The Gentlemens Refinery

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For the past several years, no trip to Vegas has been complete without checking in on my pal Daphne Gastis who runs Truefitt & Hill’s shop at Caesar’s Palace. Beyond just the sheer amount of brushes, razors, creams, and assorted poultices to peruse, it’s always a treat talking with Daphne — for some reason, most of the men in this business are odd, cranky loners, but Daphne’s this hip, brainy woman who loves yakkin’ about shavegeekery between keeping the T&H barbers and staff on their toes and running back and forth to Steve “Classy” Wynn’s casino to service its high-end salons with T&H products.

Daphne’s one of the biggest boosters of old-school wetshaving I’ve come across, so I was surprised when she called me this summer to tell me she’d left Truefitt to help start a new company, and that she’d be in touch once they were ready to hit the market.

And so it was that a month ago some product samples showed up, which I’ve been testing and comparing to my usual standbys, waiting to spill the skinny when the brand officially went live. And today marks the launch of a unique new entrant in the high-end men’s wetshaving scene: The Gentlemens Refinery.

The guiding vision behind The Gentlemens Refinery happens to be Daphne’s son, Perry Gastis, who Truefitt-Vegas regulars will remember as one of its master barbers who wrapped their head in hot towels, wielded the Dovo Shavette, and on a bed of Lather-King’d T&H cream shaved them closer than they’d ever been before or ever would be again.

Perry’s been a professional barber for many years, well before his stint with Truefitt, and it’s the barber’s perspective he brings to TGR that sets the brand apart from other newcomers to the men’s grooming counter. Because it was barbers who started this whole trip more than two centuries ago, when all the great English wetshaving firms like Trumper, Taylor, D. R. Harris, and yes, Truefitt & Hill began as barbershops servicing London’s upper crust back when said crust wore top hats, monocles, and indulged itself in a bit of hard, cruel wilding before settling down to a fine tavern sup.

What’s really interesting about the Gastises’ latest move is how it plays against the backdrop of their former employer’s own recent developments. Truefitt’s revamping of its classic colognes and shaving creams, and its emphasis on a new line of more modern-styled grooming products targeted to a younger, trendier demographic point to a move away from the company’s roots as London’s oldest barbershop (est. 1805) and seemingly on a collision course with the more metroey likes of The Art Of Shaving.

Gastis sees things differently. By blending the best of the old ways (barbershop shaving techniques and disciplines) with the best of the new (all-natural ingredients), he’s developed a new line of men’s shaving products which isn’t simply just another minor variation on what’s already been done. And rather than just target the new line to consumers, Gastis always had professional barbers in mind as his true clientèle — so the shaving cream is formulated to work exceptionally well in a Lather-King hot lather machine, a fixture of any self-respecting barbershop. The Gentlemens Refinery’s credo seems to be “please the barber, and his customers will follow”.

TGR’s new line is made up of a shaving cream, a pre-shave oil, an aftershave balm, a moisturizer, and an eye gel. All of The Gentlemens Refinery’s products are made of 100% natural ingredients, with no parabens (widely used preservatives which have been alleged but not yet proven to be carcinogens) or skin-drying alcohol. While Gastis told me he decided to tone down the anti-paraben rhetoric on the final product packaging, he remains committed to keeping TGR’s products free of such ingredients.

Now, here’s the deal. I’m all about all-natural — the less crap we cram down our gullet and cake our pores with, the better. And I fully accept that the down-with-parabens brigade (Hi Chris) may have a point, and that while we may not notice any ill effects from a microgram here and a picoliter there, I’m not saying we may not someday look back on parabens the way we do lead paint chips, the binding of women’s feet, and men’s shaving forums.

I’m just saying that plenty of the very best shaving and grooming products on the market include parabens and alcohol. Nancy Boy, Trumper, Taylor, Truefitt, D. R. Harris — they’ve all got ‘em. George Burns smoked twenty parabens a day, ate a pastrami-and-parabens on rye at the Stage Deli every afternoon, slept on special paraben-coated bedsheets, and only died at 178 because he went swimming too soon after eating a paraben blintze.

That’s all I’m saying.

So anyway, I’ve been using TGR’s shaving cream, aftershave balm, and moisturizer for about a month now, comparing them to my usual standbys like Nancy Boy shaving cream, Trumper’s Skin Food aftershave, and rosehip seed oil as a night-time facial moisturizer.

I’ll level with you — since the blog started getting some media attention, I’ve started to get all manner of grooming products from all manner of companies sent to me in hopes I’ll blog it. Most of it is just plain forgettable, but unless the product smells like ass, I’ll try it at least once. I mean, you never know whether that unassuming little bottle of whatsis will turn out to be the next Cremo Cream, or the next bit of supporting evidence that we as a people are too fucking stupid to continue.

But The Gentlemens Refinery lineup impressed me right off the bat, and no matter what I threw up against it, I always seemed to come back to using it. Even the excellent eBay-scored Kent shaving soap (which is really Mitchell’s lanolin-tastic Wool Fat shaving soap) couldn’t keep me from reaching for the TGR when I wanted the best possible shave.

The Gentlemens Refinery shaving cream is definitely a New School cream, chock full of good, glisteny glycerin just like Truefitt & Hill’s Ultimate Comfort shaving cream. In fact, it’s so similar to the latter in appearance, consistency, and even scent that I went scurrying to the ingredients lists on both products just to make sure they weren’t the same. They aren’t. While both are made in Canada, the two creams do have different formulas and if you really jam your honker up close, TGR’s cream has a slightly stronger, more complex scent than the UC, which is marketed as an unscented product and has just a very slight lavender scent.

TGR lists a mixture of lavender, ylang ylang, and sandalwood oils as its scent agents, but it’ll take a more discerning schnozz than mine to tell you what “notes” this band’s playing. I can tell you it smells pleasant and subtle, lavendery with a sweeter thing also going on, but this cream is not at all the kind of olfactory sex bomb I’ve come to expect from my favorite English creams like Trumper’s Violet and Taylor’s Rose, and the stateside triple-threat of Nancy Boy’s lavender-peppermint-rosemary wakeup blast. There’s a scent happening, it’s nice and clean, but it doesn’t bowl you over like the heavily-scented creams I like to get off with.

As for the shave, TGR is in that upper tier of creams where ranking becomes a matter of splitting atoms, not hairs. In purely pragmatic terms, The Gentlemens Refinery cream lathers and shaves as well as the very best creams I’ve come to favor, and I’d have no problem using it as my only shaving cream. Its lather is superbly lubricating and protecting, and the extra cushion it provides between the blade and skin remind me very much of the shave I get from Nancy Boy’s cream, which has been my go-to for quite awhile now. Fans of Nancy Boy, and of Truefitt & Hill’s similar Ultimate Comfort shaving cream, now have another option for an upper-tier New School cream that falls somewhere in the middle between the other two on the scent intensity scale.

Being a man of a certain age now, I use moisturizer on my face before I go to bed. Am I proud of this? Of course I’m not. I find the whole thing depressing as hell. But I don’t eat Whoppers and onion rings for lunch anymore like I did all through my 20s, so I don’t have all that nice superfatted goodness coursing through my veins and keeping my skin looking its pasty best any longer. I need to compensate. So I moisturize.

I don’t do the full-on cucumber slices on the eyes and a turban to protect my perm, but I do squirt three drops of rosehip seed oil in my hands and rub them all over my face and neck, and this does keep my skin feeling and looking nice even in the dry winter months. The Fisher King hipped me to the magic of rosehip seed oil awhile back and it’s one of his best tips — it’s cheap, it’s all-natural, and it works crazily well for me.

The Gentlemens Refinery’s moisturizer is a blend of some of the most well-regarded, all-natural skin soothers available — aloe barbadensis leaf juice, Jojoba, shea butter, cocoa butter, glycerin, grapeseed oil, vitamin E, and some ylang ylang and sandalwood oils to carry the family scent across the product line.

This is a very, very effective moisturizer. While it mostly sinks into my skin nicely and doesn’t shine me up like so many other creamy moisturizers I’ve tried, it does leave a moist finish on my skin and keeps me moist till I wake up the next morning. This is serious stuff. I’ve been using a single squirt from the excellent pump applicator, but I could probably get by with half that amount. My skin is crazily sensitive and most moisturizers make me break out, but my skin likes the TGR and I haven’t had any issues at all.

But as good as the shaving cream and moisturizer are, I’ve saved the best for last. And it’s funny, because aftershave is such a, well, afterthought for most of us when it comes to shaving. Most guys I know don’t even bother with it — they just rinse the lather off their face and they’re good to go.

Me, I can’t get away with that. I need closure. I need something that’s going to soothe my freshly-shaven skin and re-moisturize it without leaving my face shiny, stinging, sticky, or smelling funny. Like, sadly enough, most of the even highly-touted aftershaves do.

I basically have three aftershaves that work best for my skin — Trumper’s Skin Food, Nancy Boy’s aftershave, or a few drops of either rosehip seed oil or Jojoba. Everything else I’ve tried that’s currently on the market falls well short of these three.

See? I said “currently on the market” — I gave myself an out. Because D. R. Harris’s wondrous Aftershave Milk, far and away the best aftershave I’ve ever tried, was discontinued earlier this year. Harris still sells something they call Aftershave Milk but it’s not the same stuff — bears no resemblance at all to the old formula, which was unique to the market. A thin, milky liquid, you poured a bit into your hands and wiped it all over your puss, and it sunk instantly and totally into your skin, leaving behind a wonderfully fresh cucumber scent and the feeling that you just had the greatest shave of your life. No shine, no stickiness, no nothing. Just perfectly soothed and settled skin.

The old Aftershave Milk was the perfect aftershave, which is why Harris had to kill it off. I mean, look, of course I don’t know why they did it — for all I know it had parabens out the ass and Harris fanboys were dropping like flies all up and down St. James Street. It was an old formula, I know that, so maybe there was some trouble sourcing some of the arcane ingredients. I don’t know. All the unfounded shavegeek speculation in the world isn’t going to bring it back. It’s gone.

Well, no, not really. Actually, it’s back, and even better than before. Only now it’s called The Gentlemens Refinery After Shave Balm. And believe me when I say this: as great as the original D. R. Harris Aftershave Milk was, the TGR is better. Noticeably better. Simply put, it’s the best aftershave I’ve yet tested. It’s not cheap at $40 a bottle, but like the equally expensive Trumper’s Skin Food, a little goes a very long way — a bottle should last well over a year’s worth of shaving.

The TGR After Shave Balm is thin and runny, and milky white just like the old Harris Milk. it doesn’t have that product’s cucumber scent, but it does have a fresh, earthy scent to it, veering a bit from the rest of the line, though in sixty seconds there isn’t a trace of scent left on your skin.

What’s in this stuff? Glycerin, Jojoba, shea butter, olive oil, allantoin, lime, geranium, and sandalwood oil, and a couple of gums, xantham and acacia, whose purpose I know not of. What I do know is that a squirt of TGR After Shave Balm is the closest I’ve come yet to aftershave nirvana. Like I said, it’s just like the old Harris Aftershave Milk, only moreso. Fans of the discontinued Milk (Hi Gordon) should be plenty happy with Perry Gastis’s take on the ultimate aftershave. I’ve been using this stuff for a month now and I don’t really want to use anything else, even the stuff that I’ve been very, very happy with. That’s how good this new stuff is. TGR’s shaving cream and moisturizer are world-class products, but the real star of this new line is the After Shave Balm.

Okay, so the prices. Yeah. This is expensive stuff. Not crazy expensive like the new Acqua di Parma shaving cream ($54!), but firmly in imported-from-the-UK Trumper territory. The cream is $28 and the After Shave Balm is $40, but TGR takes some of the sting out of it by throwing in free shipping to the lower 48. That’s not cheap, but it’s not as nutty as some of this stuff can get.

I like The Gentlemens Refinery shaving products a lot. They’ve definitely joined my short list of the top-tier products I use every day, and I have no problem recommending them highly to the fussiest shavegeek and newbie alike. It’s great to see a real professional barber like Perry Gastis bring such an impressive and unique line of wetshaving products to a scene that’s lately been overwhelmed by all kinds of me-too designer junk that smells funny and doesn’t really shave any better than drugstore goo. I welcome The Gentlemens Refinery to Planet Shavegeek, and I’ll say it again — TGR’s After Shave Balm is not to be missed. Best. Aftershave. Ever.