He must be one of Europe’s most unusual hairdressers, full of experiments. Once he put a TV in front of his customers instead of a mirror, and a camera in the window so that they could watched people go by, instead of the other way around. Maybe that is why Fred calls himself an artist rather than a hairdresser.
‘Look, of course I work with scissors, that part is normal. But I constantly want to reinvent my shop, the place I work in,’ he says.
‘Because it’s a way to rediscover my profession, and to get fresh energy.’
To enter Fred’s shop you have to pass through a well-known and very old brown café and climb the stairs at the back, as Cut Me is situated right above it. It has shelves filled with items such as old radios and TVs, black and white pictures of jazz heroes, a vintage salon hairdryer, and a doghouse. Yes, a doghouse, into which he sweeps the hair clippings.
‘And also because the audience loves it.’
‘The audience, they are not your clients?’
‘No, and I never call them that, especially because they’re not mine. They are allowed to travel, it’s even good to travel: one doesn’t eat pasta every day either.’
Fred is an extraordinary man, and he looks a bit like Albert Einstein with a pair of scissors.
‘I’m not a coiffeur,’ he says, ‘but a coupeur: coiffeurs brush hair. I cut.’ He learnt his profession in the 1980s from someone who had in turn learnt it from Vidal Sassoon. ‘He was the master, all good hairdressers learnt from him. Did you know that his breakthrough was the hair he did in Rosemary’s Baby?’
While I am familiar with this Roman Polanski classic, I can’t remember the hair.
‘Who are your clients?’ Oops. ‘I mean the people who come to you? Are they all artistic people?’
‘No, also normal people, housewives, office people.’
‘Are you expensive?’
‘Medium. 25 Euro for men, 40 for women, because they take more time, there are more details.’ And he talks about cutting hair. ‘I like to create new things, to mix old and new. It’s like eating cheese fondue.’ Fred likes to make comparisons, especially with food. ‘You eat it in winter, right, in the mountains?’
‘But imagine eating it on the beach, in the summer. Then it would taste different, don’t you think? You would mix the two, to create a new experience.’
He’s from Lille, in the north of France.
‘What is your identity?’
‘European. Because French, well, yes, well… I have a passport, but that’s all.‘
I tell him that people who had advised me to interview Fred had told me that even though he’s French, he’s as Brusselois as it gets.
‘Yes,’ he laughs, ‘but that’s no wonder. As I arrived from the outside, I had to look, had to see how things are done here. It’s always easier to be a spectator, to copy the things that are done here, the Brussels way.’
‘Brussels is the European capital, does that mean anything to you?’
‘No, it’s the office, nothing more. And okay, we hear many languages here, far more than in Paris.’
It will always be the city Brussels, Little Paris, wants to compete with.
‘Isn’t it something to be proud about, to be the capital, or the heart of Europe?’
‘No, people from Brussels aren’t like that, they are humble.’
‘What is Europe to you?’
‘For the moment it is just open borders. The European identity is a construction. And there some things that don’t work well, like the voting. I live here, but I can’t vote. I think one should be able to vote where one works, where one pays taxes. It’s important.’
‘Do you discuss politics with the clients?’
‘A bit. Sometimes, we discuss Crimea.’ He talks about Russia’s strategy, and says he thinks Putin wants to build a great empire again.
‘Should Ukraine join the EU?’
‘Yes, because the more members there are, the more we get to know each other, we learn from the differences and we construct something new out of these differences.’
‘Europe is not very popular.’
‘In the world?’ he interrupts.
‘No, in Europe.’
‘Europe is not in a good place right now. Because of the crisis. And it’s not over. But something good will come out of it, we’ve seen that before, after wars or previous crises. You hit the bottom, and poof, something good will come. New creations.’
That’s the hairdresser talking again.