TAMPA — Fernando Santamaria is spreading secrets to win converts to his dying art.
"We're using old-school barber techniques to bring men back to shaving, one customer at a time," said the 28-year veteran barber as he covered a customer's face with steaming towels for a $55 royal shave. "I'm booked solid."
Working behind a picture window, Santamaria's old-time ritual is center stage at The Art of Shaving, a novel retailer Procter & Gamble opened two months ago at International Plaza. Curious kids walk up to the glass to gawk, while a few men waiting for wives slip in for what often is a first-ever barber shave.
Two of his secrets: short half-inch strokes and shaving once in the direction of the grain and once opposite. The standard shave is $35, but most men spring $20 more for a 45-minute version with a facial.
"The most relaxing hour of my month," said Joe Silvestro, a regular and Thompson Cigar executive. "It rejuvenates me."
"Join the brotherhood of shaving" is the mantra of this luxury brand run by the owner of Gillette and mass market Old Spice.
It's teaching guys who learned from their father or taught themselves to shave that the lotions and moisturizers fewer than half of them ever use should be part of their daily shaving ritual.
"Our store is driven by the quest for the perfect shave," said Adam Weber, brand manager of the fast-growing 63-store chain based in Miami. "Who better to deliver that than a master barber, so you can try it at home."
Inside, shoppers see a "best of the best" array of shaving tools: badger hair brushes at up to $260, German-made $200 safety razors, and Panasonic electric shavers for $500. The company's own creams and lotions sell for $14 to $22.
Displays sport top-end Gillette razors like a $150 battery-powered ProGlide that vibrates the blades, lights what it's shaving and packs a computer chip that signals a dull blade.
They sell straight razors, sharpening strops and shaving cream brushes, too. But the barbers do not use them thanks to the legacy of AIDs, which limits those tools to only one person. So Santamaria's straight razor is armed with a disposable blade.
There's no froufrou. The traditional honeycomb hex tile floor, barber pole and dark wood paneling make for a man cave. The lotions and balms come from plant extracts — no alcohol, synthetic fragrances or animal oils. The brush fur is all Chinese, where badgers are raised as food and for their fur.
The Art of Shaving was created by Myriam Zaoui, a French-born cosmetics chemist who in 1996 cooked up balms in her kitchen to sooth her husband Eric Malek's razor rash. The couple sold their car for $12,000 to open a shop in the Upper East Side of New York City, then hit pay dirt signing a barber from the famous British shop Truefitt & Hill to offer shaves. Once that hit the front page of the New York Times, lines to get in stretched out the door.
Procter & Gamble, which profits helping men manage the 27 feet of whiskers they sprout in a lifetime, bought the chain in 2009, then stepped up expansion.
The attraction is simple. Sales of men's grooming products are rising faster than women's. Prestige men's grooming goods are growing even faster.
P&G markets the Art of Shaving as an insider brand for those who pride themselves as being in the know. Ads and viral YouTube videos feature funny characters who take shaving seriously.
"We're telling men it's okay to take care of your face," said John Catsikopoulos, Tampa manager. "Feeling good about how you look builds confidence."
Mark Albright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8252.