Sydney Hairdresser Leonard Mattis talks to Yellowtrace.


Today’s story is a slight deviation from our usual design-paved path, although I like to think of it as a related and relevant tangent. Leonard Mattis is a London-born, Sydney-based hairdresser and owner of his eponymous Surry Hills studio. A private oasis, hidden in the middle of Sydney, The Leonard Mattis Studio offers the highest quality style, service and years of experience. Last year, Mattis celebrated 10 years in business, which saw him expand the premises to create a multi-purpose site that provides a rare fusion of local art and high-end styling.

Featured Project // Whilst still functioning as a working salon, Leonard’s studio has become a sought after exhibition space by emerging talent, seeking to showcase their work outside of traditional gallery display.

Why He Rocks // Errr… Duh! Leonard has elevated the craft of hairdressing into a pure art form – just check out the stunning ‘Hand Series’ photographs if you’re not already convinced. Besides, anyone who wears a black tie and looks this good while cutting hair is a total rockstar in my eyes.

Below is a little Q&A with the man himself – take it away Leonard!


Sydney Hairdresser Leonard Mattis | Yellowtrace.

Portrait of Leonard Mattis. Photo by Bowen Arico.


+ Tell us a bit about your work and how you got to where you are today?

Humble beginnings started with an apprenticeship at a small local salon on East Ham High Street, London. I moved to the West End fairly quickly to the Smith Salon in Soho and it was here that I learnt the foundations of my craft. Moving to Sydney for love in 1998 was both challenging and amazing. I missed the buzz and excitement London offered but loved the lifestyle and the climate here. Not long after arriving, I started work with award winning hairdresser Anthony Whitaker where I stayed for an amazing four years. Not only is Anthony a very talented hairdresser, he’s a man who knows how to manage people, which can be a rarity in creative industries. It was a happy time and good friendships were made.

I always knew I would work for myself someday and have my own salon. I had too many ideas that I wanted to put into place for myself, ones that can be hard to implement when you’re working for someone else.


The Leonard Mattis Studio in Sydney | Yellowtrace.

Leonard Mattis Studio. Photo by Grace Cassio.


In 2002 I founded Leonard Mattis Studio. The process began with the desire to change the traditional salon experience for both clients and the hairdressers who would eventually work from the space, and to answer the need for a more personalized and relaxing experience. Basically, I wanted to avoid the loud music and busy environments you can find in some of the more generic salons. The final result is the work of ten years perfecting my craft and concept, and getting the right people on board that understand what the space is about.

Last year saw the addition of the ground level studio which has become a hybrid space. It provides hairdressing services and doubles as a gallery focusing on showing the works of local emerging artists.


The Leonard Mattis Studio in Sydney | Yellowtrace.

Sydney Hairdresser Leonard Mattis | Yellowtrace.

Leonard Mattis doing his thing in his studio. Photo by Byron Spencer.


+ Your studio is a multi-purpose site that provides a fusion of local art and high-end hair styling. How did this come about?

During the renovation of the new studio I had a few meetings with good friend and artist, Lexi Land, and asked her if she would like to be involved in a new project that involved creating a site-specific artwork for the interior. She was instantly excited about the space and the idea so I commissioned her to do a large-scale multimedia artwork specifically for the site. This has since become a focal piece for the studio, and during the process plus a few boozy nights out Lexi asked if she could have her next solo exhibition at the studio and that got the ball rolling.

Before then I really hadn’t thought much about the prospect of using the studio as a pseudo art gallery, but she was right. The clean lines, white walls and floor would serve well as a canvas for exhibiting artworks.


Sydney Hairdresser Leonard Mattis | Yellowtrace.

Leonard Mattis in front of artwork by Lexi Land. Photo by Byron Spencer.


Almost immediately after Lexi’s first show I contacted Sydney sculpture Dion Horstmans for a follow up exhibition. He was keen and this happened in March 2013. Now, with two other exhibitions in the works for later this year, the gallery side of the business is just another avenue to use the space for creative purposes. Not only does it make the space interesting for clients during their appointment. It also gives them the chance to see the works of artists they may not normally see due to busy work schedules and lifestyles, while offering great exposure to emerging artists.

The exhibition and their opening night presentations also keep a good flow of people being exposed to the space. Which ultimately is part of its concept – an interactive space to encourage all forms of creativity.


Sydney Hairdresser Leonard Mattis | Yellowtrace.

Leonard looking dapper and showing off his mad skills. Photo by Byron Spencer.


+ How do you explain what you do to your parents?

It can be difficult explaining contemporary art and the concept of the studio to my parents who now live in a small town in Essex, just south of London. They have an idea of the other creative work I do, but to be honest with ten kids and mini bus full of grand kids the notion of fusing hair and art is not something they would spend too much time thinking about.

They know my focus here as a hairdresser is really about just making people look the best they can.


Sydney Hairdresser Leonard Mattis 'Hand Series by Grace Cassio | Yellowtrace.

One of the images from ‘Hand Series’ capturing specific moments during hair cutting. Brilliant. Photo by Grace Cassio.


+ You recently collaborated with Sydney photographer Grace Cassio on the beautiful ‘Hands Series’. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I first met Grace at Lexi Land’s solo exhibition ‘Pieces of Me’ held at the Studio back in September 2012. She loved the space and was back to shoot myself, and the studio the week after for her portfolio. I liked what she did and asked if she would be interested in shooting the ‘Hands Series’ for me.

The idea for the series came about quite quickly when I was cutting one day. There is such an elegance and style to the moment of the hands as they engage with the tools and hair. I thought it would be great to try and capture this.


Sydney Hairdresser Leonard Mattis 'Hand Series by Grace Cassio | Yellowtrace.

Leonard’s hand modelling debut. ‘Hand Series’ photographed by Grace Cassio.


+ Any interesting/ funny/ quirky facts you could share with us about your studio and what you do?

I think is has to be the stories I hear. I’ve heard them all. If these walls could talk. There is a rule; what’s said in the salon stays in the salon.

+ Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

A friend once commented on how busy my mind seemed. ‘Use it to create as much as you do to escape’ she said. Wise words.

+ If you were not a hair stylist, what would you be?

I always find this a tough one to answer, because I really don’t know. I’m lucky enough to love what I do as much as I do. Which doesn’t free me to think of much else. I’d be making something up completely random if I did.


Sydney Hairdresser Leonard Mattis | Yellowtrace.

Yep, you guessed it. That’s Leonard rocking out in his studio. Photo by Byron Spencer.


+ Nothing inspires me like…

I’m inspired my anything and everything.

+ I am really good at…

Listening. Visualizing and creating.

+ Most people don’t know that I…

I am one of ten children. Growing up with seven sisters and two brothers made for a busy and hectic household. Never a dull moment.

[Images courtesy of Leonard Mattis. Photography by Byron Spencer, Bowen Arico and Grace Cassio.]


About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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