Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint

Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint | Soho House

As the south London-based business prepares for its residency at Soho Farmhouse, we speak to founder Ben Theophanus about working with Soho Friends and what the future holds

Thursday 21 April 2022   By Ashley Clarke

Tucked away behind Brixton station in south London on a street lined with trees, shipping containers and speakers that beat a reliable thump of reggae into the air, sits a new player on the capital’s barber scene. Curfew Grooming is small (there are 12 members of staff and another location in Hackney Wick), but it’s already becoming a name to know in the city and is spearheading an effort to update the traditional barbershop.

‘People don’t want to wait for things or queue up in crowded places as much anymore,’ Ben Theophanus, Curfew Grooming’s cofounder, tells me from his office at the back of the shop. There’s a sense of anti-traditionalism that’s obvious as you walk through the door. The architecture and interior design of the Brixton shop is surprisingly minimal for a barber’s: no Peaky Blinders-esque ephemera on the walls – just glass, concrete, chairs, and mirrors. That could sound sterile on paper, but the place itself somehow still feels… vibey. The shop’s decidedly decluttered approach is intentional: ‘I don’t mean it needs to be sterile and clinical without a soul, because you can still retain that while offering it with a cleaner, more minimal environment.’

Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint | Soho House
Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint | Soho House

Still, it takes more than vibes to make a good barbershop – so why is Curfew Grooming different? Most obviously it’s a membership model where clients can choose to pay monthly for various tiers of service: gold members can come in twice a month and get beard trims, for instance, while platinum members can visit as many times as they like and get free beer. For people who have skin fades and need to go weekly to keep it looking sharp, the membership approach is a no-brainer. ‘We always reward loyalty,’ says Theophanus, who sees the model as win-win: the business gets a recurring revenue, and the members get much more for their money. ‘Ultimately, we’re just playing with time,’ he says. ‘And there should be some sort of benefit to being a loyal customer who comes in frequently.’

Although Theophanus isn’t a barber himself – he works full time as a brand strategist – it’s certainly in his blood. His great-grandfather came over from Cyprus in the 1950s after WWII, started a hairdressing business, and birthed a family of south London barbers. ‘My dad was a barber, as was his brother, and that side of the family were and are barbers,’ he explains. Three of his cousins are barbers, and so is his nephew, Louie, who manages the Brixton shop. ‘We’ve kind of always tried to carry on the legacy.’ After cofounding a barbering company called London Barberhood with his cousin Kris, the two eventually parted ways: Theophanus rebranded a shipping container space they were using in Pop Brixton, which became Curfew Grooming in 2019.

If you could pick the worst possible time to start a barber’s in the 21st century, then the end of 2019 is surely up there. Back in the naïve age, when lockdown wasn’t part of our vernacular and surgical masks were something you only saw your dentist wearing, the idea that a world-shattering pandemic would ensue was unbelievable. Fewer industries were hit harder than hairdressing – a practice that became all but impossible with social distancing rules in place. For Curfew Grooming, however, it turned out to be ideal timing.

Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint | Soho House

They relocated to the current shop on Brixton Station Road, which they renovated during lockdown, taking advantage of the period when everything was closed. ‘It was actually perfect, because if we wanted to upscale we would’ve had to close the shop down, but it was lockdown so everything was shut anyway,’ says Theophanus. Before long, it was time to get ready for the big April 12 lockdown lift – a day that will likely go down in hairdressing history.

‘It was f**king mental, mate,” grins Theophanus. ‘It was probably the busiest two weeks in the history of barbering. Everybody had been without it for so long. You’d get people coming in with massive lockdown bouffants, or someone had tried to cut it and it was… a complete mess.’ Still, all that hair to cut meant that business boomed, and Curfew Grooming rose from the ashes of the pandemic like a well-coiffed phoenix, with a business model in place that was much more aligned with what people were looking for in a post-lockdown world.

As well as the membership programme, Curfew Grooming is also big on convenience – booking an appointment happens through the Booksy app, where you can choose which barber and service you want and leave notes. ‘So, for example, a guy in a wheelchair can add a comment so that we can prepare the shop, and some people ask for the barbers to wear masks,’ says Theophanus. ‘It’s a nice way to have a dialogue, and that way you know people’s names, you know how often they’ve been in, and what service they’ve had before. It creates more of a personal experience for both parties.’

 
Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint | Soho House
Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint | Soho House

So far, there are more than 100 members, with plans to expand. This summer, Curfew Grooming will set up shop in the decidedly more bucolic location of Soho Farmhouse, offering its services and treatments out of the spa at the property on Fridays. ‘We want to give a slightly more elevated and exclusive experience,’ says Theophanus. ‘We’ve tried to make it feel “Curfew” and adapt our services there to be more in line with what people will expect at a spa or from a weekend away.’ Depending on how the partnership goes, he has his sights set on world domination. ‘We want to keep growing, but when you’re trying to disrupt or change something traditional, it takes some time to gain traction. Potentially, we want to take it internationally.’

The partnership came about through Brixton Studio in a networking event for Soho Friends. Curfew Grooming did a pop-up event there that went well and turned into three separate days, where they set up a chair in the studio space. ‘It was a cool vibe, because you could see people coming down the stairs and music was playing, and you could just see this barber going for it,’ says Theophanus. ‘Some of those members then became our clients [at Curfew], so I think we made a good impression.’ 

Beyond the skin fades and razor-sharp beard trims, though, is an approach that’s about equality – all of Curfew Grooming’s barbers are trained in cutting all types and textures of hair, plus they have mental health first aid training. ‘Mental health is super important to us, and the way I see it, we’ve literally got a platform where conversations happen, and where people tend to open up more than usual,’ explains Theophanus. ‘It’s for everybody, and as cheesy as that sounds, we want it to feel like that. Everyone should feel welcome.’

Interested in becoming a member?