Up an unmarked industrial stairwell from the Atlas Lighting showroom on Jean Talon, the sounds of good music, blow dryers, and the faint buzz of a tattoo machine lead you to the metal doors of an unexpected safe haven. “You’re not sure if you’re going to get stabbed on the way up,” jokes tattoo artist Jessi Preston, “but once you’re here you’re like ‘oh, I’m at home.’”
Preston and hair stylist Sara-Isobel Mulder co-own Two Horses, the hidden space that hosts their talents and a myriad of other creative offerings. We recently sat down with the pair to learn a bit about the story behind the space and the collective imagination it houses.
Two Horses was founded in the Summer of 2013 out of a mutual desire to move away from traditional salon and tattoo shop settings. In the industrial expanse of Park-Ex, across from the Le Ritz P.D.B. (formerly the notoriously grungy Il Motore), the Atlas building provides the perfect speakeasy-esque loft.
Today, the sunny, open space is adorned with an eclectic blend of furnishings and decor. Bringing the space together was surprisingly organic, says Preston. “It felt like this was always here and we were just sort of putting the pieces together to finish it.” The shop currently has three hair stylists with plans to add more, plus a second tattoo artist in the coming months.
Looking around at the various taxidermies, punchy wallpaper, vintage mirrors, wall hangings, and framed artworks, Preston’s tattoo aesthetic is well reflected in the space. She describes most facets of her life as having a “vintage appeal […] with a modern twist.” Trained in the Los Angeles style of traditional Americana with its big, bold outlines and classic colours, her art assures pieces that rise above trends and avoid becoming outdated.
Two Horses is driven by the goal of offering unpretentious, personalized service to match the irregularly cozy salon environment. “Hairdressers are known to not listen to their clients,” says Mulder. “They just sort of do whatever they want. My concept is to just listen to what people have to say.” The overall experience – relaxed, enjoying a complimentary coffee, beer or cocktail – becomes something beyond just a haircut.
At the beginning, its intimate setting was Two Horses’ biggest challenge, considering the shop is hard enough to find when you’re looking for it. Yet Preston and Mulder found it important to get the word out authentically and naturally. The approach has paid off well, with real interactions and social media working their magic to spread the word (and look) of the high quality work being done. Through this network of person-to-person interactions, clients often come into the space with at least a little connection to those working within.
“We have a great sense of community here,” says Preston. “It’s partly based in the fact that it’s so personal and that the shop is so much like us, that when they get here they feel like they’re new members of our family or new friends of ours.” In return, the team do their best to help support their ever-growing family, whether it’s hosting a rock show, a pop up shop, or helping with charity efforts. This includes recently helping raise over $12,000 for a friend and fellow creative’s ongoing battle with cancer.
The Two Horses crew embodies a balance of sweetness, smarts, and strength that shines through in their adamance to stand up for whom and what they believe in. Mulder and Preston told us the story behind their joking moniker, “party sluts.” Regardless of its actual relevance, the name was taken on in response to an unwarranted Yelp post critiquing their “licentious” style of dress and supposed “party” lifestyle. Turning the negative and demeaning term on its head was important to the team in the spirit of encouraging all to “be the best party sluts we can be.”
The Two Horses community extends to the products they offer, including a great selection of vintage clothing and accessories. According to Preston, the hand-picked pieces are reflective of their personal styles and representative of their clients. They also carry more current lines from local designers and artists including Explorer’s Press, The Stowe, Elaine Ho, No Fun Press, Sketchy Tank, and Stay Home Club. “Some of them you can’t get anywhere else and others you just have to be able to get everywhere because they’re so good,” says Preston.
The owners themselves are further reflected in the products they offer, including Kevin Murphy all natural hair products. “If I’m not going to use it on myself, I’m not going to use it on my clients” says Mulder. Preston caters to the professional tattoo community with a selection of exclusive tattoo machines and supplies handmade in America.
Two Horses’ professional and personal links are growing steadily, promising exciting collaborations, events, and projects to come. What’s certain is their strong work ethic and welcoming atmosphere will continue to grow the scope of this little loft shop with a big personality.