Meet our Friday Muse Kelly Manu, hair stylist and owner of UNA salon

8 February 2024
By Fashion Quarterly

We speak with award-winning hair stylist Kelly Manu on opening her own salon, travelling the world to work on international fashion weeks and the hair trends you need to try in 2024.

For Kelly Manu, taming tresses wasn’t always her passion. Beginning her career as a make-up artist at the age of 20, it took the creative a short time working in the industry to recognise her potential as a multi-faceted stylist. “[I] used to avoid doing hair as much as possible. I hated it because I wasn’t good at it!” she explains. “Working in fashion editorial and film I quickly realised I needed to be able to do hair as well as make-up so I did my apprenticeship and never looked back.”

Aside from regularly touring the world to work on international fashion weeks, Manu’s work has made regular appearances in the pages of Fashion Quarterly over the years —with her latest shoot being the current summer issue cover shot in Paris. “We shot it in September and it was an absolute dream team of fellow Kiwis who worked on it,” she recalls. “I was over working on fashion week and it was just meant to be. Our last few shots were as the sun was going down on a bridge over the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background and as we wrapped it began to sparkle! It couldn’t have been more perfect.”

Day to day, Manu’s schedule can vary considerably, depending on whether she’s in the salon, on a shoot, taking class day or catching up on admin. “I always start the day with a ten minute meditation, it’s my time to set my intentions for the day and start off on the right foot,” she explains. “I’ve really learned the importance of self-care and taking the time to have a piece of calmness in my day before it gets busy.” 

Before the pandemic happened in 2020, Manu had planned to move to New York. Like many creatives at the time, she pivoted, opening her own salon UNA in the heart of Tāmaki Makaurau in 2022. One year on and UNA was awarded ‘New Zealand Hair Salon of the Year’ at The Industry Awards 2023. I never thought we were going to win, we had only been open for eighteen months and were up against some serious contenders!” she says. “As I’m sure all business owners know, the work never stops and it can be a scary rollercoaster ride sometimes. Winning this gave me renewed motivation and inspired me — I was so proud of my team and we had the most amazing night celebrating.”

For her next overseas gig, Manu will be heading to Melbourne for fashion week in March — an event she’s greatly looking forward to after years of postponements and cancellations due to the pandemic. “I did four seasons of NYFW with the last being 2019 and it was what I always looked forward to every year,” she says. “There is nothing like the buzzing atmosphere, talented creatives and working in the fast paced environment of a fashion show and I cannot wait to experience that all again! I haven’t done an Australian Fashion week so I can’t wait to see what the Aussies do.”

As for the rest of 2024, the year is booked and busy for Manu, who already has plenty of projects and travel in the works. “I’m really excited to start the year with a full team in the salon and really build and empower my stylists to be whatever they want to be,” she says. “I also at some point would love to start a family with my husband (that is scary to put into words!). In a nutshell this year is all about connections and family for me — my UNA family, my L’Oreal Professionnel family, my creative family and my home family!”

Quick-fire questions:

This season I’m splurging on… The Alaïa Crystal Embellished ballerina shoes, I saw someone at Paris Fashion Week with them and I’ve been eyeing them up ever since.

Best current season fashion purchase… My Prada Monolith Sandals! The perfect addition to any outfit.

The most cherished item in my home is… My cats. We have two oriental shorthair kitties that are full of character.

Best coffee spot… Atomic in Kingsland.

My current podcast recommendation… Melodramatic Vibes with Molly and Maddie! They’re ultra cool but ultra relatable, love listening to these two!

Last TV show I binged… Below Deck, I can’t help it! It’s the perfect way to switch off after work.

If I could have dinner with any three people on earth, dead or alive, I would choose… To go with my family-focused theme I would love to have dinner with these three amazing people who have passed on: my dad, my grandad who I never met and my grandmother on my mum’s side.

If I wasn’t a hairstylist I would be a… Make-up artist – easy!

What hair trends can we expect to see a lot of this year? We are still seeing a lot of beautiful coppers, reds and warm honey blondes coming through, embracing the warm side is definitely here to stay! The side part is also making a mega comeback! We’ve been seeing some of the hottest celebs flaunting their grown-out bangs by effortlessly sweeping them to the side.

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