10 Jun 2015

Renaissance of the Barbershop

From New Zealand Society, 3:30 pm on 10 June 2015

Godfather barbers

“Back in the time you were like scum. Who used to go to the barbershop?”

Take a quick glance and you might be forgiven for thinking that The Godfather Barbers is actually a tattoo parlour with its retro style fit-out, shiny black floor and  black and white photographs lining the walls. But look a little closer and you’ll spy the small barbers pole on the inside of the shop window, and you’ll realise that the rockabilly styled, tattooed master craftsmen on the shop floor are manipulating their blades to execute precision fades—or whatever their clients desire.

“We use clippers a lot more," says Danny Gunn, a hairdresser of twelve years who has been with the Godfather Barbers for just on a year. “It’s a bit more of a boys club, which sounds a bit sexist, but it’s a different experience for the client, I think.”

Danny says that all the old school looks are coming back, and with it, the kids are turning to the barbershop to maintain their precision fades and pomp-styled hairdos. “Zero fades are really  big now… just faded down to nothing, on the side. If you mess it up, it’s all coming off?”

Danny says the guys who want the long on top, super short on the sides kind of styles don’t realise at first that they’ll need a hair brush and a hairdryer to achieve the increasingly popular Pompadour look. “It requires a bit of maintenance to get it to look like that.” The pompadour is one style that new employee, Alex, is keen to master. “Just getting that directional flow and that movement in the back [and] a part goes a really long way,” he says.

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Hailing from Auckland, Alex had been teaching himself a few barbering techniques via YouTube, and practicing on friends, on top of which, he trained formally for a few months. He is keen to develop his skills and says there’s nothing like being on the shop floor and learning from a couple of pros. He admits to having lusted after the kind of environment that The Godfather Barbers provides for its clients.  

Owner, Rodrigo Ballaminut, says clients come not only for a cut but some entertaining chat, special occasions and maybe even a  glass of his special home-brewed beer. The Godfather Barbers is an unashamedly masculine environment that has been designed to suit the needs of modern man. Think, neck, ear, eyebrow and beard trims, along with a super slick haircut, of course.

They do cut women’s hair on occasion, but primarily those who are after a dramatic change. “By law we’re not allowed to turn anyone away. I don’t mind when a chick comes and she wants a short haircut, we like the challenge.” Rodrigo has been hairdressing for the past 19 years and although he loved the creative side of being a hairdresser, he eventually turned to barbering after becoming disillusioned with the changes in the industry, and the shift of a necessary service turning into a business about luxury.

“Hairdressing all about up-selling. People need a haircut—they don’t need all of these things that they’re trying to sell to you. That’s the thing that was getting under my skin.” Rodrigo is passionate about barbering, and especially the return of classic looks from the 1940s and 50s which have been inadvertently influenced by the likes of Madmen and Boardwalk Empire. “That’s impeccable… not one hair out of place, and then you look at their outfit, and their shoes, and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, I want those shoes!'”

Godfather barbers

Rodrigo’s own personal style veers towards a Rockabilly vibe and it shows in the décor and feel of his shop. It has been a dream fulfilled to build his own business, and his only quip about the industry is that young people are training as hairdressers for only a couple of months and then rushing into cutting people’s hair. For him, barbering and hairdressing is a  time-honoured craft that requires a skilful hand an eye. 

But when it comes to his great love, he is convinced that barbering is seeing a world-wide revival and that barbershops are now far removed from any stigmas of the past: “Back in the time, who used to go to the barbershop? Really old men? People who couldn’t afford to go to the hairdresser? These days it’s cool to go to the Barbershop. That’s culture, that’s tradition… that’s history.”

All images supplied courtesy of The Godfather Barbers