This barber is slick, stylin' and Syrian

28 August 2016 - 02:00 By LIN SAMPSON
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Men's grooming can be grateful for global migration, writes Lin Sampson

Abdul Joudi, known as the Syrian Barber, has brought svelte new looks to barbarous male hairdos.

I don't know if you have noticed but men who used to look like bits of floating wreckage are now clipped and swept of unwanted facial hair, their hands animated by soft creams.

As more and more men become groomsters, standards are exacting. "Look, you can get a cut anywhere but this guy really has vision, you don't even have to tell him.

He just knows what you want," says Abu Singh, a regular at Joudi's Urban Men salon in De Waterkant, Cape Town.

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Joudi grew up in a village in Syria. "I knew from when I was a small boy I wanted to be a barber. I would go from school and help in the village barber. When I was 16 I went to Dubai to work as a junior and learn the trade.

It was here I really learnt what it was to be a barber, on your feet for 10 hours, talking to people, listening to troubles."

Joudi, with his happy charm and good looks, soon built up a clientele, including South Africans. "They invited me for a holiday in Cape Town.

I fell in love with the city and I saw there was a big gap in men's grooming. But getting into the country was very difficult. It took years. I came in 2005 and all the time it is filling in forms, getting work permits. Still, now I have permanent residence."

He has brought his whole family to South Africa, including four brothers, his mother and a sister.

The interior of his small shop is toasty and lush, the mirrored reflections casting a glittering scape of multiple scissors and razors, ranging from small to cut throat.

The atmosphere is a combination of operating theatre, stream bath and luxury spa against the snippity snip of scissors and the buzz of razors.

A man lies back with sticks protruding from his ears and each nostril. This is waxing, a normal part of the hairdressing routine in most Arab countries.

The barber makes a ball of wax then puts it up the nostril and waits for it to harden.

"It looks more scary than it is," says Joudi. "Pulling it out is where the art lies. It needs a quick jerk, with the client's head, how do you say, cradled."

Male hair grooming has become ever more lush. Reflected across the small room are a dozen different hair styles, some like whipped meringue, some looking like layers of liquorice and hot chocolate.

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Some are high and tight with sheered edges, others soft and gelatinous, small knots and twists, a basketwork of hair.

When someone's hair is so sexy, just looking at it makes you feel like you're watching some hot, steamy film.

"Now everyone is doing different style not like the old days when everyone had long hair, the same look, there was the mushroom cut, do you remember that?" says Joudi.

Client Rian Pretorius says, "It was my birthday and my wife said, 'I have something special for you,' and I have come regularly ever since. It is part of my survival kit.

A lot of my friends now come here whereas a few years ago they would have just thought it was sissy."

Joudi feels he has worked hard. "It is an art actually. You have to practise a lot. It is not just the cutting, it is the personality. You have to remember each client and know his life."

But the dice have rolled favourably.

"I am only 29 but I have a double-storey house in Rondebosch, two hairdressing salons, and over the years I have brought my whole family to South Africa," Joudi says.

"Last night they bombed my village, 25 people were injured, 12 of them children. Nothing is easy in life but we come from a culture where we all stand together."