Aged 105, Anthony Mancinelli is the world’s oldest practicing barber. He was born in Italy in 1911, and the Mancinelli family moved to Newburgh, New York, when Anthony was 8 years old. He started learning the barbering trade aged 12, as a way of helping his parents support the family. “They were surprised that I chose to help out, they never told me to do anything like that” he says. His hard work paid off, and Mancinelli bought his very first barbershop at 20. “Nobody could believe it”, he recalls, “my father was so happy!”
He owned his own shop for almost 60 years before selling up in 1987, at an age when most people would consider settling into retirement. Instead, Mancinelli has spent the 20 years since then working at various other salons, and for the past few years he has been at Fantastic Cuts in New Windsor. In 2007 he entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest barber, and the certificate now sits on his salon work station alongside his scissors and combs. He still works 5 days a week, shrugging off any notion of retirement. “I keep going because I like to do the work” he says. “That’s what happens… if you like your work you’ll get on”. INFRINGE was honoured to meet the man himself.
How did you first get into barbering? Well, I had six brothers and a sister, and my father was only making $25 a week, so I figured I could do something to help. I figured I’d learn a trade of some kind, and barbering came to my mind quickly. I thought, if I could just find a barbershop that would take me on as an apprentice, that would lead me to learning more about the business, which is exactly what I did. One barber took me under his wing, his name was Joseph Turi. Of course he’s been gone a long time now!
Every morning, I would get up at 4 o’clock to deliver the morning papers, go home to have breakfast and then I went to school. After school I delivered afternoon papers, and then I’d go and learn about the barbering business until 8 o’clock at night. That was my routine every day. I didn’t wait for anything, I just kept going. Whatever I made, I’d give to my mother, so she could use it for the needs of the family.
What would you say is the biggest difference between barbering now compared to when to you first started? In those days, you would have a haircut and a shave for 25 cents. That was way back, and everybody used to get a shave. Now nobody gets them anymore, they just do it themselves.
“If you like what you’re doing, that’s what counts”
You’ve had such a long career as a barber, you must have seen a lot of hair styles come and go… Oh yes, quite a bit has changed. Different styles came and went. Men used to wear longer hair in those days but styled so differently. Then it got to the point where men had hair down past their waist… then gradually they came around for a different style again, we were taking it above the ear and shorter and shorter that way. Then of course it came to a time where girls as well as boys would get the same type of haircut. They would want a short cut with the hair all coming over the face, what they call the pixie cut. And the shag haircut, I did that one too… I guess I’ve done a lot of changing of trends. Nobody showed me how to cut hair like that, I say just use your own imagination, think of what the hair should look like and do it. If you have no imagination, I can’t help.
What’s the most popular style these days? Everyone wants it short, everyone wants clippers. Personally, my favourite type is a nice neat haircut, short but nice and full all around. It gives appearance. But most people now want to take it all off. No style no nothing, just plain haircutting. Anybody can do it really, just pick up some clippers. I don’t like them myself but I give them what they want- it’s what I’m here for!
Who cuts your hair? I cut my own hair. I have done for years… I had a barber once, who gave me the worst haircut I ever had. After that, I did it myself. Of course it’s getting thinner now but I had a full head of hair before!
What’s your favourite part of being a barber? For me, it’s meeting people. I’ve gotten to know lots of people over time. You get to know what haircuts they like, what works for them. After a while, it’s not like seeing a stranger, it’s like family.
What advice would you give to an aspiring barber? Don’t be half way, be a good barber and you’ll always make a living. You have to put in the work, but you will never have to worry about anything. If you like what you’re doing, that’s what counts.
Do you have any plans to retire? No, I keep going because I like to do the work. That’s what happens, if you like your work you’ll get on.
Interview Nathan Dytor and Emma de Clercq Photography & Video Panos Damaskinidis Special Thanks Anthony Mancinelli, Jane Dinezza & the team at Fantastic Cuts Websitefantasticcuts.com
“From writing the play, I’m aware of how vast, nuanced, beautiful and delicate barbershops can be. Also, how ridiculously funny, over the top, exaggerated and naturally theatrical those spaces are.” – Inua Ellams