Friday, November 28, 2014

Defying Stereotype: Truefitt & Hill's Julie Robinson, The Lady Barber

In the world of barber shops and male grooming, it is very hard to imagine a women within the settings of tough brown leather, musky scents and raging male testosterone. However, for Julie Robinson, Master Barber and International Trainer at Truefitt & Hill, these settings are an everyday affair. Julie is one of the few females, who have broken stereotype in the world of male grooming and have gone on to become one of the few female barbers (or barberettes) who are making a mark in a primarily male dominated men's grooming industry. The Purplenista managed to bag an interview with her, when she had come down to to train two female barberettes for the Mumbai salon.  Read on to know more about the famous Lady Barber, Julie Robinson as she talks about making it as a lady barber, grooming industry and latest trends.

At the young age of 15, Julie Robinson had kicked started her career as a lady barber in the male grooming industry. Born and raised in Australia, she had commenced her apprenticeship at a salon in Sydney. After gaining experience, Julie had moved to London in 2002, where she was employed at various elite barbershops, such as, Selfridges and Harrods.

Here, she gained invaluable experience in male grooming arena, while providing barbering services to high profile clientèle. She accomplished her dream by joining Truefitt & Hill, where she was trained by Truefitt’s Master Barbers, who boast of a combined experience of over 200 years. Over the years, while working at Truefitt &Hill, she has provided barbering services to crème-de-la-crème of the British society, as well as, A list Hollywood celebrities. She specializes in traditional bespoke men's hairstyles and traditional wet shaves. 

Master Barber, Julie Robinson
We would really appreciate it if you tell us something about yourself. Why did you choose barbering as a career path?

I love the detail and the technical aspects of men’s haircuts, as well as, the skill involved in a traditional hot towel wet shave. Having been given the opportunity to work at Truefitt & Hill, I have had the chance to further my skill set, while working with the top barbers in the male grooming industry. The culture and atmosphere at Truefitt is also very different to that of a female salon. Walking into Truefitt & Hill, you are washed over with a sense of luxurious calm. We aim to pamper our clients in an atmosphere of quiet masculine sophisticated luxury and this is what sets us apart from female salons, but also other barbershops. Truefitt has often been compared to a gentleman’s club of St James’s and we promote this atmosphere where our customers not only arrive for a service, but also often to disengage from their busy lives. 

When we think of barber shops, we usually imagine leather chairs, musky after shaves, moustaches and men of all ages cracking jokes, and we rarely see women barbers in such places. Please do tell us of your experience of working as female barber in a male dominated area?

Truefitt has always been a very forward looking company and has pioneered many trends. One of which is the employment of female staff. Our history shows that even as far back as 1880, Truefitt & Hill were employing women. In fact, under the guidance of Miss West, Truefitt has even opened the first Manicure and Chiropody Court.

Since then a number of women have worked at Truefitt & Hill and it seems that I have followed in their footsteps. As such, I was welcomed by all my peers when joining Truefitt & Hill some of whom were women. It is apparent that Truefitt has realised the advantages of having female barbers amongst their team long ago, and I think that this example of innovative thinking has been responsible for Truefitt’s success and for staying in business to be recognised as the 'Oldest Barbershop in the World' by the Guinness Book of World Records in April 2000. I also think that it’s important to remember that intelligence, personality and ability of the person standing behind the chair matters much more than gender, which has no bearing on learning a new skill. I will, however, say that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity of learning from Truefitt & Hill’s male Master Barbers, some of whom have been working here for over 40 years!

Julie at Mumbai's Truefitt & Hill Salon
What, in your opinion, is the difference between men and women barbers?

By the very virtue of being a woman, we are more caring and gentle. We instinctively look after our clients and are in tune with their needs. Women have also been pampering themselves for decades and are more aware of different treatments. For example, I have been having facial for many years now and as a result, not only do I recognise the advantages of various procedures having experienced them first hand, but I also know how these services should feel to the customer and what elements of the treatments are most pleasurable.

How do you think men react to women barbers?

The most important thing to remember is to be confident. If you are confident, your customer will feel confident. Our customers know that when they come to Truefitt & Hill that they are in the most capable hands - whether it be a man or a woman performing the service.

Have you noticed a rise in women choosing barbering as a career path?

Absolutely. There’s definitely been an increase in woman barbers over the last few years. It has been estimated that by 2016 the global male grooming market will be worth around USD 21.4 Billion making it a very exciting industry to be involved in. You just have to look at Truefitt & Hill. Today we have stores not only in London and India, but also in Toronto, Chicago, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Beijing and Azerbaijan with some really exciting new territories being pinpointed for 2015!

If so, what advice would you have for women looking to get into grooming and barbering?

Persevere with it. The first few years can be challenging but so is any new skill. I think it is also important to remember you have to continually push yourself and ensure you are always learning. Even though I’m a Master Barber at the most renowned barbershop in the world, I am constantly ensuring that I am ahead and constantly keep a track of all the new trends.

Any issues or problems that women barber might face in the grooming and shaving business?

I have never had any problems and only ever felt welcomed and supported by both my clients and colleagues at Truefitt & Hill. I hope this will also be the case in India. 

Do tell us something about the training process for women at Truefitt & Hill? 

All barbers undergo rigorous training and are treated equally at Truefitt & Hill regardless of gender. Only at Truefitt & Hill has there been the continuity of service and barbering expertise stretching for over two centuries, making their knowledge and experience is second to none. 

We are able to pass on techniques and advice that no textbook could ever offer. I am now fortunate to be able to pass my expertise on and training the female barbers here in India, which has been such a wonderful experience. They are all exceptionally talented barbers and I am thrilled to have been able to pass on the knowledge and experience that I have been able to learn from the Masters at Truefitt & Hill. One final thought – remember practice makes perfect. 

What are the different types of shaves available? Are specific shaves for different types of beards and skin types?

It’s very important to assess your client’s skin and facial hair before performing a shave. When I have new clients, I always discuss their grooming regime and find out as much information as possible as different skin types and beards may require different products. 

Working at Truefitt & Hill, I am extremely spoilt as not only do I have access to great products, but I also know that I am working with the finest products on the market. For somebody who may experience irritation or razor burn when shaving, I will always use the Pre-Shave Oil and follow with the Ultimate Comfort range. This range was specifically designed for sensitive skin as it is fragrant free. The shaving cream is enriched with lavender essential oil, which is a gentle antiseptic that helps to heal and sooth the skin. Knowing what products to use, what blade pressure to apply, and the direction of the shave are all important aspects and will become second nature in due course. As I said before – practice does make perfect! 

Considering India is a hotter country than many other countries, how would you consider taking care of your beard?

One of the most important things with a beard is to remember to pick a style and shape that will compliment your face. The thickness of your beard will determine the length you should have it at. If you are finding it a bit hot, consult your Truefitt & Hill barber. They will be able to recommend how short you can take it, or maybe suggest a different style for the hotter summer months. If you have really thick hair, your barber may suggest removing some unwanted weight and thickness as this will help keep you cooler throughout the day. The same can also be done for your hairstyle.

As for the stubble beard, I always recommend that my clients use Truefitt & Hill No.10 Cleansing Scrub. This great product helps to prevent ingrown hairs while at the same time helps to maintain healthy skin.

What, in your opinion, are the latest trends in beards and hairstyles for men?

We definitely see a renewal of the traditional hair styling. Although, over the last few years the ‘hipster’ (bigger is better) has been on the rise, we have recently seen a shift into more timeless and versatile looks. Edwardian styled beards are becoming more groomed while our clients at Truefitt & Hill are experimenting with length and weight lines in their cuts. For example, the 1930’s Traditional gentleman’s styling is very popular right now.

The Hipster Beard and the Traditional Edwardian Style    Pic Courtesy: Getty Images
We know that you have many celebrities as your clients, who among them is your favourite?

Not only are Truefitt & Hill honoured to have been in service to the British Royal Family for over 200 years, but we have also attended to some of the world’s greatest leaders. We have been of service to historical giants who have literally shaped the history of the world - from past British Monarchs to statesmen such as Winston Churchill or military leaders such as Field Marshal, the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. 

Today, glancing at our appointment book is like reading a ‘Who’s Who’ of distinguished society and the names go on to include political leaders, captains of the industry, stars of literature, film and stage. Unfortunately, for security and ethical reasons, I will not be able to give you any names and will not be permitted to mention who they are. All I can say that we are very fortunate to have our clientèle and are grateful for their patronage. Since, we aim for our future to reflect our company's rich heritage and unblemished reputation of the past, protection of our client’s privacy is very high on our list of priorities. 

Is this your first visit to India? If so, how are you finding the country?

Yes it is and I absolutely love it! Mumbai is so vibrant and enchanting and everyone has been extremely welcoming. I believe Truefitt & Hill has big expansion plans in India over the next year so hopefully it won’t be too long until I am back!

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