The Surest of Shaves
Published: June 2009
Four cities where men are returning to the age-old tradition of getting a close shave
Like cigars and martinis, barbershop shaves are in again. What's behind the trend?Part nostalgia for the days when men gathered (and burst into song) around the barber's chair, and part New Man: Don't men deserve to be pampered, too?And most report that 12 hours later, their faces are still smooth. Here are accounts of some of the best shaves in the world (all using straight razors updated with disposable blades)-- from the tried-and-true in London, to the hip and stylish in Paris, to the newest shaving outposts of Hong Kong and New York.
Geo F. Trumper The Mayfair barber has been shaving gentlemen of the world for more than 120 years. Granted the Royal Warrant to Queen Victoria and five subsequent monarchs, Trumper shops have the atmosphere of a discreet London club. Customers are treated with the utmost courtesy and greeted like the old friends they often are.
To begin my Trumper's shave, 23-year-old Adam Keith smoothed on a moisturizing lotion and covered my face with a hot towel. Then he lathered my whiskers (using a badger-hair brush) until they were, as Keith put it, "standing proud and tall," and meticulously shaved me. After a second steaming towel and finishing lotions, he slapped on aftershave and cologne.
I declined the other services available, such as a mustache trim and manicure, though Keith says they are increasingly popular among his customers (most of whom are under 40). "A barbershop might not rival a night out with Kim Basinger," he added, "but it's certainly the ultimate grooming experience." GEO F. TRUMPER, 9 Curzon St.; 44-171/499-1850. Also at 20 Jermyn St. (44-171/734-6553) and at 203 Piccadilly (44-171/292-3403); $26.
Nickel This shop offers everything from facials to body waxing. Because there's still some stigma attached to men who hang out in salons, I had to talk my friend Olivier into going for his first rasage à l'ancien. After he'd settled into a 1950's ocher-colored leather Belmont chair, young barbier Ramzy Nassatti wrung out a damp, heated towel and laid it across Olivier's face. While Nassatti lathered and scraped, Nickel manager Eric Baldini whipped up some espresso and filled me in on the state of shaving in France.
"Male grooming hasn't been in the French mentality," he said, quashing the assumptions of a woman who revels in the country's myriad beauty treatments. "Men don't necessarily shower every day, and even less often outside Paris." So who comes here for a regular shave?"Businessmen and travelers-- lots of Americans, Germans, and Italians," Baldini said, "and a few actors."
Nassatti finished, and Olivier was nickel, French slang for "squeaky clean." He got up to make room for the next client-- a tall fellow clad in black leather. He was French, and handsome, but he needed a shave. NICKEL, 48 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois; 33-1/42-77-41-10; $15.
Barber Shop With a three-finger, overhand grip on a bone-handled blade, Andrew Von-Lochlin "grates" the goatee of a barely conscious regular, while three suits wait their turn on the fashionably shabby sofa. Despite its hidden location (the only sign is a red-and-white striped pole jutting out of a dank alley on Wellington Street), Hong Kong's newest barbershop already has a steady following. Prior to its opening last October, the men of Hong Kong had a limited choice of professional shaves: either the overpriced shops at top hotels, or the cheaper, often less hygienic backstreet barbers.
"The most important thing is that this is a place where men sit down and relax," says Von-Lochlin. In fact, Wednesday evenings are designated cigar nights, when a large group of "boys" stop by for a shave, a stogie, and a cognac. BARBER SHOP, 1/F 15B Wellington St., Central, Hong Kong; 852/2537-4292; $17.
Art of Shaving I approached the shop-- which opened last August-- with trepidation: like most men, I have been trained to keep my grooming locked away. There in the window was my worst fear-- a barber's chair facing Madison Avenue for all to see. Thank God it was just a display; the actual shaving takes place in a chamber behind the slightly "Ye Olde Shave Shoppe" main room.
By the time the barber had finished prepping my face for the shave (with a hot towel, pre-shave oil, and warm cream), he could have done just about anything he wanted to me. Then he brought out the blade. He shaved me three times-- first with the grain, then against it, then once more just to make sure-- rubbed my face with an alum bar (it felt like ice, but not cold), applied aftershave milk, and wrapped my cheeks in a cool towel. I finally realized why women go to spas: not for the treatments, but for the attention. It's nice to be worked on. ART OF SHAVING, 373 Madison Ave.; 212/986-2905; $30; accessories store, 141 E. 62nd St.
Chelsea Barbers When someone's holding a straight razor to your throat, it can be hard to get comfortable. But reclined in a vintage-style, 1,000-pound barber chair, I started to relax. I was under the soft-spoken but firm-handed care of Bertilda (Betty) Garcia, and in seven years of professional shaving she has yet to draw blood. The shop has been open only since December, but it has found a niche. "The shave is coming back," says Betty. "People want to take care of themselves again." And for $12 a shave (no appointments), the neighborhood packs the shop Fridays and Saturdays, with regulars under the knife twice a week (the effects of a professional shave usually last twice as long as an amateur one).
At the end, Betty applies the time-honored dusting of talc. When the chair is cranked back upright and my shiny mug appears in the mirror, I can see that, along with a little tension, Betty has stripped me of every trace of beard. CHELSEA BARBERS, 465 W. 23rd St.; 212/741-2254.
NEWS FLASH: SHAVE ACROSS THE BORDER
London's old-world shaving institution Truefitt & Hill (71 St. James's St.; 44-171/493-2961), which also has a shop in Chicago (900 N. Michigan Ave.; 312/337-2525), launches a new store in Toronto this spring.
A SHAVING MUSEUM IN MILAN
If there is a single personal instrument that reflects the changing mores of male taste, it must be the razor. Its history-- an unceasing effort to make a brutal act more civilized-- is celebrated at the world's only museum of shaving, the Lorenzi Collection. On display are the most splendid of razors, including one model with lights in its handle, and another that provides a fine spray of water to the blade. The exhibition of 3,200 razors and shaving artifacts, the product of three generations of the Lorenzi family's passion, is a natural extension of their 70-year-old grooming accessories store next door. LORENZI COLLECTION, 18 Via Montenapoleone, Milan; by appointment: 39-2/7602-2848.
THE BEST SHAVE PRODUCTS
If you must shave at home, try these:
Decleor shaving foam -- Karite butter and glycerine moisturize all day.
Kiehl's aftershave moisturizer -- Delivers its promise to keep your skin soft.
Aveda aftershave balm -- With mint, chamomile, and bergamot.
Georgette Klinger two-step restorative -- From the doyenne of skin care.
Philosophy shaving gel -- With silicone, for heavy beards.
Kiss My Face anti-bacterial shave creams -- Olive oil, and a twist-top that's ideal for travel.
The Body Shop for Men shaving cream -- The fragrance is sandalwood.
Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet aftershave -- A scent favored by Churchill.
Nickel Contre Feu -- Relieves razor burn, true to its name.
Geo F. Trumper shaving cream -- Sublimely soothing, and violet-scented.
—Mario R. Mercado