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Ever been curious as to what those blue, red and white barber poles stood for? Blood-letting.
That might not be the most reassuring thing to hear when you’ve just booked yourself in for a ‘cut-throat’ barber shave, but yes, the humble barber’s pole is a throwback to a time when barbers were expected to perform tasks beyond just cutting hair. Barbers were once considered surgeons of sorts. In Italy as well as many other countries they were expected to perform such procedures as teeth extraction, cupping and leeching. The red signifies the arteries, blue the veins, and white the bandages applied by those barber-surgeons of yesteryear.
Corrado Polistena of “The Barber shop Salon“ assures me that though he is a stickler for tradition, there are some procedures he would rather leave to medical professionals.But an old-school barber shop shave? That’s still definitely within Corrado’s skillset.
The traditional barbershop shave fell out of favor in the 80s and 90s with the rising ubiquity of the electric razor and general fear of blood-borne diseases. But since the turn of the millennium the number of young men seeking to return to the indisputably manly indulgence of a cutthroat shave is on the rise. The Barbershop Salon offers one of the most authentic experiences in Milan.
Corrado begins by placing a hot towel over your face to soften the hairs and open the pores of your skin. It also allows for a more comprehensive lathering when he applies soap to your face with his badger hair shaving brush. It’s at this stage you fall silent. You realise as Corrado picks up his vintage Dreifuss razor that you might not want to have your Adam’s apple bobbing up and down when you have a blade like his resting on it.
Most barbers these days use disposable razors because of the effort and time (usually 20 minutes) it takes to sterilise a traditional cutthroat razor. Not Corrado. A razor to a true barber is like the knife to the chef, or the katana to the samurai. Corrado’s is a Solingen steel number, unadorned but beautiful in its German practicality.
Tradition is never sacrificed here. You realise that expenses are a secondary consideration when you start to count the number of towels Corrado has used in the twenty minutes it has taken to shave your face. I should say that those twenty minutes feel a lot longer when you’re forced into silence, trying to meditate on anything other than the fact a man is applying his sharp blade to your face.
But it’s this meditative experience that makes you realise why a straight-razor shave is such a special indulgence. It’s terrifying, manly, and strangely relaxing.
Once you’ve had a cold towel applied to your face to help close to pores again and reduce irritation, you’ll walk out with fascinatingly smooth cheeks that you can’t help but touch.