By Mike Shen
Finland should be known for more than their Nokia cell phones. Meet Pirkko Vaisanen, the Artistic Director of Paul Labrecque Gentlemen’s Salon & Barber Shop at The Chatham. The Gentlemen’s Salon, which is going on its third year of existence, is located on the second level of the award-winning Paul Labrecque Salon & Spa East on 65th St. & 3rd Ave. With a new year comes the opportunity for us men to learn how to take better care of ourselves. Thanks to shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and role models like David Beckham, today’s average male is starting to realize that pampering is OK! However, he often has no clue how to go about doing such lifestyle changes.
The private men’s suite at Paul Labrecque offers male clientele indulgent grooming and pampering services in a quiet, private room that’s separated from the normal hustle and bustle of the salon’s usual services. Barber shops of old used to be a haven where men could unwind, vent, or just bask in silence away from the usual stresses of a routine life. Under the direction of Pirkko (pronounced Peer-ko), The Gentlemen’s Salon & Barber Shop successfully achieves that third place between work and home where men can literally free their worries under the hands of trained professionals. Services include straight-edge razor shaves, cuts, color, scalp treatments, facial trims, shoe shines, sports manicures and pedicures to name a few. I had the privilege of interviewing Pirkko while experiencing one of her famous triple-treatment scalp therapy and a sports manicure and pedicure. All three grooming treatments took about 45-minutes in total, which is ideal for the no-frills, in-and-out New York male. Finnish born and European trained, Pirkko discovered her passion for the industry while watching her mother run her own salon. She arrived on American soil in 1970 on the streets of Manhattan, not speaking a lick of English. Before long, Pirkko built a reputation as a men’s grooming specialist. When asked why she chose to specialize in men’s hair and beauty, she simply replied that men were less complicated; she saw that men wanted to be pampered and cared for but often did not know how to go about doing so without threatening their masculinity. That might sound a bit trite, but I can definitely affirm that getting a manicure and pedicure for the first time in a huge room full of women who often stare at you can be a bit unnerving for any male. Pirkko’s draws techniques reserved for women and translates them into fashion-forward effects for men while cutting and styling men’s hair.
My experience with the Aromatherapy Scalp Massage was literally a piece of heaven. In essence, think of scalp therapy as a facial for your head. The massage helps to drain away toxins that gather in your scalp and hair follicles while spreading the natural oils produced by the scalp along the entire length of the hair. Think of it as self-conditioning. Massaging the scalp improves circulation, nourishing hair down to its roots, which helps hair feel thicker with a healthy sheen. Attention balders: Regular scalp treatment could result in a decline in hair loss and a slowing of receding hairlines.
Pirkko begins the massage with Paul Labrecque’s Scalp Revitalizer, which contains stimulating peppermint, menthol, and eucalyptus extracts. Lemongrass oil then cleanses the pores and penetrates hair cuticles leaving hair soft, shiny, and manageable. The intense and sleep-inducing head, forehead, and neck massage that follows irons out knots you never knew you had using shiatsu pressure points. I found calling the treatment scalp therapy misleading as I found the process more stimulating and relaxing than previous full-body massages I’ve experienced. My worries about finances, holiday gifts, mundane errands, and the like were literally forced from my mind as the scalp massage eliminated tension and brought me to an ethereal trance-like state of relaxation. Though we really don’t have to worry about smoky bars in New York anymore, regular shampooing won’t rid your hair and scalp of build up and damage from air pollution, sun exposure, and even styling products.
Now I don’t want to downplay the sports manicure and pedicure I received. The sports manicure uses an antiseptic gel to clean your hands and nails. Nails and cuticles are then shaped and trimmed before you undergo a slow pressure massage with oil that helps to loosen knots in your hands and strengthen your digits. Finally, a moisturizing cream hydrates and protects the skin before the manicurist finishes with a final buffing of your nails. The best part of the pedicure would have to be the massage. Like the manicure, the pedicurist first cleans your feet and then trims and shapes your nails and cuticles. However, those nasty calluses that you tend to develop through work shoes, sports, etc. are treated with an intense buffing of your feet. An exfoliant applied to your lower legs and feet removes dead skin cells. The massage literally strips away any tension you might retain from a long, stressful day. From a layman’s point of view, a sports mani/pedi differs from a normal mani/pedi primarily with the intensity of the massage treatment and the oils, creams, and other natural extracts that super-strengthen and maintain your hands, feet, and nails.
Pirkko and her staff specialize in accommodating a hectic timeframe by providing multiple services simultaneously. “Often men want to get in and out quickly, but need it all…my staff can do that without compromising the quality of our services,” she says. In fact, Pirkko often sees 10-15 clients a day without tiring. Under her direction, Paul Labrecque Gentlemen’s Salon & Barber Shop helps its male clients achieve a look that works for their individual lifestyles and that requires minimal effort to maintain. A new menu of services will be available in the new year that’s structured much like a wine list in a language that the generic male New Yorker will understand – what’s the service, what’ll it do, lose the sales pitch, and tell me how it costs. When asked what the most intriguing aspect of the Gentlemen’s Salon was, Pirkko replied, “It allows me to pamper a man – appeal to his feminine side without compromising his masculinity. This is just what men are looking for these days.” With a box of her cookies in hand and feeling twenty pounds lighter when I left, I just had to agree.
Deep Conditioning Lemongrass Scalp Treatment – $60 ($70 with Pirkko) Sport Manicure – $28. Sport Pedicure – $58
Clients may schedule appointments at Paul Labrecque Gentlemen’s Salon & Barber Shop by calling 212-595-0099. For detailed information on all services, visit www.paullabrecque.com. Paul Labrecque East171 E. 65th & 3rd@ The Chatham, New York, NY 10021.