Barber & Fritz

The potion peddler.

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A retail takeover is not part of Ila Meens’s business plan. Don’t misunderstand: when it comes to Barber & Fritz, the Victoria-based coiffeuse’s extraordinarily beautiful collection for hair, Meens has the product, design savvy, and marketing prowess to take it to the top. She’s simply uninterested in doing so.

The world may not let her off that easy, though. Barely two years old, Barber & Fritz is already a larger endeavour than she intended. It’s on shelves in boutiques in Portland and Victoria, and en route to Brooklyn, Austin, Vancouver, and Shanghai—all of which came calling after stumbling across the striking imagery and earnest mission statement on the brand’s alluring website. Meens’s homage to the timeless art of the beauty ritual has, it seems, struck a nerve in the predominantly corporate hair industry.

“I’ve always felt there’s been a gap,” Meens muses about the industry she’s worked in for 18 years. “There are beautiful skin and bath product lines, but with hair we’re stuck with corporate, plastic collections, from how they look to how they perform to the story and integrity of the brands.”

Crafted from “a dynasty of recipes procured from every corner of the globe,” the 26 lotions, potions, creams, rinses, tonics, waters, washers, and primaries that make up the Barber & Fritz collection are the antithesis of corporate slop for locks; each product is hand-bottled and cultivated in small batches produced on Vancouver Island. In researching the concoctions, Meens spent countless hours in libraries and museums poring over recipes from the 1920s, the 17th century, and old Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian beauty secrets that spoke of powdered pearls, powdered silk, and unique oils—pure, simple but opulent ingredients. She discovered that many aromas we today associate with food once spilled generously into beauty, like kaffir lime, lavender, honey, coconut milk, and cardamom.

Meens’s goal is to make Barber & Fritz as natural and sustainable as possible. She sources ingredients locally when it makes sense, but she likes what she calls the “global elements” in the products. What’s not negotiable is that ingredients come from reputable mom-and-pop shops. “I buy my cardamom from a man in India who makes it himself,” she says, while lavender, honey, and beeswax are all sourced in B.C.

A salon owner herself, Meens designed the line to be diverse because “at a salon you need a lot of potions to play with.” As a result, the products are to be mixed and layered with each other. She also tested each and every potion on her team of Bumble and Bumble–trained stylists who “pulled me in when I got too eccentric and poetic and when my head got up in the clouds,” Meens says. For example, she wanted the shampoos and conditioners in glass bottles, but her team advised against putting actual glass in the shower. So Meens conceded: “I went with a plastic that looks like glass, for two shampoos and two creme rinses.”

The labels on each creation are printed on paper usually reserved for wine bottles, not plastic tags. Lids are made of tin that oxidizes over time. Meens’s best friend hand-draws the illustrations on every label, the pictures inspired by alphabet cards from the 1950s. “I’ve been obsessed with the old-fashioned since I was a child,” Meens confesses.

The name Barber & Fritz took as much time to decide upon as did the product mixtures Meens developed in her kitchen. “I was drawn to institutional sounding names like Holt Renfrew, Williams-Sonoma, and ‘So-and-So’ & Sons,” she says. “Two last names, like an old country store.” But she didn’t want something super feminine. In the end, she found herself back at the library researching long-standing surnames until two felt like the right fit. “My design team really helped me to make that final decision.”

As a collection, none of the Barber & Fritz products are meant to be ostentatious, and Meens never unnecessarily binds its water-based products, explaining that you simply shake them before use to blend the ingredients. “Everything in the bottle has a story and will do what it says it will,” she says.

A men’s shave line is next, and for that collection she hints of notes of rosewood, linen, juniper, cognac, and an old herb called clary sage. Like the hair products, the grooming line will be intended to savour, not to devour. A nail colour line, perfume, and cologne are also in the works.

“It’s slow beauty. Nothing squeezes out into your hand—it all pours or scoops. It’s something you take your time with,” she says, which in the end will probably be the very thing that dictates Barber & Fritz’s fast rise to the top.

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March 18, 2013