The master of the pompadour has arrived and he’s taken the city by storm, one haircut at a time.
“Is this the place?” We asked this to ourselves, unsure as the tricycle screeched to a full stop. The heat was scorching, expected of noon in the day, as my friend and I found ourselves in a residential area that was more reminiscent of my hometown in the province.
But, no, we were somewhere in Santa Lucia in Pasig City, and we laughed to ourselves at the pains we took to get to this obscure village—it wasn’t the easiest destination to find, after all.
Just a few steps ahead of us, a little boy is plopped on a makeshift high chair, getting his haircut. In a decrepit basketball court, some guys had set up shop with a pop-up barbershop and foldable tables for booths selling local organic pomade and statement shirts. This was Coast 2 Coast, and the Slick Barbers were in session, a group of new-generation barbers that proved fancy haircuts didn’t really need a fancy place.
Smack in the middle of a neighborhood court, this was the event that we took the trouble to find, with my friend “in desperate need for a good haircut”. Still, we managed to arrive with minimal detours thanks to countless consultations with Google Maps along the way.
Just a few minutes after we arrive, an edgy looking man walks by us and places his bag at a nearby table.
“Buti nahanap niyo”, he says rather sheepishly, turning to us.
Mak Azores seems like the guy who lets his work speak for himself, with his soft-spoken nature. And boy, does he shine through his work. Barely four months after he and his partner Ez Abilan formed Slick Barbers Co. and started doing “barber sessions”, these pop-up events where they cut hair for a fee, Mak has been getting invitations to be hosted left and right. Usually, about fifteen to twenty slots are opened per event, slots that fill up too quickly and end up getting overbooked. Hence the decision to start the event at noon, he explains.
Casually, Mak gestures my friend over to the chair for the haircut. Fishing his gear of cutters, spray bottles and scissors out of his backpack, his motions become a mesmerizing sight as soon as he starts snipping away. He cuts with such precision, perfecting the nuances in a signature cut other barbers are quick to miss.
I ask him how long he’s been doing this. Mak has been barbering for two years, mastering the art through Youtube videos and cutting hair for friends in the music scene in the South, where he’s from. He decided to teach himself to cut after being interested in hairstyles associated with the underground music scene he was part of, looking up to icons such as Jimmy Q and Rick Hall, who sported the now-trendy pair of pompadour hairstyles and full beards.
As no barber at the time could get the hair that he wanted right, what started as an idea to learn to cut for himself turned into a real passion. By day he works as a call center agent in Alabang, then moonlights as a barber the rest of the time, grooming men with slick hairdos and distinct parting lines, the stuff of gentlemen’s catalogues as well as rock n’ roll magazines.
Freelance work is the way to go for now, but Mak knows the monthly barber sessions can’t sustain his group for long. A barbershop for him to transition to full-time is in the cards, but there’s a hesitance in his voice at the mention of business. “Actually, we’re considering kung hype lang ‘to, kasi baka magtayo kami ng barbershop tapos ‘yung tao, hindi na pumunta. Pero hangga’t nandyan yung hype, sasakyan namin.”
And like true keepers of the fade, he’s sticking to his guns even after the hype has died down. The term, he says, isn’t theirs, but a common phrase among barbers sharing the same aesthetic. But what they can claim, though, is that they’re part of the first wave of the younger generation bringing hair grooming front and center, with not just barbers but also local players producing organic hair products such as pomade. The movement is small for now, but Mak is optimistic it will boom in a few years, hoping it will follow the footsteps of barbershop Panic Room in Singapore.
What’s the best thing about his job? The customer’s smile, he shares, after he sees his haircut. As soon as Mak brushes off the stray hairs around the nape, my friend quickly whips out his phone, checking his hair through the camera. His hair is looking slick and polished. A smirk registers on his face. Later, my friend tells me it’s the best haircut he’s had, and he’s been to the best barbershops in Manila.
Mak’s point has been made. #
*To find out more about Mak and the rest of the crew in the local barber scene, check out their Facebook page, Slick Barber Sessions. More barber sessions coming your way: https://www.facebook.com/groups/304433253061288/