Michael Kontos interviewed by Robert Elms on BBC Radio London
Our Creative Director, Michael Kontos was invited onto the Robert Elms Show on BBC Radio One this week to give his opinion on the current barbershop environment and how the barber industry has evolved in recent years, and of course spoke about what we offer at London School of Barbering for any budding, aspiring barbers out there who want to get into the industry and current barbers/hairdressers who want to up their cutting game and refine their skills!
You can read the full interview below…..
RE: Good morning to you Michael.
MK: Good morning Robert.
RE: Am I right in saying that there has been something of a revival in the traditional barbershop skills?
MK: Absolutely there’s definitely some sort of Renaissance going on at the moment and you know a lot of people are coming to study with us at the moment because of this. You make a very good point you know, back in the day you use to go to your barbers when you were in your 30’s, 40’s, 60’s, but now it’s completely changed.
Men are going back to the barbershops, where as before they were going to the hair salons and the reasons why they were going to the hair salons because they wanted scissor cuts and the hairdressers didn’t really specialise in scissor cuts with clipper work, where now men are wanting more shorter what we call faded haircuts with a good scissor cut on top.
So what we do at LSB, we teach people how to cut the hair with the scissors and with the machine the clippers. So the men are using that to go back to the barbershops to get their gentleman service now.
RE: Do you also teach shaving?
MK: Yes we do, we teach wet shaving. We have a lot of people from the industry coming in to learn with us and they have found out that this is an extra service they could add and yeah bump up their salaries by offering this very kind of traditional service.
RE: I shave myself like most men do, but if my beard gets a little bit long and I haven’t addressed it for a few days or I’ve been on holidays and I haven’t shaved, rather than getting all messy at home, I love going to the barbers and getting some hot towels and letting a professional do it properly.
MK: Yeah let me tell you due to modern day advertising and marketing and social media, you know us men we don’t feel like we have to be macho anymore. We feel like we want to be beautiful now and we can go to the barbershops, we can get pampered and we can buy our products, we can buy our moisturisers, we can have another man touch us and it won’t feel any different. It will just be a like a service we can sit back, relax and enjoy.
RE: Now I don’t know what your background is Michael, but traditionally in London, barbers were all Italian when I was a kid and then many of them these days are Turkish or Greek Cypriot or African or West Indian, so there has always been that, hasn’t there? It’s sort of been a multiculturalism that has always reigned supreme in the barbershop.
MK: Yeah absolutely but that is all changing now, I mean like I said we get people from all walks of life coming in to study with us, from domestic students to international students, even females are now coming into barbering. Where as before you wouldn’t see a female in a barbershop, but that’s all changing now.
RE: Is this partly because as you said men are now going for more traditional styles because there was a period in my life, especially as a teenager, I had every weird and wacky haircut known to mankind, I had A symmetrical wedges, I had spikey punk cuts, I had mullets, I had them all, I had it dyed in many colours.
MK: Well back in your day in the 80’s, I mean it was just fashionable to just experiment and you know have those A symmetric created haircuts, the Sassoon period and that. Now it’s just a fusion of both, you know you can get the A symmetric haircuts but you can get a short back and sides that combines with that. So you get these very edgy haircuts with beautiful quiffs. I’m sure you’ve seen them on the high street.
RE: Look I’ve got a 21 year old son and to be honest, he constantly has a number one crop. That’s his chosen look.
MK: Well the most popular haircut that we tend to do at the moment is what we call the disconnection.
RE: What’s that?
MK: It’s very short on the sides and like you’ve got this long quiff on top, you’ll see many footballers and athletics wearing this.
RE: Yeah in the old days, it would have had sort of rock ability connotations almost, but yeah I know exactly what you mean.
MK: Yeah absolutely, but that’s the thing the cultural identity is no longer attached to the haircut. You know anyone can wear it. It almost like you know, back in the day you wore a rock ability haircut and you were rocker, you wore a teddy boy haircut, you were a teddy boy…
RE: You had a skinhead crop, you were a skinhead. My son is not a skinhead, he just has a number one crop.
MK: Exactly, unfortunately we don’t have that cultural separation anymore for you know groups, certain groups.
RE: Do you work on how to work with different sorts of hair, so obviously like Afro hair, Asian hair, Chinese hair?
MK: One of the reasons why our school is very successful is because our students, they manage to train on a lot of heads on hair when they come in. In just 9 weeks, from beginners they practice on about 150 haircuts, which is very usual for a barbering academy to offer so many haircuts and the reason why we do that is because we have loads of guys coming in from all backgrounds, from all cultures. Mainly students, Chinese students, Asian students, you know European students come to get a free haircut from us. We don’t treat them like models we treat them like clients. They come in for a service, they get treated like as if they were paying for a £25 haircut and they go out. The only commitment they have to do is sit in the chair for one hour but going back to your question; yes we cater for all hair types. We live in London so the diversity is of the everyday man is in abundance.
RE: Do you also teach barbering etiquette, do you teach how to talk to clients, do you see what I am trying say, all that sort of stuff?
MK: Yes absolutely it is such an important part of the service, It really really is. Again one of the reasons why men will go into a hair salon rather than the barbers is because back in the day, the barbers didn’t know how to give a good consultation and a consultation is a series of questions that identifies what the client needs. So that‘s really important as a learning part for our students to make sure they know how to treat the clients as they come in from start to finish and asking the right questions so they can give the right service and give the right haircut.
RE: Do they also talk about your sex life, your football team, your chances of winning at the horse race that afternoon, your political aspirations, do you see what I’m trying to say because all of that stuff was something that the barber did something for the weekend sir and all of that?
MK: Well I don’t know what goes on in the barbershops at the moment in terms of that because I come from a hairdressing background and I was told never talk about sex, politics, and religion when you’re in the chair because it may ruffle a few feathers and you don’t want to lose any clients. I still believe in that, and when it comes to personal stuff you don’t want to upset your client, cause you want to retain the client. It’s all about client retention, building up your columns, I always say its 50% personality and 50% skill to be able to retain that client and get them to come back and feel comfortable in your chair.
RE: To what degree do you always give the client what they want, even if what they want is not a very good idea; do you see what I mean?
MK: Well that’s a very good question; I try to teach my students, is to try not give the client what they want but what they need.
RE: Right, convince them that’s what they want.
MK: Yes exactly, they will actually appreciate that more, they will think oh no one actually suggested that to me and then when you come out with something new and fresh and they didn’t think it would suit them, you will get more respect that way from the client. Again word of mouth is the best way of marketing yourself, people wearing your haircut on the high street and again that’s why barbers are getting really, really busy now and there’s a lot of money to be made.
RE: You said that your students work on students, largely young people and my son has gone many times and got a free haircut, I don’t know whether it has been from your academy or a different one, what happens if it goes wrong?
MK: It very rarely goes wrong, like I said we have 900 models coming in for free haircuts a week and then we send out emails to those models asking for their feedback. 99% of the time, everyone is very satisfied because the instructions that we give to the students are very thorough.
RE: And also I guess you have fully qualified people standing around to step in if it goes wrong.
MK: Exactly, we have one teacher supporting nine students at any one time and we have like six classes going on. So they are there, they have hands on support and guidance, as they go through the course, they just gain a lot more confidence. And let me tell you something else, it’s not just 16, 17 and 18 year olds I’m teaching, I’m teaching 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 year olds that are coming out of your day to day office jobs and saying you know what, ‘hey I’ve had enough of this’. They just want have an easy job where they can leave at the door and come back to it the next day without any stress from the previous day. We have bankers, policemen; we have loads of people from all walks of life.
RE: Do you normally recommend that people should have their hair washed before they have it cut, or not, or do you dry wash or dry cut I mean?
MK: I always believe that with a clean haircut, you will get a much better result. Yeah because what happens when the hair is dirty it sticks together. So it will never lay as it should do, to the eye, the trained eye. You’ll always see imperfections if the hair is not washed. So for us, we love to wash the hair before so we can do a perfect haircut.
RE: What do you think is a fair price for a gentleman’s haircut?
MK: Well I always believe that you should pay for time. You know you are paying for the service and for the time you are in the chair.
RE: And for the expertise of the person, yeah!
MK: Absolutely and the skill, if you’re in the chair for fifteen minutes, you get a £10 haircut, if you’re in the chair for a half an hour, you get a £20-£25 haircut, if you’re in the chair for an hour, you get a £50 haircut. So you know as for any tradesman, you know you look at builders, plumbers, anyone that’s in the refurbishing industry, they get a fair amount that values what they do, and haircutting is no different to them in my eyes. It’s still a skill, it’s still a craft that takes time to do a really good haircut and still to this day I don’t do any haircuts that are any less than 45 minutes.
RE: If people are interested in the London School of Barbering where can they find out more Michael?
MK: Just go to our website http://www.londonschoolofbarbering.com
RE: Where are you based?
MK: We’ve got two academies; we’ve got one in Covent Garden, and we’ve got one in Farringdon on the opposite side of the Smithfield meat market.
RE: Do you know what, that is where my son goes to get his hair cut every now and then, so someone at your place would have been cutting his hair, there’s no doubt. It’s the one in Farringdon he goes to, definitely!
MK: I’m not surprised, like I said 900 models come in every week for free haircuts. Like I said we must be doing something right if they keep on recommending their friends. Like I said it’s all word of mouth, so yeah come to us for a free haircut and if you ever want to learn the trade. Or if you’re in the trade already, I forget to tell you that we have lots of people already in the trade that are coming to us.
RE: Sort of a refresher, or?
MK: Barbers, hairdressers that want to learn. Say for example hairdressers that want to learn clipper work and barbers that want to learn scissor work.
So the hairdressers are catching on now, they’re thinking ‘omg the barbers are really good with clipper work, I better go and learn that’, because they are using their clients, so men are not going into the salons anymore for that reason. So and then barbers as well, they are actually catching on that they need to get more skilled with the scissor work. You think they are the same thing, but they are not, they are cutting hair but you got to learn both skills and that’s what we pride ourselves on, is fusing these two professions to create the perfect haircut.
RE: Michael Kontos, Creative Director of the London School of Barbering, thank you very very much sir.
Date: Tues 9th May 2017
Show: Robert Elms
Station: BBC Radio One