IN THE Eighties, hairdressing was a serious business. Out went the laminated vanity tops and the hanging baskets. In came architects with big budgets and a fondness for pale ash floors. It is still too early to know how Nineties salons will be remembered, other than for their skill at centre partings. But the signs are that we are about to see a new kind of salon, which is not merely a place to boast you have been to, but also somewhere to drop in, where you can have an espresso and even buy a painting. James Worrall, whose present salon in Camden Town, north London, is too cramped to cater for any of these activities, opened a salon in Soho last week with the aim of making it 'a happening place'.

A few days before the opening, Mr Worrall's team was having a site meeting. The classic Belmont barber chairs were still in their wrappers, while the furniture-maker Tom Dixon (whose most recent interior is Katherine Hamnett's shop in Sloane Street) stared moodily at 13 holes in the ceiling, worrying about the hold-up on the silver-domed lights he had designed. A man named Smart was brandishing bits of purple plastic, which, it turned out, were the final choice of colour for the fluorescent tubes behind Mr Dixon's oversized galvanised mirrors. The builder, who also works as a catwalk photographer, was discussing how to bolt to the floor Mr Dixon's zigzag metal chairs covered in neoprene - the material they use for wet-suits.

Downstairs, a friend of Mr Worrall's was sizing up the recently painted walls, on which she proposed to hang her paintings. Mr Worrall himself was more concerned with the question of where to put the espresso machine. It was noticeable that no one was discussing hair.

'This is not the sort of place people come for a blow-dry,' said Worrall. Yet, despite the impression that he is more interested in being featured in World of Interiors than the Hairdressers' Journal, Mr Worrall has built his reputation by trimming the locks of London's fashionable male twentysomethings. He wants to appeal more to women, even if it means giving up the lean-forward basins that make it such agony to have your hair washed at his Camden Town salon. 'If you really want to get known, you have to cut women's hair,' says Mr Worrall, who has recruited extra staff, including a senior stylist from Vidal Sassoon's. The salon is designed not to intimidate. If you need a friend to hold your hand, there is a canary-yellow love seat, and flip-down London cab seats beside each basin. Lie back and enjoy.

James Worrall, 7 Upper James Street, London W1 (071-437 4578), and also at 6 Camden Road, NW1 (071-284 3707). Styling from pounds 22 upwards. Special offer at the Upper James Street salon of pounds 20 during the initial month.

(Photograph omitted)

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