It was the time of James Dean and Rockabilly, the 1960s, and you could hear the music wafting through the streets. A group of ladies nursing their teas at a streetside cafe chatted away, giggling like a gaggle of geese. Suddenly, a man in a black leather jacket and a Caferacer bike swerves up to a stop in front of the coffee house, the screeching sound of the breaks almost in tandem with the music playing.
He swings down from his bike, his lithe movements catching the attention of the ladies, who immediately ceased their chattering to take a curious look. The moment he gets down, he removes his jet black helmet in one motion and combs up his fringe, putting each strand back to its original position in a Rockabilly-styled hair. The ladies, mouth agape, could only breathily gasp: “ Oh, boy!”
As Chris Seow, owner of Autocutt barbershop recounts the scene that played in his head as he brainstormed for the pomade he was tasked to design, we could see it unfold before our very own eyes. Looking at the pomade bottle, he has captured the essence of the Rockabilly vibes well. The name of the pomade, “ O Boy”, now takes on a deeper, albeit humorous, meaning. It represents the era that is now lost, and can only be preserved through the recreation and memory of the next generation.
With a neat slickback and a goatee that is considered loud and bold in our society, one would never have thought that Chris is also a lecturer teaching Communications and Design.
Chris, graphic designer turned barber, vividly recalls his brave first attempt at barbering on a drunk guy, thinking that he would never recall who did it the next day if he had bungled it. He went from designing his Thai friend Ton’s pomade range to learning the art of barbering (from Ton as well), and subsequently took on an active role in creating this pomade, which he can proudly say now, is their own creation.
As his background was steep in design, Chris knew nothing about cutting someone’s hair. He had left the work of Autocutt to the recruits. But as the going got tough, Chris realised that he has to know the ways himself before he is able to ensure the best quality service for his customers, and to manage his shop better. With Ton as his mentor, Chris picked up the art of barbering on the streets of Bangkok, before bringing it back to Autocutt.
“ As I came to start being hands-on myself, things have really picked up faster. Because the people can see the passion in you, and see that you really want to make good things out of it.”
Soon, due to word of mouth, more started booking appointments at Autocutt. Chris observed that when he first started the business 4 to 5 years ago, boutique barbershops as such were few and far between. However, as the years passed, the trend for barbershops gained traction. To him, the trend is not his chase, but preserving the art of gentlemen’s grooming, as well as the authentic barbershop experience. But it is not exclusive only to the gentlemen; he does provide services for ladies from time to time. You can see it in the little details, from the decor to his products, that his dreams remain sharp as a freshly shaved man.
How Autocutt rises above is the way they turned their shop into a vehicle of immaculate grooming — literally (hence the name Autocutt, stemming from the word automobiles). Drawing inspiration from the mobile barbers from the past, Chris sets up his barbershop wherever the opportunity presents itself, whether it’s an art and craft exhibition in Penang or an outdoor bazaar in the heart of Singapore.
He has done his barbering in many places in Thailand and Malaysia, where he can set up shop practically anywhere on the street. The last event he did was at Tanjong Pagar railway before it closed down. His Kombi vans will park and open up at the back — sometimes the sides too, to accommodate more customers — where he will install mirrors and chairs before he starts his snipping and scraping. It is an intriguing idea that never fails to attract people’s attention. How often is it that you’d witness something like this in the middle of a busy metropolis?
Many Singaporean males have a preconception that patronising a barbershop just to take off a measly amount of hair (compared to full beards the Caucasians tend to sport) is a waste of time, and well… a little embarrassing. But Chris is hoping to change that mindset, be it a haircut, or a shave. Just as the ladies go for spas and facial appointments, male grooming is a means of relaxation and pampering, even if one is kind of hairless. Just sit back and enjoy the way the blade scrapes across your skin in a tingly sensation, and the skillful massage that accompanies the shave. It is money well spent, or at least to us.
Chris hopes to keep barbering alive till the end of time, so that many more can relive the experience and luxury of proper male grooming.