First published on 7 Feb 2012. Updated on 25 Feb 2013.
I’ve always wanted to get a cutthroat shave. In the age of high-tech moisturising blades, the idea of having a master barber run a razor round my neck for the heck of it has a certain primal appeal.
I seek guidance from Sam Fordyce, who snips at Captains of Industry, down an inner-city back street. They don’t teach the cutthroat technique at Barber School anymore, so Sam learned the sharp art from some of Melbourne’s most venerable barbers. Sam says his clients are a mix of older chaps after a nostalgia fix and younger guys looking for the kind of experience their father’s generation had. He reckons using a cutthroat “is easy to learn, but takes a lifetime to master.”
I’m seeking a master, kind of like Yoda. Sam recommends Alphonse.
Alphonse Tomaselli has been doing cutthroat shaves for over six decades, since he was an eight-year-old in Sicily. These days he keeps clients looking respectable at the Barber Saloon in North Melbourne, the 40-year-old family run business owned by his nephew. The saloon is the sort of place where august Italian gents shoot the breeze, combs are kept in that blue solution and it’s not unusual for clients to drop off a parcel of fish in exchange for a shave.
Alphonse critically assesses my three-day growth and cranks me back in the chair. I’m in his hands.
First I get a splash of pre-shave cream, then a hot towel to soften the bristles. Alphonse deftly whips off the towel and lathers up my chops with a shaving brush. There is theatre to his movements. Before I can wax lyrical any more Alphonse brings his steel to bear. Right at the neck.
I stiffen and become intensely focused on two things: the feel of the razor passing over major arteries and mentally mapping how far to the nearest emergency room. I keep waiting for the geysers of blood, but that doesn’t happen.
Instead I learn to stop worrying and let Alphonse do his thing. I listen to the chatter of Italian and smell the Brylcreem. I only wish I had a cigar.
After two passes Alphonse uses a cake of natural rock salt (it smarts), a post-shave cream (it cools) and finishes up with a splash of talc. He cranks the chair back up and my cheeks look smoother than a Sam Cooke serenade. The master’s done good work.>
I walk about feel pretty smooth and spiffy. I’ve had a more than a shave, I’ve had a little bit of theatre.
Barber Saloon Men’s Hairdressing, 73 Errol St, North Melbourne. (03 9328 1767)
Captains Barbershop, Lvl 1, 2 Somerset Pl, Melbourne. (03 9670 4405)
RockIt Barbershop, Macpherson’s Building, 546 Collins St, Melbourne. (03 9629 1099)
Leo the Barber at Henry Bucks, Downstairs, 320 Collins St, Melbourne. (03
Dr Follicles, 240 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
3065/143 Swan St, Richmond.