Above Chapel St, there is a studio that is transforming the very definition of hairstyling. The appropriately named Analog Hair Salon is logging a new era of hair, one that is inclusive and transformative beyond the traditional gender rigged trope of glossy salons and rustic barrier shops.
The owner and creator of the space is Pete who has been cutting his teeth in hair styling from country Victoria to Melbourne city.
Pete always wanted to help people, in some form. That manifested in a passion for hair and an escape from the small country town of his youth. After browsing the inner workings of a luxury Salon in his home town, Inspired by the vision of the hairstyling world. " I never knew there was such beauty in a small country town" Pete explained.
In secret, he fed his passion for hair and applied for an apprenticeship in his hometown at a slick modern salon, without his parents or his girlfriends (at the time) knowledge, even as she applied for the same role. Pete landed the apprenticeship, while his girlfriend did not. His relationship may have been affected but his career was not. After working his way through the ranks, he moved with the salon to Melbourne and helped establish a new base for the brand, before going out on his own to build his empire from colour mixtures and self-expression.
His empire is based in a loft just off Chapel St, a haven for hair colour enthusiasts away from prying eyes, off the main strip. As you walk through the salon door and up the staircase you are greeted with pumping music, either deep house, heavy metal, trap or the occasional old school pop beat. As you enter the salon proper, atop the stairs, you have a full view of the open-plan loft. Watching as a spectrum of hair colour shuffles between mirrors, washbasins and the mixing booth. If anything, the space is a source of inspiration. It's bright, colourful and just the right amount of weird.
I was lucky enough to be walked through the complete process of an Analog Hair transformation, a process I would fall in love with. The idea of radical hair transformations is not a new one but the ease in which can be achieved has greatly improved with technology and modern hairstyling techniques. On that note, Pete and Analog Hair are not the first to craft expertise in hair colouring, but they are certainly the leaders in radical colour transformation and pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved from hair tone, texture and colour vision.
Analog’s approach to hairstyling feels more like a creative project with a team of talent building on a central vision. That vision goes far beyond your hair colour and reaches into how people choose to present their personality.
"I wanted to create a space for anyone who does not feel comfortable in the traditional salon setting, but still wanted a personal salon experience" Pete explained mid-way through brushing bright peach dye through my hair.
How did we get to peach-toned hair? Well, it started from my fascination with the peach emoji and when I floated the idea to Pete, he grinned from ear to ear and commented: "now that sounds like an idea". A comment that reflects the brand’s 'can do' attitude when it comes to the most expressive and intricate hairstyling request.
Before diving headfirst into styling, Pete walked me through colour boards and style examples. There was a long discussion about how dye would react and age into my natural hair colour. I welcomed a lengthy conversation, after all, I was about to dramatically change how I look in the mirror every morning.
"Hair is just hair, it's more about how it makes you feel. Your the one who has to live with it every day" Pete explained to me when I raised concerns about how dramatic this change would be. The guy knows his shit when it comes to hair and even for a person like myself, who prides themselves on knowing beauty, I received some education in hair care.
I learnt more about my curly and often frizzy mane in 5 mins with Pete than I have my whole life. This knowledge would have been useful years ago, but better late than never I guess. As a male, I have had to piece together a lot of my hair knowledge from youtube and beauty blogs largely targeted toward women. While we are all created equal, unfortunately, our genetics are not and Pete explained the detailed components of how men's hair works.
I believe men are often at a loose end when it comes to hair care if you don't fit the model of straight thick dark hair. There is limited knowledge available unless you know where to look. Most guys don't, and for this reason, we see men using body wash as a fix-all solution to hair care.
"I have always had a passion for short styles. You can work short styles into different layers that you can’t achieve with long hair." Pete explained when I asked about his short hair experience.
When I queried Pete on why he doesn’t see more men coming through the salon he answered honestly. "I’m not 100% sure why. The space we have here can be... a lot for some guys, maybe it’s a bit intimidating. But honestly, men are less likely to experiment with hair colour and complex styling" Pete Answered.
He was right, I consider myself to be fairly contemporary in my style and I was intimidated by the process. For a guy who was more straight edge, I can imagine it would be a daunting task to completely transform his hair. On this thought, I came back to Pete's earlier comment that “hair is just hair.” A sentiment that is at the core of Analog Hair.
This sentiment was formed from Pete's experience in blonde transformations. He explained how he landed in producing art style hair when he went out on his own.
"When I started on my own, dark to light or blonde transformation was all the rage in LA. I wanted to bring that vibe to Melbourne, and customers wanted the Kardashian blonde change. The process of changing hair colour in a day was my starting point" he explained.
"Once I realised that I could create a canvas in blonde hair I asked the question; what can we do with this blank canvas?” He continued. "I started taking on more bold requests and built the brand from that journey."
A journey is an understatement; it's more like a sprint, as Pete has built a thriving hair business in just under two years and one that has bucked the standard of a gender-specific salon approach.
Analog Hair believes in removing gender from the hair equation, choosing not to swing towards any particular gender narrative.
"The gender-neutral approach was never a political or cultural move. I did not go out to create a gender-neutral salon. It was more about creating a space for anyone who doesn’t fit the mould. Naturally, I think people who identify outside of normal gender stereotypes gravitated towards an inclusive space, one that was not gender-focused." Pete’s comment when I queried him about gender-neutral pricing and if he actively promoted a neutral culture.
His comments are reflected in the space the team has created. It's a stripped-back version of the glossy salons or barbershops but provides a luxurious service and the best expertise.
"Creating a safe space was more important to me than emulating a style or aesthetic. That safe space attracted people who were looking for an alternative; they were also clients who wanted something different from their hairstyle. They pushed the boundaries of what I could do with the blonde canvas. The dynamic colour transformations built from that need" Pete explained in detail about how he came to be a master of colouring techniques.
Master it he sure did. Analog Hair has produced some amazing colour transformations and their ability to build complex colour stories is truly amazing. Along with his?
"Hair is one aspect of how our clients express themselves. My team and I are excited to be a part of that expression," Pete said.
His comment sums up Analog Hair. It’s not a hair salon, it is an expression. One that has been created for anyone who chooses to own it, along with his style director Gabby, style master Kylie, Senior Stylist Liana and Alisha, and a growing number of emerging stylists.
While the Analog Hair style is not the answer for how all salons and barbershops should function, it definitely answers a lot of questions when it comes to removing gender from the hair equation. They are a style and practice rather than a salon. There will always be a need for salons that specialise in natural hair tones and ones that focus on slick short hairstyles. But do gender ideals need to be part of this process? Why can’t hair salons of different specialities just cater to “people”, not gender?
If Analog Hair is the measure then the answer is definitely yes. Pete's approach and model is an example for the industry as an inclusive answer to the old ideal of the gender divide in hairdressing.
I walked out of Analog Hair with locks of vibrant pink and peach tones, a change that took me a few days to take in but one that I greatly needed. The shift helped me analyse gender stereotypes and prejudice around hair that I did not know I held. My new do also divided my friends between ones who loved the change and those who have questioned my sanity. The whole experience highlighted to me how society uses hair as a tool for divination and interpretation of people. I love that I get reactions wherever I go, after all 'hair is just hair', and if it is pink, blonde, short or long it doesn’t really matter, does it?