Clemente Dimonda has been providing classic haircuts cuts for a long time. He arrived from Naples in 1961, but had started in the barber trade in impoverished post-war Italy. For the first few years he worked in a shop on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, New York. That was until one of his customers, an elderly gentleman from Sicily, told Clemente that he was too good for Queens; he should go to Manhattan and make a lot of money.
That was 50 years ago. Today, Mr. Dimonda still wields a pair of scissors at the age of 85. He is known for giving what he calls the “gentleman cut,” nothing outlandish, nothing crazy. It is a polished, clean-cut look that exudes class. He is also well-known for the supplies that he uses, remnants of a bygone era – witch hazel, cotton necklaces to catch loose hair and monogrammed capes.
His barber shop was designed by none other than Ralph Lauren. In fact, the barbershop is located, not on the ground level, but on the 8th floor of the world-famous designer’s headquarters on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Why and how would be the next two questions that most people would ask. In short, Mr. Dimonda has been cutting the designer’s hair since the 1960s.
For many years, Clemente operated a barbershop on Fifth Avenue and 46th Street and before that, his shop was in the Berkshire Hotel, where one of the Rockefeller’s was a client. It was there that he cut the hair of many clothing executives, one of which introduced him to Ralph Lauren.
As Mr. Lauren’s business grew and he became busier, it became harder and harder to interrupt his workday to visit his barber. The solution? Lauren built a classically-styled barbershop in his building. Said one patron, “Imagine how the barber shop on a 1930s-era luxury liner would have looked like.”
The rent was no problem for Clemente – it was free! Such was the generosity of his patron and favorite client. That was 27 years ago. Initially there was a period of adjustment. Other workers on the floor didn’t know what to make of the kind man with the barber shop or why he was using their coffee machine. Any question as to his standing was firmly established when one of the nosier employees spotted Clemente walking down the street with Mr. Lauren. Today, pictures of the two adorn his shop walls.
In recent years, some of Ralph Lauren’s young female employees have adopted Mr. Dimonda as a grandfather figure. They have created and run his Instagram account and stop in to see him during work hours. The white-haired and bushy-mustached barber can always be found wearing a tailored suit and tie, often set off with a fedora. He reigns over his shop with the pride or a benevolent king.
Before moving into his current location, Mr. Dimonda had long been the barber to executives of the fashion industry. Many from those days have retired, but Clemente still plies his trade like a Michelangelo. One of his clients said, “He is not a barber, he is a sculptor!”
Mr. Dimonda has cut back his hours from 8:00am until 3:00pm, tending to his long-time customers. His new clients are passed to Frank Statella, a spry 73 year-old from Sicily, who works the shop’s second chair. But there is no question as to who is in charge…there is only one executive barber.