Richie the Barber fuses old-fashioned style with a postmodern edge, bringing out the ringleader personality to his own life’s circus
By George Kaplan
Photos: Henry DeKuyper
Richie the Barber is certainly not the barber your father took you to as a child. This self-confessed nonconformist is a byproduct of what happens when an old soul falls in love with punk ethos. Known for his 1920s gentleman-like mustache and Chaplinesque picture poses, the man is a dedicated barber whose clientele is as broad as his horizons. On any given day you can find him at his shop, located in the back of tattoo shop 264 Customs on L.A.’s zany Melrose Ave., cutting up anyone from Travie McCoy to Benji Madden of Good Charlotte. Richie is not all about celebrities though. “My favorite clients to cut are the kids,” he says wistfully.
You can bet the kids love to get their coiffure snipped by the ever-so-entertaining Richie, who’s known for giving out toys and candy and turning a normally mundane haircut into the most fun you’ve had in a long time. We’re pretty sure your barber at the local Supercuts isn’t giving you a fade while putting on a personal unicycle and juggling clinic right in front of you, but Richie is. While Richie is well-liked and makes it clear that he is certainly the ringleader to his own life’s circus, there is much more to him than meets the eye.
“My grandfather was a barber and he taught me at a young age, so I’ve always cut hair for as long as I can remember. He’d tell me to always have imagination,” Richie says in reverence.
It’s clear the young barber took that advice to heart, as his own style is ever-evolving, much like his train of thought. “I daydream a lot. I think I do it so much that I find it hard to concentrate sometimes.”
One thing he does concentrate on is delivering the perfect cut and shave every time, as he has just as many regulars as he does walk-ups. Counting his blessings is something he often does, as his inclusion in the 264 Customs family is something he honors to the extreme. He’s even pledged his loyalty to the shop by getting a tattoo of the shop’s name in Roman numerals on his face. Face tattoos are nothing new to shop leader Mr. K.G., who is known for being the artist to ink a star on rapper The Game’s face. Still, Richie’s story is one of expression and lightheartedness, so we caught up with him to hear it-as soon as he was done cutting our photographer Henry De Kuyper’s hair.
Tell me about your first tattoo experience. Do you remember it?
“Barely [laughs]. The first tattoo I got was by Joe Kowalski. He was in Orange County, and I got part of my arm done. I had just graduated high school, and I was 18 years old.”
How did he feel about you following in his footsteps?
“Well, he passed away about seven years ago and before he died, he said, ‘I want you to go out to L.A. and experience cutting hair and live the life out there. Orange County is just for families.’ He was proud of me cutting hair, but I stopped for a while after he passed away. It just felt different. I tried other jobs for a while, but I realized that being a barber was just my calling. I loved the customers, the atmosphere, the service overall.”
Your grandfather seems to be a big influence in your life. Why is this?
“Well, he kind of brought me up, so I looked up to him. My grandfather knew how to do everything. He was in the Air Force, he learned to work on cars; he even owned a donut shop. He did just anything you could think of. He believed that before you bought something, you should try to make it yourself first. Mr. K.G. thinks the same way, so he’s been inspirational as well.”
You have a unique personal style. Did your grandfather play any part in that as well?
“Yes. My Grandfather was always old-fashioned. He was always well dressed and well kept. I remember him wearing bowties a lot. I just took it to like a new-vintage type of style, a sort of fusion between old-world class and new-school attitude. I like to wear a vest and a bowtie and look nice all the time.”
How did you get started in your professional career as a barber?
“I originally started in the Valley and made my way down to L.A., and I was working at Floyd’s. I met Adam Daniel from 264 Customs, and he introduced me to Mr. K.G. One day, I said, ‘Hey, it’d be cool if I cut hair out of the back there. He said, ‘That’s not a bad idea,’ so we worked it out. Now I cut hair in the back of their tattoo shop. We’re like brothers; these guys are definitely the brothers I never had.”
How has it worked out so far? Have you learned anything from these tattoo artists?
“I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for K.G. and Adam Daniel, I wouldn’t be working here today. It’s been great. Their clientele is completely different, my clientele is completely different, but it just works. I do appointments and walk-ins. Mr. K.G. travels a lot as well, so I go with them and cut hair while they do tattoos. I have learned a lot from these guys too. I learned a lot about business and working with customers. Working with them has been such a great experience; we’re one big family.”
Are there any other artists you admire?
“I like K.G. and Adam Daniel, of course. I just got a new piece from Josh Schneiber; I like his stuff too. Musically, I like Tom Waits, Nick Cave. I also like a lot of punk rock artists like the Cramps, stuff like that.”
You participate in other art forms as well, don’t you? Tell me about that.
“I do collages, painting, I write short stories and poems, and I love making music. My music gravitates toward my eclectic nature; there are no rules. I’m a big fan of western movies; I like punk rock music, so to fuse the two is just fun for me.”
Are there any other random interests in your repertoire?
“Yes, I recently bought a unicycle [laughs]. By the end of the first day, I could ride it a little bit. I had always juggled, and my buddy asked me if I could do it while riding my unicycle so I gave it a shot. I want to try juggling fire too, and I’d like to get a taller unicycle.”
Any recent stories worth telling involving your wide base of clientele?
“Well, these guys called and came in and said they wanted to get shaved. One of them had gotten married. I think there were five of them, and they were all best friends. After talking with them, I found out that all five of them were brain surgeons. They had gone to high school and college together and reunited for the wedding. I just thought it was interesting how life connects different people. Plus, with being a barber, you never know who will come through the door, and that’s what I like about it.”
If you had a gravestone, what would it say on it?
“Well, since I legally changed my name to Richie the Barber, it would say: ‘Wanted Dead or Alive, Richie Barber [laughs].’”
What drives you?
“Imagination. Every day I try to think of new ideas and concepts; you only live once. I just want to do everything. To me, life has no rules, art has no rules, and at the end of the day, life is all about expressing yourself. ”
Lastly, are there any rules for Richie the Barber?
“Well, I don’t do long hair or women’s hair. I only do men’s and boys’ hair, and I do men’s beards and mustaches. The biggest rule for me is that I won’t shave off anyone’s mustache. There was a guy who came in one time who had a longer mustache than me, and he wanted me to cut it off because his wife didn’t like it-I couldn’t do it [laughs].”
For more, click here for subscription.
Related content: Read more from Bound By Ink