“In Australia, you say to your mate, 'I'll meet you in a bar or a restaurant'. In the south of Italy, you just meet at the barbershop,” says Vito Calvano. He’s worked in barbershops in his native Italy and elsewhere since he was 12 years old. “There was a barbershop across the street from me when I was a kid. After school, I'd go in there. Very early on, I developed a passion for it.”
When Calvano was 23 he opened a barbershop in his hometown of Barletta in Puglia. “It was open for five years, and then in my region, and in the rest of Italy, there started being problems with the economy. So I decided to shut the shop and start travelling the world.”
After spending time in Bali and Melbourne, Calvano now plies his trade at Men's Biz in the Strand Arcade. Originally an online business specialising in shaving products, then growing to offer skincare, haircare and fragrances, Men's Biz opened its first shop in the Royal Arcade in Melbourne 18 months ago. The Sydney store has been open for a month and already Calvano's skill with a straight razor has attracted a following.
Nathan Jancauskas is Men's Biz's managing director. “I interviewed hundreds of barbers, but none of them could shave like Vito,” says Jancauskas. “We're particularly known for shaves. Having the chair in the window and giving shaves there really explains what we're about,” he says.
And it does draw attention. A constant stream of office workers and tourists passes the shop, many pausing at the window to watch Calvano at work. A hot-towel shave takes half an hour and is a vastly different experience to the at-home shave, which for the majority of men, means shaving as quickly as possible before heading out the door.
But for Calvano, shaving is as much about the process, the ritual involved, as it is about the final outcome. Although the outcome is pleasing – a face as smooth as it was in preadolescence. “I get customers who have never had a proper shave before and they are just amazed,” he says. “A shave like this is not common here, but in Italy it is very common. Customers come in twice a week to have a shave,” says Calvano.
As well as the barbershop component, Men's Biz sells 2000 different products, both in-store and online, encompassing everything from toothpaste to fragrances.
For men seeking to improve the daily ritual of keeping their face smooth, Calvano offers a few simple pointers. “If you do one thing, buy a good shaving brush and use it for at least five minutes. The difference between taking one minute with a brush and five minutes is amazing. Also buy a good cream. And buy products specifically for you. Everyone's skin is different. So buy something suited to you.
“The other thing is to just relax. You don't relax when you're shaving at home, because you're normally running late for work, but relaxing is a big part of having a good shave.”
Shop 15, Strand Arcade, 412–414 George Street, City
(02) 8386 3577
Mon to Wed 9am–5.30pm