Martial Arts | An afternoon with Martial Vivot


Neil Stewart submits to the scissors at New York’s ultimate high-end men’s salon: meet Martial Vivot, who cuts hair according to your personal music tastes

Martial Arts | An afternoon with Martial Vivot

I’ve been with the same hairdresser for nearly a decade now, barring a disastrous one-off last year in New York when a visit to a “barber’s” – a fragrant cupboard in the East Village – left me with what could only be described as Lego hair. Very amusing – for everyone I met for weeks afterwards, if not for me. Had I ever doubted my commitment to my London hairdresser, this was reason enough never to stray again. “Ah, but this is a very man-type thing,” says Martial Vivot, New York’s hairdresser extraordinaire. “A man gets a good haircut, he is happy, he stays with the same person forever. A woman gets her hair cut, steps out of the salon and sees a friend – ‘Ah, I really like your hair, who cut it?’ and tries elsewhere.”

I’d been kidding myself that I could get through a six-month stint in New York without ever getting my hair done. Three months in, I was starting to look mildly like I couldn’t take care of myself, so, not without trepidation, I took myself off to 54th Street, and Martial Vivot, for a consultation.

Having arrived in New York in 1999, M. Vivot worked in two New York salons before setting up his eponymous property in 2008. It was a strange coincidence, he says, that on the day he parted ways with his second employer, a realtor client had been suggesting he view a property just along the road from the Museum of Modern Art. “I tell him, ‘I have no need!’ That afternoon, I go into a meeting. It goes badly, and I am kicked out.” One call to a client later, and he had the site of his new venture.

Martial Vivot

Martial Vivot, interior, by Daniella Zalcman

It’s a resolutely masculine space: there’s a lot of black polished plaster, steel, chrome, and bare brick and distempered wall exposed when the space was gutted; the palette is highly restrained, but for one corridor wall in startling lime-green, the colour derived from one of those distempered walls. While you wait your turn, you sit in a vast deco armchair in the reception area, with a drink (12.15pm was a little early in the day for me to break into the spirits displayed on a silver platter here: I had a cup of tea instead) and peoplewatch the great and good of 54th Street, while a peppy soundtrack of Courtney Barnett, Suun and Dusty Springfield plays.

“With your hair, I am inspired by…” A pregnant pause. “Do you know Joy Division? Ian Curtis?”

Vivot’s philosophy is that a haircut can speak interestingly against an individual’s style. If you dress very outlandishly, a neat traditional hairstyle can reassure people you’re not a loon. If, like me, you dress like you’re off to a funeral even when you’re actually just popping down to the grocery store for some milk, why not enliven your look with something a bit funkier, tonsorially speaking? True to his suggestion, Vivot himself wears an immaculate indigo-blue suit and a narrow tie; his hair and beard are, if I may say, calculatedly wild. In your hair or in the air, his scissors are in a constant hummingbirdish blur of motion; even as he steps back to survey his work in progress, the scissors are snipping away in readiness.

With the new customer, his consultation style might be termed “holistic”. He asks what work I do, what clothes I wear, what the last record I bought was. It’s a little like going on a first date, albeit with more at stake. And M. Vivot is so preternaturally charming that it takes me quite a while to notice that his favourite phrase is “If I may say”, usually addended to a statement it’s too late to do anything about. “You have good hair,” he tells me. “But rather fine, if I may say.” I bristled – or whatever the fine-haired equivalent is. While we’re bonding about Perfume Genius (brilliant single, disappointing LP) and favourite New York restaurants (we do miss Joël Robuchon), he’s assessing what will work for me, stylewise. He comes up with two suggestions. Either he can replicate what my London hairdresser last did for me, or, alternatively: “With your hair, I am inspired by…” A pregnant pause. “Do you know Joy Division? Ian Curtis?”

What he effects on my ’do is textured and low-maintenance. He suggests that my morning haircare routine should involve nothing more than working some light product through my newly – Martial Vivot’s own line of shampoo, conditioner and styling products, in distinctive black rubberised bottles, is available from the salon and from Barneys – and I’ll be ready to go. “The pillow is this style’s best friend,” he explains. Well, I’m a high-maintenance, metal-comb sort of person, so this is intriguingly new for me. But the effect of that fairly comprehensive getting-to-know-you consultation (the haircut and a beard-trim take a little under two hours) was to make me feel that I’d spent time with a friend whose suggestions can be trusted. This is a guy who plays drums in a sometime band with Duran Duran’s old bassist and their respective daughters, and cuts the hair of Daniel Boulud and Mark Ronson, among other luminaries he’s too delicate to name – what’s not to trust? And you gets what you pays for: I emerged onto 54th Street feeling four hundred bucks. C


Martial Vivot, 39 W 54th St, New York, NY 10019, USA
+212-956 2990;

Portrait of Martial Vivot by Joshua Bright