West Philly biz will put your dog on the back of your head

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Kenny Duncan in Las Vegas in 2013, showing off a pet chihuahua he cut into a client’s hair. (COURTESY OF KENNY DUNCAN)

IS KANYE WEST your favorite rapper? Using hair clippers and a sharp-edge razor, master barber Kenny Duncan will carve a portrait of Yeezy himself right into the back of your hair.

If an image of Pope Francis is more to your liking, Duncan can incorporate his holy face into your next haircut, too. Over the years, Duncan has clipped President Obama's likeness as well as those of basketball greats Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan into people's hair.

More into furry friends? Not a problem. Two years ago, Duncan got a request to recreate the likeness of a customer's pet chihuahua on the back of a grown man's head. When Duncan handed the man a mirror to inspect his handiwork, dude broke into tears.

Yesterday, for a local TV segment promoting his annual Barbers Who Care back-to-school haircut giveaway scheduled for Sunday, Duncan clipped an impressive outline of Fox 29 co-anchor Chris Murphy's smiling face into the back of a young model's head. He also created a lovely sketch of Fox 29 co-anchor Lauren Johnson on the back of another kid's head.

"It's actually a conversation piece," explained Duncan, 34, of Bryn Mawr, who once sported Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant's visage on his own noggin. "First people say, 'Why did you do it?' The next thing that they say is, 'Whoever did that is amazing.' "

Although I admire the unusual artistry and incredible skill that goes into this novel art form, I'm confused. Is this a thing now? I can see little boys embracing the trend like the kid who got a Batman design in his hair by Duncan for back to school last year. But for adults? I don't know if America is ready to see everyday dads sporting portraits of their dogs or even of their kids on the back of their heads.

"A lot of grown men get a design, they don't get an actual photograph," said celebrity fashion stylist Anthony Henderson, who collaborated with Duncan for Sunday's free back-to-school haircut giveaway. "It's more of a special-occasion thing.

"Normally that's for, like, a hair show," Henderson told me. "People don't walk around with that kind of stuff."

Good to know.

Duncan, who co-owns Main Attraction Unisex Hair, near 52nd and Market streets in West Philadelphia, began getting into barbering as a sixth-grader after his mother gave him $20 for a haircut.

When he returned home, she asked for her change. Instead of handing over $10 as she expected, Duncan presented her with only $8. A single mother trying to stretch her dollars, she accused him of spending $2 on candy - but the barber had charged him that just to trim his moustache, a fact that she called the barbershop to confirm. After that, she bought him equipment so Duncan could start trimming his own facial hair and freshening up his haircuts.

Duncan got good at it and started to do friends' shape-ups and cuts. He charged $4 for an outline and $7 for a haircut. By high school, he'd become known for his artistry with clippers. But he had no intention of being a professional barber. After graduating from Overbrook High School in 1999, he enrolled at Temple University and planned a career in accounting or computers.

In 2001, Duncan took a semester off from school to figure out what he really wanted to do.

Meanwhile, he was continuing to cut hair, including that of his cousin Tyrone "Twyse" Smack, a gospel rapper, who introduced him to others in the industry.

D.J. Activ, who has spun for Kanye West, also was an early client, which led to his getting gigs cutting the hair of Musiq Soulchild and members of Jennifer Hudson's band and other artists including rapper Wiz Khalifa; Eugene "Man-Man" Roberts, music director for John Legend, and gospel artist Tye Tribbett.

Duncan works as an educator for famed hair- and skin-care manufacturer Bonner Brothers. He has traveled extensively as a barber for Lady Gaga's production team, and his work is scheduled to appear in the upcoming movie Rocky sequel, "Creed," for which he helped groom actors Michael B. Jordan and Tony Bellew.

These days, Duncan works from spacious digs on 52nd Street near Arch with about 15 operators, including three hairstylists. It's a setting where Eagles players (Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan come to get groomed by barber Charles Stafford) and neighborhood folks come to get their fades outlined or their Sunni-style beards trimmed just so. Iverson stops by when he's in town to see another stylist.

Duncan got into the portrait thing because of a bet. He had a wager with a fellow barber over the Super Bowl in 2011. If his team lost, Duncan would have had to get the Pittsburgh Steelers' football helmet cut into his hair. His friend lost, so Duncan cut an image of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers into his friend's hair.

A portrait of Michael Vick carved into a man's hair was next. An image of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. followed that.

And the rest, as they say, is hair-story.


Kenny Duncan will participate in Sunday's fourth annual Barbers Who Care Back 2 School free hair-cutting event from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the West Philadelphia YMCA, 5120 Chestnut St. The gathering, which will feature music, child-friendly activities and food, is part of the annual 17 Days . . . of Fashion by celebrity stylist Anthony Henderson.


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