When I was growing up, my haircuts were never just simple touch-ups. Because I am a twin, they served the crucial purpose of making sure I wouldn’t hear “Hey, Nick!” 20 times a day. Occasionally, my efforts to differentiate were a little too successful. (Dear college classmates: I hereby disavow my man bun.) But I’ve gotten used to the fluttering stomach one gets when sinking into a barbershop chair and working up the courage to ask for something brand-new. So I did a triple take when, walking down East 10th Street last summer, I encountered a fresh, two-part haircut paradigm spelled out on a sidewalk board. One side said “GENDER NEUTRAL HAIR SALON.” The other side said “#MULLET.” The sign belonged to Vacancy Project. I went in.

Model Hunter Chung

As someone who is willing to spend too much on a haircut, I’ve been to every third-wave hipster barber-slash-coffee shop in New York. But at a time when fashion is edging closer toward an androgynous future, these masculine temples of artisanal pomade and aftershave feel a bit out of step. Hair is hair, right? That’s the simple argument made by Vacancy Project creative director Masami Hosono, who is helping usher in a bold, genderless era of hairstyling. The first sign something about Vacancy Project is different: When you sit down, Hosono is more likely to offer you a photo book or an art zine than a glass of whiskey. East Village kids in thrift-store fashion hang out in the narrow tile-floored space. And after Hosono sends you off with a quick zhuzh of natural oil, the price is always the same, no matter how long your hair is or who you are.

Vacancy Project creative director Masami Hosono

Aspiring biologist Grace Parish

Playwright Hanna Novak

Vacancy Project stylist Genevieve Cook

Vacancy Project stylist Ann Causey

When Hosono opened Vacancy Project in 2016, four years after arriving in New York, she didn’t expect it to become a haven for everyone turned off by the rigid barbershop-versus-salon dichotomy. Initially, men paid less for her cuts, just like at every other salon. At the time, you had to choose a “male” or “female” haircut when you scheduled an appointment. But that binary didn’t make sense for Hosono’s clientele. “I have a lot of transgender clients,” she said. “And everybody asked questions when booking.” Hosono’s Instagram post announcing the end of gendered pricing blew up, and Hosono became one of the toughest bookings in town.

Photographer Carter Schneider

GQ’s Samuel Hine

Of course, earning the sort of cult following that Vacancy Project enjoys requires more than throwing out the old booking protocols. Hosono and her colleagues, Ann Causey and Genevieve Cook, have developed a distinct gender-neutral palette of haircuts, too. To them, it’s more important that a client’s hair reflect their personal style than resemble a cut you could point to on a poster. “Hair is not sculpture,” Hosono says. “People want to feel like themselves.” The salon’s most popular styles fall into a few categories: mid-length bobs, dorky short cuts, and mullets of all kinds. Vacancy’s aesthetic goes against the grain of the ubiquitous fades and pixie cuts, but that’s the whole point. Hosono admits some people might look at her work and see “bad haircuts.” Which is why the salon’s regulars have that gender-blending, post-normcore style that every designer is looking to in 2019. Vacancy counts highly advanced fashion legends Sandy Liang and Tavi Gevinson as clients—as well as the people pictured here.

Writer and model Dane Bell

A recent trip to Vacancy Project began with a deep breath. About to spend several weeks with my brother, I asked Hosono to give me something different. Fifteen minutes later (Hosono works fast), my shaggy locks were transformed into what she calls a “mullet-ish”: cheekbone-length in the front and collar-length in the back, with minimal layering and just the right amount of texture. It’s not the most drastic cut I’ve ever gotten, but it’s the most peculiar, the most personal, the most successful at giving me that elegant-strand-of-hair-casually-draped-across-my-brow thing. Consider me team mullet-ish for life.

Samuel Hine is GQ’s assistant style editor.



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