Truefitt & Hill’s scissors have attended to the likes of Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier, John Wayne, Cary Grant and, more recently, Prince George. Now, with the opening of the barber’s first Sydney outpost, on the top floor of the Queen Victoria Building (the first Australian store opened in Canberra last year), Sydneysiders can add their names to that esteemed list.
Established in 1805 in the central London district of St James’s, Truefitt & Hill has maintained a reputation for offering premium grooming services to gentlemen in a refined yet casual environment for more than two centuries. The barbershop has been certified by Guinness as the oldest in the world, and has received a royal warrant, meaning it’s officially recognised for providing services to the most senior members of the royal family. (Other companies granted this seal of approval include Heinz, Twinings and Burberry.)
Barber Samuel Kerr-Sheppard, who trained at the London School of Barbering and walked past the original St James’s store often as a child, says there’s no better place in the world to be plying his trade right now.
“Sydney is experiencing a male-grooming boom,” he says as he wraps a hot towel carefully around my face, preparing my pores for an imminent close shave. “Men are finally opening up to the idea that it’s okay to spend a little bit of time looking after themselves.”
As well as classic barbering services, including haircuts, hot-towel wet shaves, beard trimming and colouring services, the barbershop’s “menu” offers a range of options designed to simultaneously refine appearances and alleviate the pressures of modern life.
“Some of our services are quite niche,” says Kerr-Sheppard of treatments such as facial massages; manicures; face masks; and ear, nose, eyebrow and cheek waxing, all of which are offered both individually or as part of packaged experiences. “Not many guys would be open to those kinds of things generally, but when they see it on our menu they’re enticed. It’s a private environment and it all comes back to feeling safe in here. Feeling like you can look the best you can without any kind of stigma.”
Customers keen to kick back while being serviced can ask for a coffee, a beer or, for the full experience, a glass of 18-year-old single-malt Scotch whisky.
“Sometimes if someone has a whisky before a hot-towel shave they fall asleep during the treatment,” Kerr-Sheppard tells me as he gently massages my face after my shave.
The room we’re in is filled with elegant dark timber cabinetry and natural light flooding in from the QVB’s arched windows at the far end of the room. Frank Sinatra, who was also counted among the customers of the London branch, croons from invisible speakers, his voice punctuated by the sound of scissors snipping and ice blocks cracking in my glass of Scotch.
For those who prefer to be barbered more discretely, a private room (with a custom soundtrack and its own window looking down on York Street) is available for an additional $50.
Despite Truefitt & Hill’s slick appearance and relaxing services, Kerr-Sheppard says barbering at this level can have a serious side, with some customers using the rare moment of rest to open up about their lives.
“Because barbering is one of the few places where men come quite frequently, you tend to build up a clientele and develop a personal relationship with that clientele. And if somebody’s been in a bad headspace, or they want to reach out but they haven’t felt as though somebody’s there to talk to them, sometimes that comes out in the intimate environment of a barbershop.
“That’s an environment we’re trying to create – a comfortable place. Everyone is welcome.”
As my appointment comes to an end, my hair cut and styled and my beard trimmed and oiled, Sam hits the back of my clippered neck (we’ve opted for a tapered effect to suit the shape of my head, he tells me) with a few sprays of Truefitt & Hill’s signature scent, 1805. One of the barbershop’s several custom fragrances, its timber, musk and citrus notes further evoke the era of bowler hats, tweed coats and, of course, barbershops.
“As soon as you get a haircut,” Kerr-Sheppard says as he brushes a few errant hair clippings from my shirt, “you automatically feel so much better. It’s not just a haircut, it’s an experience.”
Truefitt & Hill
Level 2, Queen Victoria Building, 455 George Street, Sydney
Mon to Sat 9am–6pm