These days it’s Brad Pitt, especially from his 2014 film, “Fury.” Before that, David Beckham was the big one.
People come into Mercer Supply Co. with all kinds of ideas about what they want done to their hair. It’s manager and head barber Troy Mercer’s job to figure out what’s actually going to work for them.
“Generally by the time they sit down, I know exactly what I need to do,” Mercer said. “You got to give them an opportunity, but kind of take it out of their hands. Because a lot of them don’t know what the hell’s going on up there. They think, ‘If you give me Brad Pitt’s haircut, I’ll look like Brad Pitt.’”
Though they might not know exactly what they want, under Mercer’s gruff-but-kindly guidance, customers generally end up with what they were looking for—a clean, traditional, sharp-looking haircut. It helps, he said, that men’s grooming, as an interest as well as a daily ritual of activity, has returned to mainstream acceptability in the past five to 10 years.
In that resurgence, Mercer and his brother Dewayne, the shop’s owner, saw an opportunity to open a high-end barbershop oriented toward men.
Dewayne, who also owns the woman-focused Mercer Studio on Highland Road, was approached by Dwayne Carruth, owner of The Front Door architecture studio, about opening a barbershop back in 2015. Carruth was opening his studio in the new 1010 Nic development on Nicholson Drive and thought the Mercers would fit in well with the high-end artisanal aesthetic of the other shops.
It’s important to talk aesthetics when talking about Mercer Supply, a highly Instagrammable space where style and substance prove to be interchangeable—the business, after all, is hairstyling—and Troy Mercer is happy to do it.
“It’s Johnny Cash, and honky tonk, and Levi’s and cowboy boots,” he said.
He brought up rockabilly and pompadours, Huey Long and the classic style of Southern gentlemen.
“And by that, I don’t mean LSU frat boy style.”
Black-and-white photos of the Mercers’ ancestors, all neatly coiffed, greet customers just inside the door, and an illustrated poster of John Wayne broods from behind the bar where coffee and whiskey are served. Exposed brick, wood and concrete make up the floor and walls, a touch Mercer said was down to his requests to keep the decor “minimal and masculine.”
With all this talk about masculinity in a very traditional sense, isn’t there a conflict with the traditionally feminine activities of grooming and spending a lot of time on your appearance? To an extent, Mercer Supply stylist RyAn Wilson said there is.
Wilson, a woman, said that the major change she’s seen recently in men’s grooming is a willingness among men to spend more time on themselves and apply hair care product. Part of that comes from the branding of some of these products, which ties grooming to signifiers of old-school masculinity—think lots of leather, metal and big, waxed moustaches—and alleviates some of the anxiety that the groomer could be perceived as preening or otherwise unmasculine.
Mercer, however, says that the dominant trait of his ideal haircut is simplicity.
Many of his clients, he said, are high-profile men in politics, the law and business. They need haircuts that don’t need to be constantly styled, but project an image of a strong, put-together man. At most, he said, it should take his clients about a minute to style their hair each morning. And, of course, there are some taboos.
“You’ll never find me blow drying a man’s hair, unless it’s to get rid of the cut ends,” Mercer said. “I don’t do much styling, and not much using a brush.”
Those techniques all produce softer, fluffier lines in the style, he said, and a man’s haircut is all about clean, sharp lines. He said that’s the foundation of classic men’s hairstyling, and what separates a masculine haircut from a feminine one.
“What I believe is, you make a man look like a man, and you make a woman look like a woman,” Mercer said.
Just don’t ask to look like Brad Pitt.
Photos by Sean Gasser.