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Stanford's Barber

He's never sung in The Barber of Seville, but this operatic tenor certainly could.

Photo: Shaun Roberts

MUSIC MAN: Cogliandro is as at home onstage as he is behind the chair.

By Sam Scott

For the past half-century, Carmelo Cogliandro has had clippers and comb at the ready as one generation after another has taken a seat in his chair at Stanford Hair, the barbershop he now owns. Cogliandro, 73, has counted some of the biggest names on the Farm as friends and clients, including the past six Stanford presidents and enough Nobel Prize winners to field a softball team. If he has his way, he won't be leaving anytime soon.

COLLEGE CUTS RUN IN HIS FAMILY. As a kid, Cogliandro swept the floors in his dad Antonio's 14-chair barbershop in Harvard Square before the family moved to Palo Alto. In 1955, the elder Cogliandro set up shop in the new Town & Country mall across from campus. "He always worked around educated people," Cogliandro says. "It's the best clientele."

COMMUNICATION IS KEY. Cogliandro instructs his staff to be like good detectives to find out what customers really want. One tactic: shock. If a new customer asks for it short, which could mean any of a dozen lengths, you reply with "Like a Marine boot-camp cut, right?" he says. That usually prompts a quick clarification. In general, he says, a barber's ears matter even more than his or her hands. "If you're a good listener and you ask enough questions, you'll be successful."

MUSIC WAS HIS FIRST LOVE. As a keyboardist and vocalist, Cogliandro dreamed of a music career. He eventually majored in music at San Jose State, and he sang tenor with the San Jose Civic Light Opera for years. His dad, though, had urged him to have something to fall back on, so Cogliandro first went to barber college. He arrived at Stanford as an apprentice in 1961, working in the basement of Encina Hall. A year later, the shop moved to the brand-new Tresidder Union. He's been there ever since.

HE COULD WRITE A BOOK—BUT WON'T. Cogliandro has cut the hair of every Stanford president dating back to Wallace Sterling. Provost John Etchemendy is a regular, as are a dozen or so Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners. Chelsea Clinton used to stop in, as did Condoleezza Rice. After Jim Harbaugh left Stanford, he asked Cogliandro to make a trip to the 49ers headquarters to cut his hair. A campus author once asked the barber if he'd consider co-writing a book about his experience. "Are you out of your mind?" Cogliandro responded. "I would never do that. I wouldn't even tell my wife," he says.

TIMES HAVE CHANGED—AND HE HAS, TOO. In the early '60s, his male customers all asked for some version of extremely short—be it crew cut, flattop or Ivy League. Then the Beatles hit. Cogliandro remembers the day things began to change: A student came in and insisted that his ears remain covered, a request that made the barber practically gasp. "I was thinking to myself, 'Boy, in this business, you get every kind of weirdo there is,'" Cogliandro says. "I had the hardest time leaving it." Five years later, he had hair "down to here" himself.

GERHARD CASPER HAS GREAT HAIR. Cogliandro keeps his secrets, though he freely divulges that of all the Stanford presidents he's worked with, Gerhard Casper had the best hair "bar none." The well-coiffed German-born scholar returns the compliment: "He does not only understand hair but also human nature."


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