When Daniel Liu first came to Australia, at age seventeen, there was a lot to get used to.
“I felt a little bit lost through my earlier days.”
While studying, Liu trained to become a hairdresser, a profession he fell in love with. When opening his hair salon, Usfin Atelier, with his photographer and flower arranger partner Xena, Liu wanted to create a space for those who were going through that same experience that he had, newly arrived to Australia.
“As our business grows we have a greater responsibility to give back to our community. We have a large Asian clientele coming from overseas, and they only came when they are young, like me.”
While the focus of Usfin is hair design, it has also become a community space for local artists and creatives to showcase their work and bridge divides between those who have recently arrived, and those that are shaping Australian culture. Recently, Usfin has hosted specialist casting, content and consultancy agency The Uncast, as well as a nine day art series entitled Close Encounters.
What has enabled this cross between hair design and creative platform is the innovative design of the St Peters warehouse loft where Usfin is located, by interior architect George Livissianis.
“We wanted to make everything mobile, because we want to do big events,” described Liu. “Having such a beautiful and large space is a very luxury thing for us and this allows us to do so much more than only doing hair.”
The most moveable elements of the interior are the cutting stations. When not put away from exhibitions, the steel boxes which resemble airline catering trolleys create an individualised and private sense of space, something that Liu intended to achieve.
“In a traditional salon it's usually in a smaller space and you feel like you are in a production line. The things you talk about with your hair stylist can be overheard and some people want to do a bit of work, so having this private space allows them to have a bit of luxury on their own.”
This has created a space where experimentation is encouraged, and hair styles are catered to each individual, even when clients come in with a clear idea of what they would like.
“Nowadays we find a lot of clients come in with the mood board made themselves,” noted Liu. “With those clients I'm going to see the reference picture first, to know what they really want, and then I give my personal opinion about would this work on your texture, on your face shape, your lifestyle. I consider those three elements and try to give my clients the best option possible.”
With a practice that sees hair design as one form of creativity among others, both those displayed in the atelier and found elsewhere, inspiration for Liu and the rest of the Usfin team comes from any number of sources.
“We try not to look at hair stuff to get inspiration for hair, we look at architecture, design, art and music.”
Drawing on this broad palette of creativity and tailoring each design to the individual, Usfin does not assigning cuts based on gender, and the price-list is not divided into male and female services.
“The social norm is having a balayage, the blond foil, having the beach hair, it's very traditional beauty for Australia but I think it's not for everyone,” said Liu. “Everyone deserves the best hair they can have and we help them to achieve that.”
Looking to other cities such as London, New York and Shanghai, Liu sees the internationalism of Sydney reflected in its population, but has yet to be taken up in design tastes.
“The concept of hybridising the hair salon, art gallery and all those other creative projects, we do that [because] we want to make it really international.”
Within St Peters, and the Studio 75 precinct, Liu sees a conglomeration of artistic and creative talents coming together, without regard for boundaries or binaries.
“It's a community because it's a whole precinct with photographers, florists, homeware designers, all sorts of creative people together in one community. We support each other a lot, we collaborate and we do some photoshoots together.”
As an organic network among the former warehouses develops, Usfin continues to provide a welcoming space for those who would otherwise be on the margins.