A Serious Barber for Genuine Blokes
No celeb tittle-tattle at Ted’s Grooming Room. The staff know their barbering stuff to give the customer a delightful and thoroughly invigorating going over
Review by Winston Chesterfield
It is a source of great amusement to me that the human race spends such an inordinate amount of time and resources looking to develop ‘new’ experiences. I cannot count the number of times someone has whispered about “the latest fitness trend” (you know, rather than the one you already do that already works) or overhearing someone talk about the “new dining concept” (because eating food is all about smug notions like ‘concepts’).
Don’t get me wrong: innovation, evolution and development is fine and to be expected (and applauded), but there is, in my view, an implied rejection of established practices and excitements in the race for the new. Once you have boiled down the thick sauces of modern pleasures to their essence, you find that the new is very often anything but and is simply an ingredient recycled from a previous era.
One such pleasure – which should be promoted endlessly in men’s periodicals – is the visit to a traditional barber.
When I say ‘traditional’, that doesn’t mean you have to go somewhere that has been chopping locks and scraping necks since the Battle of Trafalgar. Heritage is very charming but, beyond the dubious anecdotes and dusty paintings on the wall, it’s merely an establishment, like any other, that relies on the skill of its employees – and it’s no use if the most skilful they have had are dead and buried.
But a traditional barber experience – the process – is a true joy when this skill is clearly evident and put to good use.
Ted Baker is not a name I would have associated with barbering. To me, it will always be connected with autumn-coloured men’s knitwear, trendy cords and flowery shirts – the kind of thing media people with inconveniently large dogs wear to pubs in Hampstead.
Like Paul Smith, Ted Baker have tended to over-indulge in the British licence for eccentricity; I have a pair of Ted Baker briefs adorned with pipes and bowler hats. In my estimation, it has always wobbled awkwardly between creativity and caricature. However, whilst I’m not particularly enamoured with the aesthetic result, I always doff my hat to brands that refuse to take themselves too seriously.
This irreverence is also evident in the Ted Baker barber shop (this is not a salon, God forbid). I say barber shop; in fact they are actually titled, rather grandly, ‘grooming rooms’ (although second thoughts on this led me to expect neighing mares and floors covered in hay).
Down a Dickensian cobbled courtyard, one minute’s walk from Claridge’s, the Mayfair establishment I visited (one of 12 Ted Baker ‘grooming rooms’ in London) is a tiny, but elegantly presented two-floor shop. The decorative effect is something between an Oasis recording studio and the film-set of The Old Curiosity Shop. And, though slightly cramped, it never felt too full.
Upstairs, three crimson red Belmont barber chairs, in semi-recline, held three silent subjects. Steaming white towels covered two of them; the other – in a somewhat stupefied state – gazed at his own reflection as naked flames grazed his ears; flames which also entirely consumed any remaining notions I had of this being a coconut-sweet, simpering salon.
The barbers, all Turkish, went about their flame-throwing Victorian circus show with a remarkable lack of ceremony. At the time, I couldn’t help feeling unnerved.
My own show began downstairs in a basement solo booth; blissfully, my barber pushed the door open, letting in the refreshing summer air. I was presented with the offer of a cold beer; though tempted, I remembered the afternoon’s meetings and opted for a sparkling water.
The disturbingly blood-red Belmont chair was placed in semi-recline, and the next thing I knew was the feeling of a warm towel covering my face; in a blur, this was removed and wet tissues were being shoved in my ears.
So far, this was a relatively unusual haircut.
Normality resumed when my barber looked at me in the mirror and asked me, very simply, what I wanted. After requesting a short back and sides, a beard trim and razor finish, he nodded blankly and began his routine.
Conversation was short and infrequent – just the way I like it – and the focus on the craft was reassuring.
“Where are you from?” I asked. “Turkey” came the one word response.
“How long have you been doing this?” I ventured. “Ten years” he said, without the slightest hint of satisfaction or pride.
This isn’t Toni & Guy; you aren’t going to be nagged by your ‘stylist’ with stories about celebrities, the love life of their friends you will never meet, soap opera sagas or other standard or unconventional morsels of babble. This is a serious barber for genuine blokes; the wash and go variety.
In a blur of snips and clipper craft, my haircut was complete in less than 12 minutes. The flame-throwing lasted a hair-raising 5 – 10 seconds, but was well worth it as others commented how trim and clean my ears were looking.
Taking a much needed sip of water, we resumed for the beard trim and razor finish. Hot towels returned, resulting in a slightly sweaty beginning to the shave. This was also over in a matter of minutes, and was followed, quite unexpectedly, by finger extensions and an arm massage. I suddenly had the feeling I was no longer in the 21st century but a Victorian Turkish bath.
This was the Full Ted – which sounds a little like a robust and bruising experience with the school bully – but in fact was simply an old-fashioned ‘going over.’ The result, despite my evergreen cynicism, was actually delightful and thoroughly invigorating; a tried and tested experience that should be repeated over and over again.
Winstons’s Full Ted was at their Avery Row establishment, 5 Avery Row, Mayfair, London W1 K 4AL / 0203 3979966 11 other establishments across London, including three in the City and one in Canary Wharf