Aidan Gill’s old-school salon was named best new barbershop last year, and he’s become oracle in America’s fastest-growing industries.
On a busy stretch of the Garden District in New Orleans—miles from the frat-boy brouhaha of Bourbon Street—Aidan Gill is rebuilding the idea of the American male, one haircut at a time.
Walk into his shop and you’re met with a monument to the history of barbering (here, it’s almost necessary to call them “barber arts”): Glass cases on the wall display tonics and lotions of ancient pedigree along with old blades, powder brushes, and some downright-medieval-looking grooming devices. Gill himself is an encyclopedia of the barbershop: He can spout off the history of the trade back to 11th century monks while referencing arcane tools of the trade.
Customers are welcomed by a barber in a bow tie and neat shirt, who offers you a choice of whiskey, local beer, or soft drink before you sit down. New Orleans jazz pumps out of a radio in the back. Women are relegated to the front of the store, where they can peruse the selection of razors, aftershaves, and gifts, including books such as How to Raise a Gentleman
. The back, where the haircutting happens, is for men only. It’s no shocker that Playboy
named Aidan Gill the No. 1 barbershop in America last year.
While he’s honoring the trade’s past, Gill is also trying to redefine its future. He’s at the forefront of a trend that has been sweeping the nation over the past few years: the renaissance of the American barbershop and the rise of hip, young boutique salons.
Cosmetology and barber schools is the No. 1 fastest growing industry for 2011, according to AnythingResearch.com. The industry grew 29 percent since last year, with an average company size of $1.3 million. Charles Kirkpatrick, the executive officer of the National Association of Barber Boards of America, recently told the New York Times the number of licensed barbers had grown roughly 10 percent in the last two years, from 225,000 to 245,000.
Gill says the resurgence is long overdue.
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