Franco’s Barbers

Francos-2This week’s space is a bit of a challenge to write about for a few reasons. The first hurdle I face is how to categorise Franco’s. In order to understand this difficulty, it might be useful to consider two definitions: a museum and a shop.

I have previously mentioned my reluctance to write about shops, because so many are ‘maximal spaces’ (including Asda!) Consequently, the ones that I have already visited have had a museum aspect, or retain their original fixtures and fittings. The place that I visited today, however, made me really wonder how far the definition of museum can be stretched. Franco’s is home to a collection of objects that are tied together by a common theme (‘curated’ in the loosest sense), and they are also placed carefully on display for public consumption. So why am I not sure whether the space can be considered a museum? Is it simply because the collection is housed in a barber shop?

Categorising Franco’s as a shop is also difficult. I have never considered my visit to the hairdressers to be in anyway similar to visiting Clinton Cards. In fact, the closest comparison that I can think of is a trip to the doctors: time spent with an expert who has the skills to solve a problem that I cannot fix myself. Why then are barbers defined as shops? This question is made even harder when one considers the history of the establishment.

V0019646 A barber's shop, Alresford. Coloured reproduction of an aqua

In the past, barbers did not just offer haircutting and shaving; a variety of other essential services were also available, such as dentistry, minor surgery and bloodletting (still a common practise up to the mid-nineteenth century). Dr Lindsey Fitzharris explains the grim story of the barber shop and its ubiquitous pole in this article, written last year for The Huffington Post.

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Franco’s is a snug place located at the heart of Brighton’s historic South Laines (there is definitely no evidence of bloodletting or minor surgery!) After spending a good hour getting lost around these winding streets – an inevitably for me, despite having lived in Brighton for over seven years – walking into this cosy establishment felt like a real treat. The air was aromatic and warm; the welcome was friendly and the objects on display fantastic. And, unlike the usual places that I visit, this space was alive with action. As soon as I got my camera out, a customer was whisked into a vintage barber’s chair and the friendly questioning commenced.

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It actually felt a little strange to be looking at the objects on display while the daily business whizzed around me. And I suppose this answers my initial question – the reason why Franco’s is not a straight forward museum, is because it is not easy to walk in and simply spend time looking at the objects. Since editing my photographs, I have discovered more about the collection than when I was actually in the space.

What I love about this assemblage is the attention to detail; each thing is either related to the barber shop tradition or has a particular aesthetic. The skulls, for instance, are like ghostly reminders of the barber shop’s past. While discussing the collection with the owner, I was surprised to discover that many of these items have been donated by customers. This insight made the collection even better in my eyes.  Not only did the customers have a shared ‘taste’ but, as Franco described, as a result of their gift, a little part of the space belonged to them.

It is interesting to think how this space will continue to grow and change over time, as more customers donate objects. It is also interesting to consider how much people notice these objects. One friend described the place as a barbershop-cum-museum, while another said that it just had some vintage objects in it. I suppose that this interpretation is what makes places like this so interesting. It almost achieves what Denis Severs constantly implores visitors to his house to understand – because the antiques and objects are contained within their ‘natural habitat’, one takes in the whole atmosphere and a ‘still-life drama’ is nearly experienced. Although not used, one imagines that the tortoiseshell comb might be plucked from the wall at any moment.

In short – I recommend you take a trip to Franco’s!

Google Maps link for Franco’s Barbers

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