Montreal businessman Corey Shapiro bought some flakes of gold one night to garnish his sushi for extra flavour — and then he had an idea.
Instead of eating the gold, Shapiro thought, why not infuse it into shaving cream?
“We wanted something that was a little more ostentatious and memorable than any other barbershop in the world,” Shapiro said during an interview inside the Notorious men’s salon he co-owns in Montreal’s Saint-Henri neighbourhood.
“Ostentatious” can be applied to most things Corey Shapiro, whose name and look have become iconic — yet controversial — in a city hesitant to celebrate conspicuous consumption.
“We called the barbershop Notorious because anything that me and my business partner do — we’re rather notorious with going all the way,” Shapiro said.
His partner is Patrick (P-Thugg) Gemayel, one half of the electro-funk duo Chromeo, and together the two men are part of the transformation of Saint-Henri from a neglected neighbourhood in the shadows of downtown skyscrapers to a district of choice for shoppers and foodies.
Shapiro, 34, wears a thick, black velvet T-shirt over his portly frame, along with shorts coloured peachy cream. He has two, gold Cartier bracelets speckled with diamonds on his right wrist and matching gold rings — also dotted with diamonds — on each hand.
On the other wrist is a Rolex and hanging on his neck — not to be outdone by the bling on the rest of his body — is a 2.5-centimetre-wide, gold necklace.
“You pay $1,000, you get a shave,” says Shapiro, who sports a full beard that climbs up his cheekbones, almost reaching the bottom of his rose-tinted frames. “You get one shave.”
But not just any shave.
The gold-infused cream used in this special shave takes on a “charcoal-type property,” Shapiro says.
Next, a barber will take out one of the 10-karat gold razor blades made specially for the barbershop.
When the shave is done the barber will dull the blade, puncture it, and offer it to the client as a necklace.
Shapiro says 14 people have paid for the experience since Notorious opened two-and-a-half years ago.
He has to order more razors, though, because they’ve run out.
“We’re out of gold,” he says, before quickly clarifying — “Not me, personally.”
Before Notorious, Shapiro became well-known in Montreal and around the United States for his Vintage Frames company, an eyeglass specialty store, which outfits some of the most famous celebrities in the world.
Shapiro also quickly became acquainted with local police when he first started driving his gold-painted BMW around town.
The businessman says cops pulled him over five times in four days in early 2015. He took to Instagram at the time and recounted how the police insulted his car, asked him why he was driving it and suggested he was setting a bad example for his child.
His success in the neighbourhood has also made him a target for anti-gentrification activists, who lament rising rents and increasing property values.
“Just the other day someone wrote ‘Kill Shapiro’ with an anarchist sign in the underpass,” he said referring to the aging structure down the street. “It’s not the first time.”
But Montreal is home, says the unmarried father of a five-year-old boy named Cash and an 11-month-old daughter, Bowie.
Shapiro, like many successful anglophones, can leave Montreal and likely make more money reaching a larger, more welcoming and wealthier market elsewhere on the continent.
But, also like many in the English-speaking community, he finds it hard to leave.
“My grandparents, one is still alive and it’s very important (I’m here),” he said. “Montreal still has a quality of life that is very hard to achieve anywhere else in the world.
“It’s a nice place to raise a family.”