Understanding and Achieving that signature style!
Here in the United States, there is a growing appreciation and interest in the style and quality of the pet grooming being done overseas. Part of this is due to how breathtaking and picturesque these grooms are to the eye, and the other reason- I believe- is because stylists here like a challenge. Anything someone else can do, why shouldn't we be able to do as well?
Japan has a history and culture that is interwoven strongly in artisan-ship, aesthetic beauty, and uniquely captivating attention to detail. It is no wonder that such a rich heritage would capture all mediums in which to display one's ability for creating art and one of a kind presence.
In this blog, we will be looking at how this culture has played into the role of the professional pet stylist and the pet owner living and working in today's Japan and overseas countries such as Thailand and Korea, as well as why these purposeful grooming styles have developed. We will concentrate on the pet grooms, and not the show dog world of grooming- although this ability comes out in that world as well!
Can you imagine going to school to become a pet groomer for on average a length of 2 years...and not being allowed to touch a dog with any one grooming tool for 6 months to 1 year of time into your studies? Many of us are self taught and many more of us will attest to the fact that the only way we learned was through trial and error and working with dogs on the table day in and day out. Here in the US, while there are ripples of legislature attempted at being put in place that govern grooming as a profession, we differ greatly from the average schooling development and governing requirements put upon groomers overseas.
Courses in pet grooming in Japan and overseas at an "accredited" or certifying school begin with subjects such as anatomy, behavioral studies, and physiology. There is much textbook work and testing on paper done far before students and interns are allowed to or expected to begin working and handling live animals. These courses sometimes also integrate some geometric design and apply art skills on paper and in multi-dimensional medium for study as they would apply to the canine form. While this seems vastly different to us; as grooming is a field where most get into the work for love of animals- so we would want to be handling and exploring their nature and how we feel around them from the very start- it seems to all come out beautifully for those who become certified as a dog groomer, pet aesthetician and pet stylist.
With a deep understanding of the canine skin and coat, the structure of the dog, and a huge pet population, groomer stylists can set out to lay their skills on a variety of grooming avenues.
One of the building blocks that stylists are taught and personal skills are honed on, is implementing the dog's structure and form- or individual shapes within the structure- as a medium to utilize to their fullest potential as a canvas for expression and bringing out the personality of the dog.
As with any form of caricature or design on a 3 dimensional object, there is a need for definite understanding of implementing simple shapes, angles and proportions as individual parts of any one form- and to put these building blocks together with the best possible outcome by looking at them individually. Here in the US, we hear the terms: balance, proportion, and symmetry. In the school of Japanese teaching- every form can be broken down into simple shapes that are universal in their design- the circle, the oval, the column or cylinder, the square, the rectangle, and the triangle, etc. So why does the pet grooming look so differently between there and here in the US, while we both utilize the same terms for aesthetics such as balance, proportion, or symmetry in the same context? The reason is the purpose of our grooming. Here in the states and Europe (although European grooming has heavy emphasis on properly caring for the natural coat with less overall clippering of such coats as those of the Sporting breeds, and adding some flair with accentuated angulation, curves, and length of coat), our groomers' foundational grooming is structured around grooming all dogs to breed standard as much as possible. Pet dogs which come into the salon might surely need a shorter and more manageable coat for at home care, but by and large, we still groom a breed of dog, or even a mixed breed of dog, to best represent the attributes per its breed standard. Overseas, while groomers must know their breed standards, the pet dogs are groomed with much more creative license. The body coat of most of the pet dogs are kept quite short as to lend themselves more easily to wearing clothes and accessories and staying comfortable, and the flaired areas such as the legs and tail are kept more full, styled abstractly, and the head and face are treated with a much more heavy accent on facial features and characterism. While the head, face and ears often are comprised of basic geometric shapes, there is also a lot of emphasis on the eyes, both camouflaging or accentuating the ears, and keeping face coat as part of the dog's expression.
Can you recognize the basic shapes and see the balance in all of these grooms?
Tool and Product Usage
When I first talked with several friends about the beautiful results they got in their grooming, I expected them to have a whole bunch of secret tools and state of the art products that weren't available to us here in the US. There had to be things they were using that gave them these unique results. In reality, it was QUITE the opposite. When they listed their tools- they were using some of the most basic and simple tools that are available to groomers everywhere- which makes the term craftsmanship in this equation just that much more meaningful!
A hand held hair dryer, or possibly a fluff dryer or HV dryer, a metal toothed comb, a slicker brush, and a pair of straight and thinner or blender shears. That is it. No fancy hair products to get a plush and crisp finish, and no secret ingredient tonics. Once in awhile- when it came to actually styling a coat- things such as a flat iron or crimping iron were used, and assorted gels, mousses and hairsprays were used such as those here in the US but which are reserved less for pet styling, and more for show and competition grooming. Overall, there is more coat product usage in the pet dog grooming field as compared to most salons here in the US. The reason for this is that most every dog grooming client sees their groomer in a much more short appointment rotation- with the average being from 2 to 4 weeks. ANd while dogs may come in for basic grooming more often, there is also much more emphasis put upon topically caring for the skin and coat and careful tool usage to help nurture overall health and growth. Now of course there are always exceptions, but this was the general opinion of everyone I spoke with.
Prep Work is Power
One aspect that all of the groomers I have spoken with have in common is a heavy emphasis on prep work and optimizing coat in order to make the best possible coat canvas. Here we know as well that prep work will make or break a groom- but the coats of many of the dogs here still do not always come out with the same results. Crispness, plushness, texture, volume and thickness. The coat of the pet dog receiving grooming is cleaned completely, and hand drying and stretching is a must. In general hand drying and stretching of the coat across the board is done to achieve the best possible texture, as that of the competition dogs and the grooming practices of our conscientious stylists.
Finish Work and Scissoring
As the final and utmost important value of achieving this style of artistic and freeform grooming, strong scissoring skills are a must. In order to achieve that crisp and plush finish to the coat, the entire coat that is kept with any length must be scissor finished.
In Japan, the population is booming. Housing is far different than that of the sprawling designs that many Americans consider average. With lack of space- or making most of the space one has- and a large human population- the pet population has followed suit by leaning towards breeds that are smaller and require less physical exercise and room to roam. Breeds like the Chihuahua, Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier, ShihTzu, Toy Poodle and Miniature Schnauzer- and those mixed breed dogs with these lineages, are what comprise most of the dog population in these areas. While these pups are smaller, they play into their part for fulfilling the need for animal companionship in a place where space is limited and house training or paper/litter training is of utmost priority.
So, with that genealogical design in place, what can one do to get the most of their little pooch?
The Asian flaired and highly stylized grooming industry is two fold- emphasis on pet personality and attention to details, and ACCESSORIES!
With one of the most fanciful and creatively designed pet clothing and accesories industries on the planet- Japan's pet owners have a plethora of options for giving their pets that one of a kind persona and achieving extras that are an extension of their personal self expression.
OH!- and where did the feather and bead extensions and braiding that are so popular here right now originate? Overseas.
Where did artistically abstract and creatively elaborate coloring begin? Overseas.
Where did the creative runway and pet modeling industry take off like none other? Overseas.
So do you think you've got what it takes to create these types of grooms? You just might!
For more information and many more styling ideas, visit these links and sources:
www.Kinokuniya.com book store
Sanseido book store in Matsuwa Marketplace, San Diego, CA
And feel free to surf Facebook for lots of great photos and a change to get to meet a fellow groomer overseas!!
And don't forget! On June 24th, at the AKC Dog useum in St. Louis, MO- during our GroomFest- we will be hosting the very FIRST ever Asian flaired grooming and adding fun accessories teaching class and in the US!!! Come see, and come learn!
photos courtesy of Miko Hashii, Mina Choi and Joypia, Starwood Arts Grooming Academy.
A very special thank you to Miko Hashii for taking the time to share her knowledge for our interview. Thank you to the PetGroomer.com members who posted pics which were shared in this blog.
And a very special thank you to all of the groomers and stylists who work so hard to master their craft and share it with others!!