by Evan Herbison
Journalism 210 students write profiles of people at work in our community. Horizon staff chose this profile for our paper: a look at local barber Diane Phillips.
As the dogs lay sprawled for their late afternoon nap, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the checkered cream and black tile floor underneath them, the day is beginning to wind down. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s bluesy guitar licks float through the air amidst the relaxed, casual conversation between customer and employee, and the perpetual buzzing of electric hair clippers.
The sun is setting in Fairhaven, and a contrast reminiscent of Moulin Rouge becomes apparent as the street outside fades to deep purple and blue, and the barbershop’s deep red interior remains lit by lightbulb-framed boutique mirrors. Like clockwork, Diane Phillips takes it as her cue to start closing up. Just another end to another day for a barber who likes to keep things old school and low key.
Watching the “Queen of Fairhaven” (a title appointed to her at a recent local festival) conduct business, she has an unmistakable youth about her, in spite of initial physical appearances; a lightheartedness, which never fails to raise the spirits in her shop. Her appearance is as eccentric as the interior of her business – an earthy Bohemian dress, a brightly colored sweater, a cordless phone on her waist, a bluetooth device in her ear, and glasses on the end of her nose.
Going about business, Phillips moves through her shop with a sureness and grace most uncommon. She seems able to instantly locate anything she needs from a counter covered in a seemingly endless variety of bottles, clippers, combs, scissors, and a number of things that would appear to be entirely unrelated to cutting hair, but still seem to belong as much as anything else there.
Phillips started cutting hair after finding that college just wasn’t for her. The high pressure and intense reading made the experience unenjoyable, so she decided to explore other possibilities. She began by cutting hair for friends to make some money, and quickly found it to be a natural choice for a career. In spite of being recommended a teacher (her father’s own barber), Phillips was determined to find her own teacher.
Even in the beginning, Phillips didn’t have much of an interest in the typical boutique setup, but found the idea of an old fashioned barbershop, specializing in men’s haircuts, much more appealing.
“Men are easy,” said Phillips. “They’re not complicated.” She finds men easier to communicate with than women, whom she finds to be “catty and gossipy,” and never cared much for styling women’s hair anyway.
“A salon is a totally different thing,” she said.
Known simply as “The Barbershop,” Phillips’ business is built on a personal, old world charm and a relaxed, casual atmosphere. The shop’s hours are a clear indicator to anybody walking in of the type of business they’re supporting – opening and closing hours are invariably followed by “ish”.
With only one fellow employee – a younger man named Peter, tall and thin, smartly dressed in bold, professional black and white – business comes and goes at its own pace. Customers’ hair is cut with a relaxed concentration, but the personal touch is always first.
Haircuts are often put on pause if the conversation demands it. As customers wander in, they’re encouraged to “hang out” until it’s their turn for the house special: an old school cut, hot lather neck shave, and shoulder massage. Of course, the sincere, friendly conversation so abundant in the shop is included at no extra charge. Phillips’ own dogs provide an especially important part of the easy-going atmosphere.
“Dogs make this place,” says Phillips, as she sweeps up the last of the hair on the floor around her antique barber’s chair.
As if recognizing their place in the conversation, the dogs rise quickly from their afternoon sluggishness. However, as the conversation progresses and moves away from them, their attention strays to the foot traffic outside. Phillips closes the door (which often remains open throughout the day), and further explains her philosophy on business.
“You have to be a good listener,” says Phillips, as she carries out the last tasks required to close for the night. She adds that it is often the customer who truly makes the conversation, and the best way to keep the conversation moving and the customers happy is to let them do the talking. She doesn’t mind the listening, as long as it’s interesting (which, she says, it almost always is). “I get to hear about all the adventures everyone’s taking,” says Phillips.
As the closing routine itself draws to a close, Phillips’ every motion seems as deliberate and passionate as the movements of an orchestral conductor. Every task, however small, is carried out with the utmost love and care – it’s a feeling that anybody familiar with the shop will recognize, but seems strange to someone accustomed to a more “mainstream” haircutting experience. Above all else, it is obvious that Phillips cares deeply about her work.
As though the same thought occurred to her at the same time, Phillips finishes by saying simply, “I love what I do.”
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