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November 26, 2009

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Stylist builds dreams of magic

LI Dongtian says that he has worked with almost every A-list celebrity in China.

"If someone hasn't got in touch with Tony Studio, I doubt if he/she could be called an A-lister," he says, proudly and confidently, with his characteristic big smile.

Ten years ago, the celebrity stylist launched Tony Studio, China's very first one-stop styling center in Beijing. At that time, most people in the country had no idea of what "styling" is.

"I still remember that about 10 years ago, when I did smoky eyes on a model, everybody thought it was unbelievable," he recalls. "However, today, all the fashion magazines and TV shows are talking about how to create your own smoky eyes look."

Starting his career as a hairdresser, the 35-year-old has witnessed all the progress in China's booming fashion and beauty industry in the past two decades. He has styled numerous Chinese celebrities and stars including Zhang Ziyi, Zhao Wei, Fan Bingbing, Faye Wong and Carina Lau.

"Twenty years ago, I had clients such as Sun Chun and Gai Lili - both famous actors at that time - coming to look for me for haircuts on their bicycles," he says. "There was no such job as a 'movie star.' Everyone was the same, which is very different from what it's like today."

So when he first arrived in the United States in the early 1990s, he was amazed by the magazines and TV shows flooded with images of stars and celebrities.

"Celebrities and stars are the 'dreams' created by the media for ordinary people," he says. "And we, stylists, have become the magic dream builders."

By then, the talented young man had already made a name for himself in China, for making up leading actresses in the movie "Blush," which won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1995. But he was not satisfied. He wanted to see more of the world.

In the US, besides studying the latest trends in makeup and hairdressing, Li also visited many photo exhibitions and fashion shows, from which he drew infinite inspiration for his future creations.

Most importantly, he had come to understand the different perceptions of beauty between Chinese people and Western people. This has helped him later spot supermodels such as Lu Yan, who was considered "ugly" according to traditional Chinese standards of beauty, but was given a new sexy look by Li and thus became an internationally acclaimed model.

"Everyone has his own understanding of beauty," Li says. "To me, Lu Yan has a very unique look, which is extremely impressive."

It was also in the United States that he come to realize that "styling is all about team work instead of one's personal efforts."

So Li decided to bring this concept back to China. In 1999, when the first Tony Studio was opened in Beijing's Xin Dong'an Plaza, he had a team of 20 people. Today, there are 18 Tony Studios in the country, in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.

The ambitious entrepreneur has even bigger plans for the future. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Tony Studio has recently attracted the interest of ChinaEquity, the country's leading private equity investment company.

The objective, according to Wang Chaoyong, chairman and CEO of ChinaEquity, is to develop Tony Studio into a giant "beauty empire," which will include not only hair and beauty salons but also photography studios, educational organizations and a line of beauty and body products.

Besides Tony Studio, it also plans to launch up to 200 second-line salons around the country within three years.

"Ten years can be a long period in one's life but it is only a very short term for a company," Li says. "We have set up a solid base for the company and I'd like to further strengthen the combination of business and art in Tony Studio in the years to come.

"Hopefully one day, people will directly think of the brand whenever they mention the word beauty."


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