Stay Handsome

Back to Basics: Culture, Connecting, Camaraderie and Classic Rites of Passage at the Barber Shop

Feather extensions. Moisturizing hair masks. Complimentary cappuccinos. Blow-dryers. There are some things men simply do not have any use for when getting a haircut, and why pay for more when you want less? The craving for modest erudition and elegant traditionalism in male grooming has grown as a counter-culture to excess. From the heart of New York City to the bustling streets of Barcelona, a new man is emerging on the scene: The Nouveau Gent.

The Nouveau Gent

It’s not so much what he wears or how he styles his hair. It's a call to a simpler, and arguably more masculine way of doing things. Sure gender is a myth, but he enjoys the costume. Our man appreciates quality. He is convinced he was born in the wrong decade—or maybe he is just an old soul. He loves false-nostalgia (as some call it). On his bookshelf is a photo of his grandfather in his prime. The Nouveau Gent knows what a good Scotch tastes like and he knows how to use an iron. He doesn’t go to the salon when his hair gets too long. He goes to the barber.

Barber shops are nothing new. They are the furthest thing from new, and that is what makes them so alluring. In modern society, we’ve grown up fascinated by our grandparents time: the quality and craftsmanship that went into every tool, machine and creation, and how nothing ever seemed to cost more than a few cents. There is something enchanting about the sepia-toned past that seems so magical, like a dream that hasn't completely dissolved in the morning, the traces of these fantasies remain coursing through our veins in our hand-me-down blood. Maybe that’s nonsense, maybe it’s as simple as growing beyond digital life to rebuild social communities. Either way, there is a longing for something less disposable and less ephemeral. We want to feel connected to something.

In a world where there’s an app for everything, the barber shop is a place to think about life not a Facebook status. Everywhere we look quality is replaced with quick fixes, skill is overshadowed by sparkle, and excellence is vetoed by mediocrity, but the barber shop stubbornly holds onto its convictions and traditions. So much, in fact, that stepping foot in one means stepping out of the realm of modern normality.

Welcome to Vintage Testostertown.

The barber shop is a anachronistic paradise, sometimes genuine, sometimes created, but always euphoric. The clutter of objects, the dilapidated photos on the walls, even the archetypal characters of the people themselves overwhelm you as you plop down in a perfectly worn leather chair and wait your turn - which in itself is another extinct pleasure. You momentarily detach from the world of gadgets and flamboyance, and are transported to a simple time with simple tools and a simple ritual. The aqua-blue Barbercide on the stations, the old clippers, the basic scissors, even the modest barbers themselves, seem to have missed the last 30 years and wouldn’t know what an Urban Outfitters is if it moved in next door. A good barbershop makes a boy into a man, and a man into a gentleman... and for half the price of that swanky salon down the street.

Remixing the old with the new

In New York City, three young entrepreneurs have capitalized on this craving and set up shop, serving up classic cuts with a twist.

Re-inventing the old barber shop, injecting life and fun and even Twitter into the ancient establishment has made the outdated aesthetic playful, like playing dress-up in the attic.

_“_It’s a return to the Roaring Twenties” boast the charismatic merchants of cool, Jeff Laub, Josh Boyd and Adam Kirsch, who together have created this immediate East Village hot spot, The Blind BarberIt's just classic cool. It's being able to be style conscious and still feel like a guy, explains Laub. Between the vintage-feel barber shop in the front and the lively speakeasy cocktail bar in the back it truly feels like you and your kin have reincarnated backwards and are sipping illegal hooch during prohibition, having a blast. The setting may be staged but the mood is fresh and authentic, attracting a mosaic of trendy well-groomed New Yorkers. “We wanted to build a spot that we'd want to hang out at and have stories to tell from it at some point.”

This has got to be one of if not the most successful pairings in the new 'barber shop+' culture, as their wild success has proved. “Immediately upon opening the shop in NYC, you could feel the creativity flowin' around the room. Since opening their doors in 2010, they have exploded their brand platform to expand to ‘all realms of the modern gentleman’, including fashion, music, lifestyle and of course, grooming products. “It was perfect because we have this group with all sorts of outside passions aside from barbering and bartending, and then you have so many different people coming into the shop talking about their interests. There is never a day that we are not talking about music, fashion, art, sports, girls, nights out, etc. while guys are getting their cut, so I think it just makes sense in a barber shop for these other collaborations to come to life.” They have even opened up a second location in LA that retains the same look and feel of the original NYC shop. "We hope to create an identity that will cultivate personalities; a brand and place where creatives come to be inspired as well as inspire others." Come for a cut, stay for a drink.

In Barcelona, entrepreneur and hip-hop artist Mucho Muchacho has launched CREAM Barber Shop, which reinvents the traditional barber shop idea again, adding modern local touches to reflect his generation, community and interests: fixed gear bikes, custom skateboards, clothing and accessories throughout the shop set the tone for a comfortable urban space. He notes that historically barber shops have been where men come to meet and discuss life, culture and share music. Hip-hop culture and barber shop culture have overlapped for decades, in fact, Jay-Z was discovered by DJ Clark Kent in a barber shop where his mix-tape was played. For many great hip-hop groups this was their launchpad to stardom. Barber shops are the grassroots.

No matter what variety of Nouveau Gent you identify with there is a place for you. Come for a decadent hot towel and straight razor shave, an excellent haircut, talk about music, sports, what’s new in the neighbourhood, and partake in some good old fashioned male-bonding. Then pay in cash, like a man.

All about the stripes

It’s interesting to note that in South Korea the iconic barbers pole with its swirling red, white and blue doubles as an indicator of a brothel - so make sure it specifies ‘hair cutting’ in the window or you may get a surprise. But dual-purpose barber shops are nothing new. Hundreds of years ago barbers also had the role of surgeon and dentist—doesn’t get much manlier than getting your hair cut in between a guy getting a tooth extracted and some unfortunate man being bled with leeches. In fact, the iconic barbers pole represents that very gruesome process: the top section represents the vessel that held the leeches in for blood letting, the red and blue represent arterial and venous blood, the white symbolized the gauze, the bottom brass basin was for the blood collection, and the pole itself references the staff patients gripped to encourage blood flow. Gross. Awesome. Manly.

Why do we love this ridiculous caricature of manliness? What makes our generation want to high-five Don Draper and countdown the days until Movember? These barber shop patrons aren’t misogynistic cavemen at all, they’re normal intelligent guys who just like the romanticism of the past. No different than the girl dressing up in a 50’s frock to bake some cookies in between writing her PhD thesis paper on modern feminism. It comes full circle from the idea that we are the generation with the luxury of choice and an abundance of creativity. We can take all of our favourite bits from history and apply it to our current self-expression—you can see it in our films, in our decor, in our philosophies, our relationships and more.

In fashion, the iconic barber pole stripes have been popping up in the details of garments and products left and right—catching the eye of the barber shop community while expanding territory to those who can’t quite explain what about the stripes resonate with them. Perhaps a nationalistic aesthetic, as nearly thirty nations have flags comprised of the red, white, and blue trifecta. All we know is that we love the playful vintage appeal with the crisp and timeless colour combination that promises a life-long wardrobe staple. Thom Browne, the New York-based American fashion designer known for his slim silhouettes and rebellious short cuts, is reviving the iconic stripes in his modern designs. Reinventing traditional attire he has made business-casual interesting, avant-garde, and luxurious. Moncler, the Milan-based fashion powerhouse known for their down-filled jackets, are featuring the stripes as well. With their intricate detail, the finest materials and masterful construction, Moncler can always be counted on for the utmost craftsmanship and quality. El Ganso is a relatively new fashion company in Spain with a devotion to individuality and environmental consciousness, and they too have been incorporating the iconic stripes into their pieces that channel quirky/classic 1970's European design. Fashion-finder, Nick Wooster, spotted a sharp watch by Park and Bond that confidently uses the stripes on the wristband. Whether it’s subtle or bold, these stripes are making their mark on Nouveau Gents.

There’s more to the renaissance of barber shops than just asserting your masculinity and reconnecting with the dapper man inside. There’s actually a very sincere and honest side to this counter-culture, which is the community, camaraderie and reconnection that comes along with a trip to the barbers. Stepping out of pretension and into a room of humble friendly men from the community, talking about personal, local or global news is inevitable. No appointments, no status, no special treatment; it’s wonderfully democratic. Not only are you reconnecting with men, fraternizing and mixing with guys of all ages and walks of life, you’re also reconnecting with your physical self. It seems simple enough—a cut and a shave—but with the depletion of physical communication in our society and the increasing distance between our physical and mental selves, it’s easy to ignore our bodies and our vitality. Then the barber puts that razor to your jugular, and you’re back in your boots. Adrenaline comes, reminding you that you’re a living, breathing, mortal animal, growing fur and being groomed in a room filled with other living, breathing, mortal furry animals.

It’s nice to have a place where you can slow down your high-tech, over-stimulated life and place your trust in a fellow man to complete such a personal task for you. Sitting there, being tended to, taking inventory of your physical self while surrounded by a brotherhood of aspiring-gentlemen like yourself, talking about what’s on your mind, no matter how profound or profane, you reconnect. Going to the barber shop is a simple pleasure, but that’s exactly what you needed.

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