What do you get when you combine a taste for fetish with a talent for hair styling? Since 2019, London’s answer has been Harness & Mane, a hair salon run by creative director Gunel Kelly and her husband Hughie.
Winner of Hair Magazine’s Colour Expert 2022 Award and a finalist in more than half a dozen other awards this year alone, master hair stylist and colourist Gunel has been working in the hairdressing industry since 2005.
She has also been involved in the London fetish scene for many years, and has integrated her interests in fetish and alternative subcultures into her approach to hairdressing in a most original way.
She regularly works on alternative fashion shoots and events in the UK and beyond, with credits that have included Torture Garden, the London Queer Fashion Show and the German Fetish Ball in Berlin.
But you don’t need to have attended such events to experience the way Gunel combines hairdressing and kink. The Harness & Mane salon itself — located in Walthamstow E17 — is a vibrant testament to her successful fusion of these two distinct areas of creativity.
A hint of what’s within is provided by the window display — currently a Figure of A rope harness displayed on a dressmaker’s dummy — even before you enter the premises.
Once inside you quickly notice that the interior boasts not just the customary paraphernalia associated with an upmarket hair salon, but also a range of fetish artefacts, outfits and objets that are both for decoration and sale.
These range from more Figure of A rope harnesses and other larger items by Kerris Spencer and Broke Boutique, to smaller pieces laid out on trad-Japanese-inspired black wooden fitments. There’s also a ‘shibari wall’ room-divider created by rope-bondage guru Nawashi Murakawa, separating the salon’s work area from the washers.
Venture further in, to the salon’s rear kitchen area, and you’ll be confronted by a wall-sized mural by fetish artist Inky Layla, featuring a model suspended by her legs and arms in a shibari pose.
And then there’s also the cage in the bathroom.
“It’s where we send our disobedient customers,” jokes Gunel. But it’s also a focal point for models visiting the salon to shoot content, and has been used for other activities on various occasions too.
Gunel says the vibe at Harness & Mane attracts “a buzzing clientele of fetish models and designers from the alternative scene”, as well as “people who are either trans or newly transitioning” and “professionals looking for a premium hair appointment in a luxurious yet unique environment”.
The decor alone is more than enough to establish the salon’s fetish-fashion cred (while not being too scary for straighter customers). But Harness & Mane goes further, by also holding fairly regular events for the alt community on weekday evenings or Sunday afternoons.
“We aim to be a hub for the fetish/alternative community,” Gunel explains. “And with that in mind we regularly use our space to hold fetish life-drawing classes, pop-up shops for fetish designers and art exhibitions for fetish artists.”
I attended the most recent of these on Sunday November 6, when Gunel and Hughie hosted the opening party for Servitude, a three-month Harness & Mane exhibition of latex art by Michelle Mildenhall, the top exponent of the genre.
The St Leonards-based artist and I are old pals from the fetish social scene of yore, and her work has been featured on The Fetishistas more than a few times over the years.
So the launch of her latest London exhibition was the perfect excuse for us to reconnect, and for me to get my first in-person experience of the Harness & Mane premises.
Michelle’s Servitude show follows in the tradition of previous exhibitions at the salon by artists such as Inky Layla and Rebecca Lightbody. Each exhibition typically runs for two-to-three months, and art can be purchased directly from the work on display.
Michelle’s striking, minimalist pop-art portraits are created using pieces cut from sheet latex in just a few simple colours. You can buy the latex originals (when available), but also for sale at lower cost are high quality prints from scans of the originals.
Framed prints make up the vast majority of the work currently on display at Harness & Mane. But one of Michelle’s latex originals — a piece called Stonewall Sisters she created a couple of years ago for a Pride show in Brighton — is also included in the collection.
It features prominently as the only exhibit on the salon’s shibari wall. And viewers can get close enough to see just how the individual latex pieces have been expertly cut and layered to create the whole image.
The wet and windy London weather that Sunday might easily have dampened people’s enthusiasm for attending even a local social event like this. But it didn’t.
The combined pull of the artist’s popularity and general curiosity about Harness & Mane ensured a pretty full house, with people turning up from near and far.
The furthest distance of the day was probably travelled by LFTV’s Cole Black, who effortlessly put my mere 8.5 mile trek from south-east to north-east London to shame.
Cole had caught a coach down from Hull (200 miles away) on a day when there were no trains, in order to cover the event with presenter Psycatt, who was — as we have now come to expect — fully rubbered-up for the occasion.
Psycatt was also impressively bepearled (which is a real word and gets you 14 points at Scrabble) courtesy of one of the delicate harnesses created by the afternoon’s other exhibitor, Somerset-based Matoro Sari.
Designer Matoro’s pop-up shop (above) displayed a range of colourful designs in various fabrics, many of which incorporated pearls or other sparkly elements.
Since Gunel and her salon connect with so many different strands of alternative culture, I wasn’t expecting to know everyone who turned up to this event — and I didn’t. But the friendly ambience made socialising easy, and consequently plenty of that went on.
One representative of alternative society it was impossible to miss was hatmaker Richard Kaby, colourfully dressed as always and fresh from celebrating a big costume win at the latest Alternative Miss World event.
It seemed that everyone visiting the salon was inspired both by the afternoon’s specific exhibits and the venue’s general ambience, with most people staying to the official 6pm finish time or later.
And I have to say that, quite apart from anything else, the energy (and patience) our host Gunel managed to maintain throughout the afternoon was mightily impressive, given at the time she was heavily pregnant and due to reach her due date just two weeks later!
Gunel and Hughie promise that, above all, Harness & Mane provides a safe and relaxed space in which to be pampered. If you want to try the salon’s brand of kink-friendly hair styling (with gender-neutral pricing) for yourself, why not take advantage of our Fetishistas Offer for new customers below?
STRANGE – BOOK SIGNING
Germany’s fetish photography collective The Agency for Strange Behaviour sends representatives to London to sign the outfit’s first and very impressive coffee-table book, full of shiny latex photography.
GAPTOOTHBABY – ART EXHIBITION
London artist Rebecca Lightbody’s fetish art exhibition at the salon drew an appreciative crowd, and was set to music by alt/punk/hiphop outfit Pho Queue Crew, who clearly know what a homophone is.
FIGURE OF A – POP-UP SHOP
Anna Kii’s shibari-based harness pieces are a stylish blend of fetish and fashion popular at numerous fetish fairs. Anna is also an expert rigger and performs shibari suspension shows at fetish events.
SWEET SEVERINE – LIFE DRAWING
One of the UK fetish scene’s popular upcoming models, Severine was the focus of this Unspeakable Drawing evening at the salon — posing in person but with an online option available too.
PANDORA DELUXE – POP-UP SHOP
World-class, London-based latex designer Pandora Deluxe brought a selection of new and classic styles to this Sunday afternoon of relaxed retail therapy featuring outfits modelled by Psycatt.
BROKE BOUTIQUE – LIFE DRAWING
Another Unspeakable Drawing evening, this time featuring designer Broke Boutique posing in her own distinctive, bondage-inspired creations. Broke Boutique creations can still be seen at the salon.
INKYLAYLA – ART EXHIBITION
London artist Inky Layla specialises in shibari drawings and watercolours, which inspired her to launch Unspeakable Drawing, life drawing classes focused on the weird and wonderful… and latex.
FETISH MODEL SALON CLIENTS
HAIR FOR FASHION SHOWS
German Fetish Ball 2022
London Queer Fashion Show 2022
UK Fetish Awards 2022 (upcoming)
Winner: Colour Expert 2022 (Gunel Kelly) – Hair Magazine Awards
Finalist: London Salon 2022
Finalist: Design Award 2022 – Salon Business Awards
Finalist: Design Award 2022 – British Hairdressing Business Awards
Finalist: Salon Team 2022 – Salon Magazine Awards
Finalist: Apprentice of Year 2022 – Salon Magazine Awards
Finalist: Customer Experience 2022 – Salon Magazine Awards
Finalist: Best New or Refurbished Salon 2022 – Salon Magazine Awards
Harness & Mane is located at 289 Forest Road, London E17 6HD. Tube: Victoria Line.
Station: Blackhorse Road. Local buses: 123 and W11. Salon stop: Higham Hill Road