In 2015, subversive artist Banksy created ‘Dismaland’; an immersive, satirical installation that took a scathing look at modern culture through the lens of a decaying theme park. Ky Wilson, who at the time was looking into opening up his own salon, was left inspired.
“When I go and have an experience not directly related to the hair industry, I like to take elements from it and bring it back into the salon,” Ky explained. “Plus, I just find it so much more interesting, memorable and I take away so much more when learning if it’s not just a run-of-the-mill hair tutorial, video, seminar or whatever. I apply the same thoughts when I’m teaching, as I think it’s so much more powerful when someone experiences something first-hand.”
“This event took the approach of Banksy and applied it to the hair world,” he told us of his almost five-year vision, which was brought to life by Creative HEAD in partnership with BaByliss PRO. “The idea was for it to carry that same really dystopian mood and to highlight all these salon mistakes and failings in one place, while also being really experiential.”
In place of rides and games, guests at ‘Something Sub-standard’ began their evening outside a #badsalon, the punnily named Curl Up And Ky. From that moment on, the experience was designed to place them in the shoes of a new client, encountering a cascade of business missteps in the form of terrible staff, sub-par service and dismal surroundings.
“20-odd years ago, it was all about the big chains in our industry,” said Ky of the reasoning behind a lot of the not-so-hot behaviour exhibited in the salon. “To make a chain successful, you need to have more structure and a lot of rules in place to make everything consistent through each branch.”
“Now there’s a lot more independents around. But the people that are opening these independent salons have either been taught by people who worked in a hairdressing chain, or they’re working for somebody that has worked for a chain. As a result, what happens when they decide to open their own business – because they’re sick of working for someone else or they want to make more money – is they realise it’s f*cking hard. They then subconsciously slip back into the chain salon-style habits that they’ve been taught.”
“After noting down my own ideas for the event, I asked everyone that was working at The Social, in chains and in other places about theirs,” he added. “The best source of ideas was actually staff asking their clients: ‘What stereotypical hairdressing scenarios have you picked up on?’ As it turns out, in asking, people realised they were sometimes doing half the sh*t that they’re talking about!” We did use some real things that had happened in salons that were funny, but it was more about ramping things up, like you would do if you were putting together a sitcom, and considering what is relatable and noticeable to clients – to people who aren’t hairdressers.”
The installation area that followed provided Ky with an opportunity to further explore (and prompt a conversation about) other facets of the industry that he would like to see change.
Creative HEAD created a really quirky promotional campaign for Something Sub-standard, publishing ambiguous adverts and posts, sending out lack-lustre ‘salon communications’ to booked guests and launching a hashtag to get everybody talking (and thinking!).
“The event was advertised as #badsalon and loads of people that went kind of honed in on that,” said Ky. “That was the ‘fun’ bit of the evening, before they encountered some deeper, more meaningful messages. And the things I highlighted in the installation, I’m not saying I’ve got the solution to all of them. But I wanted to get a conversation going, as things won’t change unless people first start talking about these issues.”
From freelancing misconceptions and ethical dilemmas, to egos and toxic environments, Ky took a stand on behalf of all his fellow professionals, while still retaining an interactive, engaging atmosphere. And as guests exited to the afterparty, things were deliberately left unresolved.
“The experience ended on a question posed in the monologue at the end of the installation,” he explained. “I wanted to leave people thinking that statement over: ‘Are you ready to be the change?’ as the people who came to the event are the people that can change things and end the cycle. My salon The Social’s tagline is ‘We adapt as you evolve’ – business models will change, environments will change, but if people aren’t constantly developing along with them, the #badsalon situation will just persist.
“It’s basically about not following the crowd. And just because you think something is the right way to go about it – or you’ve been told it’s the right way to do it – if you believe in something else, another way, you should not be put off pursuing it.”
In the future, Ky admitted that he’d like to incorporate extra elements and run the event as an ongoing educational experience. “Ideally, I’d like more hairdressers to go through it all. Maybe I’ll pack it up and take it on the road,” he added, “touring with the set like a theatre production so as many people as possible can appreciate the message. I had so many people come up to me on the night, loads DMing and stuff just saying ‘Mate, this needs to be a course!’
“I don’t know how it’d work,” he admitted, “but it’d be really cool. Will #badsalon make a return in some other form? We’ll see…”