Showing posts with label I've taken it upon myself to explore some of London's finest barbers.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label I've taken it upon myself to explore some of London's finest barbers.. Show all posts

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

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Thank God 'designer stubble' has meant that I can put off shaving for as long as I possibly can. I know I'm not alone in this – skin irritation, time and impatience are all factors which make shaving a dreaded ritual for the modern man. There does exist, however, if not an antidote, then at least an alternative – the traditional wet shave. In fact, going to your barbers for the hot towel treatment and a bit of 'me' time is becoming ever more popular, and with our capital being a city famous for grooming traditions I've taken it upon myself to explore some of London's finest barbers.
My first port of call is the renowned Pall Mall Barbers, a charming place tucked just off of Trafalgar Square. The shop has been cutting hair and trimming gents' beards since the reign of Queen Victoria, offering, as they put it, “traditional service in a modern manner”.
Adrian, my barber for the morning, sits me down and talks me through each stage of the process, from the skin cleansing to the oils which are gently rubbed in to the bristles to soften them up; already it's taken longer than I'd normally give myself for the entire shave. After I'm smothered with hot towels and treated with more of Pall Mall's in-house products, manager Daniel explains to me the advantages of having someone else do the hard work: “Shaving at home is a necessary chore and is normally done when trying to rush out the door,” he says. “But when you go to your barbers you get a much closer and irritation-free shave, and you’re relaxed and refreshed by the experience.”
People often cite the price of a wet shave as being prohibitive, and it's undeniably true that in a time of austerity these kind of luxuries are the first things to go. Daniel argues however that while once upon a time people might treat their loved ones to an impromptu trip to Paris, a traditional shave is a gift which won't break the bank – a very masculine sort of pampering which won't get sniggering comments in the pub the way a mudpack facial and manicure would.

 
A week later and my skin has noticeably benefited from some respite from my graceless hand. My next stop is Murdock. Having opened their first shop in 2006, Murdock are a fresh new face in the barbering world, who position themselves as “a primary destination for the new gent-about-town.” Despite the youth of the business and its employees, there is still something warmly traditional about the Murdock experience. I'm greeted with a pleasant, musky smell from the moment I step in off the cobbled Covent Garden street. The oak furniture is stacked with books, skincare products, bowties and travel accessories, which are all for sale. Nothing is forced upon me by pushy staff or loud music; it's all very welcoming.
My barber is Daniel Sturgeon, a smartly dressed Brummie who, at 29, is the eldest member of staff. I'm interested to know how a parvenu like Murdock has found life in an industry steeped in tradition. “People don't always want to go to the same place as their Dad or Granddad,” he tells me. “It's nice to have something of your own, to say, 'this is my barbers'”. Here lies the demographic which Murdock have expertly tapped into – the young, smart, “new gent-about-town”, who teeters on the cutting edge of style with one eye firmly on heritage. There's nothing fake about their brand, they're unapologetically current and effortlessly stylish, providing expert grooming for “our generation”, as he puts it.
David talks me through my shave with enlightened detail, from the wonderfully soft badger hair shaving brush (nothing else will do, apparently) to the almond oil used to prepare the skin for the blade. I learn that shaving foam is used to lock moisture into the hairs, before finally the familiar steel of the blade touches my face and I lie back and think of England.

My third and final trip is by way of appointment to Geo F Trumper, one of London's oldest barbers and a byword for luxury grooming. Nestled in the heart of St James's, Trumper's is a cornerstone in an area renowned for classic British style, overseen by the critical eye of Beau Brummel whose statue could be nowhere more appropriate in London.
Downstairs is a picturesque arrangement of glass cabinets housing cut-throat razors, walking sticks, shaving brushes – inspiration for a lifetime's worth of Father's Day gifts. Shaving here is done in a smart upstairs room, complete with heavy wooden fittings decorated with 19th century cartoons. All the films or walking tours in the book couldn't recreate the essence of old London more effectively than is done here. I'm left in the capable hands of Phillip, who informs me of his upbringing at his uncle's barber shop in North London and is full of anecdotes and shaving tips. He explains the importance of learning the contours of your face and the direction in which your stubble grows, “each is as individual as a fingerprint,” he tells me.
The most common mistake most men make, he says, is to forcibly shave against the grain in order to achieve a smoother result, which in fact irritates the skin and causes ingrowing hairs. It's a misconception encouraged by razor companies in order to sell more products, which I was completely taken in by until I spoke to those in the trade.
After the full treatment and a perfect shave from an obviously highly skilled craftsman, I'm sprayed with the famous GFT house cologne, as mentioned in Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. It sums up the entire wet shaving experience really, and a great deal of the attraction – why settle for the Lynx effect when you can smell like James Bond? 

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