IPOH, April 27 — Whatever happened to all those old-school barbershops? So many, like the Star Air-Conditioned Hair Dressing Salon at Jalan Sultan Yusuff (formerly known as Jalan Belfield), Ipoh, have closed down in favour of modern salons with wifi and “hair spa” treatments.
Seventy-four-year-old Thirunavu Karusu a/l Krishnan, fondly known as Uncle Thiru to his customers, remembers the good old days. He shares, “My uncle opened the original Star Hair Dressing Salon in 1927. Two years later, my father joined the business. When I was 13, I too followed in their footsteps.”
In 2011, after 84 years of operations, Star Hair Dressing Salon closed down as the row of shophouses where it was located was sold off for redevelopment.
Instead of retiring and resting on his laurels though, Uncle Thiru is now back in a single-chair barbershop (renamed New Star Salon due to two years’ lapse in using the business name, he says).
Located in the heart of Kong Heng Square, which is now drawing fresh crowds of visitors thanks to new cafés (Burps & Giggles, Missing Marbles), retail outlets (Bits & Bobs) and even a boutique hotel (Sekeping Kong Heng), New Star Salon is perhaps the most longed-for blast from Old Town Ipoh’s not-so-distant past.
Here are a few indispensable parts of Uncle Thiru’s barber shop experience:
Uncle Thiru’s new barbershop has its signage proudly emblazoned not only in English but also in Malay, Chinese and Tamil. This throwback tradition of yesteryear is such a wonderful symbol of the muhibbah spirit. He says, “This is how the old barbershops in the past would display their names. This shows we welcome customers of every race.”
2. Barber chair
New Star Salon is a small, glass-enclosed single-chair barbershop. Uncle Thiru managed to rescue one of the original barber chairs from the old shop, complete with a comfortable cushion on the seat. He says, “This is at least 50-60 years old. You don’t find chairs like these anymore nowadays.”
Typical of old-school barber chairs, it has high seating, upholstery and a footrest. Made from metal and leather, this vintage barber chair is reassuringly heavy and very sturdy. Uncle Thiru recalls, “We used to have 14 barbers and therefore 14 barber chairs in the old shop during the heydays. By the time we closed down in 2011 though, there were only two barbers left.”
3. A barber’s instruments
All Uncle Thiru needs to give you a stylish haircut are a pair of barber scissors, an old-fashioned hair clipper and a plastic comb. These, and over 60 years of experience cutting hair for both young and old, of course.
Dexter Song, owner of Burps & Giggles nearby, still drops by for his usual shave. He says, “It’s the cleanest shave ever. Shaving at home is not as good as Uncle Thiru doing it.”
Other regular customers have been returning, nostalgic about their childhood years spent sitting on a wooden plank placed across the armrests of the barber chair so they get to the right height for their hair cut.
High and wide – that’s how a barbershop mirror should be, so that it is easier to for customers to see the progress of a skilful barber at work, Uncle Thiru informs us. There is a bit of stain on the mirror that he worries about, perfectionist that he is.
However, his young customers tell him it adds a bit of texture and makes the mirror look vintage. Indeed, old is gold these days (even if it is only cleverly repurposed objects made to look antique).
5. Hair dryer and powder puff
Another rescued item from the old barbershop is one of the original hair dryers. Uncle Thiru says, “This is a Menowatt professional hair dryer. It was imported from Italy. It’s probably an antique now but it still works!”
He also laments how modern hair salons don’t use old-fashioned powder puffs anymore. “You have to finish with a good dusting of talcum powder, otherwise the haircut isn’t complete.”
6. Black-and-white flooring
Finally, there’s the black-and-white chequered flooring, which is quite stylish in a retro fashion these days. Uncle Thiru laughs when we tell him this and explains, “Actually it simply helps keep things clean. You see, it’s easier to spot the cut and fallen hair for sweeping after each customer is done.”
New Star Salon
Kong Heng Complex, behind Burps & Giggles, Jalan Sultan Yussuf, 30000 Ipoh, Perak
Open daily 9:30am-5:30pm