Capital pioneers: The migrants who made Canberra

Phillip Aricidiacono is retiring at age 75 after a life time career of cutting hair.

Phillip Aricidiacono is retiring at age 75 after a life time career of cutting hair. Photo: Jay Cronan

In the old country, skill counted for everything. So Rosta Vincenzo was unfazed when a 10-year-old boy walked into his barber shop in Calatabiano, Sicily, looking for work after school.

Could he handle a pair of scissors, a comb and a cut-throat razor? Because 65 years ago, every man who came to the shop asked for a shave.

Phillip Aricidiacono, right, who is retiring at age 75 after a life time career of cutting hair, with his business partner Peter Margiotta.

Phillip Aricidiacono, right, with his business partner Peter Margiotta. Photo: Jay Cronan

Filippo Aricidiacono was 11 when he shaved his first customer and 15 when he finished his apprenticeship.

He recalls that later, he cried for six months until his mother Di'Nuzzo relented and allowed him to come to Australia to join his father Matteo in Canberra.

He opened his first shop in the back of an Ainslie menswear outlet at age 17, charging men three shillings and sixpence and boys two shillings, and full price on Saturday mornings.

Phillip Aricidiacono the barber is retiring at age 75 after a life time career of cutting hair.

Barber Phillip Aricidiacono is retiring at 75 after a lifetime of cutting hair. Photo: Jay Cronan

He has never flinched from charging a premium for a precise haircut finished with the sting of bay rum and five flicks of a hair brush.

Now 75, he will close Phillip The Executive Hair Salon on Saturday, which has traded in the Waldorf Arcade for 39 years. He has run the business in partnership with Peter Margiotta, 68, for 25 years.

They will reopen again on Friday, January 24, between noon and 1pm for a drink with long-time customers.

Well known among Italians when he first opened in 1957, Mr Aricidiacono later worked for Mick O'Brien in Manuka before reopening in David Jones in the Monaro Mall and employing five staff.

''People used to say 'I am going to David Jones to get a haircut. I say that's a no good for me, I don't want to be known as David Jones, I wanted to a be known for myself.''

He surrendered the sublease at David Jones, and continued with a second venture, a unisex salon in Dickson, later employing 10 people and was helped by his wife Michelle who looked after the female customers.

Politicians, judges, television personalities and bureaucrats kept returning to his shop, many with their sons.

''Hairdressers can talk about anything,'' Mr Aricidiacono said. ''You ask me anything and we know all about it. Weather, politics, horses, fast - er - lovely women.''

Customers with a racing bent led him into syndicates of owners and trainers, including Dick O'Sullivan who helped one of his horses Trumpet Girl win Queanbeyan's horse of the year and legendary jockey and trainer Athol George Mulley.

When hairdressers focused on a quicker turnover of customers for more money, Phillip The Executive Salon didn't alter its stride, and the proprietor continued clashing with his industry body each time he raised his prices. ''We used to fight like anything for five pennies. But my haircut has been five pennies, or 10¢ more than anybody else, because I was proud of my work. People got quality from me.''

When long hair became fashionable for men in the 1960s and '70s, frustrating many traditional barbers, Mr Aricidiacono embraced the trend, charging more for his delicate trimming skills.

''I am a very proud of my work. I wouldn't let the customer out if I'm not a happy. I have to be happy.''