The linoleum is worn-through around the barber’s chair, but it’s spotless. So too are the faux marble benches that are in pristine condition. As is the flocked wallpaper and the shelves neatly filled with 1960s Italian pop records, an array of vinyl singles capturing the sound of another era that hair maestro Angelo Perri and his “baby” brother Tony still crank up occasionally on the timber-panelled sound system.
“Scissors and comb… never go out of fashion,” says Calabrian-born Angelo, 65, neatly turned out in his fitted barber’s smock and tie as he works his mastery on yet another client, his 10th for the day and it’s yet to reach noon. Indeed, it has been the same routine for the past 50 years, having started at the salon as an apprentice in 1967.
Today, PS’s spotlight shines on the Paris Style Hairdresser shop, tucked away in the back streets of Cabramatta, a perfectly preserved time capsule from the mid-1960s that has survived, frozen in time, while the suburb around it has experienced an extraordinary physical and cultural transformation.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to leave some history behind. I still got my first car, an Austin,” Angelo explains when asked why he resisted the urge to change his ordered little shop.
But his 58-year-old little brother Tony suspects when people come to visit the shop they “think we’re dinosaurs”.
Hardly. What the Perri family has is a unique piece of Sydney’s suburban history, one of the last remnants of an era that has been comprehensively bulldozed in the name of supposed progress across the city.
“I think I made a mistake when I bought this place,” Angelo sagely admits. “There was a block of land for sale next door for $6000, the same price as the business. But I thought I would always have an income from the shop … the land is worth millions now.”
Nowhere is the change in Cabramatta more evident than in the customers who visit Angelo six days a week. In the 1960s they were named Gino, Luigi or Boris, their accents still echoing their European roots. Today those customers are named An, Bao and Lap, many of them men from the first wave of Vietnamese migration to Australia.
“Cabramatta was once filled with European barber shops, delicatessens and European cafes,” says Tony, as he surveys the shops around him, selling steaming pho, karaoke machines and blinged-up phone accessories.
“In the 1980s when the drug trade was at its height business suffered. But today it is a very vibrant community. I think there are more people out there on John Street then in half the shopping malls across the city. We’ve survived it all.”