New Zealand got its third Barkers Groom Room this month, when another shrine to male grooming opened smack-bang in the middle of The Plaza in beautiful Palmerston North.
A practical, well-organised place, with wide, straight streets laid out in a sensible grid pattern, Palmerston North is where you’ll find Massey University and the Linton Army Camp. It’s where Judy Bailey and David Kirk and other solid, dependable New Zealanders took root. Madge Allsop, Dame Edna’s drab bridesmaid, is from Palmerston North, making it (at least in the eyes of Barry Humphries), the most boring place imaginable.
Ah, but Palmerston has its dreamers. It’s where John Clarke (Fred Dagg) learned to be funny and confident. It’s where Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd first read Lolita, and where artist and activist Pat Hanly first took sketching night classes, while doing a hairdressing apprenticeship.
Regional manager Vea Fonua says the Groom Room’s customers tend to want one of three ‘fashion’ cuts: side parts (which are about as regular as it gets); short back and sides (okay, spoke too soon, SB&S is even more traditional); and pompadours, but more like what you see on Zayn Malik or early Elvis, than the giant, quiffed Teddy Boy versions from old movies. “These are real classic looks, but with a modern take on it,” Fonua says.
Having moved away from the dreadful frosted tips, shaggy boy band cuts and greasy faux hawks that darkened the midnoughties, the All Blacks are once again an inspiration for haircuts.
“We cut a lot of the All Blacks’ hair,” Fonua explains. “Kids will see it on Instagram and come in and say
‘I want a haircut like him’.”
Malakai Fekitoa’s softly tapered natural side-part cut is the most requested style, now that Cory Jane’s hair is longer, but Fonua says most customers want adjustments made to their chosen All Black’s style. “People will want a certain length or back and sides like him, but the top different. Guys are becoming more picky and knowledgeable about what they can have, and they're pushing the fashion boundaries," Fonua says.
As well as hair cuts, The Groom Room offers straight razor shaves, which Fonua describes as a skill that depends as much on mental toughness as physical dexterity, and where the barber must sort of inhale the client’s anxiety and exhale their own confidence.
To earn that confidence, barbers first train by practising on friends and family. “You start off shaving people you trust,” Fonua says. “The biggest thing about shaving is the anxiety levels of a client. It’s your job, as a barber, to really counsel him and keep him relaxed while you’re shaving him. A lot of barbers can shave, but they don’t really want to do it, as it’s quite a taxing service. The hard part is not the cut, it’s making a customer feel comfortable for 45 minutes. It’s tiring but it’s rewarding, especially for people who haven’t had it before.”
After a razor shave, faces are less prone to irritation or ingrown hairs, as the razor-blade has exfoliated the fine top layer of skin in a process known as ‘shredding’. “A lot of guys feel like a new man. They’ve never felt their skin feel so soft and fresh.”
Groom Room clients are also treated with minty-smelling products by Baxter of California, a grooming line started in 1965 by a surfer whose skin and hair was suffering in the salty elements. “It’s made by barbers for barbers so it’s easyapplication, but they have a really skincare range too, which surprised me," Fonua says. "It's still relatively new to people, but it will get a lot more spotlight in the next few years."