Welcome to Casse-Tête
As you enter the shop, you are greeted by a cheeky smiling skull with its head cut in half featuring the outline of a puzzle piece, on a shiny black-tiled wall to the right. On the left, a row of polaroids of community members and customers.
Past the skull wall is a cash register table and a curated collection of merch from local boutiques: black shirts with the logos of local shops and restaurants, others reading “Local Legends” or the French “Nos Héros Du Coin” in vibrant tye dye.
The vibe is eerily familiar to a merch table at a live concert, down to the metal grid the t-shirts hang from.
The atmosphere of the shop is warm and welcoming, and the design—a combination of live music posters, old art nouveau paintings, and vintage barber chairs—gives the shop a timeless feel. You half expect to hear a live band playing in the background.
Instead you are welcomed by a cheery, bearded man donning a black button-up shirt with the skull logo on the back, and burnt orange-lensed glasses. He has a professional but approachable air to him. This is Franco Sciannamblo, owner and operator of Casse-Tête, a new barber/tattoo shop in the heart of Verdun, Montreal.
The waiting area/chill out zone in the middle of the shop looks like it was taken right out of a 1970s home decor catalogue—tan couch, vintage turn dial TV, acoustic Seagull guitar, and textile rug included. A sign reading “Back to BASICS” hangs next to the classic red, white, and blue barber pole. An old static-filled movie is likely playing on the analog TV while soft music—African Jazz, lo-fi indie pop, sunbathed psych, take your pick—plays in the background.
“I always wanted to create a cool place that was a community space, meaning that when you see somebody regularly, especially even if it’s just a business, you get to know them personally,” Franco says. “People just come in here and they want to look good and they want to feel good. They want to have a good time.”
Behind the TV chill zone is the tattoo area, manned by one Angel Gonzalez, an artist—going by Spicy Kactus Tattoo—with a penchant for spooky blackwork tattoos.
“Creatures, creepy stuff, botanicals, anything dark,” Angel says. “That’s my main style, but I can add a bit of colour for pop and do a bit of trad, it’s up to the customer.”
Working as a barber in various places around Montreal, Franco has always wanted to open up his own shop. Around the time he incorporated in June 2020, his friend Inti mentioned that his roommate, Angel, was a tattoo artist looking for a change from his current job.
“Inti was like ‘You could do tattoos and barbering’ so I pitched the idea to Angel and he’s been with me since like day one,” Franco says. “I really appreciate him being there through this whole process of building the shop.”
Born out of a punk rock DIY ethos, Casse-Tête works on a sliding pay scale. This means a customer can pay what they are comfortable with within the scale prices.
“So haircuts are $40 to $80 and with tattoos, it’s not a set price between every tattoo and it’s dependent on the artist. The scale takes away the ambiguity of taxes and a tip. At the end of the day, you’re paying for the quality of the artist’s work,” Franco says.
Both Franco and Angel work to create an experience for their customers and want to show that art takes time and dedication. For them it’s all about the craft.
“The motto of the shop is “craft, community, culture,” because it’s about interacting with something that’s bigger than just the product,” Franco says. “In our case, you’re supporting a group of people that are trying to not only make people feel good, but are also doing things within the community to support everyone. That’s why we have the local merch table.”
This is reflected in the shop name, Casse-Tête (puzzle in English), with the hair, tattoos, and the local merch all “fitting together like a puzzle.”
“I originally wanted to call it Chopping Heads, but people were like ‘you cannot call a shop that,’” Franco laughs. “Casse-Tête works much better. It’s a cool name and even the concept for the design of the shop—the tiles, the panels, the overall look—fits together like a puzzle. The logo is also outlined like a puzzle piece. I wanted it to be iconic so that people can gravitate towards it and wonder about the story, ‘cause everyone has a story, and this is ours.”
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