The Interview: John Mullan, Mr Mullan’s General Store
The new Mr Mullan’s General Store off Brewer Street in Smith’s Court, Soho, was born out of a hair salon in Kingston, Surrey, where owner and celebrity hairdresser, John Mullan, has been cutting hair since he set up his Stone Hair business on Old London Road in 1994.
Now with his own “Mr Mullan’s Apothecary” range of hair and beard grooming products, having always been into his clothes, Mullan, 47, decided to experiment selling some brands that he liked and found while travelling the globe doing men’s and women’s hair for fashion shows and editorial shoots.
Brands include the likes of Eat Dust, Girls of Dust, Le Labourer, Orcival, M.C.Overalls, Armor Lux, Heimat knitwear, Brady Bags, Deluth Pack, Pendleton, Birkenstock, Blundstone, Jollie Socks, Le Specs, Stutterheim outerwear and Schiesser for women. They ticked all the right boxes with his Stone Hair clientele, and the Soho shop opening is the next chapter. There is no salon in Soho though, it’s purely a lifestyle store.
Mullan was also one of the first of a new wave of independents to open shop in Shoreditch, where he had a second hairdressers for several years up to 2007 on Leonard Street. Ironically it was rising popularity of the area, along with the rising rents, that forced him to move out. “It wasn’t only that, as my career had taken quite a different spin when I started travelling a lot and doing the editorial work for shows, editorials and campaigns for clothing companies,” he explains. “I was beginning to spread myself too thinly, so I shut Shoreditch down and moved to a shop four times the size of the existing salon in Kingston.”
Most recently, Mullan has been working a lot with British musician, DJ, songwriter, and record producer, Mark Ronson, cutting and styling his hair. “That’s quite a nice client to have,” he says. One such job was for a recent cover of GQ. “Anything that Mark is doing is doing in the UK or Europe, I generally now work with him on.”
It was when he saw a niche in the market for high end beard grooming products, and subsequently began making his own under the “Mr Mullan’s Apothecary” brand, which he showed at the most recent Jacket Required show in January, that he “really started to look at the retail aspect of things.”
"We’ve tried to create a lifestyle space where people can come in to get their haircut and a coffee, but also they trust me and what brands I’m into."
Some clothing was then brought in to the mix – at the front of the Kingston salon, such as Le Labourer French workwear jackets, to sit alongside his new grooming products. It’s grown from there. “They’re all things that I enjoy and love. I also think that these days it’s not enough just offering one thing to people. It’s a lifestyle people want to buy into. We’ve tried to create a lifestyle space where people can come in to get their haircut and a coffee, but also they trust me and what brands I’m into.”
Of the move into creating his own grooming products, Mullan explains: “I started making them because I was fed up using products that I wasn’t happy with.” It was about seven years ago that he started playing around with it at home in the kitchen. Then he realised that I’d got it to a level where people really wanted it. “I also had the perfect testing ground for it, with clients and friends. The fact that I’d been in the industry so long, and had worked with products all my life, also helped, and it’s now taken off and we’ve got it in to quite a few barber shops. We also got it on Amazon Prime in the UK and Europe, and we’ve recently got it in to the States.”
Mullan is also very into motorcycles and owns two, a Harley Davidson Electrolyte and a Sportster. It was through his love of motorcycles that he met the Eat Dust clothing brand founders, Keith Hioco and Rob Harmsen, who are friends and fellow bikers. Hence that being one of the first brands he brought in. “I wore it, and liked it anyway, so it seemed like a natural progression to put some of it in the salon. We started putting clothes into the Kingston salon about four years ago, and it’s just grown from there.”
The new Mr Mullan’s General Store is exactly that, a general store. It may be small but it carries a whole load of lifestyle products aside from the apothecary own-brand and clothing lines. There’s Craighill brass key rings, Fieldnotes stationery from Japan, Leatherman multi tools, S'well water bottles, Opinel kitchenware from France and even Mutti plates from Switzerland. “That’s all based on tattoo art,” says Mullan. “There’s all manner of things that I’ve found and liked on my travels doing shoots. I find that a lot of things we go for interestingly enough end up in places like Liberty – like the Mutti plates for example, and Haeckels skincare products.”
"When I first approached brands they weren’t really interested. Now it’s gone 360 degrees and I’m turning people away – which is nice position to be in!”
The Soho shop opening five weeks ago actually follows on from a short-term 18- month lease for the first Mr Mullan’s General Store trial on Richmond Hill, around the corner from Mick Jagger’s house. “We’d built it up to a level where it was all doing quite well, and we were getting approached by better and better brands because I think our selection was quite unique,” comments Mullan. “As opposed to when I first approached brands they weren’t really interested. Now it’s gone 360 degrees and I’m turning people away – which is nice position to be in!”
The fact Mullan now has the Soho address means sales on his website, www.mrmullans.com, have also increased. The website selling brands was created three years ago. “The way people buy clothes has changed,” says Mullan. “People come in to the shop to look at them and then maybe buy them later off you online. The Soho shop is almost like our showroom for what we’re about.”
Smith’s Court is one of those tucked away Soho courtyards which is not the kind of prime retail positions, which have much higher rents, such as on Brewer Street itself. It’s like a little haven in the heart of the West End, with the Hideaway Coffee House, Bibi’s Kitchen and Salad Bar and a walk-in back rub business.
“I’ve initially taken a three-year lease, on a good deal, and I like the idea we are in a courtyard and that hopefully we will build a community here,” he says. “I think that’s kind of gone away from Soho a bit. With the help of social media, we can build it. We use Instagram a lot. I think it’s an important tool, and an important part of any business now – it’s what the kids all use.”
He also wants to create some events in the courtyard this summer, the first of which will be a shop launch party in May. “We’re also looking at getting some guest artists down, as well as all my friends with great motorcyles, and getting people from the brand’s we’re selling to invite their people down too. So, we want to do a bit of cross pollination with the brands that we’re working with.”
The spring/summer buying was limited due to the move out of Richmond and setting up shop in Soho, but Mullan says they have a lot of new and exciting products coming in for autumn/winter, including Pendleton womenswear.
The Soho shop may stock hair brushes, shampoos and conditioners but not everyone who comes in knows that Mullan is a well established hairdresser, so there’s a good story to tell. “A lot of people ask how we got into it. I think it’s my connection with all the stuff I do outside of the salon on the editorial side that made it such as natural progression. I’ve been in to my clobber forever, and I still am.”
If this latest venture proves successful, Mullan says it could mean a move to a bigger space in Soho in the future, with everything under one roof. “Ideally I’d love a big premises in the centre of town where I could do it all – a combined hairdressers and lifestyle shop,” he concludes. "That’s the dream, and we’re working to it!”