Eoin Butler's Q&A


DANIELLE KEOGH . . . barber and City and Guilds medal of excellence winner

What first set you on the path to barbering glory?I have a degree in Digital Media. After graduating, I found work as a photographer. I took pictures of families, babies and pets, that sort of thing. When my employer began letting staff go, I decided I needed retraining. I looked at every occupation, then someone suggested barbering.

Why become a barber as opposed to, say, a Garda or a librarian?Well, I’ve always been big into retro style, dapper looking gentlemen and all of that. And I love the culture and tradition that surrounds a barber shop. I collect vintage shaving paraphernalia. I have 20 traditional double-edged razors, 16 straight razors. I love the feel of the clippers, how clean it feels on the neckline. Also, I run a blog about traditional wet shaving.

How does one go from having a frankly abnormal interest in barber shops to actually working in one?I did one year of fulltime study in the Irish College of Hairdressing in Galway, where I got a City and Guilds diploma in barbering.

Was that training practical?Is there barbering theory? Sure, there’s theory. I did classes in classic hairstyles, modern hairstyles, the theory and science of hair colouring. Health and safety is also important. Barbers work with sharp instruments, near people’s skin. If the customer has a blemish, and you nick it, it’s contaminated. There are tonnes of things you need to learn, such as what to do if a customer has head lice.

Do you give them a note to take home to their parents?No, you take them to the side very delicately and inform them that you won’t be able to provide the service today. You give them directions to the nearest pharmacy. This is why a good barber always performs a scalp check as soon as the customer sits down. Once you start cutting, you’ve entered into a contract. You have to finish the job.

Do you follow football and, if not, what do you chat to the customers about?Anything and everything. Of course, not every customer wants to talk. You put out a leading question and, if they give you a short answer, you leave it at that. Other customers will treat you almost as their personal therapist and tell you about their family problems. Yes, football does come up. So I usually keep an eye on the results and know who’s playing in the big game that night.

When you have a nasty or irritating customer in the chair, and a razor blade in your hand, do dark thoughts ever cross your mind?Honestly, no. Irish guys, by and large, are pretty easy going. They just want their hair to look neater than it did when they walked through the door. Plus, I worked as a photographer before this. And that’s good training for dealing with people. You learn quickly how to suss people out and establish a rapport.

How big an influence does the TV show ‘Mad Men’ have one men’s hair?It was huge. That look was very much in demand for a while. It’s a very masculine, 1950s style, where hair is worn very short, with a little bit of a pomp at the front – like Frank Sinatra or Cary Grant. I love that look for a man.

If the ‘Mad Men’ look is waning, what is the latest trend?The really big thing now is called the undercut. This is where you wear your hair very tight hair on the back and sides, but long on top, slicked back or to the sides. It was one of the characters on the show Boardwalk Empire who made this style popular. In Germany, it’s known as the Hitler Youth haircut.

Aside from TV shows and fascist paramilitary organisations, where else do men look for hair inspiration?Footballers are influential. David Beckham, in particular, still exerts a massive influence on a lot of people. Television, as you said, is also hugely important. When Mad Men took off, that had an influence that trickled all the way down to shows like Glee. Traditionally, musicians are popular trend-setters too. The Beatles are often credited with almost killing off the entire barbering industry in the early 1960s. But I can’t think of any musicians who are as influential now. Well, maybe Gary Barlow.

Gary Barlow?Yes, his name comes up. Guys in their late 20s ask for that look, because it’s mature, but still youthful. And it’s very manageable.

Danielle Keogh blogs at barbereile.blogspot.com