Lost Art of Men’s Cuts: Vintage Barbershop Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
Yes, a gentleman could easily get Don Draper’s vintage haircut at this Bryant barbershop, but erase all other thoughts of that Mad Man from your mind. The Art of Men’s Cuts is a vintage-style shop with products like Murray’s pomade and Old Bay Rum, homemade shaving lather and a VHS corner playing westerns like “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,” but this isn’t strictly Draper’s barbershop. No, it appeals to tattoo artists and greasers and veterans and gym-rats alike.
It’s William Oraha’s shop, and he’s thinking of calling it a parlor because the word “barbershop” doesn’t quite convey what he’s about, and that is making men feel comfortable and happy with whatever haircut they want.
His shop has sections: The foosball table; the thinking man’s area with checkers, chess and backgammon boards; the couches surrounding a flat-screen TV, and the motorcycle corner with a red Kawasaki on display — “The bike is called Sweet Connie,” he says. “I’ve never met her, no, but I’ve played music a lot and it’s a ’75, and I thought, ‘Hey, maybe a cool name for a bike that I ride since I’m a musician, since every musician has probably ridden Sweet Connie, so I’ll call her Sweet Connie.
“Maybe it’s not so good, I don’t know,'” he adds with a laugh.
The VHS corner is for the veterans and retirees that frequent his place. “I just play old movies, westerns, old B flicks. Just the visual, no audio. This is mainly for kind of an older type crowd ….”
“Hey, watch it,” warns a feisty old customer in one of the barber chairs, with a wink in my direction.
“This shop is kind of like me. Everything you see in here is a part of me and things that I like. Guys share the same interests, it doesn’t matter what kind of haircut they want. I just want to make guys look good, feel good and be in an environment where they’re comfortable.”
Born in Arkansas, Oraha spent his teenage years in Los Angeles, returned to Arkansas to attend barbershop school and then returned to L.A. to hone the art of men’s cuts as an apprentice in an old-school setting. “I was fortunate enough to work at a shop that was owned by a WWII vet and his son who was my main mentor. We grew up with that old school mentality, on how to do tapers, classic tapers, business cuts, a greaser style,” he said. “I’m trying to bring that over here to have a different type of variety for guys if they want something different from just a regular modern haircut and go for something old school.”
But what defines this type of haircut?
“For an old school cut there’s a heavyweight line, a part on the side, and it’s really clean and tight on the sides, and it dips in the back and it tapers really clean. And there’s usually no line or you can have a line in the back that’s blocked off and you use a product like Murray’s, Lucky Tiger, hair gum,” he says. “There’s all kinds of pomade instead of what they used back in the day, which was lard. But the style of it, the way it’s combed, the way it’s parted, that differentiates what era the cut is.”
The feisty man’s haircut is finished. He stands up and pulls out his wallet.
Oraha says,” What did you get? A buzz cut? How old are you?” The man answers.
“It’s $7 for him. Because it’s $10 for a buzz and $3 off for being a senior.”
Oraha says a man should never pay more than $20 a month for a haircut. “If they come in here, the first of the month, they get a haircut, and it’s $15. After it grows for the second week, they come back and get a ‘lineup.’ I clean up the edges, kind of get it all nice and tight, if I need to do a little bit of cutting, I’ll do it and get it back up to where they can keep a nice clean cut the whole month, and they just spend $20.”
Though he doesn’t do shaves at the shop, he says he has the ability, and he sharpened his skills in Los Angeles. But it’s a time-consuming process for a barber. “A lot of times you’d have a guy that would be cutting hair next to you and you’d be doing a shave, and he’d knock out three haircuts before you’d finish the shave, so you kind of lose money because it takes so long,” he says.
But he likes to pamper himself with a straight-razor shave from time to time. He says it’s relaxing, and frankly, to hear him talk about the process kind of turns us on. “I either use Osage or Bay Rum. I do a pre-shave oil, steam towel, the hot lather, steam towel, hot lather, and then I start shaving.” And after I do that first phase of shaving, I’ll steam towel again, and if I need to — my beard’s kind of coarse — I’ll use oil and then I’ll go back against the grain and shave the throat or whatever.”
That sounds divine, doesn’t it? And maybe a little too fastidious. More than anything, Oraha likes to have fun with haircuts. His co-worker Josh Carr often sees Oraha’s lighter side, especially when he’s working with veterans.
“One of the first times I came here, there was a gentlemen who had gone through some financial stuff and Will was cutting his hair and he said, ‘Here’s the deal. I’ll throw these three darts, and if I hit bulls-eye your haircut is regular price. If I miss, your haircut is on me.’ He didn’t, of course, hit the bulls-eye. But just stuff like that. To try to have fun and give back to the people. I like that kind of feel, that vibe.”