Barber shops around the world are well known as cultural melting pots infused with the flavour of the city and the busy streets in which they occupy. They’re not just places of commerce or trade, or places where you’re assured a close shave, they also represent part of an area’s soul.
Amongst the winding, grungy backstreets of Melbourne’s inner city suburb of Prahran, Brotherwolf is as much a cultural icon as it is a place where the men of Melbourne can come to get one of most unique barbershop experiences in Australia.
And at the helm of Brotherwolf, arguably one of Australia’s most influential barber shops, is Pádraig Whelehan.
Whilst Whelehan would not look out of place in either Brooklyn or South Boston, the Irishman who emigrated to Melbourne in 2012, is inextricably connected to the heartbeat of his adopted Australian community.
When he started Brotherwolf in 2014, his plan was always to create a space where like minded individuals, with a passion to push the boundaries of a traditional barber shop, could come together and cut hair while doing cool shit at the same time.
His long term vision for Brother Wolf was a social club, where passionate and artistic Melbournians could create, explore, make and revolutionise the way barbers fit into our cultural vernacular.
Thus what started as free, after hour events for local musicians and regular customers inside the shop, had evolved into a more regular live music venue featuring the city’s best jazz, blues and hip hop artists as well as being at the forefront of a burgeoning local partnership with the Prahran Summer Jam - Australia’s biggest street ball tournament.
Melbourne has been hit hard by COVID-19. A second wave in July, forced the city and all it’s businesses into a second mandatory lockdown. It has decimated livelihoods, brought businesses to their knees and Brotherwolf has not been immune.
But if there’s one thing the city needs more than anything right now, it’s community and connectedness. This is what puts Brotherwolf at the coalface of helping bring a city like Melbourne back from the brink.
Thankfully Whelehan does much more than offer just a mean cut or fade. From day one, he’s also been steadfast in diversifying Brotherwolf’s range by collaborating with local designers for limited runs of apparel which has not only elevated Brotherwolf’s local brand recognition, it’s given him renewed purpose to keep going during this pandemic. A reason to keep getting up in the morning, where Whelehan heads into his empty store and designs something special that he knows his community will want once the doors are open again.
In recent years these local apparel collabs have even spun off into global partnerships with the likes of Knickerbocker NYC, Flux Studios and Brusher Official.
Just two years ago, Brotherwolf diversified further and launched their hair care brand No.113. Carefully curated using Australian botanicals, essential oils and premium raw ingredients, No.113 went through years of research and development, each product is thoroughly tested by each staff member and does not hit the shelf unless it gets the seal of approval.
No.113 is now on shelves around the globe and acts as yet another beacon as to why Brother Wolf forges forward beyond the norm. It’s why Brotherwolf continues to push the boundaries of what it means to be a modern-day barber shop.
Pandemic or no pandemic, barber shops and their barbers like Whelehan occupy a special place in our lives. They are our groomers, our confidants and in the case of Brotherwolf, they are also cultural entrepreneurs and community builders. Perhaps Brother Wolf can also be a community healer or the post pandemic panacea we’re all desperately seeking.
Irrespective of when Melbourne emerges from this next lockdown, we’ll be thankful that barbers are there on the other side, not just because men of this city will all desperately need a haircut but because we’ll all need someone new to talk to as well.