#178 Murdock Barbers at Liberty
What’s a ‘gentleman’ to do in London when he needs a ‘grooming’? I put those in inverted commas because, come on. It’s the 21st Century. The last true gentleman died of shock in 1969 upon seeing his first kipper tie. Us men nowadays are all just lads, blokes, or fellas – there may be the occasional chap, but that’s it. Not gentlemen.
And yet there’s something deep in every middle-class male soul that yearns for something a bit more, especially in London. It’s no surprise that with the rise of metrosexual male appearance-guilt, there’s an aspirational grown-up population in the city. They have money in their pockets, but they’re too old to go raving all night. They want to look smart, but they dread looking like their dads.
Hence destinations like Liberty’s menswear department, and places like Murdock, offering classic-trending-to-vintage style hairdressing. It’s been barbering away in the basement of Liberty for the last four years. In department store terms, there’s nothing like Liberty’s basement for male style. Eschewing the ‘bohemian aunt’s house’ style of the upper floors, the basement has a slightly more no-nonsense (but ever-so-individual) feel. In between the Alexander McQueen scarves and Vivienne Westwood jumpers, Murdock fits right in.
Murdock is pleased to offer you the old-fashioned barber’s experience, filtered through an entirely modern-day lens. So as well as wet cut-throat shaves and hot towels on the face, they’ll also do you a proper style consultation and a shampoo head-massage. Naturally, they make their own grooming products. I wasn’t surprised to see Debrett’s Guide for the Modern Gentleman on the shelf in their waiting area, either.
Now, my hair doesn’t known what its like to not be cut for under £10 by someone from the Turkish side of Cyprus. It was mildly shocked to find itself massaged, shampooed and neatly trimmed into what I was told was a ‘vintage military-style’ cut. (Nobody can tell I even had it cut, but that’s not the point. It’s styled now.)
“Bet you feel like a new man!” the friendly staff said to me as I left, refreshed and newly shorn. I kinda did. But did I feel more like a gentleman? I’m not sure about that. After all, the real secret is that the nostalgia for the good old gentlemanly days is hardly a new thing. London’s Teddy boys aped Edwardian style in the ’50s; the Mods looked back to the 1920s for inspiration; even the ’80s had its dandy highwaymen, so tired of easy fashion.
In fact, this kind of vintage nostalgia for a more genteel time has been around forever. Sir Thomas Malory wrote his enormous book of Arthurian legends in London in the fifteenth century, and it’s full of wistful references to the noble qualities of the knights of old, so different (he felt) from today’s modern men. Where had all these exemplars of Old England gone?
Sir Thomas Malory was a knight himself, of course. Where did he write the Morte D’Arthur? In Newgate Prison, for rape and attempted murder. Being a gentleman: harder than it looks, since 1460.