We had the opportunity to sit down with head barber Robert McMillen at one of New York's hippest barber shops and speakeasy, The Blind Barber. Located in the East Village, it has quickly become a destination for both locals and visitors alike.
Name: Robert McMillen
Place Of Birth: Youngstown, OH
What brought you to New York City?
Like most folks I moved for love! Honestly I was dating a woman for years on and off, mostly long distance. I finally made the leap and moved, the city lasted, we didn't! She was a wonderful person but the truth is I fell in love with the city, and that changed my entire perception of what love is as a whole. I'm so fortunate to have had that experience, it led me to my now wife, who is nothing short of everything to me.
As a second-generation barber, how did your father react when you told him you wanted to pursue the same profession as him? Was he supportive?
I reconnected with my father at his barbershop when I was 17. We didn't really know each other however he reached out with a business card and some cash in my mailbox. He offered me a job on the spot as a shopkeep, I was amazed by the sense of community as well as the diversity of the barbershop, I learned so much over those years.
This was Youngstown, Ohio in 1997 so barbering was reserved to urban and small communities, most men had already traded the shop experience for higher end salons so the profession wasn't one that most people sought after. My Dad urged me to go to college, get a "real" job as they say, so I did, for nearly 7 years. Nearly everyday I missed the barbershop, the smell, the conversation, the seasons changing from the window, the tangible exchange with clients, all of it.
In 2010 I called my Dad and asked him do you love being a barber? And after 31 years of cutting hair, living in his car at times, working in rough neighborhoods, dealing with so much adversity, he said "I could never do anything else." I realized the same was true for me, and he was beyond happy that I went back to the barbershop.
Please describe the barber culture in New York City versus other places in the world.
Every culture in New York City starts with the culture of the city itself. It is one that is rooted in diversity and community. Barbering here takes its cues from New York, from the people all over the country and world that sit in your chair. A day in the shop can be a lifetime of knowledge here given the energy the city has, it is truly something special.
What's different? Mostly terms, maybe the way in which certain barbers approach your haircut, however barbering in New York can be a piece of what barbering is everywhere given the different communities we have in the city. Shop styles can change by the block, it is nothing short of incredible.
You have an excellent sense of style. How would you define your own look?
I wouldn't call it excellent! I appreciate form in fashion of course, but I try to have a functional approach to living and working in the city. T-shirts and tailored work pants mostly, something over the t-shirt in the winter, I always have a handkerchief too, you need one in the city.
If you could cut anyone hair in this world who would it be?
What inspires you on a daily basis?
The city. My clients. My wife. My friends & Ohio Fam.
If you had to name one thing that really makes your day, what would it be?
I feel so fortunate to live in New York City and sometimes it still feels like a dream. I've been able to watch the seasons change through the shop window with Tompkins Square Park as the backdrop, it's incredible. Just waking up with the city at your fingertips is amazing.
Have there ever been times you doubted yourself and the path you’re following?
Of course. When I started barbering in the city I barely had any clients and was so intimidated by the pace of the shop. I had so much doubt and fear that I thought I'd never make it, but as they say persistence and patience helps you through. I also had a great team of people to work with from my wife to our OG barbers and staff, they carried me through.
What’s your worst fashion faux pas you’ve ever committed?
Do you remember Mark McGrath in 1998? Highlights all day.
Do you have an accomplishment you’re really proud of?
Can't say anything that I've done. I am proud of the community we have at our shops and all the wonderful staff and clients we have, I am humbled by working with every one of them.
Mountains, city, desert or the beach?
Let me have the city and escape to the mountains.
Who’s your favorite fictional character?
Bunny Colvin (The Wire) or Sean Maguire (Good Will Hunting) and I've always loved the struggle in Don Draper (Mad Men).
What do you want your tombstone to say?
Sorry for partying but thanks for having me.
How would your friends describe you?
Opinionated, stubborn, maybe funny?
Whom do you most admire?
Bill Hoza, my mentor and former boss.
What do you carry in your pockets daily?
Cash, handkerchief, MetroCard, phone.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
The ability to communicate with every person regardless of background, language, or disability. Just to communicate and build a rapport with folks is what I truly love.
Do you have a nickname?
Sunrise or sunset?
What was your last tattoo and is there a story behind it?
"Paid in Full" with a Benz emblem, people should know the story.