TEXT BY PETER LYLE
PORTRAIT BY MICHAEL DONKIN
Barbershop, says Joe Mills "almost feels like a dirty word sometimes... or it had become this luxury, oak-clad Mayfair space, this one idea that kept being regurgitated. So when we started thinking about this place, I at least knew what I didn't want."
The hairdresser and sometime DJ is sat in Joe and Co, the men's hairdresser he recently opened in Greens Court, Soho, just round the corner from his established unisex salon The Lounge.
"I always wanted a barber's shop," he says. "I love doing guys' hair. I grew up in Margate in the 1980s and it was all flat-tops and quiffs, and that's still my passion. I came to London, worked in Soho through the '90s, had a great time doing that. Then as our first salon became established, it began to get loads more women customers and kind of softened-up."
Hence the new, men-only venue, which quietly opened last October, in a building that was previously a modern church. Mills set about making "some- thing really clean and modern."
The solution: a geometric, Mondrian-like blue-yellow colour scheme with storage in pale, barely- treated wood and steel, black-cushioned Belmont barber's chairs, which echo the firm's classic designs, but are lighter and more compact, and swivel round so hair can be washed more comfortably.
"The people here are all specialists in men's haircuts, and they're all very particular about what they use - a certain brand of clippers, for example. So it's about taking all those key elements, but putting a spin on them and making them right."
Mills himself still uses the same pair of £400 Japanese scissors he bought back in the beginning of his career. "When I first started and moved to London, they were my first pair of scissors that were decent, in about 1992. It was a real commitment, but you never need to sharpen them if you only cut hair - they're honed to sharpen themselves as they open and close. And once they're shaped to your hand, you don't want anybody else to use them.
Mills' own handsome quiff and close-trimmed back and sides evokes both the current rockabilly moment and the style tribes who bestrode the southeast England's seaside towns in his youth. "It was almost a contradiction itself, the hard rockabilly with the donkey jacket, 'cause you were talking about 15- and 16-year-old-boys bleaching their hair, buying hairspray, and blow-drying every morning to get a quiff."
Since opening Joe and Co, Mills has been surprised at how many men have got into a ritual of a weekly or fortnightly wet shave, having originally conceived the service as merely "a bit of an add-on," and speculates that it's become a treat precisely because most men now prefer to grow slight stubble rather than scrape away at their jowls each morning. Beyond the endurance of the rockabilly quiff, Mills also notes the emergence of a wave of "curly hair, a lot of texture going on, almost '80s- like. Weird Science - we were talking about that as a reference the other day. It's going to be a lot more fun this year. People like Aaron Johnson growing their hair out - a little bit longer, a little bit softer."
That could almost be the title of an Ibiza chillout CD, which is a clunking segue into the fact that many of you will remember Mills as a star name from the glory days of 1990s superstar DJs. He remembers them fondly too, but explains that the sideline didn't ever threaten to overshadow his primary interest in cutting hair. "In '91 I was working in Fish on D'Arblay Street in Soho, so we had Black Market Records, Duffer of St George and Fish all it one road and it became a cool place to go to get your haircut. Then a mate sold me a pair of decks and I started going out raving, and I DJ'd every Saturday for five or six years after cutting hair and I loved it, it was a great time. The DJ thing came about because, with rave, people didn't want to play records; everyone was on the dance- floor wanting to get trashed."
He still likes to pick the tunes at Joe and Co - a rare soul classic here, some Johnny Cash there. "It's called Joseph Mills' selfindulgent mix - all the stuff we wouldn't play round the corner at The Lounge."