Customers seated in original Koken barber chairs attended to by staff at Figaro's Barbershop, in downtown Lisbon — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Looking for a haircut, gentlemen? A low-faded slickback, perhaps? What about a flattop boogie? Maybe you’re a tapered pomp kind of guy?
Don’t be. These are all names of classic haircuts a man can request at Figaro’s Barbershop, a vintage-themed hair salon that’s taken root in downtown Lisbon, not far from the city’s funky Cais do Sodré district. Figaro’s specializes in classic cuts and hot towel straight razor shaves, artisan grooming techniques that endow its clients with Mad Men-era masculinities.
Reflections of a golden age: Figaro's evokes an early 20th-century stateside ambiance with its vintage decor — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Step through the doors and you'll enter a traditional American barbershop straight out of the early 1950s, where edgy rockabilly pulses from the hi-fi, filling the room with the rhythm of urgent Gretsch guitar, slap bass and plenty of tape echo.
Much of the interior decor is genuinely vintage, including the impressive collection of barber’s chairs. Patrons are seated in antique Kokens – sturdy, Wurlizter-sized thrones replete with chunky upholstery and polished steel footrests. Manufactured in St Louis, Missouri, a couple of Figaro's chairs date back as far as the 1920s.
And behind these chairs stand the barbers, some of them ink-tagged and whiskered, all swagger and poise.
Study in concentration: the average time to cut hair at Figaro's is 45 minutes – great care is taken in achieving an authentic look — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Despite their immaculate tailoring – the soot-colored bowler hats, snazzy braces and silk or satin ties – the barbers look like the kind of guys you wouldn’t want to mess with, like shifty bootleggers or bank robbers. Indeed, their penitentiary-style mug shots hang on the wall near the door. Gulp! Looks like you could be in the hands of a “cold-blooded murderer,” “illegal fighter,” or someone who “killed a pickpocket.”
Talc and brush: the final touches as a session nears its conclusion — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Of course, it’s just brilliant marketing (although the tattoos are real). In fact, a highly trained posse of men’s grooming experts staffs Figaro’s Barbershop. Each is skilled in wielding an array of scissors and other implements.
Preparing a customer for his hot towel straight razor shave — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
To get a haircut at Figaro’s Barbershop is to undergo a grooming ritual, a rite of passage if you like. Such a haircut will alter the way others see you and determine the personality you convey. After you’ve taken your seat, the discovery of the self begins.
With the dexterity of a card shark, your barber will cut, snip and slice his way across your crown. He’ll mold and sculpt your hair, combing it into submission before lacquering it with waxy pomade for an awesome hold. But that’s just the half of it.
Tools of the trade: some of the many different types of scissors used by the barbers at Figaro's — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
A flick of the barber's wrist produces a sleek razor, the blade glinting. Employing the concentration of a sniper’s eye, he’ll contour the hairline across the brow, around the ears and along the nape. Finally, through a cloud of fine talcum powder, the vigorous application of a pure-bristle neck brush will leave the skin as smooth and soft as glazed porcelain.
Several varieties of pomade – the waxy substance used to style hair – are used at Figaro's, some with intriguing brand names — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
The creative force behind Figaro’s is Fabio Marques. As a youngster he was fascinated with the workings of the barbershop his family lived above. Eventually he offered to work there, honing his skills as an apprentice and learning the trade.
Eventually the wider world beckoned and he ended up working in corporate finance. But those early years proved formative, and after Marques visited an old school American-style barbershop in Holland, he realized a similar business model could work in Portugal.
A barber's mirror hung on a wall next to mugshots of Figaro staff reveals a detail of the interior — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Figaro has bucked the Portuguese trend by doing away with the unisex model and instead operating as a traditional men-only barbershop. However, ladies are more than welcome to come in to browse the merchandise for sale, items that include several different pomades, all sorts of hair gum, special reserve cologne and some damn fine bourbon.
Well-heeled: the barber chairs furnishing Figaro's interior are original c.1950 and manufactured in St. Louis, Missouri, USA — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Pro tip: Whatever you do don’t call Figaro’s a hairdressers. These guys “kill” for lesser offenses.