480rmb
Contesta was founded by two Italian guys in Italy in the nineties, and exported to Shanghai about a decade later. They’ve moved and added locations since then, including three branches in the US. It’s popular with people looking for a little edge: people who could afford Bijin or Il Colpo, and also have tattoos.
Stylists all have at least five years’ experience, and they’ll give you pretty much anything you ask for, including the entire rainbow of possible colors, perms and straightening, or even (imagine!) just a gentle trim.
The main Shanghai branch is in the United Valley complex on Changle Lu. The space is industrial and clean, reminiscent of a shared workspace, with exactly the sorts of music you’d expect from a salon with the word “rock” in their name
The Gubei Healthy Hair Sanctuary:
Haircuts (any gender): 220–600rmb
The politest salon in Shanghai since 2011, Urban Roots caters largely to monied Japanese and Korean expats in Gubei. Chinese and Japanese are the main languages spoken by the stylists here. There’s normally at least one who speaks English, but it wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t because they’re all fully fluent in hair.
Show them a picture of any mainstream style from the mid-90s onwards and you’re guaranteed a competent rendering IRL, done with organic products which are either big-name brands (e.g. Kerastase) or Japanese imports. They’re particularly good at wispy fringes: Terrace House’s Reina Triendl would be a customer if she lived in Shanghai.
The focus here is more on tending than trending – a lot of serious talk about protecting and nourishing hair with gentle ingredients. It’s like walking into an Herbal Essences advert shot in a modern ryokan.
Urban Roots also do some other treatments such as perming and anti-balding procedures. Again, the focus here is on non-aggressive options. They also advertise plant-based colors.
The Alt/Hipster/Streetstyle Temple:
Haircuts (any gender): 288rmb*
*not including wacky technicolors, which run up to 1,470rmb
If you’ve ever looked at the Shanghai Streetside galleries and wondered where to get the pink balayage or Yolandi Visser fringe, God Hands is it.
It opened as a small boutique studio in 2009 and has now expanded to three locations in Shanghai. One of their stylists, Guo, told us that the original M.O. was to cut in a Japanese style, but they now focus on what they call “foreigner style”: unique cuts and colors, balayage, wolfhair, and pretty much anything else you might see at a streetstyle expo.
Stylists generally train with one of the big names (Sassoon, Toni and Guy, etc) and then move to God Hands because it has a cool name and a big reputation.
The customer base is largely composed of young Chinese women, but it’s pretty diverse. There’s a very different crowd here to those who bounce between the more mainstream expat salons, incorporating a wide age range and a number of Chinese celebrities.
The atmosphere is all part of the experience: hip hop, pop, lots of Jay Z and pink neon lights. They normally offer a range of hot drinks, but for hygiene reasons they’ll just give you bottled water for now.
The Treatment Package Guy:
Mikael Bottero (and Amani Salons)
Cuts at Amani (any gender): 158–580rmb
Packages from Mikael (e.g. full color + haircut + Olaplex + blow-dry): 999rmb
Mikael Bottero is a freelance stylist who works with Amani, an ambitious salon chain founded by a young Shanghainese entrepreneur. There are now 42 salons, mostly in mid-tier malls, across Shanghai. The focus is on creating an upmarket feel for price-conscious customers, with bright, roomy spaces, smaller rooms for beauty treatments, coiffed ayis, and health teas offered to customers.
Clients are largely Shanghainese office workers and families seeking a quality salon experience without a high price. Styles start at around 160rmb: twice the price of the little one-man-one-ayi studio on my block, but at least three times classier.
If you’re looking for an experienced stylist, especially one offering modern treatment sets, Mikael corners the market for expats. He started out with Toni and Guy before moving around to different salons and settling in Shanghai around nine years ago.
His WeChat moments are packed with pictures of his clients’ impossibly sleek hair following botox and keratin treatments. He offers a range of alternative treatments that we didn’t always see elsewhere: micropigmentation, for example, which is the tattooing of tiny dots on the scalp to improve the appearance of thin hair.
He’s also a good bet for package deals incorporating styles/colors and designer hair treatments, such as Olaplex aftercare.
The Big Internationals:
Il Colpo, Toni&Guy, Vidal Sassoon
Il Colpo haircut (any gender, from junior stylist to chief director): 260-1,280rmb
Il Colpo has been a particular Shanghai success story. Over the years, they’ve expanded to a range of locations across the city, mostly in the higher-end malls: Reel, IAPM, etc. Pricing is on the high side (starting prices similar to Bijin), but certainly not the highest unless you insist on a style from the Director him/herself.
Although their star stylist, Terry Grau, is now in Europe, Il Colpo is still frequented by stylists from other salons when they’re looking for a good cut. It’s been touted as the go-to for celebrities and millionaires passing through the city.
Toni&Guy also has multiple branches across the city and, along with Vidal Sassoon, runs popular introductory styling courses. Most of the other salons we spoke to hire graduates of these two institutions; they’re clearly well-respected players.
Expect to pay up for the big brands, but you’re guaranteed a professional experience. Prices above are from Il Colpo’s Jing’an branch and are indicative of the range you’d expect at any of these chains.