There's a time and place for the bearded face--it's hard to imagine the 1970s, Abraham Lincoln or two-thirds of ZZ Top any other way--but trend analysts and barbers agree that the naked chin is in.
"The last trend was to have a day or two of growth," says Henri Soucy, a Beverly Hills barber for two decades. "And goatees were in for the last couple of years as well. But that's all starting to fade away now." Today's twenty- and thirtysomethings are going for the cleaner and fresher look that comes with keeping the face clean-shaven.
They're also increasingly willing to stick their neck out for a trained professional. Since 1805, British barbershop Truefitt & Hill's client list has read like a who's who of the well-heeled homme--including Oscar Wilde, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. Says Guy Cartwright, president of Truefitt & Hill's North American operations: "In the last two to three years we've seen the straight-razor shave business double as a percentage of our business."
For any half-awake man who has dragged a razor across his face, Grant's visage in particular inspires a sort of wonderment. Was that famously dimpled chin a sand trap in the leisurely golf strokes of the morning shave, or could he deftly navigate the cleft with nary a nick?
Audrey Hepburn gets right to the point in the 1963 movie "Charade," when she flirtingly touches his chin and asks: "How do you shave in there?" Hepburn could have answered her own question by watching 1959's "North by Northwest." In a key scene from that movie, Grant hides from the cops in plain sight behind a face full of lather in the restroom of a train station. Armed with only a tiny safety razor, he glances jealously at the man next to him, who's engaging in luxuriously broad strokes with a straight razor.
The folks at Truefitt & Hill were short on the specifics of Grant's patronage except to say that he did stop by the London shop to get a shave when he was in town. But they know exactly what he experienced. CEO Cartwright says the Truefitt process has remained "virtually unchanged" over the decades. "It's nine hot towels and three separate shaves," he says. "Once with the grain, once against and once back with the grain." Unfortunately, if you're looking to duplicate the experience, you'd better have some frequent-flier miles--the company's only North American outposts are independently owned and are in Chicago and Toronto.
Still, it's possible to get a Grant-worthy straight-razor shave in Los Angeles. If you want to give your visage the VIP treatment, check out these barbershops. Be sure to call ahead for an appointment.
* Gornik & Drucker's in Beverly Hills has been a local institution since 1936. Autographed photos of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, George Hamilton and many others crowd the wall, making it look as though Grant was one of the few celebrities who didn't darken Drucker's doorstep at least once during his Hollywood heyday. There, $35 to $40 will buy you the Cadillac of shaves, followed by a face full of pure cocoa butter, a bracing splash of bay rum after-shave and a cold towel to close the pores.
* The Larchmont Barber Shop opened in the 1920s, which makes it even more of an L.A. institution than Drucker's. Currently run by Jerry Cottone, a genial barber with a gentle touch, crossing the threshold of the shop is like stepping back into another era. A shave here will cost you $21. For your money, Cottone tips you almost horizontal, primes your face with hot towels and spreads on a thick cream from a hot latherer. After a first pass with the straight razor, he repeats the process, slowly feeling his way across your face to make sure he hasn't missed a hair.
* Phil's His and Hers Barber Salon is a great place to get your facial forest pruned if you're in Burbank with an extra 20 minutes before your guest appearance on Leno. Located in a mini-mall diagonally across from the Burbank district offices of AAA, and sporting '70s-era male-female symbols in the front window, Phil's looks like the last place you'd expect to find a great straight-razor shave. But what it lacks in clubby barbershop ambience it makes up for in experience. The namesake owner, 62-year-old Phil Nunez, has been wielding a straight razor since 1958. Cross his palm with $11 and he'll cut you so close that four days out you'll swear you still don't have any stubble.
* Fred Segal Beauty in Santa Monica is the place to pamper the face while the better half boutique-hops her way through retail therapy. Thirty-year-old Nate Richard manages to meld old-school traditions of the barbering trade with the new cool of surfer dude demeanor, complete with barber-themed tattoos. For $35, this young gun will shave you once with the grain using hot lather, and once across the grain with the eucalyptus-scented Proraso shaving cream, with hot towels in between. When finished, he'll send you on your way with a splash of bay rum and a complimentary cigar.
No matter where you ultimately choose to go under the blade, the truth is that all the cocoa butter, bay rum and straight-razor shaves in the Southland won't turn you into a dimpled Cary Grant. But they can make you feel like your chin just got the star treatment.
Gornik & Drucker's, 9740 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 274-7131. The Larchmont Barber Shop, 142 1/2 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 464-6659. Phil's His and Hers Barber Salon, 932 W. Alameda, Burbank; (818) 843-4707 or (818) 846-4331. Fred Segal Beauty barbershop, 420 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 451-5155.