With apologies to my wife, my poker group, and the always-engaging people of New York City, I hereby submit that the best moment of my month occurs when a septuagenarian Neapolitan gentleman swaddles my head in a hot towel and relieves me of my nose hairs. The scissors sound like a hummingbird fluttering close. Between the angle of the chair and the warmth of the towel across my eyes, I nearly fall asleep. Sitting up, I'm back in Clemente DiMonda's barbershop in a small room in a Midtown Manhattan high-rise—a kind of platonic ideal of the one-chair barbershop. It has gleaming chrome fixtures, a wall full of black-and-white photographs of Brylcreem'd leading men, and a sweet older woman who sweeps up the cuttings and brings espresso and politely turns away half the people who phone up for an appointment without a reference. Clemente and the woman call each other "my baby" and argue in melodic Italian. And "my baby" is what Clemente calls all his customers—even the ones whose grandsons have become customers, the 90-year-olds who keep their weekly appointments because, though the hair has gone, the civilized ritual remains.
Years ago, when Clemente was losing his lease in the Garment District, Ralph Lauren came to the rescue, building him this rent-free shop stashed away on an upper floor of the Polo corporate headquarters. Clemente's landlord and patron calls him Magic Fingers. Nowadays both clothes and information naturally flow Clemente's way, and his wardrobe is equaled only by his insider knowledge of the fashion world. Compliment him on his suit. "From my guy in Napoli," he'll answer in the same whisper he uses to let you know who's up and who's down in the industry.
What you don't ever want to do is call Clemente a stylist or his shop a salon. You do not change into a robe when you arrive. You dress up for your visit. He's a barber, but he takes a bespoke tailor's approach: the hand-cutting (no electric shears), the attention to detail (there are long minutes spent finessing the neck), and the knowledge that the process is as important as the result. He is also a keeper of arcane hair miscellany. "Ah, we don't see this cut very often anymore" was his appraisal of my utterly average hair "style" when we met six years ago. "This used to be a very popular look. It had a name—the Madison Avenue."
A Kentucky boy with an accidentally urbane haircut. I felt proud. I was hooked.
Descending from the quiet of Clemente's chair onto the real Madison Avenue has never been easy. The breeze messes up your hair; the winds of fashion mess up your mind. Maybe I've spent too much time under the hot towel, but it seems that the city is looking a little more like Clemente these days—elegant, individual, colorful. Young men in cocktail bars wear handlebar mustaches, and while I have my reservations about handlebar mustaches, I have to admire the effort. You see more seventies-throwback muttonchops, too. It is a style balanced between shaggy and crisp—like the imperfect perfection of a handmade Neapolitan suit—and a welcome change from the too-clean "manscaped" metrosexuality of a year or two ago. This is, of course, only an anecdotal observation. In small-apartment New York, people's bathroom routines are more mysterious than their therapy sessions.
I figured if one person in New York (with no hair products to sell) had picked up on a subtle change in men's grooming, it would be Scott Schuman. He ambles around town taking pictures of people in great outfits for his sunny and addictive blog titled The Sartorialist (thesartorialist.com). Schuman keeps up with the fashions, but he has a special regard for the timeless, well-tailored outfits and classic hairstyles worn by older men. On one posting he admitted: "I'm not sure if Sartorialist of the Year will ever be won by anyone under seventy years old."
I called him and asked what he thought of the general state of grooming in the city. "I think guys are getting used to looking good and wanting to stay that way as they age," he said. "They're spending less on product and are actually looking forward to growing into their looks. A lot of young men who read the blog comment that they want to grow older like 'that guy'."
And for That Guy I nominate Clemente. A dapper and wise barber—one who doesn't let his sense of how things should be done dampen the color of his outfits or commentary—is exactly what this city needs. Just don't take it personally if he's booked when you call.
Clemente DiMonda, 650 Madison Ave., New York; 212-644-6189.
Barber Poll: Grooming Notes From Around the Globe
If he has hair, every man also has a Clemente—a technician who makes the whole monthly maintenance pro- cess perfect, painless, or, in some cases, just cheap. But what else do well turned-out guys require? We asked a few of the most stylish men we know to divulge their rituals.
David Tang, Hong Kong entrepreneur
I've had only three barbers in my life. The first, Ah Wong, was from London's Chinatown. He started cutting my hair when I was still a boy at boarding school and died after taking care of me for almost 25 years. Then for ten years I had a young Chinese barber in Hong Kong, whom I chose because he was in the Furama Hotel, next door to where I used to work. After the hotel was pulled down, I had to find someone else, so Bob Miller, the duty-free magnate, introduced me to Roland, a sophisticated French barber living in Hong Kong; I have been using him for the past ten years. He's now at II Salon in Prince's Building (85-2/2155-5151).
The main point is that you should always go to the same barber. You don't have to explain anything, so the moment he starts cutting you can go straight into a snooze.
Cameron Silver, owner of Decades, Los Angeles
In Los Angeles we need more than a barber. We require a legion of experts.
Jay Diola at Goodform (323-658-8585) is the man I go to for a haircut.
Dangene McKay Bailey's $750 facial (310-276-7601) shocked me at first, but it's a meticulous cleansing and resurfacing that includes a month of follow-ups.
Fake tans and Priuses being de rigueur here, Chocolate Sun (310-450-3075) offers an ecofriendly spray tan. Tan lines being verboten (at least for soap stars, I hear), the brave Gilma at the Four Seasons Spa (310-273-2222) will apply self-tanner everywhere.
Cheryl Scruggs takes care of my cuticles at Lukaro (310-275-2536) with weekly manicures that use essential oils. For remedying a unibrow, Leora Veysey at the Chess & Burman salon (818-766-4557) is an artist with a pot of piping-hot wax.
When the requisite five o'clock shadow has to go, the Shave of Beverly Hills (310-888-2898) works magic with a straightedge razor. The treatment involves hot and iced towels, warm shaving cream, and a facial massage.
No grooming discussion in Los Angeles would be complete without a nod to the doctor's office. The Laser Institute in Santa Monica (310-828-2282) treats a long list of fortysomething stars with Restylane and Botox. Dr. Meira D. Wilde is conserva- tive with the needle, so you don't see any signs of filler—or aging, for that matter.
Umberto Angeloni, president of Brioni, Rome
My favorite barber in Rome is Peppino di Piero Migliacci (39-06/679-8404). Like Brioni, he started in the forties and has kept that classic style. Peppino is from southern Italy, where the Italian art of shaving originated, so getting my beard trimmed by him is a wonderful ritual.
Brian Bolke, co-owner of Forty Five Ten, Dallas
I visit Salon Three Thirty in Dallas (214-219-1100), where the owner, Peg, cuts my hair. It's very private so I don't feel as if I'm in the middle of a big social gathering. The best part is that I can go every two weeks for a free ten-minute trim.
Cédric Reversade, Paris-based travel fixer
I have so many friends in the Paris fashion industry who are hairstylists—they just come to my house. But the very chic people I know go to Institut Marc Delacre on Avenue George V (33-1/40-70-99-70). They also book massages with Koan Michael (33-6/18-90-62-25), which is right next door to Café de Flore.
Geoffrey Zakarian, New York restaurateur
Every three weeks I go see Martial Vivot at the private men's salon in Paul Labrecque on New York's East Side (212-988-7816). I'd never let anyone else touch my hair. He's separate from the rest of the salon, and when I'm there the staff caters to my every need—food, drink, whatever you like.
Nicholas Foulkes, London writer
During the eighties I used to visit the Austin Reed barbershop in London (44-207/534-7777), which was recently redone. In those days manliness was next to perfunctoriness when it came to appearance: a short back and sides and a splash of abrasive aftershave if you were lucky. In the current incarnation, the shop's classic manly surroundings are combined with the latest treatments. Now alongside a wet shave you can pick up a spray tan.
My favorite groomer is Brent Pankhurst at Dunhill (44-208/080-0324). His salon has only two chairs, but they're among the most wait-listed seats in town. Indeed, the phone number of a cult groomer like Pankhurst is a jealously guarded possession in London, a city where the full-on spa experience is still a bit of an ordeal for men.
One number to have is Philip Kingsley's (44-207/629-4004). He's the doyen of hair-loss specialists. He won't promise to restore your hair, but he will do everything in his power—which is a lot—to make sure that what you do have is healthy and stays in place.
Bill Zeitz, vice president of Cole Haan, Yarmouth, Maine
I always have my hair cut by Vaughn Acord at New York's Bumble & Bumble (212-521-6500). He uses a straight razor instead of scissors and he's a great guy. My wife teases me about my lotions and potions. I have more stuff in our bathroom than she does. But if there are products that help maintain your appearance, why not use them? I splurge on La Mer's face serum, which feels great after shaving. Shaving is a routine I don't like much, but Ansell Hawkins, general manager of the Chambers Hotel, introduced me to Ultra Shave Butter by Osmotics. It makes a huge difference. And what a great name: shave butter.
Tomas Maier, Miami-based designer
According to his publicist: Tomas cuts his own hair (or shaves his head), doesn't have a barber, and doesn't use any products. I know this seems odd for a person as meticulous and well groomed as he is, but what can I tell you?