Florence is a place of perceptions of such overwhelming beauty that it feels like it’s suspended in time. No matter how many times you visit it never gets old, never fails to impress. Positively gleaming from its ongoing clean-up ordered by former mayor and current senator Matteo Renzi, it continues to conjure up unique and inexpressible sensations, where the wonder of the sights fuses with the intrinsic beauty of the city.
Most visitors to Florence approach the Ponte Vecchio, one of the city’s most iconic medieval landmarks, from its North Bank, meander across it while browsing the plethora of gold proffering jewellers, pause momentarily for an obligatory selfie through the Arno-facing alcoves and immediately turn back as if an in-built GPS device signals a dead end. Those in the know keep walking.
By about-turning, not only would you be denying yourself the opportunity of discovering the delights of the lesser-frequented neighbourhoods of Santo Spirito and Oltrarno, but you’d miss Mondial 1908 Gentlemen’s Barber which is a two-minute walk around the corner, nestled on Borgo San Jacopo.
Mondial 1908 is the kind of place your grandfather would have frequented back in the day when a visit to the barber to tame your facial hair was considered less of a luxury, more a force of habit. It may have skipped a generation, but it’s certainly the kind of place we Generation X-ers are beating a path back to. We appreciate the finer things in life, doing things properly – buying less, thinking sustainably. Having a tailor-made suit crafted so it fits to flatter, or commissioning a pair of bespoke shoes so that our feet are more comfortably and stylishly catered. More style, less fashion.
Florence remains a place where craftsmanship still pervades, none more so than in Oltrarno. Artisans in this working-class district on the less touristy side of the Arno have been moulding, crafting and creating elaborate leather, silver, gold and paper products for nobles, royalty and other elite for more than 500 years. In among the artists’ studios and jewellers lies Mondial 1908, where an oasis of calm awaits those who set foot through the door from the quaint cobbled side street in an area locals refer to as “diladdarno” (the other side of the Arno). Its glass-fronted entrance – flanked by a proliferation of antica barberia delights encased behind glass like prized museum exhibits – features premium oils, lotions, potions, balms, badger-bristle shaving brushes, razors and the finest colognes. I may have booked a beard trim, but I also craved some time to unwind in an environment I’m not necessarily accustomed to back home – and this is seriously impressive male grooming territory with an air of pervading tranquility. Not many barbers, after all, can boast uninterrupted views of the Ponte Vecchio. I de-robe from my winter finery and settle into my chair, where I’m suitably gowned in anticipation of the ensuing treatment. The buzz of the reclining chair mesmerizes me into an instantaneous feeling of sleepiness. The session lasts 60 blissful minutes, where my eyes remain well and truly closed – and at no point does it ever feel rushed, more like a spa treatment sanctioned by the Slow Movement with utmost care and attention. Head barber Luca Muratore, a Sicilian who’s made Florence his adoptive home, performs meticulous follicle artistry during which time numerous potions are massaged into my skin and a succession of Egyptian mummy-like hot towels cocoon my face in order to promote better circulation in preparation for the trim.
‘It also results in better hair growth,’ says Luca, as I jokingly quip if the same procedure will work on my bald pate? The pampering process is repeated three times, as perfectionist Luca returns to his utensils to fine tune any unruly beard hair. If the clippers aren’t quite on point, he’ll turn to scissors or a razor for a flawless finish. If I wasn’t a barber convert before, I most certainly am now.
As the treatment came to an end, I was so relaxed I could have levitated off the barber’s chair. The offer of a single malt was tempting; however, I opted for an espresso on the terrace, which brought me to my senses, just as the twinkling city lights started to illuminate the dusky pink-tinged sky over the Ponte Vecchio. But to leave here without purchasing one of its hallowed colognes would be a travesty you would later regret. It’s a devil to choose because they are all so damn good, but having sampled all of these olfactory sensations one-by-one, I concluded that Mondial No.908 was the one for me. The citrus top notes make it fresh and pleasant, before giving way to a masterly mix of spices combined with woody and musky base notes, making it a truly memorable scent.
Mondial 1908 Gentlemen’s Barber, Borgo San Jacopo 38R, 50125 Florence; mondial1908.com
No.908 Homme Eau de Toilette, €54.80, Mondial 1908
Lee Osborne is a UK-based travel and style journalist and photographer