Gino’s barber shop in Stoke Newington: ‘You’re not gonna get a free bottle of beer in here’
- Credit: Archant
Gino Marchese stood in the doorway of his Stoke Newington barber shop, admiring the view. “Still swinging London,” he said.
After opening up in 1965, by the 1990s Gino had seen a lot of change. His original customers – black, white and Irish bricklayers and factory workers – had begun to move out of London to the east. A new breed of high flyers was arriving.
But in Stoke Newington he still recognised the freedom that thrilled him when he arrived in London from conservative southern Italy in the 1950s. He wasn’t going anywhere.
For more than 50 years, Gino’s Barber has stayed almost identical in a transforming neighbourhood – although nowadays customers don’t smoke as they wait, or flick through pornography magazines.
Gino died in 2014, but the shop lives on in the hands of his son, Rob (Roberto), 53, who took over the scissors when his father wound down in the early 2000s.
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“People say: ‘Nice retro shop,’” says Rob, glancing at the wooden wall panels and ice cream-coloured chairs that have housed a thousand bottoms. “No it ain’t; it’s just a shop, mate.”
The half-a-dozen Steptoe and Son-style junk shops have long gone.
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Turkish kebab shops have arrived, like the first, whose enormous owner could halt traffic by carving meat in the window.
Rosa’s, a Jewish-owned bra shop two doors down from Gino’s, has become the Man Cave, a barber for a more pampered generation.
“People used to come in with overalls,” says Rob. “Now they come in with suits.”
In the bohemian late 1980s, when 10 per cent of Gino’s customers were women, a tiny Icelandic girl came in asking for a trim.
She lived in a squat and said she was a singer.
“Turns out it was Bjork,” says Rob. “Well, that’s what we’re assuming. Unless there was a couple of Icelandic singers in them days, I don’t know.”
Through all this, Gino and Rob have acted not just as hairdressers but advisors, diplomats, priests of confession.
The skill, Rob says, is to understand different people.
“It’s not unusual to find in here a Pakistani boy in his Islamic dress, you’d have a black geezer, you’d have a little kid and an old man – all of them sitting in a row,” he explains.
“You’ve got to talk differently to each of them. You’ve got to cut them differently.
“There’s some people that want to talk, some people that don’t want to talk. There’s some people that have got views on certain things that you want to hurry the haircut up ‘cause you don’t agree with them at all.
“But you’re allowed to express it in here. You’ve got your moment on the chair for 15 minutes, and it doesn’t influence the kind of haircut you get.”
But he’d rather avoid contentious subjects. He adds: “My dad always told me, ‘Don’t talk about politics. Don’t talk about religion. Talk about football.’”
As well as a few old timers, now well into their 80s – “they’ve got less hair” – and the grandchildren of old timers on family visits from Essex, these days Rob cuts the hair of media types, solicitors and bankers.
“Everyone’s a consultant!” he screams. “An old boy said to me: ‘They want to borrow your watch to tell you the time.’”
Some of the old generation resent them, Rob says. But as far as he is concerned, they are simply lucky to have chosen careers in industries that have boomed while others have fallen away.
Mr Smith, waiting for a cut, is one example. A bearded consultant from south London who has lived in Stoke Newington for 12 years, to him the hipster hair service “doesn’t appeal”.
He doesn’t want a “senior stylist” or “creative director” let loose on his head: “Gino’s reminds me of going [for a haircut] with my dad.”
Rob says there is “definitely a market” for the new, New York-style barbers. But a haircut is a haircut, he says, whether it costs £10 or £30.
“I thought a number two over your head was a number two over your head,” he says. “You can only do it wrong. You can’t do it any better.”
But, he admits: “You’re not gonna get a free bottle of beer in here.”
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