Interviewed by Emma MacArthur & Phoebe Yu
The art of barbering is one of the most ancient arts in the history of mankind. Still to this day, men seek to be well groomed and feel good in their appearance that they are presenting to the world. And although styles and cuts have changed, the primary concept of wanting to look good will never wither. When thinking of a barbershop, we tend to think of those classic little shops filled with old men chatting and a barber’s pole spinning outside the window. With only a few of these time capsules in men’s grooming left today, it is a rarity when you find one almost perfectly intact still delivering the same service it would have over 60 years ago. And so is the case with Brian Hurson and his barbershop the Nite Owl, which offers every great quality of a classic barbershop to the men of Toronto today, and at a very reasonable price. We went to Nite Owl to have a chat with Brian Hurson and experienced firsthand the craft of barbering.
How did you end up getting into barbering and when was this shop first founded?
This shop opened up back in 1947 and then it was closed for 10 years. The owner of the shop sold it to me and we reopened it in January of this year. I got into barbering about 16 years ago. I grew up going to salons and kind of not having a great barber experience, then I found a barbershop called The Waldorf Barbershop in Dublin Ireland where I’m from. I loved it, I had a really great experience, I got hooked. I slowly started asking them to teach me how to do a straight razor shave and then how to do haircuts. I learned how to shave before I could do a haircut. It was honestly just turning a hobby into a job.
In your opinion, how are barbershops in today’s age and what haircuts are popular now?
The thing is I’ve been barbering for a long time. I moved to Toronto two and a half years ago, so it’s funny for me to come here where it’s very trendy to be in this profession. It’s a good thing for the industry, but I think the super high and tight faded haircuts won’t always be around, but the concept of going to a barber shop where you’re offered consistency and a full solid cut every three weeks is something that will still be around. And I just feel like people are getting used to the fact that they can come in for a fair fee and get good service.
What do you think are the best haircuts for men?
In my opinion, just a clean neckline, not necessarily faded, a nice clean taper something not too extreme. Just a clean well-groomed classic look is always the best way to go. They used to say on barber posters “Look better, feel better.” Or “Someone is looking at the back of your neck.” So I’m obsessed with looking at the back of a guy’s necks. When you get a clean cut you totally take pride in yourself. Like, with a nice clean tapered neckline, it’s just kind of a grooming thing. Even for girls it’s a signifier that this man takes care of himself and looks good.”
In your shop you have the chairs facing away from the mirrors, why is that?
The reason why the barber shop is configured this way with the chairs facing away from the mirror is because it helps with conversation and you’re not alone looking at yourself in the mirror like in a salon. The people that go to a good barber shop just trust you and don’t need to be looking in the mirror the whole time to ensure that you didn’t miss anything. We really try to be the people that take care of the customer. We don’t need to ask a bunch of questions, we just know what will look best for them.
What would you suggest to men to upkeep their haircut within the three weeks of each appointment?
The idea of an expensive hair service followed by a free touch-up is sort of the opposite thing that we do. What we do is instead of customers coming back in for a touch-up, we provide a really affordable high quality service, where you get a close and clean shave, a hot towel and three to four weeks later it’ll be time to come back. Instead of spending sixty dollars on hair service at a salon and needing touch ups, we would just say, get a haircut.
What’s your uniform for work?
I always wear my black Redwing closed-toe shoes. They’ve been around since the fifties. They were initially designed for postal workers and they’re just really hard-core, good solid shoes. You have to be on your feet all day so these are really good work shoes. The black pants are Dickie’s 874’s, they’re just heavy drill good work pants. And the white smock is a snap button top. The white is for hygiene and also a tool for when you’re cutting someone’s hair. When you spin them around to the mirror you can see the dimensions in their haircut against the white background. That’s literally the reason why you wear white. So when I see a barber wearing black I don’t think it’s right.
What is the number one product you would recommend?
Definitely water-based pomade because it washes out easily. Try to stay away from gels because it gives you that really spiky 1990’s look. Also, stay away from heavy waxes because they’re going to leave residue in your hair. Just go with a fresh water-based pomade. A pomade from a brand I use named Crown Shaving has one I would recommend is called Hippie Killers.
For bookings go to www.theniteowl.ca or pop in at their shop at 3397 Lakeshore Blvd West Toronto.
Photo credit: Duncan Peters