Originally published in National Post’s “Post Toronto” section on December 19, 2009
by Brad Frenette
There is a tale in my family that starts with my great-grandfather, then a hunter and trailblazer, who, when leaving the bush for the city, would visit a barber for a straight-razor hot shave.
On this particular day, however, a customer at the shop insulted his French-Canadian heritage. Having none of it, the small but strong bushman stood up from the red chair and, without wiping away the shaving cream from his half-shaven face, knocked the scoundrel through the shop’s front window.
It’s a story that fuels the testosterone of the men in my family. And it also set the tone for us follicularly. No fancy salons, then, we’ll take the red chair.
So when asked to inquire about new Toronto “men’s studio” Mankind, I was skeptical. While it promises an old-school barber shop feel, the menu also features traditional salon services — everything from pedicures to paraffin hand treatments. So to help test the manliness of this place, I brought my father, who has the best BS detector of any man I know as well as the most consistent facial hair — only twice have I seen him sans beard.
We enter the salon on a cold December morning and are hit with the duality of the place: The front space could have been transported from a turn-of-the-century barber shop, while the back looks like a salon, albeit one painted with a masculine brush: each chair accompanied by a flat-screen TV and an Xbox at the ready.
Not one for video games, my dad looks a bit uncomfortable but relaxes as he settles into the red barber chair at the front of the store. He’s going for the hot shave and has agreed to take off his beard. If you’re going to part with $65 on a shave, no whisker should be left in place.
Mankind was founded by friends Jason Culala, a stylist, and Noel Naguiat, an art director at an advertising agency. Polling a cross-section of their male peers, they found that there were enough of them looking for an alternative to traditional salons that a men’s studio was a viable business.
In the six weeks that it’s been open, Mankind’s clientele has included all types — from construction workers to musicians.
“Grooming is huge right now. At spas, 30 to 40% of the clientele are men. But they don’t feel comfortable,” Naguiat says.
Culala oversaw Mankind’s design and tweaked until it was a space he felt at home in.
Still, several dudes remain on the fence, Naguiat says, but he believes that even in a recession– especially in a recession –men need a bit of pampering.
I opt for The Alpha Male–a $45 haircut with extras: scalp massage, hand massage, and hot towel. It’s as relaxing as it sounds.
Almost an hour and a half after his 45-minute shave, my father’s face is bald and Mankind’s straight shave expert looks spent. My dad sits for a cut, too, and, then surprisingly, a paraffin wax hand treatment. He smiles at me as if to say: “This won’t happen again.”
After, I ask him how it went. “The shave was painful,” he says. Granted, his face hadn’t seen a close shave in a decade or so. “But the hair cut and hand treatment were great.”
“Who would you recommend the $65 shave to?” I ask.
“A guy who spends $45 for a hair cut.”