On his recent trip to India, our Vancouver based blog contributor Connell happened on a Truefitt & Hill shop in Mumbai and decided to pay a visit to learn a little more about the Indian operation.
Walking down Colaba Causeway, amid the frantic traffic mix of taxis and tuk-tuks going every which way, I’m admiring the colonial architecture while casually glancing at the wares of street side traders. It’s day one in India and I’m still adapting to the constant honking of horns and the variable sensory feast all around me.
I turn a street corner onto what my map tells me is called Chhatrapati Shivaji Marg, and there in front of me across the street is a striking blue shop sign with white lettering spelling the familiar logo of ‘Truefitt & Hill’.
Housed inside a 1930’s art deco movie theatre, this location is beautifully unique, but comfortingly similar to the Truefitt & Hill in Canada I know so well. As I moved closer and catch a glimpse of the infamous red, white and blue revolving pole, and the signature tagline, ‘Grooming for Greatness’, I can see how, even thousands of miles away from St.James in London, men would feel right at home here.
Entering the store, I meet Jeanette Fernandes and Sandesh Ghogare, the shop manager and assistant manager respectively. Although they have had no warning of my visit, they happily show me around the premises and tell me more about the services on offer and the history of Truefitt & Hill in India.
Located across two levels, the shop has a reception area, retail store, and a VIP room called the ‘Dukes Den’ occupying the first floor, and the main salon area on the second. It offers complimentary valet parking, Wi-Fi; with IPads and portable battery chargers available, and hot and cold beverages served with cookies. I take up the offer of a tea and take the opportunity to sit down and learn more from Jeanette and Sandesh.
In spite of the relative chaos of the streets, Mumbai is a city that also has a distinct business feel. It is India’s financial powerhouse, a technology centre, and the state capital. It comes as no surprise to me that five of the 10 Truefitt & Hill stores opened in India since the brand launch three years ago, are in this city.
Eager to stand-out in Mumbai’s competitive business market, appearance has become increasingly important among Indian men. Attracting a wide mix of young and old, the shop, is a place where discerning gentleman come to relax, disengage from their busy lifestyles and be pampered in their own personal, unmistakably masculine, space. As well as regular appointment clientele, it receives walk-in customers, including tourists, often referred from nearby hotels, and surprised to find the world’s oldest barbershop in the heart of hectic Mumbai.
The shop has often been described as reminiscent of gentlemen’s clubs of St James’s Street, London, and with Mumbai also being the home of Bollywood, the Colaba branch has remained popular with film stars since a number of actors attended the Truefitt & Hill launch event in 2014.
Brought to India by the Istayak Ansari & Krishna Gupta of Lloyds Luxuries Ltd., in addition to the five Mumbai shops and a sixth due soon, the group has opened two Truefitt & Hill shops in Bangalore, one in Delhi, one in Hyderabad, and one in Gurgaon, with more stores set to open in Delhi, Pune and Ahmedabad this year. Experienced staff members from Truefitt & Hill’s London operations, including seasoned barbers Gino Russo and Julie Robinson were flown in to train local staff, and there are now plans in discussion to open a local barber training academy.
Jeanette previously worked for 13 years as a manager at the five-star Oberoi Trident Hotel on the city’s Marine Drive, before learning of the franchise opportunity at India’s first luxury men’s salon.
“I take pride in representing Truefitt & Hill, because as world’s oldest barber shop, we do come with some trust and goodwill backing our name. We believe in not just offering a service, but a luxury experience that our customers cherish and value," she says.
The shop is conveniently open until 9pm seven days a week, opening its doors at 8:30am on Monday to Saturday, and at 10am on Sunday. As well as haircuts, treatments available include facials, manicures, pedicures, ear and nose waxing, head massage, beard and moustache trimming, and of course the traditional hot towel wet shave.
Seated on a raised throne-like chair and learning of the great Indian Truefitt & Hill success story, I'm ready to experience a Truefitt & Hill treatment while in India. The only question is, do I opt for a haircut or a shave, or completely abandon my less-than-polished, traveller's look by having both? Either way, on this first day in India, it seems Truefitt & Hill is on their way to grooming me towards a great trip.