Aug 20, 2013
Navigator: The Barber of Seville.
On a business trip to the historic Spanish city of Seville, barber consultant Lord Jack Knife explores the ancient roots of his profession from the wheel of the MINI Countryman Park Lane – a car as classy as its driver.
The winning formula for success in any business is to find your niche and be an extension of it at all times. It’s as simple as that: live and breathe your trade, be an ambassador of it, and nothing can stop you. What is my niche? I’m a barber in the disguise of a businessman. Or you could even say it the other way round: I’m a businessman in the disguise of a barber. Under the moniker Lord Jack Knife I make a living from consulting for grooming establishments on the current trends and age-old traditions behind their craft. This includes anything from giving advice on which skin products to use and training staff with the best shaving techniques, to devising the interior design and aesthetics of a new barbershop. So, my trade lies in showing barber professionals worldwide how to pursue refinement and perfection in matters of style.
My job as a barber consultant takes me around the globe – to the United States, where I like to go at least once a year to soak up some authentic American barbershop culture; via Mexico, where I regularly visit the guys behind my favourite grooming brand, Mel Bros; and back to my native country, Spain, to the city of Seville, where I’ve just checked in with old colleagues and friends running their own salons. My travels have opened my eyes about the essence of my trade: no matter which corner of the world you’re in – be it a sophisticated Andalusian metropolis or a tiny suburb on the American East Coast – barbershops are at the heart of the male community, turning men of all walks of life, ethnicities and ages into gentlemen. And you, as a barber, have to cultivate gentlemanly virtues, such as immaculate style and impeccable manners, in everything you do.
Clients often ask me what makes a real gentleman. I like to give them the example of my grandfather, who was a dandy in the truest sense – his leather brogues always perfectly polished, his hair carefully combed and never a spot of dirt on his car. He inspired me to pursue excellence and make this my profession. After training as a hairdresser in my teens, I opened my own salon in Valencia when I was only 21. The salon was housed on the fourth floor of an ordinary apartment block and had a wonderfully clandestine feel to it. Like a private members’ club or a speakeasy, you had to know about it to be able to frequent it. And those who were in the know were treated to premium service within an exclusive atmosphere – from the fine glass of cognac they were offered upon arrival to the aromatherapy that was applied during the trims. When it comes to offering clients that outstanding experience, you have to know that the best is just about good enough.
Now, at 31, my philosophy has hardly changed. When I’m not travelling, I’m based in Oslo, in a small but select concept store called Dapper, where the headquarters of Lord Jack Knife are. The store itself is everything its name promises: a treasure trunk filled with the latest lifestyle essentials, apparel and accessories for the style-conscious, dapper gentleman. Here, I run an in-store grooming salon, complete with retro leather barbers’ chairs, vintage shaving ads and beard oils and salves from around the globe laid out in wooden vitrines. Our aim is to revive the spirit of the traditional barber establishments of the past – to immerse each and every client in an oasis away from his busy everyday life, where he can enjoy a bespoke treatment, tailored to his – and his skin’s – needs. After all, the key to good service lies in the attention to detail.
As much as I love working in our Oslo store and being involved in the day-to-day shaving, trimming and grooming, I have to admit that my head works faster than my hands. I see myself in consulting, in sharing my knowledge and roaming the planet in pursuit of good service and style. For me, the most inspiring city for business and leisure trips alike is Seville – it’s exuberantly beautiful, full of character, history and flamboyance. There aren’t many places in the world that offer looks and personality, but the Andalusian capital has both – ornate Moorish patios and fragrant orange tree-lined gardens telling stories of the Arab conquest; medieval fortresses and mysterious watchtowers once storing the gold brought from the Latin American colonies; dusty flamenco taverns and grand bullfighting arenas keeping ancient traditions alive. Seville is a feast for the eyes of any aesthete.
I’m not surprised that the city’s charisma has been an inspiration for some of the greatest classical composers, giving life to Bizet’s passionate heroine Carmen and the witty barber Figaro – the hero of Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. But why did Rossini and Mozart choose Seville as the home of Figaro, their brilliantly astute but equally lovable barber figure? Just look at the city’s pompous façades that are still intact today and you will realise why. During the colonial era, Seville was one of the biggest, wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world, thanks to its monopoly on Spanish trade with the Americas. What better backdrop could there have been for an opera about a refined dandy character whose profession is to create immaculate appearances?
Of course, Seville holds a special place in my heart because of this link to my trade. Some of my most trusted contacts in the business are based here, so luckily I get to visit the city regularly. There is, for example, my old friend Jorge, with whom I did my barber training and who now keeps me updated on new shop openings and the best grooming products from Spain. Whenever I’m in town, I meet Jorge and his colleagues from his salon for tea in the lobby of the exquisite Hotel Alfonso XIII, where we while away an hour or two, catching up about trends and techniques. Then, I always make sure to see Curro Junior, the son of the local legend Curro, the Silver Barber, who carries on the legacy of his dad with his tiny, quirky grooming shop in the old working-class district of Triana. His barbería also doubles as a barber museum, crammed to the brim with oddities and curiosities, from antique razors and old-fashioned shaving brushes to faded signed photos of flamenco guitarists and other famous customers from a bygone era. Every time I find myself in Curro’s chock-a-block shop, the weird and wonderful historical artefacts on display open my eyes about how ancient the roots of my profession are. Did you know that barbering is among the oldest trades in the world?
What inspires me the most about Seville, however, is that it has always looked beyond these layers of history into the future. That it was home to two world expos in the 20th century – in 1929 and 1992 – says it all: Seville is never standing still. One of the latest architectural additions – a futuristic market canopy known as Metropol Parasol – perfectly sums up the city’s ever-evolving nature. I like to stroll along the Parasol’s panoramic walkway and be amazed at how harmoniously this daring creation blends in with the city’s ancient core. And yet again, with Seville’s eclectic cityscape all around me, I realise that in essence it is not dissimilar from the philosophy behind my trade: embrace tradition but always add your own contemporary twist, and you’re invincible.
The headquarters of Lord Jack Knife are in Oslo, in a small but select concept store called Dapper. Here, I run an in-store grooming salon with retro barbers’ chairs and vintage tools. Our aim is to revive the spirit of the traditional barber establishments of the past.