City Diaries: Meet New York’s High Priest of Haircuts

City Diaries: Meet New York’s High Priest of Haircuts

 

254 Broome Street: a barbershop, a gallery, a designer store, and an event venue all under a single name. Artisan Barber is more than just the neighborhood barbershop. It is a space for the cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and freethinking New Yorker who values both inward aestheticism and outward grooming. With a team of hand- picked barbers and stylists, and an array of artists and designers, Artisan Barber invites you to play with the figure reflected in the mirror but also to cultivate the person sitting on the other side.

Every month, the walls of this barbershop are colored with the designs of selected artists. As part of the December collective, Artisan Barber hosted the work of stencilist James Reynolds, mixed media artist Richard Gaines, and Italian clothing designer Valentina Perissi. Beyond offering high- quality hair services, and premium grooming products, the store curates art, sells designer articles, and organizes events. To celebrate the new rotation of art, Artisan Barber hosts monthly events featuring DJs, refreshments, and a breeding ground for networking. Few big- league guests know this Lower East Side secret, but with Artisan Barber’s new membership program, which will launch in 2020, members will be granted first access.

Integrating these many disciplines is Charlie McCoy, founder of Artisan Barber. McCoy was exposed to the hair industry from an early age working with his uncle, a master barber in Oklahoma City, where Charlie was raised. Explorative and entrepreneurial by nature, Charlie moved to New York City at the age of twenty with no plan B.  In his interview with The Knockturnal, Charlie talks about his life, his unique approach to business, and his vision for Artisan Barber. This is a story of how one person unified his many interests and diverse experiences into one successful business venture. Meet the Artisan Barber.

The Knockturnal: What was your first introduction to the hair industry?

Charlie McCoy: I grew up in Oklahoma City, so I’m a transplant to New York. One of my uncles lived with us and he was a master barber, and so at around age ten I was exposed to him and his craft. There’s a term we use called “jumping off the porch,” so at age eleven I started a small business. My first small business was a bike shop, my second was a lawn mowing company, and then I got into hair right around high school where I could start working with my friends and fellow members of the sports teams I was on. That got me acclimated to the craft, and then I was invited to work in a salon around age fifteen, so I got exposure really early, and I was very entrepreneurial.

The Knockturnal: Why did you move to New York City ?

Charlie McCoy: My mother was part of the church. She was very strict so it was always a battle for me to go out and be the best I can entrepreneurially or athletically. She encouraged me to focus more on vocation instead of college, and I decided to finish my engineering training and then I apprenticed as a barber under a dually licensed stylist in Oklahoma City. Around the time of graduating I had a little bit of engineering background but I really loved hair; it was a really cool thing to be a part of, I met a lot of people, and it was part of my childhood. I opened up my own shop at the age of nineteen in Oklahoma City near the Tinker Air Force Base. What was cool is that it was very international and I got to work with lots of different hair types. I was very young but there was a ceiling to what I could reach, because there’s only so much you can do in the Midwest, so I sold my interest and decided to move to New York in 2004.

The Knockturnal: What were your first few years in New York City like?

Charlie McCoy: The thing about New York is it can eat you up and spit you out, or it can really make you grow into something. When I moved here, I didn’t understand New York well enough to have clients, I was just trying to figure out how I could eat. So I got a job working for The Watchtower. I worked in sheet metal, I worked in supply chain management, I was in the shipping department, just kind of wherever I could. The thing about New York is that it exposes you to so much of the world, you come across every kind of language because these are the people you’re riding the train with every day, or they’re your clients, or they’re at the restaurants you go to. Its city for the transplants and the immigrants, and the people who are from here, their parents are transplants and immigrants. That was cool for me being from the Midwest because the experience is different. So the first five years in New York involved moving from place to place, working, and travelling with people. From the time that I moved here until now I’ve been to 30 countries. I’ve been able to really see the world. Coming to New York, I looked very conservative, very Midwestern, very clean cut, which is cool, but now this is the guy who moved here.

The Knockturnal: What was your moment of transformation?

Charlie McCoy: You think of chefs and ball players and different sorts of professionals and their tattoos and their piercings, those enhance what they do. In my particular field, the culture is to be creative in your physical appearance and I personally had been creative my entire life, so when it came to my personal look, after my divorce, and once I was working for myself and only myself, I began to design how I wanted to look. A lot of that came from all of my experience travelling. I went to Japan, fell in love with the way that the tattooing was done there, then in Europe, being around people with long hair who have a leisurely kind of approach, I just grew my hair out.  The thing about dreads- hair is dead protein growing out your head, but its growing out of your crown chakra and there’s a tremendous amount of energy coming out of that part of your body. There’s energy in your hair, and when you lock your hair you lock your energy. They’re called dreads but there’s nothing dreadful about them. If you read the Bible, Samson had seven locks, and they gave him power as a Nazerite. When I did that I said to society, I no longer care how you feel, but I’m still going to give you and everyone else the best version of me.

The Knockturnal: How did you get back into hair after those years of travelling?

Charlie McCoy: Hair is kind of going through a Renaissance right now. From about 2008, the industry has changed drastically. In the 90’s, hair was for ex- cons and street guys or you had to be metrosexual into the whole stylist thing, but that changed. In 2011, Chris Salgardo, President of Kiehl’s decided that, that skin care company should be in the barber game and then followed other brands like Blind Barber, Fellow Barber, and Rudy’s (shout out to other brands who brought the culture up).  I started at Kiehl’s in 2012 while other major corporations like L’Occitane decided to add a barber chair because it was a thing at the time. It was the beginning of that renaissance, where there was a love affair with that traditional barber feel in a cool environment. Now its kind of ubiquitous but fortunately, I’ve been in the industry for so long that I can spearhead it and do it in a unique way because it’s not new to me. I can revolutionize it.

The Knockturnal: What were some lessons you took from working at Kiehl’s?

Charlie McCoy: Kiehl’s opened up a second location because of the success of the barbershop. They transferred me there, so this is my second shop in Manhattan for a major brand at the foundational level. I’m learning how they do their marketing, their PR. They began to use me as a brand ambassador so whenever they would launch a product that had to do with hair or men’s grooming, I would speak to that, be available for phone calls, interviews with magazines, TV…I got to realize the importance of building the brand, having that media presence, and then having great products to back that up.

The Knockturnal: What was your first clientele like?

Charlie McCoy: They were very wealthy New Yorkers on the Upper East Side, and I wasn’t used to it, so I had to learn what that meant, how to speak to that client, how to serve that client. Then that client becomes most of your clients, and then you raise your level of service so that even if this client is not a multimillionaire, you’re so used to dealing with that, that you can treat every client like one.

The Knockturnal: Tell me about the origins of Artisan Barber. How did the idea come about?

Charlie McCoy: One day I was at work and this client walked in and said “I want to show you a couple of locations”. I swear I didn’t talk to this guy about this. He came in and showed me what the market was and I realized that I could actually do this. I had started this blog in 2012 that was called Artisan Barber and the purpose of it was to be a sounding board for events, and cool things, whatever I could come up with. I didn’t do that much with it then but I took the name because it was trademarked. I was doing laundry near my home and I saw a For Rent sign across the street on an old bar that used to be there. Normally, it’s a broker but it was a property manager and we made a deal in two weeks and that was the first Artisan Barber.

The Knockturnal: When did you decide that you were going to make this more than a barbershop?

Charlie McCoy: I quickly realized, when I was on the Upper East Side, that the only way that I was going to get to the level that I knew I could and wanted to be at in my business, was to offer an extreme amount of value, and not so much that is overly generous, but that is so unique that number one- you have to be involved in it, and number two- you can’t easily duplicate it. We ship out products, we have art, we have employees, and we give services. What have I been doing my entire career? Shipping things out, giving services, curating art, and I’ve been doing this for so long that when people come in they think the business is much older than it is but its only been around since 2017.

The Knockturnal: What experience does Artisan Barber offer?

Charlie McCoy: This place is an extension of your day. You’re coming from Equinox, Soho House, or your office, which is dope, and then where are you going? You’re going into your barbershop which is also the same vibe that you got at home. The vibe that we present here is the same vibe that I associate with the word class travel I was doing. The magazines that you see, the art, the people, very international, very welcoming, and when it comes to the LGBTQIA+, we’re super open about having them in a comfortable so they can get their haircut. I attribute all of that to the experiences that I had before I became an entrepreneur.

The Knockturnal: What are some surprises you have planned out for 2020?

Charlie McCoy: Starting this year we’re going to launch something that I’m really excited about. It’s a membership program. Typically, a person would come and they would book a cut, and that’s how most barbershops run. My question was, how do I put Artisan Barber in an elevated position so that when people come they’re experiencing something they can’t get in other barbershops? Moving forward in 2020, people on the Artisan Barber website are going to interface who joined Artisan Barber Club. Members will get VIP experience, concierge, unlimited personal product refreshers, access to VIP events, and there’s more to come.

The Knockturnal: How did you integrate different disciplines in Artisan Barber?

Charlie McCoy: When you walk into my shop you’re looking at a guy who spent a lot of time in a lot of different industries. I spent a year working at this company called Roche Bobois, a French furniture company. That year I learned about all sorts of different furniture groupings, design, etc. At Artisan Barber, we ship products all around the country. How did I learn? While I was in supply chain management from ages twenty two to twenty three shipping books all across the world. So all these little experiences that I thought were sidetracking me, was just the universe paving my hero’s journey. And its not just me. I try to surround myself with smart people who have a good eye, who are really talented, and who like to contribute in different ways to the aesthetic. I have an incredible team.

The Knockturnal: New York City is becoming more commercial. What is it like to own a local business on the Lower East Side?

Charlie McCoy: I have a store on the Upper East Side. There, we have had chances to work with schools and businesses in a limited way. For the three months that we’ve been in the Lower East Side, the amount of different partnerships, events, and collaborations that we’ve had has surpassed the total amount that we’ve had for two years in the Upper East Side, even though that’s a very established and successful store. The mentality in the Lower East Side is just different. A lot of businesses are trying to figure out the audience and who their customers are, but here we rely on each other. We try to figure out how to cross promote. I don’t want to partner with just anybody, there’s no wisdom in that; I want to make sure that we’re aligned with people who have a similar worldview as us.

The Knockturnal: How do you give back to the community?

Charlie McCoy: We’re talking about ways in which we can feature student art. You don’t know what kind of kid is over there, going through what, that will make something that will blow our minds away. We’re also trying to look back and extend a hand to the next generation of artists whether its hair or something else. A portion of each dollar from our membership goes to our scholarship fund, and the scholarship fund is something that I’ll use to invite a student from the local design school to apprentice, and cover the expenses. For the next ten years there might be a flood of people who join the hair industry because A.I. is automating away retail jobs but you can’t deliver a personal touch with a box. So I think people will be joining the hair industry, and I think there’s an opportunity to do a Manhattan master barber college, and it just hasn’t been done before.

The Knockturnal: Make me an Artisan Barber gift.

Charlie McCoy: Our first best seller is the Grooming Cream. This is our most versatile product, and its for all hair types. If you have hair that’s longer than two or three inches, curly or wavy, this will be perfect because its going to tame frizz and add conditioning. The second favorite is our Sea Salt Spray; its not hairspray but it has kelp that dries on the strand and gives it a crisp finish.

What about the guy in your life with a beard? This beard balm has coconut oil and pro vitamin B5, so if you have a little excess on your hand you can add it to your hair, like a two in one.

It is winter and your man goes to fight the ash: hand repair. One has aloe vera, and a light scent; it reminds me of being on the West Coast. The other is a little more masculine with oaky overtones, so I named it Wild Tobacco.

And don’t forget the art!

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