If you live in towns with historic city centers such as Whittier, Orange or
On the periphery of this
Mr. M —a Chicano born in
A practitioner of his own well-grooming gospel,
Mr. M's father instilled in him a passion for barbering through visits to American Razor in Fullerton. But as an adult, he frequented American Vintage Barber for service from the late great Carlos Gomez, with whom Mr. M developed a special bond. "Barbering is definitely relationship-based. If I don't go to my barber, and I go back three months later, it feels like I cheated on them," he says with a laugh. "I want to have a friendship with the person who is cutting my hair, not someone who thinks they're too cool for me, which oddly happens."
Now that barbering has become a lucrative business, Mr. M says weeding out those who are faking the funk for a quick buck from the true-school barbers is important for anyone who respects the culture like he does. "Some people are going into for the wrong reasons," he says. "They're not taking it as a profession; they're taking it as a hustle and a game. Many [new barber shops] aren't barber-owned; they're cosmetologist-owned.
"To have that barber pole," Mr. M continues, a slight frustration now settling into his voice, "you have to have a barber's license—and only a barber can use a straight razor."
In 2012, legislation in Michigan proposed banning cosmetologists from using the sacred barber's pole. Mr. M says a third-generation barber in Chicago (who once had the mob running operations out of his basement) once summarized the issue of poseurs saturating the barber scene to him best: "A nurse can't put outside her business that she's a doctor—you just can't do that. . . . If you're a cosmetologist, that's fine. But don't pass off as a barber just to saturate and absorb as much as you can from the industry."
According to Mr. M, today's revived interest in barbering is credited to three OC pioneers who deserve the highly coveted yet often loosely used title of "master barber." "Jake Bricks and Eric Webb are the
Jake Bricks of Jake's Barbershop cultivated a following of suburban rebels, Chicanos and international rock stars such as Morrissey and Boz Boorer of the Polecats at his business in Orange. (Bricks died in 2000.) Eric Webb of Circle City Barbers (our winner for Best Barber Shop in 2012) is still humbly offering his craftsmanship from a quaint shop in Old Towne Orange. And Donnie Hawley of Hawleywood's barber shops in Costa Mesa, Huntington
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While Mr. M celebrates
As for all of the opportunist bandwagon barbers out there, Mr. M has a few words of warning: "[Barbering is] gonna burst— it's bursting right now because of saturation and trends." He feels only true-blooded barbers will stick around when long hair inevitably makes a comeback, as it did during the "Great Barber Depression" of the 1960s-1990s. "[The barber shop] is the heartbeat of the community, and that's what these people don't understand," he explains. "It's going to be there long after the trend is gone—if you really were a true barbershop."
He's currently working on a book called Revival of the Traditional Barbershop, which will document the most influential barber shops in Southern California for its first edition; an all-natural shaving cream; the latest issue of The Avenue; and a documentary on Romero, a renowned barber and rockabilly musician from Silver Lake. "Somehow, my life was destined for me to do what I've done," Mr. M says as he shares that his mother followed a Mexican Catholic tradition of praying to saints for certain blessings. She prayed to St. Martin de Porres to bless her with a son. "All my life, I always knew he was my patron saint. Turns out he's the patron saint of barbers, too."
To follow Mr. M's work, visit www.gentlemensavenue.com.