Asian Freestyle - Groomer to Groomer

The New Trend Coming to Your Salon

Asian Freestyle

By Riza Wisnom

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest trends in the grooming industry, then you’ve probably heard the terms “Japanese grooming” or “Asian styling”.  It has captivated groomers around the world, sending them clamoring to sites like Pinterest, and to various chat boards on Facebook in an insatiable quest for photos and info.  Asian styling seminars are being held in the United States, Europe, and Australia in increasing numbers. But what exactly is it? Where did it come from? And can it really be successfully introduced to our mainstream clientele?

The first question is one often asked amongst groomers looking to define an art they would very much like to try.  In a nutshell, Asian styling is a creative grooming method that evokes a sense of whimsy in its pursuit to make the dog look like a stuffed toy. This style pays no attention to breed standards and corrective grooming is not a priority.  When asked how she would describe the style to someone who’s never heard of it before, Veronica Frosch, former Groom Team USA member and owner of the Paw Shoppe in Coon Rapids, Minnesota says, “It’s a look made up of ponytails, braids, weird moustaches and big ears!” She’s fond of the style for its lack of set rules. The look is predominately seen in curly coated breeds such as the Poodle and Bichon and in drop coated breeds such as the Shih Tzu and Maltese.  But Schnauzers and some Terriers make excellent candidates as well.

In many Asian Poodle styles, the dog will have columned legs and a very round muzzle.  But wait, isn’t that what we’ve been doing to Poodles for decades? It sounds like a lamb trim with a donut moustache! Ahh, but here’s the difference.  Those scissored legs are further tweaked to look like the limbs of a stuffed teddy bear by tapering the tops near the elbow and flaring the bottoms without the presence of clean feet. As an example, on a Poodle (Fig. 1), I clippered his body to 1/2”. I scissored the feet first, working on the elbow taper next and connecting the two by scissoring, while fluffing outward with a comb. As for the muzzle, it differs from the standard donut moustache of old in that it is highly exaggerated in an effort to mimic the round nose of a toy bear. A sanitary area is carved directly between the eyes and slightly down the eye drainage areas.  Then the muzzle is scissored into either an oval or “U” shape. This runs contrary to the traditional donut moustache which is characterized by a severe shave of the bridge of the nose and a triangular or upside down “U” shape to the muzzle.

In Shih Tzus, the goal of the style is to maximize cuteness rather than the glamor typically displayed with the breed’s signature breed profile.  In the first example, (Fig. 2) I was able to use a ¾” clipper comb on the body, leaving the legs full.  I used the same clipper comb, clipping with the lay of the hair down the middle of his dome, leaving the hair in front of the top of his ears longer to achieve extreme roundness. In the second example (Fig. 3), the dog’s ears are taken short with a 4F and the cheeks are clippered with a 5F so that the teddy bear muzzle really POPS!  The effect is the same – each dog resembles stuffed toy more than Shih Tzu.


Lisa Correia, owner of Bark ‘N Purr Mobile Pet Salon in New Jersey, likens Asian styles to Japanese Anime characters.  Unconcerned with disguising structural faults in the dog, she says Asian styles often appear unbalanced to those used to corrective grooming. Lisa further notes that while western grooming typically focuses heavily on the body and legs, the styles of the Far East are more concerned with the individual expression of the head.

Asian styles will also often disregard breed standards in a delightful turnabout. The skirt on a cocker spaniel will be clipped off in favor of accentuating voluminous legs, a Maltese will be given clean feet, or a Poodle’s head will be sculpted to resemble a mushroom cap (Fig. 4). Olga Zabelinskaya of New Jersey took advantage of this play on breed profiles by giving a Schnauzer (Fig. 5) a scissored topknot and little tassels at the tips of the ears.  In these examples, the goal is to invoke a sense of comedy as well as beauty.

Now to answer where these styles come from.  Duh, you say.  Asia.  Well yes, but did you know that the styles vary from region to region?  In Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan you will find many of the styles described above in addition to rule bending styles on poodles such as asymmetrical topknots, and Koala ears with blushing cheeks (Fig. 6). Pammie Carmichael-Hogg of the UK reproduced a growing trend in Asia known as the “cone head”, (Fig. 7) while at the prestigious Starwood Arts Academy in Thailand. Seen in varying degrees of severity, her version on a white poodle plays up the sweet expression of the dog.  In South Korea, they have adapted a style all their own.  They are known for their take on drop coats such as the Maltese, Shih Tzu and Yorkie. The body is shaved with a #10 or #15, sometimes used in reverse with the legs left fully coated in a long, flowing style.  The topknot is usually pulled up, the cheeks and chin are shaved closely, accompanied by a tightly scissored “U” shaped muzzle. Margaret Stasiak of Poland has mastered the look as demonstrated on a Maltese that she groomed (Fig. 8).  The look is high drama but has a purpose. Pet clothing, in the way of sundresses, gowns, coats and capelets, is very popular overseas.  As a fun and stylish way to interact with their pets, owners abroad stock whole closets full of accessories and clothes. Keeping the torso short allows the pet to wear these clothes on a daily basis without the fear of friction mats forming.

Many groomers write to me feeling lost on how to execute these trims. Taught to groom one way from the start of their careers, they are now forced to “unlearn” many techniques.  Leaving so much hair on the bridge of the nose and tossing out all they’ve been taught about showcasing proper angulation in the legs, requires adjustment. It may also require developing a new “eye”.  Veronica recommends keeping web photos of your favorite styles on hand at the salon to reference as you trim.  Laughing at the recollection, she describes the first Asian trim she ever did.  It was at a seminar with the US travel team in Spain on a Yorkie.  Holding her breath throughout the groom, she said it luckily turned out very cute!

Alright, now we have a grasp on the concept and an appreciation for the art.  But we can’t hone the craft if our clients are not on board! It runs contrary to much of what they’re accustomed to as well. Don’t fret, you CAN successfully introduce this style to your pet parents and gain a reputation as a stylist with cutting edge looks. The trick is to go slow.  Don’t overwhelm your client when describing the concept.  Instead of yammering on enthusiastically about the latest trend and how badly you want to try it, tell them that you have learned a new teddy bear style.  Clients eat up words like “teddy bear”, “cute”, and “round”.  Make it more about how adorable you’ve learned to make their pet rather than about the seminar you just attended and how you’re just dying to try it out. Flattery also works wonders.  I have often told a pet parent that their Fluffy “has JUST what I’m looking for. The perfect (fill-in-the-blank) for this new look.  And by the way, I’d love to feature her on our Facebook page. She’ll be a celebrity!”  The promise of fame has never failed.  (You DO have a social media site for your business, don’t you??) For the sake of your four legged client, you should only introduce this style to owners that you’re confident will be able to maintain the longer look at home.  It is not a low maintenance style suited for clients who are averse to combing or only schedule every 12 weeks or longer.  Veronica uses those photos she keeps at the salon to pique a hesitant client’s interest. Though she hasn’t been as successful winning them over as she’d like, it is helpful to realize that many clients respond better to a visual of the concept rather than just a description.

Still can’t find owners brave enough to try it? Here’s what you do:  On those dogs getting a short clippered cut, practice an Asian style.  Snap a photo of it and hang it in your salon lobby.  A collage of adorably trimmed dogs will garner attention and interest.  Don’t forget to return the pet to the owner-requested style after snapping the photo! Now you’ve been able to practice the style AND advertise for it as well! Providing that you didn’t cause the pet any undue stress or require a later pick up for the pet, the owners may be thrilled to see their pet up on the wall in such a cute new trim.

While this style does require experienced scissoring skills and excellent prep work, it is one that any groomer can master with enough time and practice.  Lisa explains that learning this style has brought spark back to the same old same old and she loves the freedom to explore new possibilities that Asian styling offers. She advocates attending live demonstrations and scouring the web for photos and learning opportunities. Keeping up with the latest trends and the ever-evolving world of pet grooming will distinguish you from a pet groomer to Stylist Extraordinaire, so give it a try!

Scroll to Top