Panipa Pavanarit, founder of hair and beauty salon chain Panipa Bangkok, is recognised as being one of the first entrepreneurs in the Thai hair and beauty industry. She is also the founder and president of Intercoiffure Mondial Thailand and a two-term president of the Hairdressers’ Club of Thailand. As her business celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, she is giving way to the next generation, passing on the entrepreneurial torch to her daughter, Praredaa.
It could have all been so different for Panipa though. For the daughter of Rear Admiral Savad and Sri-Outhai Pavanarit, a career in the hairdressing business was the last thing on her mind as a youngster. Indeed, her ambition was to become a diplomat like her father. So who or what made her change direction? “My mother,” she says. “My father was a naval attaché and after we returned from a four-year posting to Washington DC I went to Ruamrudee International to finish my schooling. My goal then was to read international studies at university and work as a government official. My mother, however, thought otherwise. She wanted me to become an entrepreneur and a business owner and it was she who suggested that there were opportunities in Thailand’s nascent hairdressing and beauty business.”
In 1965 Panipa headed to the UK to take a course at the London Institute of Hairdressing. “Back then hairdressing and beauty salons were very underrated in Thailand—there were only three or four hairdressing schools at the time and not many people wanted to become a hairdresser, including me! I was quite academic and this was a time when all of my friends were flying off to the US and the UK to study at university. I very nearly joined them. Back in the day most of the hair and beauty outlets in Bangkok were one-owner salons situated in small shophouses. What they offered was fairly basic—cutting and perming, rollers and hood dryers. There was nothing interesting, nothing creative—even with hair colouring, it was constrained to basic dark brown. So it was like that. It wasn’t what I originally wanted, but I went anyway because I didn’t have a choice. In those days children listened to what their parents told them and obeyed them without question,” she says.
However, Panipa’s perceptions of hairdressing soon changed when she got to London. “It was a completely different world from what I’d envisioned. I didn’t only study hair. We had to study chemistry and anatomy, analysing different hair types and how chemicals reacted to different hair colour and texture. In Europe you have many different shades of hair colour—everything from blonde to brunette and redhead—not to mention techniques like highlights and lowlights. So it was eye-opening for me. I think it took me almost two years to master all the basics, including wig making. It was a time when wigs and hairpieces were very popular—even in Thailand hairpieces and pinned up hairdos were a craze then.”
They say being in the right place at the right time is critical to success and Panipa found herself at the centre of a cultural revolution. “I was in the UK at the height of the Swinging Sixties and things were shifting towards the younger generation. London was the fashion capital of the world. It was an exciting time for design, photography, music and yes, even hairdressing. An aprenticeship in a salon was very highly sought after.”
Anything but a mindless job, in truth hairdressing requires intensive training and Panipa realised that what she had learnt at the institute wouldn’t get her back to Thailand quite yet. “Studying alone wasn’t enough. It’s about acquiring practical skills, something you can’t get by following basic theories in class. I understood that experience was key and so I started working during the weekends,” she says.
After graduating, she secured a position as a trainee in a salon. “Everyone started as a trainee. After a while I applied for a job as a stylist. Back then it was easy to get work if you were from Hong Kong or Singapore, but much harder for Thais. I think I must have been one of the first to get a work permit.” Working in the upmarket Knightsbridge area, Panipa was at the heart of the fashion scene and the in crowd. “I was doing hair for models and stars, including musician Jimi Hendrix. I remember it was a Friday or Saturday night and he just walked in. It was very surreal. The owner pointed at me and told me to do his hair and I thought, ‘hell, yes!’”
Panipa also trained under Louis Alexandre Raimon, better known as Alexandre de Paris. “Alexandre was frequently commissioned as a hairstylist by fashion houses such as Givenchy, Dior and Chanel, particularly during the fashion weeks, so I was able to join the team and learnt from that. I suppose it was the right time to be there. It was such an exciting era—Mary Quant had just introduced the mini skirt and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were all the rage. It was an era that truly belonged to us—the youth of that time,” she recalls wistfully. “To be honest, I should have thanked my mum for pushing me down the path she did.”
Still only 20 years old, Panipa returned to Thailand to open her eponymously named salon. It was an immediate hit with expats and society figures who came from all over the city to get their hair done. So much so that within nine months the salon expanded and then moved to the Ekamai location it still occupies to this day. “I didn’t feel that I was too young to start a business, perhaps because I’d been away for a few years and had grown up a bit in Europe. I think that at that age, if you have the stamina and passion you can do anything. I also had a head start because I had something many in the local industry didn’t—international experience.”
Five decades on and Panipa is passing her mantle to the next generation in the form of her daughter, Praredaa Limpanonda. A Chulalongkorn University graduate, Praredaa went on to earn a master’s in international business and qualifications in marketing at Boston and Northwestern universities. With her mother’s legacy in mind, the CEO and Thammasat University lecturer—she teaches on the master’s degree and executive programs—says she has ambitions to improve and grow the business. “I am always looking for new opportunities. It’s a field that is constantly changing—you always have to have your finger on the pulse. You have to keep yourself updated not just with the latest trends but also the new techniques and technologies related to the field. Within our salons there are many different departments—hair, nails, facials, massage, waxing and more—that require unique skills sets.”
The business has nine branches to date and to ensure they run smoothly Praredaa went back to school to gain personal insight into the hair and beauty industry. “I took a full course in aesthetics and beauty care at the Pivot Point Academy, studying everything from hair and nails to cosmetology and body and facial massage,” she explains. But when not running their beauty empire, mother and daughter enjoy spending time with family. “Since the salon is open Monday to Saturday, we only get a day off on Sunday,” Panipa smiles. “We enjoy that day as a family.” Praredaa adds, “We also both like to attend functions in the fashion and beauty business—as I said, it’s important to keep up with trends.”
“And we party!” laughs Panipa. “We have a group of friends who sing and dance together—I love it. It’s a reminder of the old days when I used to go partying in London.”
Photography: Peter Choo
Behind-The-Scenes: Mika Apichatsakol, Nopparut Charoenwattana and Rasrintr Pornpanvorakit
Stylist: Sachon Kunajiramedt
Locations: Panipa Hair, Nails, Beauty & Wellness and Less is more showroom