Style » Grooming

Best Barbershops: A Cut Above

by Mac Smith
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 28, 2014

Men are powering the fashion industry more and more each season. High end department stores like Neiman Marcus, Barney's and Bergdorf Goodman have increased or renovated their menswear selling space as men go for more modern menswear.

With these leaner suits, more progressive designs and European-influenced cuts and styles, comes the need for a new, tighter version of men's grooming. The return to a clean-cut style for spring shines the spotlight once more on the good old barbershops of yore.

Kiehl’s, Hell’s Kitchen, New York City

Kiehl’s is already the well-groomed man’s choice for soothing lotions and luxurious tonics. Right now you probably have some Kiehl’s in your gym bag or on your sink. A barbershop is a natural extension and in December 2013 Kiehl’s opened its first outpost in the trendy Hell’s Kitchen gayborhood of New York City.

According to Chris Salgardo, President of Kiehl’s USA, "We wanted to give Hell’s Kitchen their own neighborhood barbershop, where they could find all the grooming services and all the products they’ll need. The response so far has been deafening - the neighborhood is thrilled that we’re there!"

I wasn’t thrilled that the day I’d booked my appointment as wind chills dipped into the negatives, but I braved the journey to get a professional shave from Jose Sosa, a Kiehl’s Master Barber. With Kiehl’s long history of leadership in men’s grooming, I had high expectations and Sosa far excelled them.

Sosa started by warming my face with hot towels and soothing my chapped skin with moisturizing oil that also helped glide the blade for a close shave. Twice! Yes, I learned that day that the secret to a truly close shave is a second go-round especially for someone with my thick, Scottish permanent five o’clock shadow. The luxurious lather of warmed shaving cream also was a nice treat.

After another round of hot, soothing towels and ointments (including Kiehl’s signature "Facial Fuel") I was fresh-faced and ready for the world. The cold Arctic Vortex blast outside felt crisp, yes, but oddly bracing on my nubile skin like an ice bath as part of an authentic sauna experience. This was a truly indulgent experience that makes an excellent "treat yourself" moment.

Aidan Gill, New Orleans

Beyond the French Quarter and Café du Mond, there is a destination in New Orleans that any man in his right mind should add to his Crescent City bucket list: Aidan Gill - and its namesake is one of the sharpest and most quotable master barbers.

Right out of the gate when I called Gill he told me his reason for going into the barbershop business in 1990, well ahead of the trend, is simple: "I’m on a mission from God to save the barber shop." His divine shop, now a two-store N’awlins institution is indeed the Mecca for the man in the know.

"Priests, plumbers, policemen drunkards, lawyers, judges, and some on the lam... all showed up to benefit from the experience unique to Aidan Gill," Gill boasts. Add to that list celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hugh Laurie, Tim Robbins and more who have popped in for a shave and a haircut. Both locations of this barbershop deliver more than bon mots and celeb sightings, though.

A master shave, cleanup and shapeups are all available in parlors designed to replicate the feeling of a gentleman’s club. Aidan Gill also offers its own pre-shave oil, badger brushes and brush kits, which is perfect since Gill’s number one piece of advice for shaving and getting that well-groomed appearance came be summed in three little words: prep, prep, prep!

Frank’s Barbershop, Knoxville

Frank’s Barbershop in Knoxville, Tennessee looks like a man’s man kind of vintage barbershop. Warm woods with leather club chairs, pool tables and a rustic masculinity conjure up the smell of cigar smoke and the sound of insider political talk. But this is a modern man’s barbershop that gets the balance right on rough and tough with relaxing amenities and an open, welcoming atmosphere.

"Most guys would admit they want a quality, fashionable haircut, but don’t want to go to a traditional, mostly female salon to get it. Enter Frank’s Barbershop," general manager Monty Howard told EDGE. "You can get that stylish cut along with a little extra experience in a space especially tailored for guys age 1 to 100. Plus you get a free Root Beer in a frosted mug when you visit. Who doesn’t love that?"

Frank’s Barbershop has been named "Best Barbershop in America" three years in a row by Howard confessed, "We’re obviously honored to be recognized as the best in America. There are a ton of great shops out there in markets much larger than ours and to have won it in our first year open was a total shock."

"Our mission when we opened Frank’s was to under promise and over deliver, and I think that’s what brings guys back time and again," Howard explained. "It’s a simple community place where any guy can feel comfortable but walk out feeling like they got a modern, sophisticated cut." Sounds like there’s a lot of warm, stylish opportunity in Knoxville.

Next page for Birds Barbershop and Murdock London.

Birds Barbershop, Austin

Birds Barbershop is a chain of six barbershops in Austin, Texas, each with its own unique retro ’80s graphics and décor. Special throwback videogame consoles are placed at each shop like Space Invaders on South Congress Avenue and Asteroids on 41st Street. The East 6th Street location even has records for sale and local art on display. Texas favorite Shiner beer is free to anyone popping by for a cut or trim.

"We care about the quality of your cut but also the experience of coming to a Birds. We carefully craft everything from our one of a kind pieces of vintage furniture to our reading selection and playlist," says Birds press representative Jeremy Nguyen. "The audience really does respond to it well and we pride ourselves in creating a hassle free and fun hair-cutting experience."

Birds’ product line, "Verb", has also created quite a cult following. "Verb was created because we could not find a hair product line that fit our needs. We are a moderately priced service, but there are no salon-grade, moderately priced products on the market. We created it to fit our consumer, who is looking for both value and quality," Nguyen explained. Turns out "Verb" is the word about town and with this kind of success, who knows, a Bird could be landing in your town sometime soon.

Murdock, London

Skipping across the pond, Murdock London is making a lot of noise with an ever-increasing number of luxurious London locations. Gentlemen looking for a shave will also find that Murdock’s extensive in-house procedures and product line will be their cup of tea too.

The Murdock London stores combine the traditions of an English barbershop with modern touches and a focus on great service. Murdock’s most popular services are haircuts, traditional wet shave and beard trims. You can do it all with a luxury full service that even includes a nice Scottish single malt scotch.

Beard oils and moisturizers for the hirsute male, and wood based straight razors for the clean cut types are just some of the striking and masculine personal grooming pieces you can pick up in-store on online. Murdock London also has a line of colognes focusing on natural scents like vetiver and black tea which have proven to be venerable favorites. Top selling products include colognes and shave products. All colognes are natural scents made with the finest ingredients, so Murdock’s has revisited classic cologne formulations and updated them for today’s generation.

Murdock London’s stance is part of a growing trend that has hit full stride: the barbershops of our dads and grandfathers are now speaking to a new generation with the classic traditions that made them the master of men’s grooming. Modern touches speak to a whole new era of men interested in a good-looking mug that appears effortless - all you have to do is make your way into the barber’s chair.

Mac Smith Mac Smith is a New York City based fashion writer who has never met a cat, coat or cake he didn't love. Follow him on Instagram at @macsmith1218 and Twitter at @itcantallbedior.


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