There are places that have always been considered “men’s things” among these the traditional shaving rooms where women enter them mostly through the printed paper of certain calendars. And then there are women who can create small big revolutions with unexpected and fascinating results. It’s the story of Giuliana Bonomo, a young Sicilian who with stubbornness and sovoir faire managed to break down a taboo, becoming an appreciated Barber.
by Giuseppe Savarino
In small southern cities, rumors are running. So I learned of a certain “Modica Barber” who models beards with the skill of an artist who paints her canvas. A tam tam that has even reached the top of Depot – The male Tools & Co, a well-known international beard and hair company that has decided to focus on her as a testimonial and trainer. Intrigued I try to find out more, and after a peek at her social networks, I ask for an appointment.
The location is located in the high heart of ancient Modica, in an elegant Art Nouveau building from the 1930s. The shop windows overlook a small square overlooking Santa Teresa, one of the hundred churches of the picturesque city.
The assistant welcomes me with a smile and makes me sit on a vintage dark brown leather sofa. The waiting room is furnished with elegant retro taste, the dark wooden windows are reminiscent of those of ancient pharmacies, and inside these all kinds of products for beards and hair strictly for men. On the walls original photographs by the master Armando Rotoletti, which portray ancient Sicilian shaving salons. I wait less than two minutes – please take a seat – it’s the Barber, in the century Giuliana Bonomo.
Giuliana wears a white coat, gray blonde hair, a gritty and rock cut that brings to mind a young Annie Lennox. The gentle manners and the calm voice reveal a certain amiable shyness.
I sit on an original and robust fifties barber chair, Giuliana looks at my face as if to understand its proportions and asks me what I would like to achieve.
She starts to cut my hair and we chat, I ask her what led her to undertake this unusual profession. «For chance. One Saturday morning my husband phoned me asking to help him, his assistant was not well and the salon was full. I catapulted to him, although I didn’t know where to start. I armed of goodwill and began to lend a hand as I could. In the meantime, the charm of that male universe was beginning to seduce my fantasy. At the beginning, it was curious to see the expressions of customers, strangled by that “violation of the field». Those first days were a continuous discovery. I remember some nice old men who peeked out of the windows intrigued by my figure, in their time a woman barber was unthinkable.
A profession born out of love then; «I owe this discovery to my husband Piero, who managed to make me fall in love with this job. He started very young, first as an apprentice, because that’s where you really get your bones, and then as owner of his shaving room».
«In our work we never stop learning and experimenting. Science, technique and aesthetics evolve continuously and we with them. I no longer know how many training courses I attended, even if the real test is always the comparison with the customer.
In the collective imagination, the shaving room has always been considered as a “free zone” for men, where we talk about women, football, politics and sex, without paying too much attention to the label. Before my arrival the atmosphere in the room was different. This work led me to get to know the controversial male sensitivity more closely. I don’t know what the reason is, but men are often in competition with each other and this leads them to hide the more fragile side, they perceive it as a form of weakness, but taken individually the question changes. This work made me appreciate that masculine depth that often hides behind appearances. My clients tell each other and often ask me for advice not only on their appearance, but also on how to relate to us women.
In the meantime, straighten my hair Giuliana changes to the beard. Recline the fifties armchair lying down almost completely. The footrest folds down and becomes a comfortable cushion for the ankles, comfort is maximum. Look at my curly and bristly beard and start shaping it with a comb and scissors».
Before embarking on this profession Giuliana studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Syracuse, the artistic vein is very present in her family. «My parents have a typography and artisan bookbinding in the historic center of Modica. From them I inherited the taste for beauty, for proportions and details».
With an elegance of the past, she finishes the cut of my beard, follows a specific shampoo and finally finishes a massage with a precious oil with an intoxicating scent of wood and leather. A real sensory experience. Relaxing music echoes in the high-ceilinged room, far from the screeching voices and gossip that house the shaving rooms of our imagination.