Two weeks out from the Marr Factory fashion shows, hair stylist and entrepreneur Stephen Marr tells Rebecca Barry Hill about life behind the scenes.

Stephen Marr's a busy man. When he's not running three hair salons (in Ponsonby, Newmarket, and Takapuna's Department Store, the modern style haven he co-owns with Karen Walker and Dan Gosling), he's at the forefront of the fashion industry. His team are frequently hired as "session stylists", working with the country's top designers, directors and photographers on shoots, films and live events such as Fashion Week.

And you'd be hard pressed to find a quiet night at his popular Ponsonby bar, Golden Dawn, a little slice of underground New York on the corner of Richmond Rd. Since 2012, the Dawn has been home to the Marr Factory, a series of rock'n'roll fashion shows he runs with wife Lucy Vincent-Marr, (creator of hair and beauty brand Sans). The couple started the alternative shows in 2005 to champion up-and-coming designers, using grungy carparks for runways. After a four-year hiatus, they relaunched, offering the public a chance to see in-season collections from top local designers. We asked him how he juggles his many projects.

MONDAY 8.30am

We have team meetings and admin throughout the day and generally, I've got a meeting before the meeting. This week I spent some time watching the trainers' assessment with cutters and colourists. It's great to see trainees react under scrutiny. You get a lot of shaky hands.


At 3pm I hold a communication seminar for cutting trainers. I'm passionate about education, particularly culture and communication. When you work in the creative industries, it's really important to understand the history. Any great clothes designer knows who the classics are. So I like to throw in pop culture, trends, politics. We talk style, for example, a Patti Smith haircut, that dishevelled long fringe, that statement of renegade. Or Chrissy Hynde. She's going to have a fringe 'til she dies, and it says a lot about her. Or the Anna Wintour bob. I've always loved timeless icons.

Detail from the Stephen Marr salon at The Department Store. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Detail from the Stephen Marr salon at The Department Store. Photo / Babiche Martens.

People come in now a lot more informed. You used to just have the Jennifer Aniston [haircut]. Now there's a lot more individuality. So we talk about how to express a feeling rather than a set of technical concepts.

Then I go to Newmarket and check out the colour team. We made a bold move last year and went with more natural colour. We're using O&M products, which are sulphate and ammonia free, and deliver a great result. Philosophically and ethically, it works with us. We felt compromised dealing with the levels of chemicals before

There was a meeting about the Marr Factory. We went through some of the details, reviewed past events and how we could do better. It's about fun but also business. We have a lot more scope because we don't have the scrutiny or tightness of brief when we have a big-season show. It allows us to express ourselves a bit more, take the concept further. A classic example is Zambesi. You'd expect a dark vibe and last year their show was the opposite of that, it was so feel-good. Workshop collaborated with a tattoo artist. Kate Sylvester had a wind machine, which was really fun. I was blown away, literally.

Stephen Marr styles a client's hair in his Takapuna salon. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Stephen Marr styles a client's hair in his Takapuna salon. Photo / Babiche Martens.


I'll go to one of the three salons, and I'll often have a Department Store meeting. If I could be in six places at once it would be really helpful. But I can't so Lucy and I alternate. I was in Newmarket this morning. We talked a lot about Fashion Week, the Marr Factory, as well as really important nuts-and-bolts stuff. And we discuss presentations. Everyone in the salon is involved in a creative initiative three or four times a year. It involves all the staff, not just the creative team, and it gets everyone a little bit uncomfortable talking about what they do.

It's good for the people who aren't naturally inclined to do that. Then I do more training, generally around inducting new staff, talking about the culture. We grow most of our own but I'm finding quite a few Kiwis are coming back from overseas. I employ a lot of people under 20 or around that age and they don't know anything different but really our development as a country in the last 20 years, in terms of food, beverage and service has been a revolution. So we talk about that. We're a country of coffee snobs. And we're exporting our snobbiness to the world, it's great!


I do a morning a week at each salon, and Wednesdays is Newmarket. I think it's really important to be hands-on and I've got a small clientele in each place who I've had for a long time. We have a great relationship. They're from all sorts of backgrounds. I often get told hugely funny stories, and while I'm reluctant to isolate any, I've learned a lot about what makes people tick.

I remember when I first started, my very first wedding group was booked in and I hadn't realised but they were all deaf. The only person who could communicate didn't like the bride, so there were all these sign tantrums going on all around me, and I'm going, "Oh my God, I can't understand." I turned up the music - because no one could hear it - and just got on with it. But I learned a really good lesson: always do a consultation before the event.

My fingers are in a lot of pies. I'm also involved in a building project developing the Golden Dawn site. We have to seismically upgrade the Dawn building, which is a great opportunity to develop it in exciting ways. That whole area will work as a precinct so there are a few hospo opportunities. There's some rooftop action planned, which is pretty exciting. And a bit of underground action too. I'm working with engineers, designers, architects, the council.

I'm a big believer in things evolving. I don't think things should remain static. If you think something's perfect and you try to keep it, it's going to change anyway in 10 years' time, so you want to keep evolving. Anyway, the real soul of that place is the people involved. I've always been interested in design. I love to think about what makes places special. I also love cross-pollination of industries.

I've worked as a retail consultant on a project in Queenstown and I'm consulting on a hotel project down there too. I enjoy playing around, challenging myself, collaborating with really interesting people. The Marr Factory was born out of being involved in one industry and collaborating with the fashion world. I'm involved with the hospo side as well, and the music.

I have a management meeting for the Dawn. I try to pick up the kids from school one or two days a week. I play soccer or futsal on Wednesday nights. I'm trying to find some of those old skills again. I was quite into football, I used to play rep soccer when I was younger.

Detail from the Stephen Marr salon at The Department Store. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Detail from the Stephen Marr salon at The Department Store. Photo / Babiche Martens.


I work in Ponsonby in the morning, then I have meetings and different commitments for different projects throughout the afternoon. It varies. I also have quite a few engagements. I have an interview over a meal then Lu and I have a supplier meeting. There is a lot of that and it's quite intense when you're working across quite a few different things.

There's always something to do, somewhere to go, whether it's work in a social setting or not. As far as the Marr Factory goes, the creative directors will hook up with the designers about now and work out what we do. They'll do storyboarding, trials. I'm just part of the conversation, so I'll be filled in on a briefing session, I suppose like a producer, a bouncing board.

Stephen Marr sits down for a meeting with some of his team to discuss the upcoming Marr shows. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Stephen Marr sits down for a meeting with some of his team to discuss the upcoming Marr shows. Photo / Babiche Martens.


I spend the morning in Takapuna. It's different again, and I love that. I'll spend some time talking to key people and then do a few clients. The most attractive thing on a Friday night is having a bottle of wine at home, chilling out in front of the fire and relaxing. We try to keep our weekends pretty protected. There's kids' soccer in the morning and we try to keep it really family-focused, which means avoiding doing too much. Even though it's impossible. This weekend I'm in Queenstown consulting and Lu's got someone from her brand over from Australia for the weekend. There's a lot of juggling.

We live in the Chev [Pt Chevalier]. We've always lived in the hood [Ponsonby] apart from a stint on Pitt St where we lived in an apartment for a few years. It's where we feel most connected as it's where our first business is. But we love the Chev. We go to the beach and teach the kids to sail, paddle board, spend summer times at the park. We'll take the P-class out, it's a lot of fun.

• ShopViva presents The Marr Factory, featuring Karen Walker, (August 17), Nom* D (August 18), Zambesi (August 19), Workshop & Helen Cherry, (August 20), Kate Sylvester, (August 21). Tickets from