Singapore’s burlesque queen shares her hair and beauty secrets
Heads up, Singaporeans — our Little Red Dot is going places, as we celebrate our 51st birthday, and if there's a national figure we ought to be toasting our cups to, let it be Sukki Singapora, our country's very first burlesque performer and female activist. Of course, we'll always proudly root for our mathletes and athletes (go #TeamSingapore) but you have to admit, charting the burlesque territory is a new one for our sunny isle. And surely it takes a woman of great fortitude to tackle this political grey area, armed with an opinionated voice and head-turning hair.
Having set out to do just that, Sukki Singapora has since achieved several notable accolades for her liberal efforts, including establishing The Singapore Burlesque Society in 2012 to protect Asian women and men seeking to pursue careers in burlesque and attaining the 'Asian Women of Achievement' award. She was also inducted into the Burlesque Hall of Fame — you know, the one where Dita von Teese presides — and invited to take tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace... but who's counting?
Known for her lavish East-meets-West burlesque acts (a nod to her half-Indian and half-English heritage) as well as her brilliant rainbow tresses, Singapora chalks up another first as she was announced as Hask Hair's new ambassadress. This go-to backstage label is now making its debut here.
Hask prides itself on being chemically free — no sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and drying alcohol, among other bad stuff — and instead incorporates quality ingredients and exotic oils in high-performance formulas designed to give all hair types the TLC it deserves. A self-confessed DIY hair guru, Singapora reveals she's a mega-fan of their Kalahari Melon Oil range, which keeps her presently blue locks in tiptop Instagramable condition. Indeed, hair envy was very real when Singapora turned up all smiles for our interview session with her perfect hair in tow, so what else is there to do but to grill the burlesque queen of our sunny isle for her beauty tips and tricks (and fish for embarrassing bad hair stories), right? Right.
Is there a hair inspiration icon that you look up to?
My hair inspiration is not based on a person, but it's more on the concept that as an Indian-Singaporean in the media's eye, you're always compared to Bollywood as the standard and their typical mainstream look, such as actresses like Aishwarya Rai. It's a gorgeous look but I really wanted to mix that up. I didn't want to have the stereotypical black hair. I wanted to do something different yet is still glamourous.
I'm a pretty quirky person, and so I started experimenting with my hair but then it kinda stuck and now I'm known for my signature blue locks. Honestly though, I was simply playing around with my hair. I wanted to do something similar to Bollywood but with a little bit of an eccentric twist, that's me. Now people always call me the 'Katy Perry of burlesque'. We have a similar look, but that wasn't the intention! (laughs)
What's the craziest hair colour combination you've had or you've wanted to try
I feel I need to change up my look every three months in order to surprise people and keep things fresh. While developing a look is cool, I also care about experimenting with other colours as I don't like to pigeonhole myself into a 'her hair is always blue' cliché look. So I would do something crazy occasionally, like turning my hair purple or have loads of pink.
And I've always wanted to try green but I'm not brave enough (laughs). I think it's a shade that's hard to pull off as you can come off looking goth or just kind of angsty if it's not styled right. But I like having crazy hair colours, though styled in a classic way. Still, I don't know if green would work or if it would be too crazy. That's the shade I tempted to try but I'm too scared right now (laughs).
What is your everyday hair routine?
A lot of people have asked me that! I've actually got my regime down to a 'T', everything from makeup to hair; I have it to down to a military operation. My hair is the most important obviously, because it's such a big part of my brand and it also requires a lot of care. It's been bleached and dyed so it tends to get quite dry.
I really like the Keratin oil, even before I became the ambassador for Hask. I use it after I towel dry my washed hair, right before blow-drying. I find that it stops splitting and I can maintain my style without the strands snapping. Using the oil was where I fell in love with Hask when I was in L.A. From Hollywood films and TV sets to all my friends, they were using Hask and now I absolutely do not go anywhere without putting the Keratin oil into my hair before drying it, especially since it's coloured.
Can you share what are your go-to styling products that give your hairstyle its perfect hold?
My hair is in really good condition because of my Hask regime. I find it exactly the same as a really good foundation primer or toner. The way I see it, Hask products treat your tresses and transforms it into the perfect base. As with makeup, once you have good skin, you need less makeup so once your hair is in good condition, you don't need to put so many products on top of it.
I just use regular hair spray, because once you got a good base to your hair, it sets much better. Hask has made my hair really cleansed and weightless so it's super easy to style with regular hair spray. It's just that and heat protectant spray whenever I'm curling my hair. I also use dry shampoo. Every woman needs that, not just for hair emergencies, but it really adds volume so you can get that natural lift without excessively backcombing your hair. I actually like to keep my hair super light and I don't want to bog it down with too many products.
Since you've begun using Hask, do you find the upkeep for your hair easier to maintain?
Definitely. I found that when I was using other brands, my scalp was crispy and it gets itchy. I do bleach my natural hair, but it may not necessarily be due to that as the aftercare you use on sensitive skin is very important. The great thing about these products is that they're all chemical-free so it's calming and soothing to my scalp. It also smells really yummy. I like sweets and cakes, and Hask products smell just like desserts!
I absolutely love the colour protect range and the shine oils. Before, I found that no matter what coloured hair products I use, the dye would still drain out even if I leave the conditioner on for long periods. I think it's because these other brands still use synthetic ingredients, such as sulphate, which really wasn't good for your hair due to the abrasive nature of chemicals.
So when I discovered Hask and started using it, my hair colour stayed vibrant up to five weeks, which is a really long time for a shade of blue. I think I'm on week number three now and the colour is still going strong. Somebody actually asked me this morning if I just got my hair done but I didn't! The Kalahari Melon collection locks in the colour so well, and this means I don't have to go to the hairdresser so much or worry about wearing hats to protect my hair from sun damage and fading.
Do you have any bad hair memories you flashback to that's taught you a thing or two about caring for your hair?
There was time when I thought it was a really good idea to go peroxide blonde. Yes, I went there... and I looked terrible! My scalp was so unhappy too. I tried it because I wanted to have a go at being blonde to see if it's more fun but let me tell you, it's literally not true.
First of all, there was the strip of black coloured roots when my hair grew out and it did not look great against the rest of the white-blonde. And since my natural hair is so dark, the 40 per cent peroxide I had to use made my scalp so angry, it was just a huge no-no. And if you're not using the correct toner, your hair ends up looking like straw. Then there was the snapping. It was such a nightmare because once in the shower, I pulled out a clump of my hair while I was shampooing. It had snapped just like that on one side. I freaked out and thought I was going bald!
So I had to get rid of it and got a pixie cut which was a really sad day because my hair is so important to me. Deciding to go blonde was so not worth it. That would be my advice to anyone with dark hair.
Your crowning glory is like an extension of your personality. Would you say it also reflects your career as a burlesque dancer?
It is a really important part of it. I'm a massive fan of the old Hollywood glamour, and doing my makeup and hair is something for myself because I actually enjoy the process. I'll do my beauty regime even if there's no one to see because I'm an artist and I get excited about makeup and playing with my hair. I find it fun and that's the great thing about burlesque as is really allows you to experiment and explore. My look is absolutely an extension of my whole personality and my act for sure but I do it because I enjoy it, and not just because I have to impress as a brand or a public figure.
You travel very often for work. What are some of your must-have beauty bag products?
I swear that thirty percent of my luggage is fluids. I have a tiny bag of toiletries I bring in-flight but my luggage has a section where it's all just bottles of products! But some of the Hask products come in sachets, like the deep conditioners, and you can just stash them in your carry-on. Also, the shine oils are in these little tubes, so they're perfect for bringing on the go too.
I also love a good moisturising face mask, you know, the one put on your face and end up looking like a mummy. I swear by the Sephora ones. If I can, I try to use them everyday. It sounds excessive but you need to moisturise your face every single day and I like a deep intense, hydration. Especially when I'm travelling a lot and going to a different country every week. With the different humidity and climates, you really have to maintain the moisture in your skin. Also, a good red lip. I'm a red lip girl.
You're a DIY guru but do you also personally style your own hair and makeup when you go on-stage to perform?
Most of the time I do, but it depends on the show. I do my own makeup and I've experimented with loads of product so I know what works for my skin. I've got it down by now! I understand how to do the winged eyeliner so I don't end up drawing all over my face (laughs). Once you got it, you got it. It's like riding a bike; you never really forget.
So yeah, I tend to do it myself, even for my hair. What I do before I go to sleep every night is to curl it and bobby pin them to my head. Or I style it up with a headscarf so that just before a show, I simply loosen it and it's good to go. I do my styling when my hair is slightly damp because when you bobby pin it while it's dry, it doesn't hold as much. You don't necessarily have to put mousse or anything either. When your hair is slightly damp, twist into curls and bobby pin it the night before and you'll have perfect waves in the morning.
Say you're running way late and you don't have the time to wash or style your hair elaborately. What's your quick fix to look put together?
Dry shampoo that. And I also do a victory loop over the centre of my forehead. So whenever you see that, it was a horrible day (laughs). I find it doesn't matter what the rest of your hair is doing — if you got something going on there, it looks like it's purposeful. I'm going to get real and tell you how it actually is: You'll notice I scrunch the rest up and put a couple pins in, and I've got two circles looping across, so all is fine. And that's my trick. Dry shampoo, do the 'circle' and then go. Saves you a world of problems!
In your opinion, when is a woman at her sexiest?
When she's smiling. Nothing else matters, honestly. A woman can do anything but if she's got a smile on her face, that's when I feel like she's the sexiest. I totally think it's all about feeling good about yourself from the inside — everything else will just come. Beauty is absolutely from within. It's not about having to be perfect or you know, having to replicate someone else's style. The things that work for you and simply having self-confidence will give you that boost. It sounds corny, but it's true!
Hask Hair is available at Guardian Health & Beauty and Cold Storage outlets. To keep up with Sukki Singapora's hair, follow her here.