The music of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti plays as I lie back in the barber’s chair at Rugged Yet Smooth. I’m surrounded not just by hair products, but by turntables and samplers: when head barber Mitch Johnson isn’t cutting and styling, he’s recording his own music inside the salon. Customers are accustomed to hearing everything from new-wave electronic to samba.

This music isn’t typical of a barbershop, but that’s the point. Rugged Yet Smooth in Neutral Bay aims to bring a refined approach to men’s grooming. “It’s a calm place, not a boisterous place,” says Johnson as he outlines the chronology of Kuti’s drummers.

“We’re a holistic men’s grooming salon,” adds owner Chatz Basnayake. “It’s a non-toxic environment all about proper styling advice.”

Johnson has more than a decade of experience as a hairdresser, including at Men’s Biz in the Strand Arcade. He says joining Rugged Yet Smooth was an opportunity for him to have more input in the direction of the salon, and it shows – in more than just the musical set-up.

Part of what elevates the service above that of a regular barbershop is the attention to detail. Johnson points to where my hair naturally parts, and then approaches from the other side, going against the grain. “I’m following the golden ratio, like a nautilus shell,” he says. Suddenly the shape of my hair makes sense.

After more than a decade working for haircare brands including L’Oréal and Schwarzkopf, Basnayake decided to step into the practical side of the industry. His vision includes a focus on Australian brands – Evo, Groomed Man Co and Jack the Snipper are all represented.

But Johnson’s styling goes beyond products. “So many dudes just make their own part line,” he says. “It’s been funny to see the change in some people who came in not really knowing much about their hair and styling, and then coming back actually caring about it.”

The services range from a 20-minute trim ($25) to a 45-minute treatment complete with hot towels ($75). Having opted for the latter, Johnson massages and exfoliates my face before applying the towels. They sear my skin for a split-second before I settle into my warm, refreshing cocoon. The two consecutive hot towels are orange and apple-scented. A third towel, cold and mint-scented, shocks me back into reality.

It’s followed by a wet shave, which leaves my skin feeling fresher than ever. As he adds product to my hair, Johnson gives me grooming advice I wish I’d had back in high school. Now my face is relaxed, my skin is clear, my beard is neat and I smell good. This is what Basnayake means when he talks about holistic grooming.

Rugged Yet Smooth
188 Military Road, Neutral Bay
(02) 8593 3626

Tue, Wed & Fri 10am–6pm
Thurs 10am–8pm
Sat 9am–4pm

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on October 17, 2019. Some details and prices may have changed since publication.