Would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red rose? If not maybe you should think twice about offering it to a guy with a super sharp razor in his paw … or perhaps not, writes Jack Taylor. Photos Anthony Dodds.
Once a ritual of manhood, now reduced to a daily chore. Is this really the way shaving has ended up for men? Scraping away at your stubble in the morning with a cheap disposable razor has little class, but that is exactly what many of us choose to do. It is sold as a fast and convenient way to shave … we see smooth, chiseled jaws being rubbed admiringly. The reality is closer to spots of blood peppered over your neck and bright pink blotches of razor burn. So why do we still choose this degraded form of male grooming over its distinguished grandfather, the straight razor wet shave?
For centuries the straight razor was the de facto standard for shaving. Bespoke tools made to last, with polished steel blades and handles made of ivory or mother-of-pearl. Barbers were artisans; skillfully shaving different faces every day – professionals who would trim off your whiskers and sculpt a horseshoe moustache or a mutton-chop beard with ease. Being able to handle a straight razor well was, and still is, something to take pride in.
Roll on the second half of the 20th century and the rise of throwaway living, the lust for instant gratification, a decline of the traditional ways of doing things. Safety razors and electric razors superseded the traditional cutthroat blade. Decades passed as young men completed their rite of passage without even considering the straight razor, pushing it ever closer to extinction.
But what if the last 60-odd years were just a blip on the bigger picture. This year Gillette and Schick have reported a drop in sales by as much as 10 per cent, while hand-crafted straight razors from the likes of Thiers Issard have never been in such high demand. Is a resurgence of the cutthroat shave upon us?
Rejection of a disposable lifestyle and the shift towards becoming a sustainable society is playing its part, but there is more to it than that. It is nostalgia for the traditional way of doing things, the way classic has become cool again. For barbers business is on the up, and traditional wet shaves are back. A chore for you in the bathroom, or a self-indulgent half hour or so in a barber shop, your choice. Maybe shaving can become a ritual again.
Think about your usual morning shave and then imagine this. Sat back in a comfy barber’s chair with a hot towel around your face softening up your stubble. The fresh feeling of menthol shaving cream brushed over your disheveled jowls. Relaxing while the barber strips away your beard without a pinch of the skin. Enjoying the closest possible shave topped off with a cold towel to soothe your fresh face.
On an island where tradition is clung to with reverence, the straight razor shave has been preserved in many of the local barber’s shops across Bali. Alongside the traditional potong rambut, a new breed of men’s barbers is beginning to sprout up, offering more luxurious straight razor shaves to go with the usual scissor and clipper cut. Here are three barbers that each offer something slightly different for those of you who are ready to let somebody else hold a razor to your throat.
THE BARBER OF BALI
Climb the winding staircase to reach this first floor barber’s shop, the two glass walls providing views over the bustling junction of Jl. Mertanadi and Raya Seminyak. Armed with a holster of combs, scissors and razors hanging from their hip, the barbers here are equipped for anything, from the traditional wet shave to the Baldy full head shave. Order a beer if there is a wait, or a whiskey if you are going straight into the chair. Answering whether there is a growing demand for traditional straight razor shaves, owner, Desmond Koval, says: “Undoubtedly there has been a resurgence in respect for old-school barbering around the world. Many of our clientele hail from Europe, Russia, and The Middle East where having a proper shave is the way to start your day.”
Opening earlier this year, Seven Barber is one of the island’s newest barber’s shops. The iconic red, white and blue barber’s pole sits by the shop window that announces “classic cuts lie within”. Inside the decor is a throwback to another era. The walls are adorned with photos of clean-cut gentlemen movie stars, from Marlon Brando to Sean Connery, and vintage barber’s posters. An antique gramophone and radio, and the letters ‘SV’ written in lightbulbs shining from the back of the shop are the finishing designer touches. For the owner, Yus Adrian, the reasons behind the resurgence of the straight razor shave are clear.
“It is driven by a nostalgia for retro. The straight razor evokes simpler notions of the past, such as its macho image and a sense of pride in the skill required to shave with it.”
Do not be put off by the no-frills appearance of this traditional Indonesian barber’s shop, just a stone’s throw from the junction of Jl. Dhyana Pura and Jl. Raya Seminyak. Marked with the words potong rambut painted on the wall outside, here a straight razor shave is nothing new … it is the way it has always been done. Keep that in mind and you will enjoy a unique shaving experience at the hands of the experienced barber running this show. The sensory experience of hot and cold towels does not apply here, but pay attention and you will notice the absence of shaving cream in favour of a lump of soap whisked into a lather before being brushed onto your face. It does not get any more old-school than this.
Jl. Plawa No.1, Seminyak
No appointment necessary