In the beginning of 2019, Copenhagen-based hairdresser Simon Sommer opened a shop on St. Kongensgade in the center of the city, along with his business partner Troels Bruun Præstegaard. The name of the place is; Praeso, and it has quickly become a warm, tropical oasis, where you can shelter yourself from the cold Danish weather. This portrait examines the joy of mastering your craft, building relations and creating a space, where people want to stay.
Simon Sommer is standing in the doorway of his shop; Praeso, smoking a cigarette. With a cheeky smile, he greets the approaching patron with a handshake and a warm embrace. We walk through the room, towards the fridge. The colourful prints that adorn the yellow painted walls and the tiles on the floor nurture an expression of carefree days in a warmer place. The sound of birds chirping blends with the soft Brazilian tunes from the speakers, and there are bottles of rum on the tables. Many different people pass through the shop. Plumbers and chefs. Fashion directors and professional football players. However, they all have one thing in common. They want their hair cut by Simon. From the fridge he asks me, what I want to drink. “A coffee, a beer or a coke?”
"If you start balding on the top, acknowledge it! And then do not be afraid to rock a full Bruce Willis!" - Simon Sommer
People come to Praeso for authenticity. Simon is casually commanding the room, laughing and telling jokes, as the scissors run through the hair of one of the regulars. The customers do not mind my presence, and the atmosphere is light and welcoming - like if you were visiting one of your old friends for a beer on the terrace. “We really cannot take new people in. We are fully booked, as most of our regulars come back every four weeks.” Simon proclaims. He explains to me the intricacies of hair dressing. Succeeding in this business is mostly about building relations with people. And understanding them. The patrons of Praeso see the place as a retreat, where they can turn off their phones and lighten their soul for an hour or two. The role of the psychologist is never far away. The chair cultivates a special connection, where the participants open up about their most personal thoughts and dilemmas. “I know more about my customers than their wives do!” Simon announces with a grin on his face.
For Simon, hairdressing has always been about the craftmanship. To shape something of value with your bare hands. There is a certain pride and joy associated with the ability to create - no matter what it is, and especially if it brings enjoyment to others. The opening of Praeso was, in some way, Simon and Troels’ homage to the genre of classic American hairdressing. From the very beginning, iconic men like Steve Mcqueen and James Dean were the protagonists of the patrons’ aesthetic ventures – along with David Beckham and Danish comedy mogul; Casper Christensen, of course. And this is where the challenge, and the craftmanship, lies. Recreating and copying the looks of famous celebrities is fairly simple. Adapting them to the facial shape, stature and style of the customer is a completely different story. Quality hairdressing is about elevating people’s own expression. Working with what they already have, to build a refined version that becomes something novel in itself. Yet, the world of hairdressing is, like many other industries, dominated by social media. Trends and fashion ebbs and flow on a daily basis, with a constant injection of expressions from the ever-growing legion of influencers and creators. Nonetheless, at Praeso, Simon and Troels attempt to seize the last word. “Unless, of course, the wives get involved” Simon jokingly says, grabbing his own peroxide-bleached locks.
"I have never given a customer a mullet! That’s really something I would like to do some day! So, if you know somebody!" - Simon Sommer
Over the past couple of years, the demand for the classic, time-tested haircut have been surging. The sharper the better. Yet, according to Simon, all men’s haircuts are exciting to cut. “There is something thrilling about cutting shorter hairstyles. You are allowed a very narrow margin of failure, as everything becomes visible.” He explains, as a new patron takes a seat in front of him. One might think that wild, expressive haircuts allow a breath of fresh air for someone cutting hair all day, but that is not necessarily the case. Precision is invigorating. Also, sometimes the aspect of precision is just as expressive as something flamboyant and outrageous. Detail is often the stronger statement.
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The Danish man’s ability to recognize good taste is on a positive trajectory. People are investing an increasing amount of time into developing themselves and exploring what suits their faces. In general, there seem to be fewer lost causes. Yet, we still see a lot of the typical pitfalls – there will always be people out there, trying to hide their balding scalps. “If you start balding on the top, acknowledge it! And then do not be afraid to rock a full Bruce Willis!” Simon advices in an enthusiastic tone. Work with what you have and try to elevate it. Truth be told, losing your hair is never the end of the world.
The last customer stands up from his chair, and proceeds to the register to finalize the transaction. He places a reservation for his next appointment – exactly four weeks later, and greets the two of us goodbye, as he passes through the door, onto the street. Simon grabs a Coca Cola from the fridge. I ask him about the secrets behind a hairdresser’s ability to converse. For Simon, the stage is essential. The chair and the room have an almost totemic property. When he enters the room and proceeds to practice his craft, the social barriers crumble. Through his hands, the conversation flows naturally, no matter the topic. Often people stay in the shop to conclude the conversation, and some even swing by just to greet the owners. As I pack up, I ask Simon if there is anything left for me to mention. “I have never given a customer a mullet!” he announces. “That’s really something I would like to do some day! So, if you know somebody!” He chuckles, as I am making my way out.