Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint

Curfew Grooming is cutting up the barbershop blueprint | Soho House

As the south London-based business takes up a residency at Soho Farmhouse, we speak to founder Ben Theophanus about what to expect

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.’