PLACES: Founded by Benjamin Mohapi, his eclectic eponymous salon is favoured by celebrities including Courteney Cox and St Vincent
Images: Panos Damaskinidis
Interview: Alex Mascolo
Special Thanks to Benjamin Mohapi
Created by session stylist Benjamin Mohapi, LA hair haven BENJAMIN strives to create a relaxed, personal salon experience. Together with colourist Negin Zand, Mohapi opened his flagship salon on Melrose Avenue in 2012, joined by a second salon in downtown LA four years later. Keen to have an East Coast presence, the BENJAMIN team also do New York pop-ups to coincide with Fashion Week.
British born Mohapi began his career as a hairstylist in London, working for John Frieda, Nicky Clarke and Daniel Galvin before moving into the world of session styling. He has since worked with photography heavyweights including Rankin, David LaChapelle and Herb Ritts. Mohapi explains that his background as a session stylist has heavily influenced his approach to BENJAMIN, from the brand’s artistic aesthetic down to the hairstylists he employs. “Session styling taught me about identity,” he explains, “using styles to define identities is what that world is all about, so it always seemed to me that was how we should approach our salon work too”. As a result, many of the salon’s stylists are also involved in session work, creating looks for editorials, campaigns and films.
Having spent much of his career working in hotel rooms and houses, Mohapi strove to recreate the same personal environment through the decor of his salons. “I don’t want my clients to feel like they’re at a hair salon,” he says, “I want them all to feel like Norm from Cheers – like it’s their place!” With this in mind, the interiors of both salons are elegantly designed with eclectic furniture, artworks and an accompanying ‘apothecary’ – a curated selection of BENJAMIN’s favourite cult beauty brands.
INFRINGE spoke to Mohapi about his brand’s distinctive aesthetic and approach.
“I feel a great responsibility to uphold the legacy of those that came before me. Through a lineage of training I’m connected to the greatest of British hairdressers and feel a real sense of duty to continue the line.”
Can you tell us about the ethos behind your salon? I guess if I had to boil it down to one word it would be ‘eclecticism’. We have our own set of values that help to define our aesthetic but we’re not limited to a ‘style’. For us, the embracing of difference is key to our thinking, rather like a patchwork quilt, where each patch should be beautiful in its own way, and able to stand alone as well as hang together. I’ve always thought that the magic isn’t in what we do, but in the connections between what we do. The whole should always be greater than the sum of its parts, and by some miracle we seem to have gotten that right.
How do you feel your salon background has informed your approach to running your own? Training is everything. I’m sorry to say this isn’t something LA salon owners take seriously enough, but we strive to do things the old school way. Most assistants don’t make it all the way through. It’s a hard slog, but those who make it can really do hair by the end of it.
Your first salon is based on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. Why did you choose the Arts District as the location for your second salon? I’ve always wanted to have multiple locations. The Arts District in LA is perfect for us as it’s an up-and-coming area that reminds me of SoHo in NYC during the early 90s. There’s so much potential for it to become a new centre of LA that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Outside of the salon, many of the stylists on your team also pursue session work. Is this important? I think it comes from my own experiences as a session stylist, working at salons that didn’t get what I did. These days everyone wants to do session work but it wasn’t always like that. Back then it was a harder line to walk. Most salon owners want their staff behind the chair earning money, whereas lots of hairdressers also want the be ‘on set’ – there’s conflict. For me this was a no brainer. Happy and fulfilled staff are better staff to have. I think it’s really important that we love what we do, and hairdressers need constant inspiration. Some get that from their clients, others need to do creative things to kickstart back into action if they hit a wall. So I’ve always given a lot of freedom to the team and in turn they have been able to find a happy home in the salon.
BENJAMINis at 8910 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA 90069