Mario Askew’s Brush—Literally—With Fame
These days, professional athletes aren’t just known for their physical abilities. It’s not just about how high they can jump or how fast they can run, and their fame isn’t limited to courts and fields. Today’s professional athletes are something much more: trendsetters.
On magazine covers and gossip blogs, in reality television and social media stories, these new-age celebrities are constantly being scrutinized and idolized, meaning they have to look their best, always. As every man knows, looking good begins not with your clothes, but with your grooming. And in Charlotte, there’s one place these athletes know their shave and cut will be flawless: Freshen Up.
Freshen Up’s Mario Askew is barber to the stars. Part of what endears Askew to his celebrity clients is his own style, which is immaculate. There’s not a hair out of place or wrinkle in sight when he leans in to shake hands over the prostrate, relaxed client currently seated in his chair. His suit is tailored and his cut is fresh. Add to that his favorite accessory—a blinding, genuine smile—and he embodies his brand.
“That’s my brand: freshen up,” Askew explains, wielding a slickly-sharp razor over the delicate curves of Charlotte Hornets Point Guard Brian Roberts’ jawline. “I always look like this. People ask, ‘Is it that serious?’ And yes, it is. I believe if you treat the business as a business, you’ll earn the reputation and the clients you want.” Like the celebrities who sit in his chair, Askew’s style has to be 100%, 100% of the time.
It’s a job Askew loves, but not one he ever dreamed of. As an electrical engineer with IBEW, his fingers should have stayed far away from the steel instruments of his current craft— but they didn’t. “I’ve always been a really picky client, and I would always go behind the barbers who cut my hair to fix this or that. They could never get it quite right; it’s like they were missing the attention to detail I’ve always embodied,” he says. “Then one day I just thought to myself, ‘Maybe I can do this.’”
A move to Charlotte emboldened Askew, and he turned his musings into reality. After graduating from the Park West Barber College in 2014, Askew started his career at No Grease! Exclusive Male Grooming. It was there that the barber had his first brush with celebrity.
“My very first athlete client was the legend Patrick Ewing, who was coaching the Hornets at the time,” Askew remembers. “Then players such as Jason Maxiell, who played for the Charlotte Hornets, who then referred me to Jeremy Lin and Lance Stephenson.”
The rest, as they say, was history. “In this industry, the haircut sells itself,” Askew says. “If you see a nice cut on somebody, you want to know where they got it.” And everyone wanted to know where Ewing—and the athletes who came after him—got his cut. Between the publicity garnered through his clients’ word of mouth and social media, Askew quickly had a series of football and basketball stars (as well as lawyers and executives) lining up to sit in his chair. Askew’s more famous clients have included Michael Oher, Seth Curry, Charles Oakley, Pat Delaney and Ed Dickson, to name only a few.
“I’m a huge sports fan, so in the beginning it was surreal. I felt as if I were living a dream!” he says with a smile, deftly turning Roberts’ chin. “Now the guys have become friends, and when new players come I know to just treat them as regular guys.”
Askew certainly acknowledges that his job comes with some perks. “The celebrity status almost overflows into my life at times because I’m constantly hanging out or involved with these athletes in one way or another, and people recognize me as being the guy with so-and-so, or other barbers talk about how nice it must be to cut the celebs!”
In February Askew took his refined brand and opened Freshen Up, a private studio, in Salons by JC. His new venture is completely private (perfect for those celebs) and his schedule is quickly filling up. “On peak days I’ll see 15 to 20 guys in this chair,” he says. “I plan on outgrowing the space I’m in here, and I’m going to open a Freshen Up location that will employ and offer the opportunity for advancement to barbers and stylists who are self motivated, enthusiastic and positive. Barbers like I was just a few years ago.”
Askew pats Roberts on the shoulder and carefully swings the bib from around his shoulders. Roberts stands up, glances in the mirror, and smiles. “Hey, you feel good when you look great,” he says. “Freshen Up” may be Askew’s brand, but Roberts’ words are his motto.