Panagiotis Grigoriou was born in Egypt where he lived until he was 18. He still remembers the time he would spend as a child with his father at their local barbershop when they would go for their regular trim.
“It was a way for us to bond, I think that’s why he would take me,” he says. “It was then that I understood what ‘man-talk’ is, how the psychology of a man changes when he is alone with other men, when he doesn’t feel the need to act the peacock, such as when a woman appears.”
What he liked even more was the fact that every time they would run into the same people. “Men have a regularity as to when they get their hair cut, so if you run into certain people once, it makes sense to see them again the next time. That’s roughly how groups of friends are forged.”
But when he came to Greece, he couldn’t find something similar to carry on the tradition.
The Lost Grace of Athens barbershops
And that makes sense. The old barbershops that thrived in the 40s, 50s and 60s began to lose their shine in the 80s when unisex salons started to appear. Younger men opted for those, and barbershops developed a dated air; they were patronized primarily by older men and failed to keep up with new trends.
For decades men were left on the sidelines of grooming – at the salons they were given the ’10 euro treatment’, where they would be dealt with quickly to free up the chair for the next customer. At the same time, it was considered taboo to be overly concerned with their look.
For many years, the idea of opening a barbershop remained just that for Grigoriou – an idea. His career took him elsewhere, he was involved in marketing and worked for many years at big companies like the cement producer Titan. But as an antique fanatic, he collected barbershop furniture for years.
“It all started with this chair,” he says and shows me one of the two that now sit in his own barbershop, the first of its kind that opened in Athens. It is called “1900” and located on Ploutarchou Street in the chic downtown neighborhood of Kolonaki.
The space evinces his aesthetic. “I have created an aesthetic bubble and I live inside it,” he says. It’s an exceptional aesthetic, truth be told. Retro, with paintings, engravings and sheet music on the walls, good whisky to offer customers and tasteful music in the background – from opera to little-known jazz.
“In 2007 I decided that I wanted to create a space like this, to recreate the feeling I had as a kid in the barbershop, but a different kind of barbershop. Most people made fun of me, saying ‘So you want to be a barberis?’ But I thought ‘won’t there be another 300 people like me?’ A razor they would see, the smell of [the classic cologne] Myrto, the baby powder their mother used to cover them with – something would click with them. It’s not right for them to be squeezing in between hooded dryers. And that is more or less how 1900 came about.”
The first year was difficult, as the early days of the establishment coincided with the killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a policeman which triggered extensive, often violent demonstrations in the capital. But Grigoriou persisted. And his endeavor not only took off, but helped spark a new trend. From 2010 and onwards, quality barbershops started popping up everywhere.
End the Taboo!
The positive thing about this trend which gained steam in the middle of the decade and is still on the rise is that men began to feel more comfortable redefining their approach towards grooming.
“Men found their space again, saying ‘I am not just a mule who only works, I am a racehorse and it is my right to take care of my appearance, which is equally important for both genders,” says Giannis Sakellarakis, the owner of Don Barber & Groom in Kolonaki which offers a full suite of services, from trims and grooming for beards to manicures and pedicures, facials, hair removal and massage.
“I realized that an establishment like this would be successful when I was working at a salon and men would come and ask for services in secret that they were ashamed to have done in front of women.” And so from its first 35 sq.m. premises opened in 2012, Don Barber moved to a new location triple the size in only a few short years.
Among the longtime fixtures on the scene are Los Barberos in Aghios Eleftherios, who carried on the tradition of the existing barbershop when they took it over in 2001. “We tried to restore the grace of old to the barbershop,” says owner Nikos Ferentinos. “Barbershops are also spaces to socialize and relax, patrons strike up friendships, they exchange views; I would say that at this point Los Barberos operates as a men’s club. A club open to all.”
And are the men no longer ashamed of tending to their appearance? “They are becoming ever more comfortable with it and that is good. Our external appearance concerns all of us – it is directly linked to our mental state. The desire to be the best version of yourself helps on many levels. So what is there to be ashamed about?”
At Kerk’s Barbershop on Panormou St in the neighborhood of Ambelokipi, Kyriakos Vasilopoulos, owner and head barber squeezes in among the patrons waiting their turn. The establishment is small but cosy and has a regular clientele; they all seem to know each other, they greet each other and exchange banter.
“How many people in your life do you let touch your head? How many do you let come so close to your face as is necessary for a shave? It’s something that requires care, the bond with the barber is close, it needs trust.”
And that is why men become dedicated to their barbershop – as indeed do women to their hair salons; one doesn’t easily leave their barber or hairdresser. “Men even more so,” says Giannis Sakellarakis. “If he finds what he wants, he will stick with it, because he finds it very unpleasant to explain it over and over again. He is looking to establish a personal relationship with his barber. I, however, do not aim for him to pour his heart out here. We never speak about sports or politics. I am more interested in having a laugh, in getting him out of his daily grind, and forgetting his worries.”
The cellphones switch off!
“Here they find a half hour just for themselves. Do you know that they switch off their phones when they sit in the chair?” Andreas and Giorgos Krasinakis tell me, the owners of the – newer – Peaky Barbers in Koukaki. The barbershop is visited by everyone from boys to 90-year-olds, from tourists to local workers.
“They discuss everything, they talk a lot about their personal issues, while they also have conversations between themselves – one person jumps in and adds to what the other just said. The only time when silence falls is when a woman comes in – then they become self conscious and stop.”
And women come? “Not to get their hair cut, we don’t do ladies’ hair, but they come sometimes with their boyfriends, sons or husbands. Eh, right, so there hasn’t been a woman who hasn’t gotten up to say ‘do it like this’. With good reason, of course, because many look to them for approval, and advice.”
Kyriakos Vasilopoulos laughs when I bring this topic up. “I clock them right at the start. I ask them how they want their hair and they turn to look at their girl. ‘Nevermind, guy, I’ll speak to the boss,’ I tell them and we laugh. But many come having done their research. They show you photographs, they look for the style. They listen to you too, and that is important. Because a lot of the things that people want done to their hair or beard won’t suit them. You can’t come to me with a photograph of Neymar and expect that you can pull it off. For starters, that needs a trim every five days, and you need to be able to do it yourself. Most listen, and adapt. But, whenever there is a European or World Cup, those requests become more common, while in recent years what is most asked for is the haircut of the Peaky Blinders!”
“For me, the first goal when I was making 1900,” says Panagiotis Grigoriou, “was to get women to tell their men, ‘I’ve seen a nice barbershop, why don’t you go there to get a haircut?’ If he comes in, he will take a journey through time, through music, he will leave the IKEA world for a bit and primarily will be alone with himself – something he is not used to. Because, when the shaving towel comes out, you are left alone with yourself. That’s what we offer him.”