Bringing Back the Barbers: Autocutt

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?


A toy repli­ca of Chris’ Kom­bi Van on dis­play

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.

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