Some of life’s greatest treasures are buried in the most unlikely places. On Bradsfords Road across from the Nashville Fairgrounds hides The Handsomizer, a local barbershop built for one. When the weather is nice, the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald and other legendary singers float through the open double doors welcoming people into the shop.
Established in January 2015, the barbershop consists of one room around 12 by 18 feet, with a vintage barber chair in the middle. On the right side of the room, sit three old theater chairs. The back wall is hidden by a cabinet and a counter covered with hair promenades, barber shears, razors, clippers, combs and a variety of other products and tools needed to run a barbershop.
An antique barber chair faces a large mirror bordered with pictures from the 1800s of men with different types of beards and mustaches and the words “Radet tonsus pulcher in aeternum,” -shave, haircut handsome forever- written across the top. In the right hand corner of the room is a television screen playing a slideshow of antique and vintage photos.
Stephen Mason, otherwise known as the Handsomizer, commands attention. With a handlebar mustache, a starched white shirt, and a red bowtie Mason looks as if he emerged from the past.
Mason is best known as the lead guitarist in Jars of Clay, touring with the band from 1994 to 2011. Soon after 2011 the band decided to slow down in its music career and spend more time with families. It was during this time that Mason decided to incorporate his love for hair and grooming into his life.
“I wanted to be home and get off the road. I wanted to find something creative and that connected me with people, but had the flexibility to do a recording session every now and then,” said Mason.
However, the idea of the Handsomizer was born much earlier in Mason’s life.
“I thought of the name, the Handsomizer, in school. It started as a joke about running people through the handsomizer, a machine that would make them handsome. I then shortly after bought the domain on a suggestion of a friend not thinking I would use it at the time,” said Mason.
After Jars of Clay stopped touring Mason attended International Barber and Style College and received a license to style hair and groom beards. With the name already registered, the Handsomizer was the perfect fit.
“In October 2014 I was driving around trying to find a room or chair for rent when my wife suggested the closet rehearsal space in the back of the Jars of Clay creative commons,” Mason said. “We had bought the place 12-13 years ago as a place to come play, rehearse, make records and now haircuts. We started construction on the room, which needed a lot of love, and three months later, the first week of January, the Handsomizer opened its doors.”
Not a one-trick pony
The Handsomizer offers a variety of services including, Handsomizing-men’s haircuts, straight razor shave, Thorough Handsomizing-shave and haircut, Beautifying-women’s haircut, junior haircuts, neck shave and taper retouch, beard and moustache trim, and bang trim. In addition Mason specializes in hipster and trendy haircuts and beard grooming, and he takes inspiration from past styles revamping them in new ways to fit modern expectations.
“The barbershop with the attachment to a historical narrative connects to people in a positive way,” said Mason. Being in Nashville there are a lot of people coming to town, thinkers, writers, young creative types and their haircuts offer them something that they identify with.
The Handsomizer isn’t a typical barbershop in that it only services one customer at a time.
“It’s a one-chair barbershop, and it has an old-school English flavor to it that is different from anything else in town. It totally fits with what Stephen likes,” said Asher Wood, a friend and a client.
This one-chair barbershop allows Mason to give his customers his full attention without any distractions.
“The thing that I keep hearing is they like the individual attention and enjoy the pace of the haircut and conversation. It’s more intimate and the ascetic of a small barbershop is valuable to a lot of my clients,” said Mason.
Client Selena De La Cruz agrees that the Handsomizer is more intimate than other barbershops.
“Mason is more approachable than other stylists, cares to know exactly what you want from the haircut and reassures you that he is giving you his best service.
He draws you in and he takes the time to get to know you,” said De La Cruz.
Yet Mason keeps his prices reasonable, usually charging by the number of minutes the haircut takes, while he could charge more for the environment.
“The price is great, especially in Nashville,” said De La Cruz.
When children enter the Handsomizer for junior cuts, Mason is prepared with an angry-birds-styling cape. The television in the top right corner of the room is then changed to Netflix Kids and Mason allows the child to choose a show he or she would like to watch.
“The Handsomizer is totally kid friendly,” said Wood. My son Presley, who is six, thinks it is so cool. He gets a metal pin he can stick on his shirt after the cut, and he loves to wear it to school the next day.”
Open for a year, the Handsomizer is making an impact here in Nashville. Relying on primary on word of mouth, business remains steady, but Mason still finds time to play music.
“My schedule is more often haircuts than music. But what’s helped me is that music doesn’t have the same demand as before, if I don’t get a call that’s OK. This allows me the freedom to come and go and be more creative with music,” said Mason.
Mason, in addition to the Handsomizer, plays as a session musician in Nashville, is a songwriter, and is in a Beatles cover band. He enjoys the freedom a one-chair barbershop offers.
Mason truly embodies his shop and as customers leave they feel as if not only does Mason know them better, but as if they perhaps know more about the Handsomizer.
“Radet tonsus pulcher in aeternum.”