PLACES: Inside SoHo salon Mudhoney, a decadently debauched hair institution home to a punk rock clientele
Interview: Emma de Clercq
Photography: Panos Damaskinidis
Special Thanks to Michael Matula
Walking past Mudhoney in SoHo, Manhattan, this unique space could easily be mistaken for an underground punk club rather than a hair salon. Heavy draped curtains reveal Mudhoney’s gothic interior, which is described by owner Michael Matula as looking “like a Hammer horror movie.”
With an aesthetic that is both decadent and debauched – part underground club, part torture chamber – the salon features snarling taxidermy heads mounted on its brick walls, black magic motifs and hairdryers resembling electric chairs – complete with leather restraining straps. Matula shrugs of the notion that the extreme decor might intimidate the average customer, “It might look weird in here but it’s actually very relaxed” he says. “No one is giving you attitude, no one is judging you when you walk in, it’s not that kind of place”.
Since his move to New York in 1979, Matula has been a regular on the rock and roll scene, frequenting the now legendary punk club CBGB, and styling hair for 80s glam rock bands on MTV. In ’87 he opened a small two-seater salon in the East Village, moving to its current location on Sullivan Street in ’91. Named after Russ Meyer’s 1965 sexploitation film, Mudhoney has become something of a New York institution, with a dedicated following of clients craving something a little different from the mainstream salon experience. We caught up with owner Michael Matula.
Can you tell us about the ethos of your salon? It’s a Downtown salon through and through. We’re definitely not traditional, but everyone who works here is a perfectionist when it comes to hair – they’re not going to let any old haircut walk out the door. We’re lucky that we get to be so creative and free with what we do. The first salon I ever worked at, the owner was a real nut, a total control freak. She had a lot of ideas about how she and everyone else around her had to look. I knew that when I had my own salon I wouldn’t do that to my employees. I’m not going to dictate how someone has to look, I like to let people be who they are.
Could you tell us about the influences behind the look? Well, it definitely didn’t look like this when I first took it over! It’s been a salon since the 60s, and the guy I got it from was very prim. The floors were light blue, it had a lot of gold everywhere, with big chandeliers. I kept it when I started out because I didn’t have the money to change it. Then this client of mine who designs movie sets said “lets re-do your salon!” When she asked me how I wanted it to look I said “like a Hammer horror movie”.
How would you describe your clientele? We get all kinds of people. On one hand we’ve got artists, musicians, people in fashion. But we’ll get supreme court judges, I have a client who is a transplant surgeon… really we have everybody. I think they just like a different kind of environment to get their hair done in.
How the area has changed since Mudhoney first opened in 1991? This neighbourhood used to be all Italian Mafia when I first moved here. There was a social club two doors down, a bookmaking place around the corner. It was very old school. The neighbourhood used to be really quiet, and now… it’s always busy. I mean, it’s great for business, but in many ways it’s lost that old New York charm. Now it’s just spoilt rich kids.
What’s your favourite part of your profession? Definitely my clients, I get excited when I see their names in the appointment book. I still have my first ever client coming here, in fact I still have most of my clients from the beginning. And now I do all their kids’ hair! You become part of people’s lives in a way.
And the most challenging part? Running a business is hard, keeping it all together. You know, there’s always something – this thing makes a funny noise, that thing is broken – even on my days off I call here four or five times a day, just to make sure everything is ok.
What advice would you give to an aspiring hairdresser? Be creative, don’t let anyone keep you inside a box. Be open to experimenting and trying new things. There’s nothing worse than a conservative hair salon, it’s like a prison.
What’s the most popular style at the moment? We see a lot of blondes right now. People want to be platinum blonde again. We do a LOT of bleaching.
“There’s nothing worse than a conservative salon, it’s like a prison”
Mudhoney Salon is at 148 Sullivan Street, SoHo, NYC