Matty Conrad, without a doubt, is a barbershop legend.
In 2010, Matty opened his shop Victory Barber & Brand in Victoria, British Columbia to much fanfare and press. The shop’s unique nod to the 1940’s industrial era and its masculine environment gained notoriety by several publications as one of the top barbershops in the world. However, Conrad balks at the title of icon.
“There might be a perception that I’m an industry icon, but I’m just a barber. I’m punching way above my weight but it’s because I love this industry so much,” he explains.
Describing himself as a “style deficit kid”, Matty grew up with lopsided haircuts and hand-me-downs from his older brother. His curiosity for the hair industry grew while working as a busboy at the tender age of 18.
“All of these people would come by after work and drink and have a good time,” he says. “They were well dressed, they were stylish, they were cool… these people were hairdressers. This style-deficit kid wanted to be just like them, so I went to hair school.”
While in school, Matty quickly fell in love with the art form and the culture of hair styling. After receiving as much free training as he could, Conrad worked his way up in the industry, owning two salons that had a staff of 30, and created a successful career as a stage artist. As he progressed in his career, however, Matty realized that he was trying to fit himself into the mold of what he thought a hairdresser was supposed to look like. This all changed after the death of his grandfather.
“I remember sitting at his funeral and listening to all of the things that were being said about him, and about the kind of man he was,” he recalls. “Then, my dad read out his high school yearbook quote: ‘I will never let anyone be more of a gentleman than I.’ For some reason that resonated so deeply with me. It made me start thinking about life, about legacy, and about our place in it all.”
Matty took a hard look at his life and career, and came to a stunning conclusion: he hated blow-drying and he hated hair colouring. What he did love, however, was technical haircutting. Conrad realized that he was actually, at heart, a barber.
While barbering wasn’t considered cool during this time, Matty felt like he had discovered himself. The industry was small, and he made it his personal mission to try and bring pride and dignity back to the barbershop.
Obsessed with style and the simplicity of retro barbershops, Conrad parlayed this obsession into the opening of Victory Barber & Brand in 2010. With a focus on classic cuts and hot shaves, there are four shop locations around British Columbia, and each are classically designed, consisting of vintage furniture and a “general store” of yesteryear vibe. The products the company now sells are even modeled after World War II rations kits.
While Conrad’s shops are a throwback, his mass social media following has been a key reason behind its popularity. Matty always shoots his photos in black and white, with a clean background, and low contrast. Models are rarely used, and he admits that most of his subjects are friends or a person he thinks looks interesting. He is a firm believer in shooting the person, and not just the haircut.
However, he still believes that the biggest impacts are made in person. “My grandfather was the kind of guy who would have shook your hand and looked you in the eye. I value those kinds of connections, so I spend an enormous amount of time out on the road.”
With his modest beginnings and dedication to distinctive style, Conrad has definitely made barbershops cool again, but he remains extremely humble. “I’ve been called a pioneer, an icon, and an influencer…but truth be told, I am just a barber. And I’ve never been happier.”