Shan Rahimkhan comes to talk to us in the electric car. We met the Iranian-Austrian star hairstylist at his ‘Shan’s Kitchen’ in Berlin’s Gendarmen Markt, next to one of his two hair salons (the other in Kurfürstendamm). Rahimkhan, who is also a businessman and restaurateur, has been using gender-neutral prices since January: men and women pay the same prices in his salons, 80 to 120 euros per hour, depending on the effort. This makes Rahimkhan one of the few exceptions among hairdressers in Germany, where the vast majority of women continue to charge higher prices.
But the 49-year-old doesn’t have much to tell about it. He is currently interested in the war in Ukraine, because Rahimkhan once had to flee his native Iran because of the war. Here he talks about it – and reports on his current experiences with clients from Ukraine.
icon: Do gender-neutral pricing work?
Shan Rahimkhan: Yes, very good. Of course we have a bit of an internet storm, especially from guys. But gender neutrality must make sense. And in the end we are craftsmen, even if some of my colleagues consider themselves artists. When you hire a carpenter, he doesn’t ask “Are you a male or female family?” And it changes its prices according to your answer. I need working time to cut men’s hair like working time to cut women’s hair, because we also cut it with comb and scissors, which takes time. Why does a man pay less than a woman for the same effort?
icon: What are customer feedback on the same prices for men and women?
Rahimkhan: Well, in fact, everyone is in favor of gender-neutral pricing. Everything else is not up to date anymore. Why do women pay more? Women’s razors, for example, are much more expensive too. Just because of the color? this is not fair.
icon: What practical questions are you dealing with in your current company?
Rahimkhan: Everything, including energy and raw materials prices, is getting more expensive right now, and I have to think about that too. Will women still be able to color their hair every three weeks in the future? Or should I come up with a coloring technique that would allow them to come and color their hair once every three months?
icon: What do your customers want in 2022?
Rahimkhan: Right now people want to be more flashy, now two years into the pandemic and then in the midst of war, they want to break out. They want to try something new and crazy.
icon: Did the war in Ukraine remind you of your history? I fled Iran as a teenager, at the time of the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran.
Rahimkhan: In any case. In Iran, too, we had to hide in the basement. every day. With a small bag with a passport, some cash and nothing else. There were missile attacks on Tehran almost every day. Of course, I don’t like to remember that. But you must not let yourself be defeated. We’ve had more good times than bad times.
icon: Do you remember the circumstances of the escape?
Rahimkhan: I ran away from Iran before my thirteenth birthday. There was a war, and boys and men of 15 were no longer allowed to leave the country until they could be drafted into the war at 18. We kept our escape as secret as possible. Shortly before that, there was a celebration where we could say goodbye to our relatives and friends. My brothers and my parents and I were going to the United States of America. But I ended up in Vienna with my uncle. After I got my Austrian passport, I left for the United States and worked there for a year and a half. But I’m glad I finally finished in Berlin. I am much more interested in the European mentality.
icon: What do you value in Europe?
Rahimkhan: Europe is incredibly diverse. The Spaniard has a fundamentally different character from the Italian, the Pole is completely different from the Austrian, and yet they are close. I also love European fashion. If I have to get too dramatic: Ed Sheeran represents Europe to me and Kim Kardashian represents the USA.
icon: Do you think Europe stands more on the authentic, uncomfortable?
Rahimkhan: Yes, the fashion and beauty scene in Europe is much more about quality than it is in the United States – not about big show. In Germany, the craft itself is intensively learned. To become a hairdresser, she goes to school for three years. This is not the case in the United States. There you participate in a three-month course and you can then call yourself a hairdresser. There is also no master craftsman certification in the United States. There you prove yourself with magic and show, in Germany you have to master your craft. To put it bluntly: bling-bling in the US versus quality in Europe.
icon: Today you are one of the most famous hairdressers in the country, you take care of the hair of many notable people, you are also a restaurateur and you run a company with more than 100 employees. Can you succeed in Germany by working hard?
Rahimkhan: You can become successful almost anywhere by working hard. But you need to determine for yourself: what is success? Hard work is a beautiful thing to me, it makes life more meaningful. Just letting myself drift in front of you is undesirable to me. One must have goals. And of course, luck is also a part of it and you have to be in the right place at the right time. But luck also comes naturally if you push it long enough.
icon: An Iranian refugee in Germany once told me, “There are only three things you can do for Iranian parents: a doctor, an engineer, or a major disappointment.” How did your parents react to wanting to be a hairdresser?
Rahimkhan: My mother is a teacher and my father is an engineer. I should at least become an academic, for example a doctor. This is part of the Iranian mindset when it comes to choosing a career. But these expectations and difficulties have also helped me advance in my career. (Laugh)
icon: When you look back today, does your time as a refugee sometimes seem surreal?
Rahimkhan: not at all. I look back with joy. I think the current picture of refugees must be corrected. The problem is that we learned decades ago that all the refugees who suffer from starvation come on inflatable boats from Africa or Syria. But what we are witnessing today with refugees from Ukraine is a different situation. I have clients from Ukraine in my salon who pay us a few hundred euros for a strand or a cut. Being a refugee does not always mean that you come from a very bad economic situation. When there is a barrage of bombs, it is raining everywhere and there is suffering everywhere. War refugees from Iran, for example, are mostly upper middle class. Those who fled with me are now doctors or hold other senior positions.
icon: What is your experience in your salon with clients from Ukraine?
Rahimkhan: Almost every day I have Ukrainian clients who live here as refugees. In terms of their standards, they are no different from people from Grunwald or Dahlem. Yesterday I took a picture with Ukrainian models who fled to Berlin. They are all glad that I do not constantly address their suffering. They say, “We also want to talk about normal topics, we don’t always want to talk about our suffering because sometimes we feel like people like our suffering too.” It’s like putting someone behind a glass case and always pitying them.
icon: What are your ideals of beauty? Who is the Iranian from the German?
Rahimkhan: From the French! France plays a major role in Iran. Many words come from French. Iran has a French school system as the Shah was influenced by the French.
icon: His widow, Farah Diba, lives in exile in Paris.
Rahimkhan: the correct. I have always loved French art. Because the French have a completely different lightness. I have always been a huge fan of French fashion and designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel. I like this simplicity, lightness and very high quality. Yves Saint Laurent has always been my role model. I also love the French language, food and culture – that too rallies. This is likely due to the east, inspired by the eastern bazaars. The French have a great cultural influence on the Middle East. You can see that in Marrakesh, for example.
icon: What does beauty mean to you?
Rahimkhan: In my salon, I always tell my employees: we don’t want to be subject to the dictates of fashion, we really want to create fashion. We want to be the creative future. To do this, we must also democratize beauty and say: everything can be beautiful, just find beauty, impress it and highlight it. This is only possible if you try.