North American cities like Toronto and Vancouver are in the midst of a revival of traditional (and not-so-traditional) barbershop culture — new shops are cropping up just about everywhere, each putting their own twist on the time-honoured institution. To find out where this revolution’s headed and what it means for Canadians, we caught up with Martin Rivard, master barber and co-founder of the Ossington strip’s recently launched Barber & Co. As it turns out, the future of men’s hair looks good. Damn good.
Making the Old School New Again
Eschewing the tired pastiche of mahogany and Mad Men ‘dos, modern barbershop culture rebels against what Rivard calls “museum-style” operations that specialize in a single cut or time period (though the world still needs these principled holdouts, he contends). “You can compare haircuts to a cocktail bar — you’ve got classics that never fade,” says Rivard. “But trends evolve.” The result is a barbering tradition willing to make the old new again, one that puts as much emphasis on perfect scissor technique as it does on trendy styling—often in the same shop. (Longer hairstyles are on the up, by the way.) And who benefits from the variety? You, of course, you handsome devil.
See You at the Shop
Hailing from a long line of haircutters, Rivard remembers when men gathered in his family’s barbershops to talk gossip, sports and life — and maybe flip through the stack of Playboy in the corner. Savvy barbers aim to recreate this social club aspect of the haircutting tradition by building community or simply sticking a television in the room (hey, it works). Rivard makes a point of turning his barber chairs away from the mirror. “People are actually facing each other,” he says. “They’re forced to interact.” Chatting makes for a stronger barber-client relationship, too. The more a barber knows about your lifestyle and personality, the easier it is to give you the perfect cut, adds Rivard. So go ahead, make some friends.
Shaking Things Up
Barbershops are upping their game. For one, they do more — full-service spots like Allen’s Club and Mankind Grooming Studio offer a salon-like experience on top of facial treatments, manicures and massage. Those more classically inclined have brought back the art of the hot shave and throw in a dram of Scotch for good measure. Rivard, partial to top-shelf Sherry himself, has realized his dream of putting a fully stocked cocktail bar in the back of one of his shops. Open late long after Barber & Co. closes, the speakeasy-styled Gift Shop features a curated menu of legendary cocktails of eras past as well as the ingredients necessary for more contemporary drinks — think baked bread perfume for the Roald Dahl-inspired Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Reviving the World’s (Actual) Oldest Profession
True-blue barbers — those who dedicate their lives to the tradition—are few and far between these days, says Rivard. In fact, new barbershops often face a shortage of talent when they open up, and have an ever harder time holding onto them once they’re hired on. The new demand is helping turn the trend around as the age-old profession becomes a viable career path once more. Doing his part, Rivard helped found Barber & Co.’s Academy + Lab in Vancouver’s Yaletown, where new recruits can go from zero to junior barber in a year—eventually earning living wages and benefits. As more experienced barbers hit the streets, the cuts can only get better.
The trend is fuelled in part thanks to barbershops embracing the virtues of diversity and accessibility, shedding their reputation as exclusive hangouts for tattooed hipsters and Bay Streeters. “We cater to every walk of life, clientele from 16 all the way up to late 70s,” says Rivard. Some joints even welcome children — it’s not uncommon to see the haircutters at Kensington Market’s Crow’s Nest doting on dapper young gents. (Parenting done right, if you ask us.) Not only does it make business sense, it encourages barbers to challenge themselves with different styles and gives men of different backgrounds, cultures and creeds common ground. That’s about as Canadian as it gets.