Health & Grooming: Blade Runners

  • Nathaniel Reade

My college roommate, Ira, knew how to live well. “Come on!” he said one day as he dragged me into an old barbershop in Providence, R.I., that I had walked by hundreds of times, and ordered each of us a shave. I settled into the smooth contours of the leather chair, my face moistened under a hot towel, and soon realized what Ira already knew: A barbershop shave is one of life’s highly civilized pleasures.

As I was lying supine at Geo F. Trumper recently, I thought of that first shave with Ira. A London institution since 1875, Trumper—with its Oriental carpets, chandeliers, and the smell of sandalwood and lime in the air—is a far cry from the neighborhood barbershop where I was initiated into the ranks of the professionally clean shaven. “It’s not a shop,” says Assistant Manager Gary Stevens. “It’s more like a club.”

Stevens, in tie and vest, led me past manicurists, shoe-shiners, and customers with bespoke suits and Eton accents to his mahogany-and-marble cubicle. He drew the curtain, settled me into a green leather chair, and asked how I like my coffee. Then he draped me with a gown and wrapped my entire face with a steaming towel, leaving an opening only large enough to breathe through. This towel had been sprinkled with Trumper’s West Indian Extract of Limes aftershave. Ah, bliss.

Eventually Stevens removed the towel, massaged my face with a lime-scented Trumper product called Skin Food, a conditioner made with rose water that is used to protect the skin and help the razor glide more easily. Then he brandished a shaving brush made of silver-tipped badger hair that was almost the size of an ice-cream cone. He loaded it with Trumper’s own shaving cream, producing a warm, thick, citrus-scented lather far superior to any that comes from a can. He pulled up at a sideburn and skimmed the straightedge razor down my cheek with a slight sandpaper rasp. Al-lowing a perfect stranger to hold a razor to your jugular may be the greatest measure of trust, and Stevens is so skilled that most of his customers fall asleep while he’s shaving them.

When he had completed his expert handiwork, Stevens placed a cold, damp towel on my face to close the pores. He carefully patted my face dry and applied more Skin Food, followed by an unscented moisturizer with UV filters, then more lime aftershave. He combed my hair, removed the gown, and brushed my clothes. After half an hour of such warm, scented, soothing treatment, my mind was at rest, and my cheeks were, as they say in some parts of London, “smooth as a baby’s arse.”

For the connoisseur who wishes to make the Trumper experience last longer than a day, a Trumper barber can provide a personalized shaving and skin care lesson using the shop’s creams, colognes, brushes, and razors. You can also find Trumper’s wares on the Internet at www. trumpers.com, as well as at Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks.

In Trumper’s shop, beside a framed letter from Winston Churchill thanking the owner for a “handsome set of hairbrushes,” hangs a Royal Warrant, dated 1920, signed by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Trumper’s first of five Royal Warrants was bestowed by Queen Victoria. Apparently the Windsor family, like my friend Ira, understands that few things are better than a good barber shave.

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