A luxury grooming brand that has been listening to men for centuries, Truefitt & Hill knows exactly how to spruce them up
By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: October 22, 2015
If you ask my husband what is shaving, pat will come the reply, “You apply the shaving cream and shave it off with a razor after a while. Five minutes and done!”
You pose the same question to Joanna Broughton, and she says, “It is an art. The pores need to be opened first. The cream needs to get in into the pores. And the razor has to be at a certain angle to shave properly.”
And she is, ladies and gentlemen, the Managing Director of world’s oldest barbershop, Truefitt & Hill, as recognized by Guinness Book of World Records. Started in 1805 by William Francis Truefitt in the busy streets of London, this luxury men’s grooming brand recently celebrated 210 years of existence in October.
As incredible as that is, their past client list is even more unbelievable. Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock, Oscar Wilde, Frank Sinatra, have all walked across Truefitt’s corridors to have their grooming needs met. Mr Dickens has immortalized the brand by mentioning it in ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’. Truefitt & Hill products were found on the Titanic. It has held many Royal Warrants throughout its life. In fact, now as well, Truefitt’s barbers visit either Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle to cater to H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh, while other members of the Royal Family and the Royal Household visit Truefitt & Hill’s premises in St. James’s.
Sitting down at Allium at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, I endeavored to dive into the two-century-old British brand as much as I could. The elegant Mrs Broughton, with her daughter Katie Broughton, patiently answered all my persistent queries, as we sipped some Moonlight Jasmine Blooming tea.
Over the years
Mrs Broughton has been at the helm of the brand for almost 20 years now. Whether 20 or 200 years, however, the brand has retained its quality service. “What has changed is fashion. The way men look have changed, and so what we offer has changed,” she says. From wigs to clean shaven look to long beards with creative moustaches, men also have to sustain fashion in their mien. But then, it’s a double-edged sword which Mrs Broughton has to be careful about. “It boils down to the fact that [when making decisions] we have to maintain traditions, remain true to our identity, and at the same time, make it relevant to the new modern man,” she said.
According to the Broughtons, men are increasingly becoming conscious about being well groomed. While till a few years back it was about being metrosexual, immaculately groomed, with well-manicured nails, now it’s about being ‘manly’ but well presentable at the same time. “Today men are also aware that even though they might not be ‘good looking’, they can be presentable by using good moisturisers and other specially formulated products that help their skin. He is very cognizant of the fact that he needs to look after his skin and himself, not use his girlfriend’s moisturizer but buy his own which is made for his kind of skin,” she explained.
And therefore, the brand now offer facials, various treatments, pedicures-manicures and a selection of more services that are needed to groom a man. The stores, or barbershops, are reminiscent of the aristocratic British décor with plush chairs, gold gilded mirrors and barbers standing in immaculate clothing. A minimalist wooden retail area exhibits their many shaving, hair care, skin care products and colognes. Their shaving accessories like the fine brushes and razors in the old style throw you back in time. But be aware, technologically, all these products and accessories are high-tech and contemporary.
Being a luxury brand, successful for the past so many years, Truefitt takes special note of its processes. The brand has, over the years, launched multiple lines of products, ranging from the 1805 line (with top notes of bergamot, mandarin and cardamon; heart of lavender, geranium and clary sage; and base of sandalwood, cedar wood and musk) to the most recent Sandalwood line (soft base notes of sandalwood, tonka and cedarwood; delicate middle accords of lavender, thyme and jasmine blend easily with fruity twists of pineapple and melon; and top notes of lemon and bergamot). The ingredients for these products, and the manufacturing, are all England based.
“We are very careful to ensure that our ingredients are sustainably sourced. We are in a long-term relationship with our suppliers. We are very loyal to them and they to us. All our products are completely made in England with local suppliers,” said Mrs Broughton.
Old time perfumes had a very distinct, warm and strong fragrance. A sign of freshness, there was a certain glamour when a woman, or a man, had a haunting fragrance wafting from them. Today’s perfumes, in contrast, are more delicate. Truefitt & Hill products conform to the former category still. It was a delight to whiff those powerful notes again, which reminded me of scents which my grandmother used to gift us from London in a bygone era.
And not just the products, the barbers at the shop are meticulously trained too. To be a Truefitt employee, they have to have many years of experience. And even after that, the brand’s master barbers train them. “Our history helps here because our master barbers have been with us for 50 years, and they train the next generation of master barbers. So it’s an organically developed skill. For example, we had a master barber, he started working at Truefitt as an apprentice at 14 years of age, and he retired when he was 94.” Mrs Broughton smiled as I gasped at the calculation. Eighty years of working in the same company means something. “He had a deep understanding of the grooming industry,” she continued, “and that’s why he was so important because he passed it on. Any new barber who joins is going to be very privileged to be able to benefit from his experience. So it’s a craft which is passed on from generation to generation.”
The barbers are also taught to listen to their clients – what they liked, what they didn’t, what lacked according to them. And this feedback is passed on to the head office. Mrs Broughton considers this also as their strength, because eventually, this leads them to do continuous R&D, thereby creating better products and services.
With such a wealth of knowledge, you would expect the brand to be dotting the world everywhere with its stores, much like Louis Vuitton or Bentley. But it does not. Mrs Broughton respects the classic definition of luxury, and likes to stick to it. “I think we must remember that we are a very exclusive brand. And we open in those markets and countries that are more suitable for the brand. Men’s grooming is an expanding market. I think it’s also about being at the right place at the right time,” she said.
Linda Mountford (another unpretentious and intelligent woman I had the chance to interact with) and master barber Rick Ricci manage the brand in North America and Canada. With shops flourishing in Chicago and Toronto, Washington DC is in the pipeline. New York and San Francisco will follow. Lloyds Luxuries Ltd. holds the Master Franchise License for Truefitt for India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. In India, six stores have been opened in Mumbai, with two each coming up in Delhi and Bangalore, and one each in Hyderabad and Pune. According to Mrs Broughton, the brand plans to open 100 stores in 10 years in India. South Korea and Dubai are also in the works.
Considering the multiple markets they are in and catering to the several kind of consumers, Truefitt customizes its services and products for them all. “For example, in Malaysia, we do a lot of men’s waxing – ear waxing, nose waxing – which is very popular. While in London we don’t offer that service,” said Katie Broughton of Truefitt & Hill. In Dubai, the brand offers massages because men over there like being pampered. While a customer in London does not require that service since they are much more reserved.
Even the barbers employed at the stores are a combination of locals and those from England. “The master barber will interview and check the skill level of the local barbers, and then they will be trained by the master barber. And he will stay at the location till he is satisfied with the work of the local barbers,” explained Mrs Broughton.
By the way, my husband was completely satisfied with his barber at their Chicago location. Barber Edwin Cruz used his deft hands and quick judgment to give a wonderful, hour-long hot towel shave.
Truefitt & Hill’s history is intertwined with that of the world. From the day it opened first, when British forces fought and gained victory over Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Trafalgar, to today when they service presidents and prime ministers of the world, Truefitt has gained reputation as more than just a luxury brand. It’s a lifestyle for the many important men of this world.
Soumya Jain is the Chief Editor & CEO of LuxuryFacts. She is also the Co-Editor of ‘The Luxury Market in India: Maharajas to Masses’, along with Glyn Atwal, published by Palgrave Macmillan and launched in September 2012. The book is a window into the highly complex Indian luxury market. Soumya is also a visiting lecturer for luxury marketing and online journalism at leading educational institutes in India. She has been invited to speak at conferences and address industry colleagues about the Indian luxury market. Recognising her knowledge of the market, she has been quoted in the media several times, while also contributing articles on luxury in various publications.