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Mane Master Cim Mahony On Going Organic and Sustainability as a Salon Owner

If we told you there is a design haven in Copenhagen that doubles as a salon where only organic products are used, would you book a flight? The minimal chic of Cim Mahony’s studio is enough to ease the most frazzled among us and is totally worth renewing your passport for, especially knowing an it-girl cut is at stake. When Cim’s Architectural Digest IRL aesthetic came under our radar, we needed more. We wanted to find out everything about the man behind Europe’s trendiest, so we asked. From his childhood in the salon, to breaking into the industry and his favorite Instagram accounts, we’re going Dutch with Mane Master Cim Mahony.

(image via Cim Mahoney)

When did you know you wanted to be a stylist?

I grew up around hair. My mother was a hairdresser, and after my parent’s divorce, when I was five, she opened up her own salon. For the first few years we lived in a tiny apartment above the shop and I would hang around sweeping the floor, tidying up and talking to all the ladies in their robes and perm rollers.

As I got a bit older I would stand on a chair at the backwash and neutralize perms and remove the rollers. My mother used to take me to see various hair shows and seminars, one of these was a big hair event led by a very young Anthony Mascolo. Here was this young guy, cutting hair with a rock star attitude and being adored by a huge crowd—I was fascinated and, probably, this was where the first seed was sewn towards my own decision to become a hairdresser.

I formally started my apprenticeship at 15. It was a bit of a fight with my parents, as I was doing academically well in school and they felt I could do better than leaving school to cut hair. This installed high ambitions in me, and right from the start and I set out to prove them wrong.

(images via Cim Mahony)

How did you get your start in the industry?

I did my initial training in a small but very exclusive salon in Denmark. It was run by two brothers, Jan and Claus Heikel; one was a devoted Sassoon disciple, who instilled in me the principles of precision cutting. The other was an award-winning competition hairdresser, with great skills in styling and coloring. It was a blessing to learn from such different individuals within the same framework.

I quickly realized that I would be more or less exempt from most of the boring tasks like backwash duties, as well as cleaning and sweeping, if I trained for competitions. I never particularly liked the “ballroom dancing” atmosphere of the hair competitions, but it caught my competitive gene and I ended up training night and day for a few years, which culminated with me being crowned a “World Champion in Ladies Evening Style” at Wembley arena in London. I never did another completion again, but it did teach me a tremendous amount of skill and most importantly discipline and strong work ethics.

After finishing my apprenticeship, I decided to move to London to pursue a career in hair education. Through the product company Sebastian, with whom I had been working in Denmark, I was introduced to longstanding Sassoon art director Lance Lowe, who was opening up his own Academy.

Apart from having been a teacher at Sassoon’s for many years, Lance also worked on photo shoots for magazines and he was essentially the first to fuse the strict cutting of VS with the styling techniques used on sessions and the catwalk, in a learning environment. He needed a young cub to mold into a teacher, who was willing to work for very little money and learn by night and teach by day.

I had a great time and learned so much teaching other hairstylists from around the world new techniques. Although I had gone on quite a few photoshoots, it wasn’t until Lance called me backstage from a show he was doing with the already-legendary Sam McKnight at London Fashion week, that I caught the session bug.

They needed an extra pair of hands and suddenly I was transported into this magical world of high glamour and supermodels, it was the 90’s after all so they were all there Helena, Naomi and Kate etc. I was hooked from that moment on. I started working with photographers and very quickly got busy, landing my first big break with a cover for the benchmark publication DUTCH Magazine with girl-of-the-moment Devon Aoki.

(image via Cim Mahony)

Who were your role models growing up?

I think back and there were so many, both direct and indirect. When I started my training, it quickly became very apparent to me that the role played by Vidal Sassoon and his many genius art directors like, Roger Thompson, Christopher Brooker and Trevor Sorbie, was pivotal in how hair is worn even to this day.

Later on, when I started doing session work, people like Sam McKnight and Orlando Pita, who I was fortunate enough to watch up-close backstage at fashion shows, had a profound influence on me. But also, originators and creators like Ara Gallant, Didier Malige, Julien D’Ys, Christiaan and Eugene were role models and still are. Often you don’t recognize your mentors when they are standing next to you, as you are busy focusing on them perhaps being your boss or you are perceiving them as competition.

I have often found that years later you realize that someone taught you valuable lessons or created great opportunities for you, without you instantly recognizing it. The best way to acknowledge this is to pay it forward and you yourself be a gracious mentor to someone else.

Achieving something under someone else’s wing is entirely different to achieving success purely on your own merits. And it is often when you either succeed or fail on your own, that the influence of a mentor fully reveals itself.

(image via Cim Mahony)

What do you love most about working as a Hairdresser?

I don’t even know where to begin on this one. First and foremost, came the love of the technical and creative possibilities with hair and the fascination with learning a craft, I suppose. It is a wonderful feeling when you are building skills and mastering your tools to conquer an elusive and growing material like hair.

And although it’s a bit cliché to say, you actually never stop learning as a hairdresser; every head of hair is different and there are endless ways of approaching the various disciplines.

Being a hairdresser has generously afforded me to see the world, working in the most amazing locations around the globe. The settings I have worked in doing hair, range from the desserts in Namibia and Utah, to beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, to the mountaintops of the Himalayas and glaciers of Iceland—and so many places in between. Most people that travel with their job spend their time in meetings in restaurants, boardrooms or other corporate environments. Working as a session hairdresser your job is to help the team, and ultimately the magazine or advertising client, capture the location and the model in the most spectacular way possible, meaning that we are always actually truly experiencing the places we visit.

When you work on someone’s hair you have a unique opportunity to get close to them, as physical touch often breaks down mental barriers and opens conversation. This has afforded me the opportunity of hearing amazing stories from so many interesting people over the years—these stories have shaped my life and given me trust in following a path of my own. The more life stories you hear, the more you realize that although you can draw parallel lines to other people, every journey is unique and every goal is achieved differently.

Over the years my approach to hair has changed. The freedom of having a broad foundation of skills makes you able to focus on the essential. I love working with hair in its natural state, enhancing what is already there. My foundation is very much the cut—for me, that’s where it all starts. A great haircut forms the basis of a great shape or anti-shape, it can signal luxury, conformity or total anarchy.

I love the subtlety of hair moving in the wind or brushing an ear or a cheek, I like the sensual side of hair and I hope my signature style reflects this. I like organic shapes and natural textures, gently manipulated into something extraordinary, that won’t strike you as overdone or forced. I am fascinated by natural beauty and working with it instead of going against it and I’m attracted to the powerful role hair plays as a seducer.

(image via Cim Mahony)

What challenges have you had to overcome to get where you are?

Everything went very swiftly in the beginning, and I soon realized that I had to do things my own way. I am a very private person and I like to prioritize time with my family, as well as having high ambitions in my work life, which is why I cut out all work related social events very early on. I think that in many ways this has shaped my career—it gives you a certain freedom, not being directly part of a movement or clique.

I feel comfortable standing on my own, living in Denmark and creating opportunities outside of fashion, as well. I like one-on-one interaction with people and I prefer to focus, rather than crowd control. I value the feeling of independence—I like to go to a shoot or show and let the work be the reason I am there. Not that I have not made great friends with people I work with, it’s just that the collaboration usually happens first.

(image via Cim Mahony)

What products are always in your kit?

Apart from working in fashion, I also co-founded the distribution company Barnholdts, with my wife Lotte Barnholdt Mahony. We have been together since we were 14 and 15 years old, so we have literally grown up together. Ten years ago, we were offered the distribution of Mason Pearson in Scandinavia. With my first-hand experience with the brushes, and Lotte’s degree in business and marketing, we thought it would be a good match and never really looked back from there!

Today we represent nine niche brands all focused on luxury, sustainability and organic beauty. This includes the certified organic haircare brand Less is More, which, forms the foundation of my kit, in terms of products. I am a firm believer that clean products are the way forward. For many years we have been living a 90 % organic lifestyle so it was a very natural step for me to replace what I could in my kit with as many “naturals” as possible. Sustainability is also important, which is why I love tools like a Mason Pearson, which will literally last you a lifetime.

My 13 most revered tools and products for my kit—in no particular order, are:

  1. Mason Pearson Cherry Wood BN1 Brush, $150 that I have had for 25 years
  2. Less is More Protein Spray, €25 – for prepping before blow drying
  3. Less is More Lime Soufflé, – $31.25  – for creating a beachy or matte texture
  4. Ibiza Pure Bristle Round Brushes, $48 – for their lightness and fantastic grip
  5. Dyson Hairdryer, $399.99
  6. Oribe Gold Lust Dry Shampoo, $44 – for volume and texture
  7. Nishida Hairpins, $24.95
  8. Mizutani Scissors, Classic 4.5 inch Straight, $550
  9. Less is More Elderflower Salt Spray €26 – for great natural texture
  10. The Hakudo line of natural room fragrance products – to create great air in any space
  11. Makita Leaf Blower, $499 – for creating wind in the hair
  12. Gaelle Organic Crème Superieure, $78
  13. Less is More Kiesel Wax, $28.41

In the summer of 2018, we will launch a new website/shop with lots of inspiration in hair, beauty and beyond, with international shipping on many of the niche brands in our portfolio. We also have many exclusive offers for professionals on www.barnholdts.com

(image via Cim Mahony)

Where does your inspiration come from?

My Inspiration comes from many places, but often not the obvious ones. I have a very extensive library of books at my studio in Copenhagen, which I have always thought of as a source of inspiration. In later years, though, I have actually found that books, gallery visits, movies and other things that I have sought out directly for inspiration, are more general knowledge forming tools, used as reference points.

True inspiration that materializes into creation is often much more spontaneous, sparked by collaboration with other people or from unexpected experiences of the senses. Textures, colors and smells often ignite productive or creative thoughts.


(image via Cim Mahony)

What are your favorite instagram accounts to follow?

It really varies so much, but I always like staying on top with news from @bof. Right now, I enjoy posts from @pleasuregardenmagazine and @luncheonmagazine.

(image via Cim Mahony)

Tell us about your design studio.

In addition to doing Session work and our distribution company, we also run a small exclusive Salon in Copenhagen, called Studio Cim Mahony. Five years ago we were on the lookout for a new showroom and office and we found this very run down beautiful 2nd floor apartment with the most incredible light streaming through the windows, in our absolute favorite spot in town.

From then on, we also decided to create a hair studio in this very private setting. We worked for over two years on the renovation of the 2800 sq. ft. apartment, doing all the design ourselves. Because of this, today we go to work in a space where every square inch feels like a part of us, which is a great and comforting space to create from.

It is very much decorated like we would our own home. In total, there is 1800 sq. ft. allocated to a salon space, with only 4 styling positions. This creates a very intimate and private atmosphere between client and hairstylist. We also have a room designed for our education events, where we can host an audience of fifteen in a very bespoke learning environment. We have taken a more mindful approach, creating a hairdressing experience where you are with your stylist from beginning to end. We don’t have assistants and the stylists never have more than one client in the chair at any given time.

(image via Cim Mahony)

For me it was important to work on a new level of luxury and client relation, while keeping a relaxed and calm energy. We combine luxury with organic products from Less is More Organic.Our color choice is Inoa and Platinium from L’Oreal Professionel, which is free from PPD and Ammonia, minimizing any airborne risk. Starting this spring we are also working with their new 100% natural color system, Botanea.


We always aim to work from our philosophy, which centers on enhancement. This means that we asses the natural state of the hair, combined with the character of the client and instead of covering anything up, we try to enhance what is already there. I am so incredibly grateful for all the interest our little studio has attracted from around the world and the clients pouring in from so many places—I would never have dared to dream about that kind of attention.

After 20 years of not having a home to put down my work kit, it feels fantastic to finally have a place to reflect my identity as well as a workshop to prep and create new ideas. All the years doing education and seminars for fellow hairdressers, there was always that little (or sometimes a lot J) of compromise in being under someone else’s banner. Here, I can finally deliver my own vision in full.



Looking for more salon-spo? Check out our top salons in Willamsburg HERE.





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