Photos by Riza Wisnom
If you ask 100 groomers what the biggest trend to hit the industry was in the past ten years, 99 of them will probably say Asian Freestyle grooming, and one will say shampoo frothing. (If you don’t already know about frothing, that’s a story for a different day!)
Asian Freestyle or Asian Fusion grooming is the art of creating an animated or doll-like look on a dog via the use of creative coat sculpting and sometimes splashes of color. Born in the Far East, it spread rapidly from its birthplace of Japan (as some claim) through countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and more. Thanks to social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, it then made its way west, captivating groomers young and old (OK…mostly young). Older groomers have been heard shouting a sort of “Stay off my lawn” battle cry when it comes to this new method of grooming, and not without good reason. This style has turned all the rules that govern salon styles upside down!
In Asian Freestyle grooming, balance, symmetry and tradition are not a priority. In fact, you could even say that it is eschewed. The goal of this style is to create an over-the-top cute and cartoonish trim that evokes a sense of whimsy and playfulness. It is pop culture grooming flying in the face of tradition and bringing a new sensibility to grooming. It is fashionable, hence why it is so polarizing. After all, fashion trends do not suit everyone’s taste.
Consider how styles have changed over time with regards to other realms of the dog world. Take breeding programs, for example: Many pure breeds have undergone dramatic changes in that they were bred to be shorter- or heavier-coated than their historical counterparts. And let’s not neglect to reflect on how styles have changed in breed trims. The Bichon, most notably, underwent a transformation from a bell-shaped head to today’s gloriously round visage. A look back at early 20th century Poodle trims illustrates a movement towards more balance and angulation. Which brings us back around to Asian Freestyle grooming…
It is in a class all its own. It is unapologetically rebellious in that it favors form over function. In traditional grooming, function begets form. That is to say, if you want to show that a dog can move correctly and has the underlying structure to support that movement, you groom it to look so. This is especially true if the dog does not, in fact, have said proper attributes. You must then create the illusion that he does through creative trimming.
By contrast, corrective grooming to disguise conformational flaws in the dog is not necessarily the priority in Asian Freestyle dog grooming. The primary goal, rather, is to create a look that is “kawaii,” or ultra-cute. For example, the legs are flared at the base to mimic the overstuffed arms of a teddy bear and the face is round and youthful, sporting a muzzle that is scissored into an oval called a “donut muzzle.” This muzzle defines the art as it imitates the look of a cartoon animal. Large enough to cover the under-eye area, it therefore makes the dog look youthful as a puppy though it be ever so delicate and finely trimmed.
Geometric shapes are also a prevalent theme in this genre. Think precise circle heads with sharp margins, square heads, legs that look like upside-down baseball bats and oval muzzles. These all play a part in the fashion of Asian Freestyle. Comical adaptations of human hairstyles are sometimes seen as well. Take for example, the asymmetrical comb-over seen on Asian Freestyle drop-coat grooms, or even the Mullet. No matter where or what the style is borrowed from, the quintessential donut muzzle is still present. This muzzle softens such bold looks, tempering their shock value. Because, let’s face it, it is shocking.
Is it any wonder, then, that not all groomers have welcomed it into their style rotation? And yet, here it remains, no longer in its infancy, but I would say embarking on its teenage years, at least certainly in the orient. Perhaps we might say it’s in its pre-teen years here in the west.
Unlike fashion trends in other realms such as shabby chic home décor or platform flip-flops in fashion, Asian Freestyle seems to be enduring. Many groomers are still fans. In fact, it is no longer a groomer’s secret, but has now made its way into the consciousness of the public. Pinterest has played quite a part in wooing our clients over to this art. They are pinning these looks on their boards, sharing them on social media and bringing inspirational photos into the salon as style requests.
Now, do they know it as Asian grooming? No, not really. They just know that it’s cute and cuddly looking. In attempts to pitch this genre of grooming to clients, many salon staff refer to it simply as a new style of teddy bear trim. Still, others don’t attempt a sales pitch at all and simply place the trim on their clients unasked, much as a chef would not ask you how you prefer your chicken prepared but instead serves it in his signature way. You either like it and return, or mosey down the road to an eatery that serves it as you like it.
When surveyed, many groomers expressed an interest in seeing the style stay on and evolve. Most said that they remain committed to learning more about Asian Freestyle, and would like to attend more workshops. Still others want to see it featured as its own class in grooming competitions. However, Asian Freestyle cannot successfully be judged with the same criteria used to judge the Mixed Salon style classes as it is often unbalanced and unconventional. Opening up a separate class in competition would also fill a void in the U.S., as there are few to no Asian classes available for competitors. This is in contrast to other countries such as the UK where they are featured regularly.
Given that groomers are still hungry for instructional reading material, classes and competitions, coupled with the growing interest from the public in the cute new class of teddy bear looks, it is safe to say that Asian Freestyle grooming will be around for a bit longer. While there are breed purists who will never embrace the look, there are many other stylists who do, and the numbers keep growing as new groomers enter the trade with fresh eyes and eager hearts. ✂️