by Dot Helling
It’s time to go back to school. Preparation includes last minute vacations, buying clothes and school supplies, and coiffing for the big first day. Thankfully, we have many talented barbers and stylists in downtown Montpelier. In June, Todd Wheeler, who worked for the past three years at Myles Court Barbershop, opened his own salon, The Barber Todd, on Court Street, bringing a tremendous amount of experience far beyond his tenure at Myles Court. Wheeler started his career being schooled by his father, David Wheeler, at the Hollywood Barber College in Los Angeles, working on films such as Heat, Independence Day, and Batman Returns.
Wheeler’s unique and customized cuts are visionary and based on a philosophy of balance and symmetry. His dad once said to him, “I can teach you a thousand cuts, but how will you know which is the right one for the person in the chair?” That question haunted him until he correlated it with the Bonsai tree scene in the movie Karate Kid, when Daniel chopped away at the unshaped Bonsai to make it look like what he saw in his head. As Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel, “If come from inside you, always right one.”
Todd’s dad also taught him that beauty is “not only skin deep but goes all the way to the bones.” The same goes for every head. Todd’s canvas is the bones in the head from the shoulders up, and he’s developed a system for determining the best look for the shape of each head. He looks at three zones from the forehead to the chin and determines your symmetry. If symmetry is lacking, he balances it with the haircut.
For example, an “H” head is symmetrical. He calls himself a “V.” Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, actors whose hair he has cut, are both “A”s. Todd’s formula takes into account both the vertical and horizontal frames of your head. So if you have a narrow chin, you may not want a lot of hair at the top sides of your head. If A-shaped, you might want longer lengths on top.
Applying the right tools also matters. Most important are his Oster brand clippers, which allow him to work fast but with great precision. The blades adjust from one quarter inch down to two millimeters. Beyond that he judges with his fingers. For longer hair, his special tool is a pair of Japanese steel scissors gifted to him by a friend 16 years ago. These scissors not only feel good in his hand (he can flip them into place), but they are also a good luck token worth many hundreds of dollars and can only be handled by master barbers and shear sharpeners.
A father himself, Wheeler especially loves working with kids. Indeed, half of his clientele are kids ages 8 to 18, some younger. The common thread between youngsters and adults is the need to establish trust early on. With kids who have trouble sitting still, Todd has them turn the clippers on and off and watch their parents do the same. Then he’ll place it in the kid’s hand and have them hold and touch the tool to get rid of any fear of it. He’ll call the edger a “honeybee” because it hums, and warns his young customers that it tickles. Older kids are harder to figure out, especially those in high school who are under social pressure to figure out their image, which makes their hair very important.
Wheeler strives to be consistent and keep his customers happy. He understands that it’s scary to change your appearance and loves nothing better than to make someone happy with their cut and the way they look. As he says, “Sometimes balance goes beyond the bones to lifestyle.”