‘Barbering Is an Art’

Posted by Nicholas Lim on | 0 comments | Tags: barber , barber shop , barbering , barbering history , barbershop , History , Origin , salon , shave , shaving , traditional

Arthur Rubinoff, surrounded by memorabilia he’s been collecting for the NYC Barber Museum Shop, which he will open soon on the Upper West Side.Credit...Levi Mandel for The New York Times

Arthur Rubinoff, 43, opened the roll down gate on a storefrontalong Columbus Avenue in Manhattan.

“Coming Soon,” read a sign on the door. “NYC Barber Museum Shop.”

Inside the space was under construction but already Mr. Rubinoff’s signature décor — with all the subtlety of Versailles — could be seen in the six ornate chandeliers being hung on a small ceiling and the elaborate gilded trim along the edges.

“That’s all gold paint, 24 karat,” said Mr. Rubinoff, who owns the Reamir chain of shops in Manhattan and plans on opening the New York City Barber Museum by mid-June.

“I’m doing it to give respect to all the barbers in the world, and to show that barbering is an art,” said Mr. Rubinoff, who explained that the museum, at Columbus Avenue, between 73rd and 74th Streets, will double as a shop.

Visitors can get a haircut and peruse displays of antique and vintage barber equipment, from chairs and striped poles to towel steamers and straight razors.

In addition to the displays, the space will have sets of antique chairs and mirrors that will serve as functioning haircutting stations.

Mr. Rubinoff said he plans to use one chair himself, for “my special clients,” and to keep the others free for different guest barbers he will bring in every week or two.

“I want to rotate them through, like a comedy club, to bring in fresh talent from California, Arizona — I have barbers from Moscow,” he said. “These days, people want to try new hands, new energy.”

Vintage tools of the trade.Credit...Levi Mandel for The New York Times

Those not interested in getting their hair done will not have to pay to enter the museum, he said.

“I may ask for a contribution but this is not a moneymaking venture,” he said, adding that he expects the shop will create a buzz for his other shops. Still, it might be tough sometimes for Mr. Rubinoff to make the monthly rent of $7,250.

“Even if it breaks even, I’m good with that” said Mr. Rubinoff, who manages his shops along with his wife, Marina.

The project is part promotion and part penchant for barbering history, he said.

“I don’t even have a high school degree, but I’m a fourth-generation barber who spent his whole life in barbershops,” said Mr. Rubinoff, who runs a shop one block north of the museum location and lives nearby.

His apartment has become a staging area for the museum pieces, including a 1901 Koken barber chair and antique poles of various sizes and styles. His collection also features old, heavy blow dryers and shaving cream dispensers.

Mr. Rubinoff said he grew up in Fergana, a city in Uzbekistan, and spent his childhood in his father’s barber shop — “the first wash and cut shop in Uzbekistan.”

Mr. Rubinoff was 14 when his family moved to the United States and settled among the many other Uzbek immigrants in and around Forest Hills, Queens.

Mr. Rubinoff said he began cutting hair in his father’s shop in Astoria and dropped out of Forest Hills High School to work full time.

Mr. Rubinoff said his father, a barber, enjoyed acquiring antique barber equipment.

“When I was young, I’d ask him, ‘Why are you buying this garbage?’” he recalled. “He said, ‘One day, I want to open a museum’ — almost as a joke.”

Mr. Rubinoff said that after his father died in 2003, he changed his last name, Babadzhanov, to Rubinoff, which sounded more Western and more marketable. And he resolved to open a museum and began buying any antique items he came across.

“I’m doing it to give respect to all the barbers in the world,” Mr. Rubinoff said.Credit...Levi Mandel for The New York Times

In the early 1990s, Mr. Rubinoff began learning the custom jewelry trade and designed ornate pieces for a hip-hop and celebrity clientele, including Chris Rock and Tupac Shakur, for whom he designed a signature ring. He keeps photographs of himself and the two men displayed in all of his shops.

He ran jewelry shops in the early 1990s, but after being robbed twice he said he decided it was safer to cut hair.

Billing himself as “The barber to the stars,” he hired public relations firms and organized night life events with celebrities, or near-celebrities, and created a line of hair and beauty products.

In 2012, Mr. Rubinoff was arrested for keeping an unlicensed gun in a safe in his Forest Hills home — he claims he was framed after letting an acquaintance store items in his garage, including the safe.

He ended up spending 20 months in prison, where he kept his skill sharp and learned new styles of cutting by working as a prison barber, receiving stamps and cigarettes as tips.

In the museum space, he pointed out where he will put a souvenir counter selling barbershop-themed accessories like cuff links and tie clips of his own design.

Speaking of his own design, Mr. Rubinoff pulled out a pair of diamond-encrusted gold scissors he had crafted.

Gold scissors and combs will be used for the highest paying clients who opt for the $118 “21st Century Cut,” he said.

“We’re going to offer them Champagne and black caviar on a cracker,” he said. “It’s all part of the business plan.”

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