Meet Portland’s prohibition era inspired barbershop and gentleman’s supply, The Modern Man. It really is the ultimate man cave. There’s taxidermy on the walls, jarred specimens (I didn’t want to ask!) on the mantle and the whole place smells like leather. You can read antique books and sip whiskey while waiting for your haircut.
After attending Southern Oregon University for a short period, Portland native Christopher Espinoza attended a local hair school. Although, he dropped out of both schools, that didn’t stop him from pursuing a career in the hair industry. Christopher and his wife Emily, both 32, have been the owners and operators of The Modern Man since 2011.
They now have three locations: the Alberta Arts District, the Historic Mississippi District and the Sunnyside District on Hawthorne. Anything a man needs to look and feel good, they have it. Whether that’s a haircut, hot shave, grooming products, shoe shining, cigar, cologne, food, drinks or just a sincere conversation.
One of Christopher’s fondest childhood memories is going to the barbershop with his father and learning what it means to be a man and behave in public. His father always told him to perform acts of charity as often as he could. Now that’s a priority. For example, for those who are out of work but have a job interview lined up, Christopher and Emily offer a free haircut and shave along with a glass of whiskey and a cigar for luck.
Christopher wanted to recreate that barbershop environment he remembers from his childhood in his own shops. You won’t just leave with a new look; you’ll leave feeling refreshed and satisfied. Not only is The Modern Man a barbershop, it’s a place where masculinity is encouraged and honored.
Can you tell me a little about your barbershops?
Our barbers are the best in town and it’s not a job to them. It’s their passion and their lifestyle. We feel the idea of going to the barbershop should be a ritual to look forward to and not a chore. It’s kind of like going to church. Even if you’re not a churchgoer, there’s still something about the tradition and gathering of people that’s intriguing and deserves to be revered.
What services do you provide and what do you specialize?
We specialize in traditional men’s cuts and hot towel straight razor shaves. If you pay attention to the hairstyles in shows like Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire, you’ll see how they’ve influenced trends (here in Portland especially) in recent years. The funny thing, these aren’t trends being represented on TV, just traditional styles that have been around for ages. So if you think about it, for a very long time these styles were just considered everyday, average and normal. So now, “normal” has become trendy.
Does each location have the same style or its own unique flare?
One time I heard someone say each of our locations has it’s own “cinematic flair.” I like that. The Alberta location was our first location and we decorated that with my very manly dad in mind. He loves taxidermy and leather and ornate wooden decor. He pretty much provided all of the furniture that’s there to get us started. Thanks, Dad!
How has your father influenced you?
My dad, “Mean Dean” as the barbers like to call him, is my hero. He taught me how to be a strong man who cares for his family and community. He taught me how hard work and integrity will always put food on the table. He taught me that humility and charity go hand and hand. He quite literally broke his back working 12 hour rotating shifts his entire adult life to provide for his wife and three (knucklehead) kids. My sole ambition in life is to make him proud and to one day be half the man he is. He would however, still slap me silly to this day for back talking. Tough love.
Do you have any other inspirations?
Other inspirations include single mothers, the quiet kid in the back of the class with no friends, all those tired fathers out there that get up everyday to go to work even when their bodies tell them not to and last but not least Damian Lillard. Rip City!
What did you do before starting the shop?
Before starting the shop, Emily worked in Human Services as a caseworker and I worked for a very expensive denim company. I’ve spent most of my life selling other people’s products in retail, and I’m so glad for the change of direction!
Describe your definition of a “Modern Man?”
Well, “Modern Man” was really just a play on words for us, as in the evolutionary modern man. You know, walks upright, lives in civilization and eats with forks. We thought it would be clever since my wife and I are anything but modern. We love antiques, buildings with character, traditional styles and fashion. So for us, the idea of a “Modern Man” was just a bit more sophisticated than his homo erectus predecessors. And that’s what we wanted to be – a bit more sophisticated than our predecessors.
What’s your business philosophy?
Our business philosophy is Humility, Integrity, Community. Humility to always remember we work and serve the needs of our patrons. They’re the most important ones in the room. Humility keeps our egos in check and reminds us that there’s always more to learn. Integrity is doing the right thing every time, not to self validate our own character but just because it’s the right thing to do. You don’t have integrity because you’re honest; you’re honest because you have integrity. Community is huge for us. Being self-aware is what separates us from the animal kingdom. It’s a blessing and a curse to realize that we are a tiny part of a much bigger picture in which we have a moral obligation to our fellow man. We have to look after our neighbors and help provide for our community to the best of our ability. Do that and the community will look after you.
What qualifications are you looking for when hiring a hair stylist?
When they walk through the door for their interview, we first look for a sense of style. Fashion and trends come and go but good style will always be apparent. If you don’t present yourself well, your patrons will not trust you for advice in the “beauty” industry. So they must have a trustworthy style. Other than that, if the candidate has killer barbering skills, pleasant to be around and willing to work their butt off to build their reputation in the barbering community, then they’ll have a long career with us.
How do you keep up with the latest hair trends?
We don’t really focus on trends. We are in a fortunate position to specialize in traditional cuts, which are currently trendy. But we do have a wide variety of barbers to choose from. We have your old school, hardcore traditional barbers that have been at it for decades, we have your new blood fresh out of a big city salon internship and everything in between. We have a barber for everyone: new-school, old school, traditional and the ones that break all the rules.
What makes Portland the ideal city for a barbershop like yours?
Portland is such an awesome city. For business and pleasure. Business-wise, people here are smart and they can tell when something is contrived or genuine. Portlandians are very loyal to the businesses that treat them with respect and give back to the community. That makes Portland and ideal city for us to do business in.
You give your clients complimentary bourbon with their haircut. Is there significance to that?
Our clients do receive free bourbon courtesy of Eastside Distilling, makers of Burnside Bourbon. You can also choose one of about 10 different craft beers courtesy of Widmer Bros. Bourbon was often used when your friendly neighborhood barber was also your dentist and surgeon. They would use it as a sedative before they…well, you can imagine.
What would you be doing now if you didn’t have The Modern Man?
If there were no Modern Man, we’d most likely own a small antiques and oddities store or a bottle shop. Or maybe both, in the same building.
What’s in the future for The Modern Man?
We want to continue to serve our community to the best of our ability and hope they continue to support us as well. If you keep your ears to the ground though and check in with us every now and then, we may just have something to share in the next few months that could be a big game changer for us.