When you go in to get a haircut, you expect some pretty basic courtesy from your barber. A nice hot towel on the back of your neck, a smock to keep any stray hair from going down your shirt, a not obnoxious sports conversation. You know, the usual. But we’re about to meet some hairstylists who go way outside the norm to deliver grooming experiences that range from transcendent to terrifying. Make an appointment at one of their shops at your own peril.
When you sit down in the barber’s chair, you’re extending a great deal of trust to your stylist. With just one false move, they can leave you looking like an idiot for as long as it takes your hair to grow out. That’s why the success of Ukranian barber Olek Maksakov is so extraordinary. From his shop in Sebastopol, he does trims with the unique and terrifying technique of wearing a blindfold and wielding a pair of scissors in each hand. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but apparently Olek is a well-practiced savant who started cutting hair at the age of 10. First he learned normally, then with his left hands, then with both, and finally blindfolded. The first person who let him try this was his mother, but he’s become a minor celebrity in his hometown.
Not all that much has changed in the barber’s art for hundreds of years. Sure, electric trimmers are relatively new, but the traditional method of cutting with scissors is still going strong. But are they really the best tool? Valentino LoSauro isn’t so sure. The Florida hairstylist has invented his own, bizarre method for cutting locks that involves razor-sharp claws on the tip of each finger. LoSauro’s invention consists of a housing that clips on the fingertip along with a sheathed blade that can be deployed by bending the finger. He runs his hands through his client’s hair and flexes, cutting in zig-zag patterns for more body. It’s very weird to watch but he’s convinced it’s the next big thing.
One of the worst smells in the world is the odor of burning hair, an acrid, choking smoke that’s almost impossible to get rid of. So why would a Washington, D.C. barber deliberately do it to his customers? Pietro Santoro uses a butane lighter to singe the ends of hair as he trims. He learned the “fire-cutting” technique in his native Sicily, and he says it makes hair healthier and fuller. That could be credited to the heat making the cuticle swell, but there’s some disagreement about whether the open flame is actually causing permanent damage to his customers’ coifs. It’s an ancient tradition that isn’t practiced in many places today, probably for good reason.
For an alternate take on using heat to cut hair, we head to China to meet Wang Weibu. The 74-year-old stylist practices the near-extinct art of dahoujia, a method of hair grooming that uses metal tongs heated in a fire to crisp off the ends of hair. When the cutting is done, the still hot metal is then rubbed along the remaining hair, causing it to crimp up sort of like a perm. The look lasts for about three months without the need for any chemicals or styling products. The cut went out of fashion in the 1980s, but there are still some retro holdouts who go to Wang to get their dahoujia done.
Nguyen Hoang Hung
A good hairdresser brings a sense of drama to your head, but this is ridiculous. Vietnamese stylist Nguyen Hoang Hung has become notorious in his home country for using a Japanese wakizashi sword instead of a razor for fine detail work. The glistening blade, which is a little bit shorter than the famous katana, is kept insanely sharp and Nguyen claims that he’s just as accurate with it as he would be with a razor. He got the inspiration to bring swordplay to the barber’s chair after appearing on a game show and being made to cut hair with a hacksaw. He practiced with the sword for four years, originally as a way to show off at parties, but it wasn’t long before customers started specially requesting the sword cut.
For a barber, the hands are the most vital tool of the trade. You need to have precise control over every angle to deliver a high-quality haircut, so when Varanasi barber Ansar Ahmed was in an accident that robbed him of the use of his hands in 2001 he thought his career was over. But then he realized that nature always finds a way and embarked on a journey to teach himself how to cut hair with scissors in his mouth. It took him three years of practice to return to professional level, but now people line up to get cuts from him. I can’t help but wonder if snipped-off hair gets inside his mouth while he’s doing this, which is pretty much the grossest thing I can think of.
When you’re into kung fu, you need to be training at all times to keep yourself sharp. Chinese barber Wang Xiaoyu from Hunan Province has been a martial artist for nearly as long as he’s been a hairstylist, and he fuses those two disciplines at his barbershop by giving haircuts while standing on his head. The level of neck strength and balance needed to pull something like this off for the entire length of a haircut is unreal, and it’s brought Wang tons of business. Apparently despite his inverted perspective, his cuts are stylish and even.
So scissors are a pretty great tool for cutting hair. They’re portable, precise and inexpensive. Some gifted barbers have learned to use two pairs of scissors at once. And then there’s Israeli barber Danny Bargil, who recently trained himself to give haircuts with a staggering ten pairs of scissors. Bargil had previously secured the Guinness world record for doing a cut with seven scissors before a Japanese stylist topped him with nine. From what we can gather, ten pairs of scissors is the maximum number that a human can use without adding an extra joint to their fingers, so his record is probably safe.
Competition in the hair industry is pretty fierce, and you need to find a way to stand out. That’s what inspired Daniil Istomin to come up with what is probably the most insane way to cut hair we’ve ever heard of. The Russian barber, inspired by stories of rugged mountain men shaving their beards with axes, decided that he was going to develop a way to give haircuts with a hatchet. He claims that it’s much more efficient, as a single stroke with an axe can cut as much as ten snips as scissors. Istomin’s regular clientele mostly opts for the old-fashioned way of doing it, but he performs his executioner’s cuts at public events.
Most of the barbers on this list have one gimmick that they use, but Spanish stylist Alberto Olmedo wants to do them all. Claiming that they give him more “mathematical precision,” Olmedo employs fire, a sword, finger scissors and more tools to perpetrate his cuts. Watching him in action is both exciting and unnerving, as he dances around his subject swinging the sword and lighting the flame like mad. It’s pretty astonishing, but he’s managed to never seriously injure someone with this nutty cutting, and the salon that he owns has a healthy and devoted client base.