Tuesday, 30 September, 2014

Published June 14, 2014
Shear luxury
Say goodbye to utilitarian electric shavers, as the rituals of the traditional wet shave makes a comeback. By May Yip
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(Above) Jermyn Street is adorned with library wing chairs and iconic mid-century modern furniture pieces to resemble a tony gentlemen's club from the 1930s. - PHOTOS: JERMYN STREET, WE NEED A HERO

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'An oldie but a goodie, a traditional wet shave makes use of a single blade or straight razor to remove facial hair which results in a closer shave.'
Spokesman for We Need A Hero

AT SOME point between nasal hair trimming becoming a basic grooming routine and boyzillians no longer regarded as acts of masochism, shaving evolved into a borderline obsession among even the least metrosexual of men.

Perhaps a trend sprouting from the Serpico-like beards sported by the likes of Brad Pitt, or the rakish appeal of a perfectly styled moustache, suddenly mowing your mug with an electric shaver just doesn't cut it. In fact, if the recent entry of several male grooming establishments is anything to go by, getting the full hot towel, straight-razor shave from a pro could fast become part of the average guy's grooming routine.

"More men are discovering the pure luxury of an old-fashioned hot towel shave, delivered via the expert hands and consummate skills of a 'master barber'," says Keith Power, owner of Jermyn Street - the latest newcomer to the old school barbershop scene.

"The straight razor is a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands, but its cold steel and sharp edge are also the features that give it a certain 'macho-ness'. Let's face it, the hot towel shave is the modern gentleman's facial."

Forget about getting your beard trimmed - you get it "sculpted", and there are plenty of options for getting a professional shave. In the last two years, no fewer than six barbershops offering a pampering groom have cropped up. Three of them opened in the last two months alone - The Golden Rule in Farrer Park, Premium Barbers Spa at Orchard Gateway and Jermyn Street on Amoy Street. All-male grooming centre We Need A Hero, which was opened over a year ago by Cynthia Chua's Spa Esprit group, sees up to 50 clients a month for shaves, with shaving treatments accounting for 25 per cent of its takings. And one industry player attributes the trend to reigning trends in pop culture.

"A few years ago, 'designer stubble' and the 5 o'clock shadow were hugely popular," observes Jonathan Aeberhard, co-founder of online retailer of system razors, Shaves2U.com.

"The recent advent of the clean-cut, suave male image made popular by Jon Hamm and the 'Mad Men' look has incentivised most of us to 'tame the inner ape' and forgo the beard in favour of a smoothly shaven face."

However, while the clean-shaven look may be in vogue, alongside, ironically, hipster beards and manicured moustaches, one wonders if there's any real point for the average Asian guy to go the extra length for ridding just those few whiskers.

"I don't think the 'wet-towel shave' services will appeal so much to the local men, mainly because most Asians are not that hairy to begin with," says William Tan, founder of men's fashion and grooming blog HisStyleDiary.com.

"That said, the barbershop idea is not new at all here. I remember my younger days when my father took me to the neighbourhood barbershops for a haircut and they offer wet-shave services as well. I think the barbershop is making a comeback now to claim a niche space for men's grooming from the unisex hair salon we now know of."

While those endowed with lush bristles would more readily seek out the services of an expert groomer, the professionals nevertheless recommend regular trips to the barber for every guy, regardless of hair growth.

"An oldie but a goodie, a traditional wet shave makes use of a single blade or straight razor to remove facial hair (instead of the modern multi-blade razor commonly used by most men today) which results in a closer shave," explains a spokesman for We Need A Hero. "Getting your shave professionally done also reduces the incidence of razor burn, ingrown hairs, redness and bumps as using a straight razor ensures your skin isn't unnecessarily aggravated by having multiple blades run over sensitive complexion."

Even then, this fixation with follicular growth might just be a passing fad for the GQ-reading aesthete who prioritises style over, say, sheer convenience.

"The Singapore shaving market is worth about $32 million a year, with the bulk of the market being in system razors," says Bernard Emby, co-founder of Shaves2u.com. System razors are razor handles with replaceable razor cartridges.

Earlier this month, Mr Emby and Mr Aeberhard launched their e-commerce business distributing affordable ceramic-coated blades. The company is reminiscent of "shaving club" models popular in the US, which delivers fresh blades to subscribers every month at a fraction of the cost of grocery store-bought razors. "Most people won't have the luxury of time or money to go the barbershop every morning for their shave," reasons Mr Aeberhard, whose products are priced from $8 a pop. "It's just not practical. And of course, you can't take the barbershop with you in your bag."

However, rather than being just fuss-free, fuzz-removal centres, barbershops these days double as testosterone-charged sanctuaries for frazzled gents. "We can't speak for the preferences of most men, but we can draw comparisons to manicures - some ladies prefer to paint and treat their own nails in the comfort of their homes, some would like to be pampered at a parlour," explains Jerome Chee, marketing manager of The Panic Room, a barbershop and retail outlet in Geylang which started out as a one-man outfit in Far East Plaza. "It really depends on the individual's mood and inclinations at that certain point of time in grooming."

Hoping to position itself on the uppermost end of the male pampering spectrum is Jermyn Street, adorned with hand-painted frescos, library wing chairs and iconic mid-century modern furniture pieces to resemble a tony gentlemen's club from the 1930s. It is equipped with a bar that comes with Chesterfield-style seating, coupled with strong colour and painted floors, so a visit to the barber becomes a relaxing indulgence for the genteel urbane male. "Shaving culture has undoubtedly evolved and, in the ever-changing 24/7 world, people take their cue from the past when it comes to indulgence and me-time," explains Mr Power. "This has led to the resurgence of many so-called 'old fashioned' services of which barbering is the main one for guys."

But for those who miss the point of shelling out upwards of $30 for a shave, at-home manscaping could still be a highly pampering ritual. And a coterie of retailers is providing shaving paraphernalia that go beyond your usual multi-blade cartridges found at supermarket checkout counters. We Need A Hero uses for its wet shaves and retails a full range of products by Geo F Trumper, a firm originating from a historical barbershop in Mayfair, London, which has received Royal Warrants from Queen Victoria and five subsequent monarchs. The Trumper range includes a hard shaving soap formulated from essential oils to leave skin feeling soft, and other shaving creams with evocative names such as "Spanish Leather". Purists could also choose to whip up the lather from a shave soap with a badger-bristle brush and minimalist stainless steel bowl by Sori Yanagi, available from Aesop stores.

With such an overwhelming smorgasbord of hair-removal options, men who gripe about waking up just a few minutes earlier to rid themselves of stubble would suddenly find growing a beard a very attractive option, whether or not Brad's had a shave.