A Cut Above

We test a new shaving sanctuary’s luxury lather.

By Ryan Donaldson August 19, 2011 Published in the September 2011 issue of Portland Monthly

Portland barber elijah mack ni4kc8

Master barber Elijah Mack takes a blade to our intrepid reporter.

DOES IT make sense to build a temple to shaving in Portland, land of the woolly-jawed lumberjack and the ironic mustache? Apparently Proctor and Gamble believes so: the company opened the 45th outlet of its Art of Shaving chain in the tony real estate off Pioneer Courthouse Square in May. Here, the routine face-scrape becomes a ritual, with master barber Elijah Mack acting as shaman.

Those experiencing the $55 “Royal Shave” enter the private shaving room, with tiled floors, wood-paneled cabinets, and smooth jazz on the stereo. A Takara barber chair stands in the center of the room, with hand-carved wooden armrests and a leather-backed seat.

Mack guards this throne. The heavily tattooed 41-year-old has lived many adventures—among others, YouTube attests to his status as a legend of the sport of river surfing. His 12-year barber career includes work at African American shops and his own place in shear-shy Eugene. Mack’s pre-shave consultation may include a game of chess, a few lewd jokes, discussion of regular shaving habits, and perusal of his portfolio of hair etchings (the Reservoir Dogs poster on some guy’s cranium being the most impressive).

The shave begins. After a hot towel to the face, Mack applies oil (to lubricate and protect the skin) and hot lather. He inserts a fresh blade into his straight razor, which he then draws along the contours of your mug, both with and against the grain. Therapeutic aromas fill the room. Mack then paints a mask (a mixture of rose desert clay, essential oils, and rose water) onto a freshly shorn face to cool any irritation. A cold towel doused in lemon oil descends. Mack ends the shave—his sessions can last up to an hour—by rubbing in a small amount of after-shave balm.

As the freshly smoothed and anointed step out of Art of Shaving, unshorn downtown Portland seems barbaric and untamed—but ripe for the gospel of the straight blade.

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