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Penang's Retro Barbershop


A son-and-pop barbershop is bringing classic 1950s styles back to Penang. By MARCO FERRARESE. Photographed by KIT YENG CHAN.

Published on Jul 7, 2017

 

"WE GIVE GEORGE TOWN'S MEN the classic touch they deserve," master barber Elyas Yunoos tells me with pride. He is wearing a brown hat and white apron that make him look like a mix between knowledgeable doctor and way-back-when Mafioso; the perfect attire for Son & Dad Barber in Lebuh Acheh. This shop where Elyas and his young assistants spend most of their time, only a few doors down from one of George Town's oldest mosques. Elyas's creation is a carefully reproduced vintage world sealed behind glass doors. Original barber chairs from the 1960s mix with retro memorabilia and old-style razors, scissors and shiny metallic hair clippers that look tailormade to fit George Town's Old World atmosphere.

"When we started business in Tanjung Tokong more than two years ago, I didn't know much about vintage hairstyles" Elyas confesses as he combs a customer's hair to the side, never lifting his gaze from the sideburn he's trimming, like Michelangelo sculpting David, freeing potential from raw stone.

Son & Dad
Keeping up with the trimmed clientele at Son & Dad.

Back then, Elyas was still working with his dad, Yunoos Salleh, 62, now retired but still involved in Son & Dad's management. Tonight, dad overlooks operations, popping in and out of the shop for a smoke. Yunoos started his barbershop Yus de Cherie in the 1980s in KOMTAR, George Town's first shopping mall. "Back then, rock and roll was king in Malaysia, and everyone wanted to keep long hair to imitate English and American bands," he remembers with a smile. "I had to work on those men: they looked so... untidy." Son and dad look at each other for a second, and then break out in hearty laughter.

The family moved shop to Lebuh Acheh only two years ago, when Elyas discovered the work of the Schorem barbers, a famous men-only salon in the Netherlands. "I do Dutch haircuts," he tells me, but to my untrained eye the hairstyles seem plucked from the American 50s: navy crew cuts and hair-sprayed rockabilly quaffs. These foreign influences helped establish Elyas’s classic style as George Town's newest trend and then, Elyas and Yunoos opened a second shop just a few doors down from the original Son & Dad. Rolling out an additional locale so close to the original was a gamble, but there was demand aplenty to keep both buzzing. One barber, Fitri, a young chap of 19, says of their clientele: "The truth is, from six-year-old kids to foreign tourists to the average uncle, every man in George Town wants to look classy and cool." And a spin in the shiny Old World barber chairs of Son & Dad is the fast track to that debonair hairdo. 53A Lebuh Acheh; +60 4 263 0019 for appointments; haircuts from RM30.

Tools of the trade.
Tools of the trade.

 


 

Close Shaves
Three other options for a neat and trendy trim around southeast asia.

BANGKOK
Black Amber

Skilled barbers in a space with a gentleman's club vibe. Next door, you'll find Dirty Hands Club, a men's nail salon. fb.com/blackamberbarber; cuts from Bt700; fb.com/dirtyhandsclub.

KUALA LUMPUR
The Oven Cuttery

Both a barbershop and home to Mentega, shop owner Kevin Tan's oil-based pomade that is geared to tropical climates, this is the city's spot for a fresh cut. fb.com/theovencuttery; cuts from RM38.

SINGAPORE
Sultans of Shave

With barbers trained under the tutelage of England's finest, we get why gentlemen around Singapore are flocking to these luxury shops. sultansofshave.com; cuts from S$35.

 

 

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Son and dad in the flesh.
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