Independent Hair Salons in New York
Deidre Schoo for The New York Times
AMY SCHIAPPA’S first job in New York was as an assistant at John Barrett Salon in Bergdorf Goodman, which was famed for churning out the sort of platinum-coiffed society girls celebrated in Plum Sykes’s 2004 novel, “Bergdorf Blondes.”
But “I knew it wasn’t for me,” said Ms. Schiappa, who worked there for eight months in the late 1990s. “It was a hair factory. It was very uniform. Not to say it wasn’t good. It was just very cookie-cutterish. And people were spending a lot more money.”
Even the blowouts were deflating. “I felt like we were welding with the blow dryer,” said Ms. Schiappa, who craved a more homey, artsy workplace.
Today, she’s the owner of Fringe, a little salon on the Lower East Side with an old tin ceiling, exposed brick walls decorated with contemporary art and a client roster that includes the band MGMT. “My clients seem to be entrepreneurs or people that make a statement in the world,” said Ms. Schiappa, who tries to give them out-of-the-box haircuts to match. “You won’t look like everyone else in the room.”
There was a time in New York when that wasn’t necessarily an aspiration. Mega-salons with signature hairstyles, like Vidal Sassoon’s five-point cut or the Sally Hershberger shag, reigned. While those places still exist (and are increasingly customizing their services), there is now also a thriving collection of independent, proudly under-the-radar salons that offer individualized attention, low-key advice and international grooming products. Herein, a guide to some of the standouts.
Atmosphere: Subdued 1950s soda shop.
Cult products: Fringe & Friends.
Haircut price: Starts at $65.
Bouncy blowouts are hardly de rigueur here, as Ms. Schiappa believes that a haircut should look just as good wet. Moreover, she said: “A lot of our clients are on the go. They don’t have time.”
One such client, Toni Hess, the executive creative director of a digital advertising agency, used to get her hair cut at more conventional salons. “I had gone to a couple of the uptown fancy New York salons, paid $400 for a haircut and I thought ‘Well that wasn’t really worth it,’ ” she said. “They offered me a cup of tea, but there isn’t any other sort of community or culture.”
While Ms. Hess, who is in her 40s, goes to Fringe for an individualized cut (right now she’s sporting a “double bob,” or a short bob underneath a longer bob), she also goes because the eclectic clientele has become one of her New York “tribes.” “I’ve met artists and designers and writers and people in publishing and p.r.,” she said. “The thing I love about Fringe is, it’s kind of an old-fashioned beauty-shop feel: ladies get together, and there’s a lot of talking among the customers.”
The artwork on the walls changes every couple of months, and salon parties are a regular occurrence. On Halloween the theme was “Twin Peaks,” an homage to the 1990s television series.
“We kind of feel like 1992 is happening again,” Ms. Schiappa said. “No one has any money, and everyone’s going for grunge.”
WHITTEMORE HOUSE SALON
45 Grove Street; (212) 242-8880; WhittemoreHouseSalon.com (appointments may be booked online).
Atmosphere: Rundown-mansion chic.
Cult products: Sachajuan of Stockholm.
Haircut price: Starts at $95.
This salon is on the ground floor of a former West Village boardinghouse that was visited by the poet Hart Crane and Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Named for Samuel Whittemore, a manufacturer who built the building, the salon has intentionally distressed walls and recovered furniture from an antiques store in Rochester.
“We wanted to have the feeling that you’re going into someone’s home,” said Victoria Hunter, who owns the salon with Larry Raspanti. “We did a television show with Karolina Kurkova the other day. She walked in the door, and she said, ‘I feel like I’m home.’ ”
Ms. Hunter and Mr. Raspanti are former creative directors of Bumble and bumble, which Ms. Hunter described as “very huge, very cold.” Like many indie salon owners, they wanted their space, now three years old, to be the opposite. “In these times it really is about intimacy,” Ms. Hunter said. “That’s what people want to feel.”
Known for “hair painting,” a technique that involves brushing on color, without foils, Ms. Hunter said, “We’re definitely more of a fashion kind of salon rather than celebrities.” Still, clients have included Gwyneth Paltrow, Mandy Moore and Kate Bosworth, according to salon brass.
And Ms. Hunter said Mr. Raspanti was away doing hair for U2’s tour.
“He had a great time,” she said. “He has to come back to reality now.”
89 Fifth Avenue, 10th Floor; (212) 229-0100; ToslerDavis.com.
Atmosphere: Airy, artsy loft.
Cult products: Magic Move of Japan, Davines of Italy, René Furterer of Paris.
Haircut price: Starts at $95.
“We don’t give people the same attitude you get from a celebrity stylist,” said Sean Davis, the colorist who founded this salon near the Flatiron district in 1999 with the British stylist Alan Tosler, known for racing a vintage MG . “ ‘I do so-and-so, I know so-and-so.’ ” And while Mr. Davis and Mr. Tosler have their own boldface art-world clients (like the artists Cecily Brown and Jessica Craig-Martin, and the curator Yvonne Force Villareal), Mr. Davis said the difference is that his salon listens to what clients want more than most other places do. “Whereas if you go to the latest mega-salon,” he said, you’re likely to hear “this is hot, this is our look, we have a brand to push.”
“We don’t have a signature look, so we have more flexibility,” he said.
Artwork from clients adorns the walls of the salon, which has Eames chairs and lighting from Restoration Hardware. “You feel like you’re hanging out in your cool friend’s loft,” Mr. Davis said. “It doesn’t feel very corporate salon.”
Neither does the selection of grooming products, which have been tested and hand-picked by the owners. “I find that a lot of these mega-salons, they have a partnership or a relationship with the brand,” Mr. Davis said, referring to salon product mainstays like Kerastase and Aveda. “Being independent allows us to try something else.”
WOODLEY & BUNNY
196 North 10th Street, Brooklyn; (718) 218-6588; WoodleyandBunny.com.
Atmosphere: Cool minimalism.
Cult products: Ellis Faas, Cosmetics 27, Sachajuan.
Haircut price: Starts at $56 (men) and $76 (women).
At this bright Williamsburg salon and apothecary, you can get highlights and a buzz.
“We offer beer and wine and cocktails and do bloody Mary Saturdays,” said Misha Anderson, who owns the salon with her sister, Erin. “We don’t just offer one beer. We have several from microbreweries.”
The aim: to make clients feel like guests in a friend’s home. To facilitate that, the salon, which opened in 2005, recently renovated, creating a reading area that, in addition to the usual pile of magazines, has books about architecture, music, film and fashion. The renovation also included the addition of a facial bar and a waiting area with a bar and a staff member so that clients never have to wonder, “Does anyone know I’m here?” While waiting, guests can also browse the apothecary, which carries hard-to-find international brands like Envie de Neuf, Julisis, Taer Icelandic and TwinLuxe.
“We support a very collaborative environment,” said Ms. Anderson, a former music director at Rolling Stone. “We don’t have one person’s name on the door.” That said, her sister Erin’s work has been in the pages of Vogue, Elle, and GQ, and her clients have included Rachel Weisz, Mischa Barton and Chloë Sevigny.
Clients often come for what Ms. Anderson refers to as “creative color” — color beyond traditional highlights, like the ombré trend seen on the likes of Drew Barrymore and Alexa Chung. “We are able to interpret that in a way that is totally wearable,” Ms. Anderson said.
As for the salon’s name, it’s the childhood nicknames of the owners.
“My father came up with those names, and why he came up with the names is a mystery never to be solved,” said Ms. Anderson (a k a Bunny). “I don’t know what a Woodley is. ”
148 Sullivan Street, (212) 533-1160; and 85 Kenmare Street, (212) 473-7407; MudHoneyHairSalon.com
Atmosphere: Gothic glam.
Cult products: Schwarzkopf of Germany, Aprou of Japan, Nigelle of Japan.
Haircut price: $95.
Owned by Michael Matula, a music buff who used to hang out at Studio 54 and as a teenager made sure to see Led Zeppelin in concert, these two salons are paeans to rock ’n’ roll. “One looks like a torture chamber,” said Mr. Matula of the skull motif and raven-hued décor, “but we’re really nice people.” Some days there’s a musical theme (Tuesday was James Brown); other days one of the stylists (many are in their 20s and in bands) plays D.J. on an iPod.
Mr. Matula said hair trends start in the streets and in indie salons like his. The salon on Sullivan Street has been around for 20 years, while the one on Kenmare Street is just a few years old. In the spirit of rock ’n’ roll, don’t expect a morning appointment: they both open at noon on weekdays.
“We want to be affordable to everyone,” said Mr. Matula, who recalled 1970s New York and paying $210 to rent a three-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side. His stylists tell him he lived here at the best time. “New York is so boring now,” Mr. Matula said reassuringly, “it can only get better.”
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