A blow-dryer whirrs as a tall, dark and handsome fellow with an empirical English Moustache models someone’s already healthy looking hair. The crooning of a soulful voice and an acoustic guitar seep through the time warped speakers, lending ambience to a stuffed crow and glass displays that are home to soft bristled shaving brushes and razors sporting mother of pearl handles. The quintessential air of this Shoreditch premises is stirred by the entry of a man and his dog. The pooch is ridiculously well behaved and stays exactly where it’s told, the gent comes forward to introduce himself as Brendan Murdock - the mind behind Murdock London.
An upmarket barber shop founded in 2006, it now has five London stores, with a sixth on the way, offering the absolute premium in men’s priming services to clients like Justin Theroux, the creators of South Park and multiple image influencing musicians. It has also progressed into producing its very own merchandise such as beard cream, moisturiser and men’s scents, which are steadily becoming regular stock in the world’s most luxurious outlets.
Aside from his astute sense of business, a distinct Northern Irish accent, wry smile and thin shrewd eyebrows complete this entrepreneur’s look and feel. It seems like asking him about his opinion on male style in today’s world is the right thing to do. “Fashion is quite homogeneous and there's a trend on redefining masculinity. Everyone looks the same so you want to try and find a way to look different. Quality shoes, quality suits and quality things.”
“Made in England is quite important to our brand and that when you walk through the duty free hall of all the big perfume brands, they're synthetic and ours is 100% natural. It changes with your body temperature, there is a very different nose to it, and once you start wearing it you do notice the difference quite a lot. People's tastes are getting more sophisticated. What is a challenge is people trusting the price point, you know. It's taking men, slowly getting them to buy into everything, themselves.”
Guised in an outfit of understated class, the grooming mogul gives a deeper insight into the shift towards that more tailored look; “Men are much more confident, much more curious. They understand the importance of looking after themselves to a degree, and they're not relying on their partners. Grooming across both genders used to be targeted 60-70% to women. But I think there is a change - men don't necessarily want their other half going out buying their clothes for them or their products.”
With his grasp of the darker sex, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Brendan might have a coiffeur’s background. “I had a restaurant in the area so I knew it and that it was a good place to establish new concepts. I felt that we could open an establishment where you could try lots of products from the comfort of the barber’s chair. Why did the girls have everything in their favour and there was nowhere for boys to go?”
He has a refreshing perspective on how his less than streamlined experience has helped rather than hindered him in achieving sharply-trimmed and side-parted dominance. “Often hairdressers just want to have a hairdressing shop. Most hairdressing establishments aren't approached as a brand - so there wouldn't be as much cohesion. Some elements of the hairdressing industry are quite unstructured – it’s rent a chair, call in sick Thursday, and it's not going to matter. So no I'm not a hairdresser - it was about creating a label and a collection of products.”
How exactly did he make the jump from owner of an East End food joint to champ of chaps?
The story begins with the multiplicity of Shoreditch and its continuous state of evolution. “We were quite fortunate that we opened in Shoreditch, which gets lots of attention as it’s a good place to trial something. Especially in 2006, there weren't too many businesses - it still is quite a fragmented area, you have shops here and there, but no real consistent thread. So I think that was good for us to test things out.”
“Then there seemed to be a shift in Shoreditch, it became a bit more of an expensive street to trade on. Now there's always something new opening, there's a pop-up shop, there's a gallery, so it's quite a dynamic neighbourhood. Right now, we're involved with some of the local art galleries like Charlie Smith and Maureen. Collectively, it's been very important for us to see the area growing; if you want street traffic you have to work with the local businesses - we want to make sure there are multiple reasons to visit this area. It’s becoming a destination and anyone who's travelling and seeking something new in London will come to this street. It's up there, it's on most people's radar if they're coming from America particularly or Asia.”
Whilst for some this meant welcoming groups of tourists huddled around a piece of graffiti with their noses unitedly burrowed in a guidebook, it meant something completely different for Murdock’s then fresh start-up. Before Redchurch Street was touted as the new Bond Street and the big department stores came sniffing for a new hot spot, Brendan’s exclusive products made it to some very chic shelves; “Liberty needed to create more traffic in their menswear store, so they offered us free space. And obviously having their PR gets you a lot more exposure and also it helps validate the brand. So we got a lot of early endorsement, where a lot of companies would take a long time to perhaps get into those kind of environments.”
Forever frank, Brendan responds modestly when asked if that very opportune opening of a door owed itself to industry contacts; “No, I just think we were doing a good job and they found us.”
Importing his clientele has always been a driving force behind Murdock’s brand. “What was important to me was that you looked at it on a shelf in New York, you might think to yourself, where has this come from? So it would have to feel British. Obviously being called Murdock London gives it that sense, but with it being a new product, we wanted to deliver a sense of heritage. I didn't want it to feel a contemporary product that was just created because I wanted to make money; it had to come from somewhere.”
At home, affluent 20, 30 and 40 somethings are certainly buying into the old worldliness associated with Murdock London. Aside from vivid and vintage packaging, Brendan has achieved the brand’s vibe by multiple avenues; “I think we learnt from the restaurant industry the importance of customer service - ensuring everyone's appointment is the same length of time whether you have no hair or lots of hair, that staff are trained on why they should converse and talk so it isn't all about them, knowing our schedule and what's booked and the percentages. So 70% is haircuts, 10% is shaves and 20% is beards. There's a question mark about whether beard services are going to continue, but I think that for the moment they are. They’re associated with negative connotations, how many world leaders have beards? Why are people so fearful of beards and why do beards cause such a response, I don't quite know?”
Brendan’s hair-splitting way of working is almost laughable, but it’s what makes him such a great businessman. He and his brand are reactionary to not just the market, but what the market might react to in the future. Aside from a September launch with Harvey Nichols into the domestic world of hotel bathroom amenity products, it is what will undoubtedly make Murdock London a household name.