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It’s safe to Alberto Olmedo isn’t your usual hairdresser. Instead of scissors, he uses swords to style hair – a technique dating to the Middle Ages.
Olmedo’s tools include a large curved sword, which he wields two-handed, holding the handle and the point, and using it as an elegant saw across the hair. He also uses two shorter swords, one in each hand, with which he cuts and manipulates the hair.
His weapons are complemented by a blowtorch, which he uses to singe his clients’ locks, plus Wolverine-style claws and smaller talons, which he works the hair with.
Olmedo’s approach may seem like a gimmick – and his clients can’t see much given they’re lying back in the chair while he’s flourishing his blades behind them – but he claims there is a method to the approach.
“Other hairdressers cut one side at a time,” he says, “but as any sword-wielding hair guru knows, the only way to do it in an exact mathematical way is to cut both sides simultaneously.” He says the technique is centuries old, having originated in the “darkest Middle Ages”.
His blades, which sit on a stand by the mirrors in his bright salon, are based on both Western swords and samurai swords. The longer katana was the Japanese warrior’s main weapon, and the shorter wakizashi was traditionally a sidearm.
Olmedo has been offering his ‘samurai’ cuts for several years, and his clients come back for more, with some praising the “amazing experience” and “glamorous” results. His staff are also fully trained in the use of the weapons.
Hair has been a statement of identity for thousands of years. Many historians believe that humans used prehistoric brushes for cave paintings. Combs 5,000 years old have been found in modern Iran, while hairpins and bronze knives and tongs were used by the ancient Egyptians. In some African cultures, it was believed that a person’s spirit lived in their hair – making the hairdresser a vital part of the community.
Keeping hair clean and neat can be a hassle, and that led to long hair being associated with power in Medieval Europe. Kings and nobles kept theirs long because they had the time, money and servants to keep it clean. Meanwhile, peasants hacked theirs off regularly, because it grew dirty fast, and could hold parasites. In Civil War England and Revolutionary France, short hair was associated with those who fought against the king.
As technology has developed, so have hairstyles, with perms, sophisticated dyes and clipper cuts coming into play.
Knives were undoubtedly used to chop and style hair, and razors have been used to trim beards and body hair since the days of the pharaohs. But there’s not much evidence of the widespread use of swords to do the job. Instead, scissors have been most hairdressers’ tool of choice.
A Vietnamese hairdresser called Nguyen Hoang Hung used a samurai sword at a salon in Danang for a number of years, after trying it out for a competition. He eventually, like Olmedo, graduated to using two wakizashis at once and claims it helped him give his clients a light, feathered look.
But, right now, Alberto Olmedo is the best-known option if you’re looking to put your hair to the sword.
Alberto Olmedo is at Carretera de Carabanchel a Aravaca 11 in Madrid’s La Latina neighbourhood. Olmedo’s staff – including his wife – are also trained in the use of the weapons, and dying and straightening are on offer alongside various cuts.