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A celebration of shaving

Simply removing a beard represents no challenge to a barber. He celebrates the process of shaving. The near-forgotten craft of the barber is enjoying a renaissance. Chic barber shops are venues for trimming and chatting, just as the custom once was. Long before high-tech shavers stripped the process of its dignity and the wellness factor.

The ancient Egyptians used sharpened stones to keep their countenance smooth, before switching to copper and gold razors in the fourth century. By that time the barbers were already responsible for ensuring that bloody accidents did not ensue. This was an honourable profession, one also extremely popular in ancient Greece. Although the Greeks liked to wear their hair and facial hair wavy, this also had to be professionally curled and styled. In ancient Rome the “tonstrinae“ hair salons were found everywhere. For the vain, clean-shaven Romans these were the perfect places in which to prettify themselves, gossip and conduct business. Licinius, a VIP hair dresser, was particularly popular and the place to be in Rome in around 300 BC. In the Arab world, too, an accomplished shave has a long tradition, one still lovingly maintained to this day. It is not just the razor used to tackle the facial hair here, fire and thread also frequently play a role. Both can be used to remove down and fine hairs quickly and effectively.

Photo: Jacqueline Macou

Today, a visit to the barber is not only useful, but also extremely relaxing for the well-groomed man. An apparent paradox: for men, placing their fate in the hands of another man with an incredibly sharp blade is a wellness experience. The fact that only men are traditionally seen during a visit to the barber also has a longstanding tradition. Customers can relax civilly in a chic ambience – which may be nostalgic or ultra stylish. The shaving procedure takes at least twenty minutes and may last up to an hour if facials are included.

A good barber does not simply start shaving. He begins by first analysing the nature of the skin and the direction in which the beard grows. Hot towels are used to prepare the skin for the shave, with these serving to open the pores and make the beard hairs softer. Those that wish to can also treat themselves to an exfoliation, which removes dead flakes of skin, allowing the complexion to radiate and helping to prevent ingrown hairs. Only then does shaving soap make an appearance. The foam is created using a wet shaving brush, in a shaving dish or cup. The brush is ideally made from natural hair. Badger hair is preferred, the sophisticated classic. Badger hair is especially fine and elastic, it absorbs water well whilst remaining firm and supple. In addition, the durable badger hair brushes achieve a particularly creamy foam. This is applied against the direction of growth, causing the hairs to stand up, where they can be shaved off more thoroughly and easily.

Photo: Renee Olmsted

Applying the foam is the overture, when the razor arrives things become serious. The tool should be of high quality and the sensitive hollow-ground or flat-ground blade extremely sharp. A good barber takes good care of his blade, also for the benefit of his customer. Because if the blade becomes damp and rusts, this may result in bloody injuries. The razor is only opened for shaving and closed immediately when not being used. The so-called tang at the end of the blade is curved to enable the barber to lay the little finger in it. He strokes the blade across the cheek, from top to bottom, in the direction of hair growth. During this the area of skin concerned is held taut with thumb and middle finger. For customers sporting beards the barber takes care to achieve a wellgroomed appearance with precise contours. After the shave cold compresses close the pores, with an after-shave cream soothing the irritated skin. On request hair can also be cut, eyebrows sculpted and nasal and ear hair trimmed. Shaving in the domestic bathroom is purely functional. In contrast, a visit to a barber is a civilised break from the daily routine, wonderfully relaxing and benevolently soothing. In a thoroughly manly way, of course.“

Text: Petra Dietz

Picture “Barber”: Renee Olmsted