Dirty South: Atlanta's Mad Hairdresser

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Why you should care

Because it’s never the product, and it’s always the process.

In the third episode of the OZY original video series Dirty South, we get baptized at the urban sanctuary of hair salons: Atlanta’s Melrose & McQueen.

Turn the knob and instantly you feel like you just took a bold tumble down an East Atlanta rabbit hole. The salon is cluttered with eclectic, mismatched furniture. It tastes like the cold PBR that flows from a gold spouted keg. And it sounds like the consistent “snip-snip-snip” of metal shears gripped by stylists peppered with tattoo sleeves. The speakeasy salon was hand-built by owner Kristo Willson, who quit his job, his relationship and ultimately his lifestyle at 26 to follow this path, despite having no experience cutting hair.

Willson says the five-year-old salon, tucked away in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood, was meant to provide an escape from pretension in a city that is flooded with the idea of “bougie” new money. For him, nurturing the “local” is how you fight the global trend of gentrification. “When you see a good thing, help it,” he says.

This spring, Willson continued to grow local as he flipped the space next to Melrose and called it PRKCHPS (“pork chops”). Here, men can hit up the full bar for a shot of whiskey and experience the lost realm of barbershop culture. But perhaps the wildest thing Willson has done is his latest grassroots project that takes place on an RV. WNDRLND is built by a group of hairstylists who want to elevate hair culture through the art of styling, education and giving back to whatever community they stop in. And while Atlanta continues to rise as a metropolis, Willson doesn’t worry about his reach. Instead, he uses the Atlanta renaissance as inspiration. “So it’s like, let’s go to this next city and let’s do it again,” Willson says. “Because there’s more people like us around the world, and they’re not all going to move here.”

Dirty South, an OZY original video series, centers around the ever-changing subcultures of Atlanta. Featuring influencers who are moving the city to the forefront of what’s hot, Dirty South looks at gentrification, gender roles, race relations and originality through the lenses of Atlanta’s art, music and fashion scenes.

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People who are accelerating our culture and advancing the conversation – for good or for ill. You may not have heard of them yet – but you'll soon need to know 'em.