Meet Master Barber and the Captain’s dear chum Sid Sottung
One of Captain Fawcett’s most sought after ranges is the immaculate Barberism™ Signature Series, created in collaboration with internationally renowned barber educator and the Captain’s dear chum Sid Sottung. The two chums met for a delightful chat about everything from beards and business to pin-ups and the problem with perfection.
Step into the Haus of Sottung…
How does Barberism™ reflect your own heritage?
I grew up in New York City, among an amazing mix of cultures. I love the smell of old Italian barbershops, old fashioned scents, after-shaves. I took inspiration from classic Italian fragrances like Acqua di Palma. Also the herbs used in Italian food! Barberism™ expresses the ideal of the masculine man, the Latin lover, a sexy, suave, quintessentially Italian man. Clean shaven, sleek hair, maybe a subtle side pompadour, wearing a smart suit, very elegantly dressed. And wearing the fragrance to match.
When did you first become aware of Captain Fawcett?
I kept hearing about this brand and got a couple of samples but was too busy travelling to test it. One day in my Academy there was a guy with a really, really shit beard. It was awful. So I gave him a sample Beard Oil just to help him out and thought no more about it. About a month later this guy came in with a really amazing beard. It was so well conditioned, absolutely beautiful. I said ‘Excuse me sir, what Beard Oil do you use?’ And he said ‘Sid, it’s the Beard Oil you gave me, the Captain Fawcett Private Stock’. And that’s when I knew Captain Fawcett is the Beard Oil for me. It’s just the best beard oil. I love it, my clients love it. I carry the Private Stock plus the Booze & Baccy, the Jimmy Niggles, the Moustache Waxes, the Beard Balms. Seriously great grooming products.
So how did you develop Barberism™?
I met Captain Fawcett’s Right Hand Man, Richie Finney, about 10 years ago at a trade show. I said I’d love to develop my own Beard Oil. So he suggested a collaboration and I thought you gotta be joking! Because it’s a dream to have a Signature Series range with Captain Fawcett, right? So as soon as he said that, I was like ‘I would love to be able to work with you!’
I’d been using Captain Fawcett products for such a long time and truly believed in Richie. And I still do. I believe that the whole Captain Fawcett grooming range is the best in the market. So that was how Barberism™ started.
Tell us about the Pin Up styling on Barberism™’s packaging?
The vintage Pin Up vibe was a tribute to all the airmen, the soldiers and all the servicemen, American, British and who served in WW2. War is a very terrible thing so it honours all who lived and died and fought for their countries. Also all the ones that worked in the factories to support on the home front. My father, Ron, worked on airplanes but was too young to be part of WW2. He passed away when I was 25, so I had him in mind too.
You worked with Vidal Sassoon for 17 years. How did he inspire you?
I was very honoured to meet the man himself a couple of times. His concept of hair is a huge inspiration. ‘It’s the cut that counts.' That ethos gave me real discipline for precision work. Also one of Sassoon’s key philosophies was passing on knowledge to help others raise their skill levels. I carry that with me too.
What was your aesthetic when you established your own barbershops?
When I set up I had two barbershops in Leicester, England. I wanted an old school feel, with cutting edge skills. We’re always learning. Clients get a wide range of services including wet shave and beard design. We cut long hair, short hair, fades, pompadours, you name it. We also cleanse, condition and provide an all round great service. So we’re a mix of real old school flair with a clean-cut modern image.
Social media - is it a distraction or essential tool for modern marketing?
I’m not gonna lie to you I bloody hate doing social media. But as business owners we have to use it to put our voices out there. But it’s not my favourite thing to do. I started barbing before the internet, before it was cool. If you wanted to record a hair cut you used a Polaroid, but Polaroid film was expensive so we didn’t use it often. I have a lot of memories in my head from that time about the haircuts I’ve done.
You mean social media images promote artificial perfection?
Hell yeah! Because of course we rely on the lighting and a lot of barbers use Photoshop. It gives students unrealistic expectations of barbering. You learn by making mistakes. Mistakes are crucial. Also clients come in saying, ‘I want to look like that’. But maybe their reference image has a filter or the barber used enhancements to make a beard look fuller. It’s so fake, and for me that’s really annoying. It’s a beautiful lost world, barbering before the internet happened.
What was the best piece of business advice you ever received?
Work with friends, with people you really like. So people like Captain Fawcett and my barbershop business partner Barrie Stevens. Try to align yourself with companies and individuals who reflect the values of your personal brand.
Traditional American shaving style v the classic Italian style of shaving?
That is a great question. Because there is a difference. Actually, a lot of it is based on the positioning of the chair. In America the chair is reclined more horizontally, but with the Italian style the chair is more vertical. And about the techniques, in some American states barbers use their fingertips to apply the lather, kind of gentle. But in Italy it’s all about a firm brush. Italians favour a stiffer bristle brush, more scrubby, great for thicker density of hair and lifting the hair from the skin to really get underneath. They’re excellent for getting a good lather from hard shaving soaps like the great one Captain Fawcett makes with Luigi Scapicchio.
Your must-have products and tools?
A good pair of scissors such as Sakura Scissors, of course, a pair of Andis Master Clippers. I can’t live without Barberism™ Beard Oil. I also love my Captain Fawcett Shaving Cream and Post-Shave Balm. And if I needed one Pomade with me on a desert island, I’d stick with the new Classic Pomade from Captain Fawcett. (Ed’s note: Huzzah!!)
There’s always music playing at Fawcett HQ. What’s on the playlist in the Haus of Sottung?
Cutting hair I listen to Trip Hop or dark Trip Hop, something very chilled. But for wet shaves it has to be Frank Sinatra. Of course! Or Dean Martin. I love the Rat Pack. I also listen to a lot of Italian swing music when I’m shaving. It puts me in a very relaxed mood.
Word of advice to a young barber?
Practise, practise, practise. You can’t just quickly get a skill set. It’s about giving your craft time and really enjoying the journey. Barbering is an art form. We work with our minds, our hands, our body and our heart. So enjoy the ride. Barbering had been around for thousands and thousands of years and guess what? It’s going to be around for thousands more! Put love into what you do. That’s my best advice.
What plans do you have for the Academy?
Like all businesses after Covid, and with the economy and state of the world right now it’s just to survive. We have two Academies in Nottingham, England and Edinburgh, Scotland and we want to keep doing what we’re doing. Honestly, our courses aren’t the cheapest. We have high standards so we want to keep our standards high and deliver an amazing education to all our students.
If you could open an Academy anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Many places! Definitely New York City. And Italy, in Lake Garda where my girlfriend is from. I want to retire there. The Italian way of life is so great. Do I have plans to open another one? Watch this space.
Tell us about your VIP program. What business training and support do you offer?
It’s a monthly subscription membership program for barbershops, freelance hairdressers and salon owners. There’s a whole lot of benefits from training days and access to online tutorials to 1:1 business support and Zoom lectures delivered by my business educator, Kevin Hamm. It’s to help business owners feel less isolated, especially after Covid and also to develop a really great training programme for barbershops and hairdressers who want to help their staff progress.
How old is your oldest new barber student? Is it ever too late to change your life?
Our students are aged from 16 into their 60s. Nowadays barbering is a lifestyle for a lot of people. We try to train people for a career, not just a job. There’s massive difference. And it’s not about being Instagram famous, it’s about having a regular income and making sure you’re going to be happy with your choice. Barbering can offer a whole new way of life. It provides happiness, you get money, you get paid to do what you love and to make people look and feel great. It’s never too late to do that.
If someone applies to Sid Sottung for your exclusive 1:1 training, what kind of potential are you looking for?
I’m looking for barbers wanting to take their skill level up a notch but to me it’s more of a spiritual journey, where by helping others you’re helping yourself. So I’m looking for people who want to share their knowledge for the right reasons. People passionate about teaching. I understand what it’s like working behind the chair on your feet all day. You want new challenges. So definitely teaching is a great avenue to share learning, go onstage, do platform work and work for product companies. It’s great to lift your profile for fantastic magazines like Barber Evo. Or to do incredible shows like Barber Connect where people recognise not just you, but your work. It’s a programme for barbers who love this art unique form and want their expertise to be a legacy.
Is that what’s behind your book, The Art of Barbering?
Yeah in part. The book is new limited edition hardcover, spiral-bound book of 321 pages! It includes step-by-step tutorials, my own belief system for cutting hair, my personal history, information about barbering history and also interviews with famous barbers from around the world. You’ll read about hair colouring, shampooing, equipment and knowledge. The first run has completely sold out, so we’ll be doing a second run in the near future. And of course my favourite Beard Oil company is in there, Captain Fawcett!
Interested in enhancing your skills? Find Sid here: https://sidsottung.com