If you’ve ever felt intimidated entering the realm of a pretentious boutique or luxurious salon with an ambience that’s closer to zero than a balmy 35 degrees, Le Garage might well be your fave new haven. More chilled out than chilly, the only thing cold in this funky new salon cum retail environment are the beers in the fridge.
Enter the eclectic space that is Le Garage and you are instantly lured in by owner Samir Samaali’s exotic accent and engaging smile. The dreadlocked Parisian native who has lived in Sydney for more than a decade opened his dream salon merely months ago in urban Surry Hills, but already it’s become sanctuary to a bevy of inner city hipsters who hang out at the establishment like it’s their second home.
After working in a few high profile salons including Wild Life and La Boutique and several years as a session stylist, Samir says he was ready to hit the ground with his unique concept a few years back but could never really find the right premises. “Then when I wasn’t looking for it, it just came – it was meant to be,” he grins. “The space used to be a computer shop, it wasn’t fancy looking at all.” But the Elizabeth Street location was in the right neighbourhood and provided a perfect blank canvas for Samir to create the style of salon he’d always dreamed about.
“I noticed after all these years in Australia that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable sitting in a salon with wet hair reading a Who magazine,” Samir explains. “Plenty of salons in Sydney are playing the luxury card, which is good for some people, but it’s great now to see new salons offering different services and being unique.”
Samir says he has purposely tried to make Le Garage look not like a ‘typical’ hair salon – “there are no cheesy pictures of beautiful hair on the walls,” he smirks. In fact, Le Garage is anything but typical. Bold striking artwork covers the walls; a creative collaboration by local artists The Dirt and Quill Bill as an ode to late cultural icons Rowland Howard and Jean-Michel Basquiat takes pride of place. Pre-loved vintage records line the shop front, interesting jewellery and accessories take the place of shampoos and conditioners when it comes to retail, and funky hip hop tunes play in the background. The floors are wooden, the light is natural and computers are replaced by a stunning vintage cash register circa 1964. Large, comfortable vintage chairs from the ‘70s and ‘80s add a cosy vibe.
Although touted as a full service hair salon, Le Garage is so much more. It’s a fascinating epicentre for underground street culture, showcasing electronic music to rock and hip hop as well as creative wares from local artists in the form of photography, painting and jewellery. The salon also chooses to support homegrown eco-friendly and organic boutique hair products rather than the usual multinational brands.
“The vibe is pretty chilled out,” Samir admits, “there are always beers in the fridge and good music playing. Thursdays and Fridays are the late nights at Le Garage, where we stay open until 10 or 11pm. This is when we try and promote DJettes, because I know lots of girls who have amazing taste in music but haven’t had the chance to play a gig yet. There is no dance floor here and we still need to be able to talk to our clients, but it is a great first gig to get comfortable with the mixer. We’ve already had DJs like Marculus Pittman from Detroit and Mr Thing, the DMC 2000 world champion, who’ve had a spin at Le Garage. But in the end, it’s time for the clients to sit back, relax and enjoy a beer or wine with some music.”
Unsurprisingly, Samir has also twilighted as a DJ for some time and his favourite sounds not only slide smoothly through the salon speakers but are on display at the front of the salon to lure curious bypassers inside. Of the second hand vintage records for sale, Samir describes them as predominantly “black music from the late ‘60s until now,” as well as a wide range of soul, jazz, funk, Brazil, Afro beat and hip hop genres. More unique retail goodies are also on offer in the form of eccentric jewellery pieces from local independent designers such as Samir’s partner, renowned street artist Lady J, whose infamous silhouettes of Queen Elizabeth with a 2-Pac bandana and Cat Woman adorn the walls.
“Lady J runs the fashion accessories side of the business,” Samir continues. “She supports local and small international brands from all over the globe and tries to bring something different to the fashion world. Her brand is called Boston George and it is sold alongside other labels including HMPB, Billy the Kid and Gorgeous Gangstas. She imports limited editions from the ‘60s to current and accessories inspired from the ‘80s and ‘90s. She also reworks a lot of vintage statement jewellery.” As another sideline, Le Garage sells tickets for selected gigs from the likes of funkdafied and Niche Productions, who bring leading hip hop and funk artists to Australia.
Whilst Le Garage is still in its infancy, Samir is hoping to turn his cool sub-cultural space into a landmark for hair, music and fashion accessories. “Maybe we’ll start something new with other elements, but it will still be based as a hair salon.”
Early days it might be, but this eclectic abode brings a funky flavour to a neighbourhood boasting hundreds of hairdressers and is already grabbing people’s attention with its ‘anti-salon’, street culture vibe. There’s no doubt about it – Le Garage has a pulse all of its own.