How a UK expat barber made his NY hair salon a cut above
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
Making a name for yourself in any industry can be a challenge, but doing so in an industry like hair and grooming poses its own unique set of challenges. One person who has managed to set himself aside from the pack has done so by looking to the past to gain insights about the style of the future.
Sunshine Coast designer Adrian Ramsay spoke to a fellow creative, in NY-based, UK-born barber Russell Manley, a ‘pioneer’ of the retro-modern barbershop movement.
His NY and Tokyo salons – named ‘Ludlow Blunt’ – offer a truly traditional barbershop’s atmosphere. “Our interior has authentic 1885 Cuban mahogany pharmacy cabinets and original 1930's barber chairs," the barber says, citing the originality of every aspect of his place of business.
"Every detail – from the fans to the light switches and cash register – is all original."
Russell Manley’s shop has been used as a movie set (in two episodes of Boardwalk Empire, as well as The Marvellous Mrs Maisel), and thanks to how traditionally maintained and presented it is, he receives the kind of praise from set designers for period dramas such as those that the film makers have to change the least.
“On Boardwalk Empire, the production designer said that the first thing they usually switch out are the light switches, but we even have period-correct light switches – mother of pearl, push button 1920s light switches. So I made his job easy.”
Russell’s aesthetic is as important as his abilities with a pair of scissors, so as to enhance the whole experience, rather than just have a tokenistic ‘flavour’ to the place.
“Admittedly, any interior project is governed by the budget and I understand why some people don’t go the whole hog; I’ve seen places where they’ll put down hexagonal ceramic tiles, and I was emphatic that we have ¾-inch Carrera marble tiles. Everything had to be just right.”
The conversation covered a lot of ground, from glass carving, to Russel’s having worked on the interiors in a German castle, to – of all things – hats. Likeminded design fanatics will always have a lot of things to talk about, and this conversation is no exception.
And the shop’s name? Russell took his cues from two sources: a book he was reading and a street name.
“Coming up with a name for your store is like coming up with a name for your band. Everything you think of sounds ridiculous until you marry it with the music you’re doing, or whatever else.
“I’ve never been a hair stylist, barber who likes to call the name of their shop by their own name. I prefer to be a little more in the shadows. None of my salons, and I’ve had three different ones in Brighton, in London and New York, and a fourth in Tokyo, none of them have ever been called by my own name. Being in New York, having arrived in 2008, at the time I was reading Gangs of New York … in it, the term ‘blunt’ meant ‘cash’. It was a slang term for cash. I kind of liked the name Blunt, and the name of the street of our first salon in New York was Ludlow, so, ‘Ludlow Blunt’.”
You can listen to the full audio of the podcast here.