When you stroll into American Mortals (AMMO for insiders), it may seem like any other hipper-than-thou urban salon. All the usual elements are there: an attractive receptionist, a lounge full of style mags, the hum of blow dryers over juicy salon chatter. But if you take a second to peer over your while-you-wait Cosmo, you'll discover the space is more than a haven of snipping scissors and pomade. It's a concept salon embracing transformation and flexibility — for itself and for its clients.
When they opened shop in 2001, husband and wife Dave and Kimberly Bond didn't have a business-minded bone in their bodies. She was an inspired glamour girl working at a local salon, he a musician and artist with a passion for refurbishing Modern-era furniture. Their interest in collaborating in a business that allowed them to merge their individual talents, however, gave them the courage to jump into the giant-window-laden space at Eighth and Walnut, hoping something would eventually catch on.
Without the help of a business guide, they put their heads together and began by working with what they had. Kimberly set up two chairs in the back where she and a partner cut hair; Dave sold repurposed furnishings in the front. And, like a pile of chopped-off locks, they brushed aside a standard business model for a plan generated from simple concepts like community building, variation and acceptance. "Part of being a space that's built around nonjudgment is one that's centered around change," says Kimberly. "The space is constantly changing to help [customers] feel comfortable with the reality that there's one given thing: change." That's how the name American Mortals came about, they say, from the idea that we should embrace consistent transformation.
As hippy-dippy as they admit their theory sounds, it struck a chord in the local style community. After five years, they phased out the furniture element of the business to focus on the horde of clientele lining up to get their hair done. This budding customer base meant adding more chairs, and more chairs meant hiring new stylists, and suddenly Kimberly and Dave found themselves running a highly trafficked, profitable mecca of Philadelphia style.
Now 10 years in, the Bonds have a firmer grasp on what it means to own their own business — and they're ready to have a little fun with it. They took over the lease of the neighboring, now-defunct Grasshopper boutique, doubling their space to 2,000 square feet. Now the stylist stations, constructed from repurposed shutters, inhabit the new area, creating room for a retail element in the other section. "It's like a full-circle moment," says Dave, who's pumped to begin selling merchandise like curated gifts and objects, clothing, books and American Mortals-brand shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.
Also, harkening back to their fondness for change, Kimberly and Dave plan to redo the salon's setup four times a year. Every season, their 11 stylists will rotate to a different location, and the lounge will be redecorated with artwork made by local creatives. They're also considering weekly movie nights and a series of monthly beauty classes and trunk shows to showcase Philly-made garments and accessories. "We want to expose people to different things," says Kimberly, "which goes back to the whole community thing."
But art and concepts aside, the real draw will inevitably be the salon. Manning the scissors is a sartorially astute "family" of stylists who, Dave says, keep their clients satisfied by transcending what's merely trendy. "A trend is just something other people are doing," says Dave. "We like our stylists to be knowledgeable about what's happening in pop culture without copying it." For them, it's about versatility and sticking with cost-effective, multiple looks that give you more bang for your buck. Instead of opting for an extreme cut, he says, focus on looks that can be worked with, incorporating subtle changes to stand out. For women, now-trendy 1970s styles and short bobs can become starker with clip-on feather extensions or a soft braid across the front. Men can't go wrong with classic, long-on-top, short-on-the-sides cuts that can be disheveled when the time is right.
In the end, though, it doesn't matter if you're rocking a head full of locks or a single proud sprig — it's all about working with what you've got, which, according to Dave, isn't something people should fret about. "Your hair's dead," he laughs. "We're just trying to make it seem alive and hip."
American Mortals, 729 Walnut St., 215-574-1234, americanmortals.com.
Trendwatch 2011: AMMO stylists gab about what inspires their personal looks.
(1) "My personal style is always a contradiction — pearls and tattoos, pretty dresses and combat boots. I chose red because it makes a statement." —Nicole Fox, assistant
(2) "I consider my look to be progressive, wandering, old-school, sun-burnt and classic artistic dropout. Kimberly cut it dry using a point cutting technique." —Anthony Gibilisco, stylist
(3) "My cut and color are inspired by Asia Argento, the Italian actress. The cinema is a great place to find inspiration." —Amanda Bates, assistant
(4) "The ombré (color) look gives me such a versatile feel, whether it's styled straight and looking blond or wavy and brunette the next. And popping in a few feather extensions is just an added bonus — I can wash, style and curl them just as my own hair." —Tenille Grider, stylist
Photos by Neal Santos