"We wanted to create an inclusi ve and safe space for people of all backgrounds and per suasions, and with that in mind, the salon follows a genderneutral pricing structure"
KEY FACTSName: Harness & Mane Address: 289 Forest Rd, London E17 6HD Owners: Gunel & Hughie Kelly Size: 4 stations, small boutique salon How long have you been in the premises: Opened in Feb 2019 How many staff: 7 Budget: Done in two stages, totalling about £50k
Harness & Mane has a buzzing clientele – from fetish models to designers from the alternative scene. Their clients also include people who are either trans and newly transitioning, but also anyone who is looking for a luxurious yet unique salon. “We wanted to create an inclusive and safe space for people of all backgrounds and persuasions, and with that in mind, the salon follows a gender-neutral pricing structure,” explains co-owner Gunel Kelly, who owns Harness & Mane along with her husband Hughie.
The building was a completely empty, newly-built shell, when the duo took it on in 2019. Gunel and Hughie had already built up a large clientele privately in the Walthamstow area, and had been on the look-out for premises that would give them presence on the high street. “It didn't hurt that the space we opted for was only 50 metres from our house! It was very convenient for us to manage the renovation/build and it's just a hop, skip and jump to get to work in the morning!” Gunel adds.
Elements of the fetish scene are peppered throughout – but they might not be immediately obvious to people outside of the kink world. They include a large Shibari (Japanese rope bondage art) wall which separates the main salon area from the backwash area, and fetish O-Rings which adorn the panelling and reception area. “Although the game is kind of given away when customers venture to the kitchen where there's a fetish mural and in the bathroom we have a cage for disobedient customers!” adds Gunel.
Gunel was refreshingly pragmatic about the design and refit of the salon, explaining that the build had to be done in two stages, due to budget restraints. Phase 1 got the salon to a stage where they could open the doors and make some money. Then, by phase 2 in 2021 Gunel and Hughie had a much clearer idea of where they wanted to take the brand – and more importantly they had the money in the bank to execute it well.
On the design process, Gunel wanted to find a team that fit with the Harness & Mane aesthetic and ethos. “It was important to find interior designers who really 'got' our fetish hair salon concept, and so instead of looking for salon retail design specialists, we looked for companies with experience in the fetish world.
That's how we came across Sin in Style,” she states. Run by two sisters from Poland, Sin in Style have designed dungeons and fetish club spaces throughout Europe and they also offered branding consultancy services. “Diana Holod worked on the interior design, and really got what we were trying to achieve. Monika Holod worked on the brand development – it really made sense as they could feed into each other’s work and keep the project cohesive,” Gunel explains. Case in point – in the colour mixing area there is a wall-sized fetish mural (painted by fetish artist Layla Mohamned) featuring a model being suspended from her legs and arms in a Shibari pose.
When asked what the best thing they did was, Gunel responds: “we loved creating a salon that not only looks amazing and is profitable, but is also a space that reflects our own interests and is an extension of our personalities.” It’s what every salon owner dreams of, right?
GUNEL AND HUGHIE’S TOP TIPS
1 Meet your builders When selecting a builder who you have not already worked with, go and do the initial meeting at one of their other sites. Builders are great at talking a good game, but if you go and meet them on another job, you get to check out their work first hand.
2 Think outside the box If you are hair salon with a particular theme then look for contractors with experience in that theme, so they 'get' what you are trying to achieve.
3 Relax and let off steam Have a pub within 50 meters of the salon... you'll need it!