You’d expect a session hair stylist as successful as Brit Kenna, who has tended the tresses of Victoria Beckham and Michael Fassbender, to be good with his hands. But it’s still a surprise to discover he designed and built the interior of his new appointment-only studio in Greenpoint himself.
“It’s a hobby,” he said. “I have an obsession with car boot sales (a British take on the garage sale) and auctions, that kind of stuff, and always have done. It’s the only way I get to spend time with my mum. When I’m back in the U.K, we’ll get up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning to make sure we’re first in line.”
He even keeps two storage units back in his native Kent, a county surrounding South-East London that’s also known as “the garden of England,” to hoard all his finds. He raided it to complete the Greenpoint build-out. “I wanted to keep the industrial feel,” he said.
And keep it he has. It starts with brushed concrete walls and ceilings with contrasting exposed brickwork (still, it seems, a Brooklyn pre-requisite). Cutting stations are constructed from scaffolding poles with “joints” he imported from the U.K. A collection of vintage barber’s chairs, a phalanx of distinctive wire-caged ceiling bulbs, and a striking, Deco-style stained glass sign reading “Studio,” which he found abandoned on the street, all complete the look.
The studio began life as a sort of office/workshop. “I needed a place outside my home to keep all my paint, wigs and equipment and do the messy stuff that’s part of my job,” he explains. And with his team of assistants also using the space, “It kind of became their studio, too. I’d come in to find 10 people working in here, and scurry off to my office.” So when the lot next door came up for lease, he “threw caution to the wind” and decided to take on the extra square footage.
Kenna opened his first consumer-facing studio, Kennaland, above a pub in Broadway Market, a hipster enclave of East London, in 2009. There followed a second, housed in an old ballet school in the neighboring London Fields, last year. “As a session stylist, you’ll always hold onto a handful of hairdressing clients if you’re sensible, and you need a space to do that,” he explained.
“I’d often find myself cutting hair at 10 p.m. I have to fit my clients around my other work. That’s why we’re never a storefront, and always by appointment only.” It means clients will often get the space to themselves, while all the studios are used regularly by celebrities and musicians in need of an intimate venue to orchestrate a total image overhaul. The Brooklyn outpost opened in its current incarnation in May this year, and is also set up to receive clients 24/7. “We get a lot of actresses working in theater land, who’ll come in after they finish,” he said.
His team here currently extends to two other stylists, Siobhan and Amy, with pixie-like Madison, something of a blonde-whisperer, on color duties. Kennaland was voted “Best for Customised Blondes” by Time Out London last year, and hopefully she’ll be able to carry the torch on this side of the Atlantic, offering a cool girls’ alternative to the glossy, uptown Bergdorf blonde.
Kenna himself fell into the trade, “assisting” his then-girlfriend when he spent a summer on the Spanish island of Ibiza aged 19. “She cut hair for all the British workers there, and would have me do blow-dries. I realized I was actually quite good at it.” On his return to London he learned wig making, before studying hairdressing at the Toni & Guy academy in Covent Garden.
Soon he was signed to help launch Aveda in Amsterdam, where he found himself shooting editorial work for the likes of Dutch Vogue. “Before I knew it I had a portfolio with all this great work, and when I came back to London again I signed with an agent immediately. I never looked back, really.”
His work soon brought him to New York City, and he found another reason to stay when he met his current girlfriend, also a Brit, at a Montauk party. “I used to stay in Hell’s Kitchen, and I thought I couldn’t stand New York,” he laments. “But when I got sent on a shoot to Greenpoint, trying to find a cab after I finished, I was like, ‘This place is amazing!’ It reminded me so much of London. Then I ended up on the river and saw what I always did love about Manhattan—the skyline.”
And his new business is a welcome addition to what’s rapidly becoming something of a “scene” on laid-back Franklin Street, where barely a week goes by without another boutique or café opening to cater to a discerning local crowd of creative types, on the run from overpriced and overblown Williamsburg.
“Thank God the G train is such a disaster,” he said. “We’ll never be the next Williamsburg.” Leaving Kennaland’s Brooklyn outpost to fly subtly but brilliantly under the radar—just the way this handy proprietor likes it.
Kennaland is at 113 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, NY, 11222. kennaland.com