Straight Dope

I give up. I was so psyched up from yesterday’s tale of Italian barbershop shaving that I whipped out my trusty Dovo Shavette disposable blade straight razor to get with the Italian program — Proraso and a Shavette go together like cinghiale and polenta.

Or at least they have for me in the past. Today I couldn’t shave with this duo worth a damn. I don’t know what the deal was — I had all the time in the world, my mind was one with the blade, my hand was steady, and I loaded half of a fresh Merkur Platinum DE blade in the Dovo. All the bases were covered, but my shave sucked.

Or rather, I sucked. I suck at this! No matter how many times I try shaving with a disposable blade straight razor, whether it’s the almighty Feather Artist Club or the more forgiving Dovo Shavette, my shaves are about as consistent as Sonny Rollins. Which is to say, sometimes it’s brilliant, but all too often it’s just not happening at all.

It’s not the straight’s fault. It’s my fault. I just don’t have the touch for this kind of thing. Shaving with a straight razor, even a disposable blade type like the Shavette, is a much more difficult proposition than shaving with a DE, which is itself a more difficult proposition than shaving with modern cartridge razors. I was able to climb the first mountain, but summitting with a straight razor is, I think, beyond my natural ability.

Hardcore cut throat guys like the he-men who post on straightrazorplace.com would say I’m just punking out too early, and that I should put in more time to learn how to shave with a straight. They’d also say that shaving with a cheap Shavette loaded with half a DE blade isn’t really shaving with a STRAIGHT, and that what I really need to do is get ahold of a real straight and start learning how to shave like a man.

I hear those guys, and am in awe of their ability. But I’m just not cut out for this. I get a much, much better shave with a DE, every time. This morning, I did two downward passes with the Shavette and still felt lots of stubble — I cleaned it up with but a lone upward shave with a Merkur Progress DE and lo and behold, I had a perfect shave. The first two passes with the Shavette took me ten excrutiating minutes of careful, squinty concentration. The quickie upward pass with the DE took less than sixty seconds.

I know I’ll go back on my word eventually and pick it up again, but I really do think I’ve given the straight razor experience my best shot, and it’s telling me I shouldn’t quit my day job.

Rasatura migliore mai!

Best shave ever

Six years ago my wife and I were in Tuscany and I was still shaving with a Gillette Sensor Excel and that Novocain-juiced Lab Series “Maximum Comfort” shaving cream that numbed your face so you didn’t realize how badly the Sensor was beating up your skin.

There was an ancient Italian barbershop down the street from our hotel that we used to pass several times a day, and it fascinated me, mainly because it seemed to be less of a place for men to get their hair cut, and more about beautifully dressed local gentlemen strolling in at all hours of the day to lean back in one of the two ancient red leather barber chairs so that old men in white smocks could give them an old-school Italian barber straight razor shave.

An Italian barber shave is a very different thing than the version we serve stateside. For starters, Italian barbers use real straight razors, which are illegal for barbers to use in this country — they must use disposable blade razors, and discard the blade between shaves, so nobody shares the same cutting edge. Clearly, we must be protected against shared straight razors and unpastuerized cheese, because they deliver far more pleasure than Americans can plainly stand.

Italian barbers also use different shaving products along with their straight razors. The old barbers in San Gimignano had laid out clean white barber’s towels on the counter behind the barber chairs and upon them sat an array of shaving creams, after-shaves, and assorted high-end poultices of a brand which I’d never seen before, which brings us to the shaving rig I used this morning — Proraso!

Proraso shaving products have been around for over half a century in Europe, and Proraso’s famous shaving cream in the green tube (or tub, if you want the slightly harder “shaving soap” version) is the #1 selling shaving cream in Italy. And with good reason — this stuff is incredible! Really, it’s far, far superior to any shaving cream sold at your local grocery store, drug store, mall, or even those weird knife shops that also sell Hummel figurines and shaving stuff. It costs nine or ten bucks for a five-ounce tube that lasts and lasts, and whether you use it with a shaving brush or just slather it on with your hands, it lubricates and conditions your face as well or better than anything else I’ve tried at any price.

Proraso’s secret weapon is eucalyptus oil. It’s good for your skin and it smells wonderfully old-world He-Man, but the money shot’s when you finally finish your shaving and rinse your face with cold water. Yowza! When the cold water hits your freshly-shaven skin, the cooling effect hits you in a tidal wave of relief from any and all razor burn, irritation, you name it. When I use Proraso, I keep splashing cold water on my face long after the cream’s washed off, just because it feels so damn good.

Proraso makes three different versions of its shaving cream — the famous eucalyptus in the green tube, a wheat germ formula for sensitive skin that comes in a red tube, and a semi-hard shaving soap that comes in this really cool looking green plastic tub. I say semi because it’s actually more of a hard paste than a true cake of shaving soap — unlike the much softer green and red tubed creams, the stuff in the tub is meant to be used with a stiff-bristled boar’s hair shaving brush, the kind that all Italian barbers swear by. I bought an Omega boar’s hair brush for $12, just so I could use it with Proraso for the full-on Italian shave rig. It really kicks ass — I’ll talk more about it another time.

Proraso also makes a couple of pre-shave and after-shave products that deserve mention. The company’s legendary Crema Pre & Dopo Barba is known as the “pre-shave miracle” in Italy, where barbers slather it on the beard to soften the hairs before shaving cream is lathered on top of it. I’ve used it, and it’s great for reducing skin irritation if you shave very aggressively or use a straight razor. Proraso’s Crema Liquida Dopobarba is a creamy, milky-white aftershave that’s one of the very best I’ve used. It’s got witch hazel and vitamin E, and most importantly, no alcohol (I don’t recommend Proraso’s more traditional alcohol-based aftershave splash, the clear stuff, because it stings like @%#$ the same way all alcohol-based aftershaves do — who ever thought this was a good idea?!)

Of the three Proraso shaving creams, I like the green tube the best. It shaves best, at least on my puss, and even if you apply it with your hands instead of a shaving brush, it still lathers up nicely and delivers a world-class shave. The wheat germ Proraso shaves well, but it smells funky, and doesn’t have the intense cooling effect with cold water that the green stuff has. The semi-hard soap in the tub gets my vote for the coolest looking of the three Prorasos, but I find it doesn’t shave quite as well as the soft cream in the green tube. Still, I will always keep a tub of the semi-hard on hand, because it’s the same stuff that the old-school Italian barbers use, and they’ve forgotten more about shaving than I’ll ever know. It probably is the best of the trio, and I just haven’t figured out how to use it properly yet. I plan to keep at it with the boar brush till I get as good a shave with it as the green tube.

Some of the more zombified shavegeeks who can’t stand when inexpensive products work better than the overpriced totems these types worship poo-poo Proraso because it’s cheap compared to the upper-crust English creams, and because it has lanolin, which the cranks claim gums up badger brushes. I think these guys are full of it, and knowingly lying in order to preserve a hierarchy of expensive British products in the upper tier, and lower priced European creams like Proraso and Musgo Real (another favorite I’ll discuss another time) below. Me, I use Proraso all the time, with my best badger brushes, and I’ve never had a problem. And you won’t either. It’s great stuff.

What’s that? Your local grocery store doesn’t stock Proraso next to the eighteen rows of forty different types of Gillette and Edge “advanced” gels? Scroll down to the Links section — every online wetshaving vendor worth his salt sells Proraso because it’s the biggest bang for the shaving cream buck there is, and at one time or another all of these guys have told me the same thing, namely that Proraso shaves as well as anything out there, and better, in fact, than many of the most highly-esteemed brands from the UK. I agree wholeheartedly.

Do yourself a favor and get a green tube of Proraso. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve turned onto this stuff, and everyone goes bonkers over it. It’s by far the biggest bang for the buck in the shavosphere.

Duty now for the Futur

The Butchur

The West German Merkur safety razors are far and away the finest DEs made today, and certain models have achieved cult status among hardcore shavegeeks. The top o’ the line $120 Vision is undoubtedly the most highly coveted Merkur — it’s not merely the most expensive DE you can buy, but it’s also, in the opinion of many hardened vets, the only DE that delivers a shave of the same quality and longevity as a straight razor’s.

At the other end of the foodchain, the $33 Hefty Classic (aka HD) non-adjustable DE has its own cult, probably because it’s the razor most newbies start with (I recommended the HD in my Today Show shaving segment), and it’s also the razor that most newbies wind up returning to after they’ve run the gamut and discovered, as I did, that nothing out there actually shaves better than the HD. And then there’s the $50 adjustable Progress, Merkur’s version of the classic Gillette adjustable DE, which just may be the best all-around safety razor being manufactured today.

With all the attention paid to these excellent razors, it’s no wonder Merkur’s $60 Futur gets lost in the shuffle. It’s half the price of the Vision, so it can’t possibly be as “good”. And it’s only ten bucks more than the Progress, which, frankly, looks a lot cooler, in that old-school, no-frills way that serious shavegeeks go for. The Futur looks, well, modern. Like something a young guy who spends a ton on young guy grooming aids that suck would buy. Look at it. It looks like the Silver Surfer’s organ, and I don’t mean a Wurlitzer.

Truth be told, I actually bought a Futur a week or so after I started shaving with a DE. I’d bought a Merkur HD on the advice of Lee at Lee’s Razors, and even though I was still nicking myself after a week into shaving with a DE for the first time, I thought I was ready to “upgrade”. I am such an idiot.

So I bought a Futur. And proceeded to BUTCHER my face with it. The very first time I swiped it across my cheek I got a gash the full length of the swipe. I tried another pass, and nicked myself something terrible. And again, and again, until I finally gave up — a sink fulla red will do that to you. Futur? Merkur should rename this razor the Butchur, to ward off all moronic newbies like me who think they’re ready for an aggressive adjustable DE before they’re even out of short pants.

This is not a razor for newbies. The Futur shows so much more blade than the HD and the other Merkur fixed-head razors that you really, really — I can’t stress this enough — really need to know what you’re doing before shaving with one. I made the universal rookie mistake of thinking that a “better” razor would help me get a better shave, when what I should’ve done was stick with the HD and get some experience and technique under my belt before jumping up to a much more aggressive shaving tool.

My first shave with the Futur was so bad I immediately put it on eBay, and got back most of what I paid for it. It ended up being a ten buck lesson, one of the best lessons I’ve gotten when it comes to wetshaving. Don’t try to run before you know how to walk.

A few months down the road, I’d become adept enough on the HD that I felt ready to try stepping up to an adjustable razor. This time, I chose the much gentler vintage Gillette adjustable, which I got on eBay. Niiiice! Then I got an adjustable Merkur Progress — niiiiiiice! Things were going so swimmingly that I decided, like G. Gordon Liddy, to face down my fear. Not by killing and eating a rat, but by getting another Futur and giving it another, more capable go.

This time, it was smooth sailing. Now that I know what I’m doing, the Futur kicks ass! It’s a world-class DE, and certainly no more difficult to shave with than the other adjustable Merkurs, the Vision and the Progress. In fact, I prefer the Futur to the Vision, even though it costs half the price. I like the smaller shave head better, and it gets under my nose easier than the Vision can. Plus I just like the way the Futur looks compared to the almost comically outsized, “Lost In Space” looking Vision — I’ll take the Silver Surfer’s ball-peen over Robbie the Robot’s any day, although I’m sure Dr. Smith wouldn’t agree.

As for the Futur versus the Progress, well, if push came to shove I’d go with the Progress. I like its style better, but I also think that the Progress’s screw-down shave head is a better and safer way to clamp down on the razor blade than the Futur’s flip-off top. I even cut my finger once when trying to adjust the Futur’s setting while a blade was in the razor — it’s not as idiot-proof as the Progress, and this idiot needs every bit of proofing he can get from a razor.

That said, I really like picking up the Futur every now and then and shaving with it, like I did this morning. It’s a quick, smooth, effortless shave, and like the Vision, the Futur makes a cool cutting sound when mowing down your whiskers, similar to the sound a straight razor makes. It’s instant audible feedback on whether you’ve still got stubble to shave, which lets you know in an instant whether you’re done with an area or not. I could be very happy if this were my only razor. But it’s not, so I don’t have to think about the Silver Surfer’s crotch every morning when I’m putting myself together.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that..

D’oh!

Unclean
I forgot to bring a razor with me on our weekend getaway. I was swapping out the Merkur Progress razor in my dop kit with a Gillette adjustable (this is how bad my sickness has become: I have at least three of every kind of razor that I routinely shave with, so I can have the same razor in both of our bathrooms and my dop kit at all times — which means, of course, that when I decide to use a different razor, I swap out the other two, even if I don’t plan to shave in the upstairs bathroom or go on a trip any time soon), but something must have distracted me in mid-swap, because I removed the Merkur but didn’t replace it with the Gillette.

When I saw the razor was missing this morning, I knew I had two options. I could run out to the drugstore and pick up some Bic disposables, whatever single-blade jobs they had. Or I could use my sister-in-law’s leg shaver, that ubiquitous green oval Gillette with the off-spec men’s Sensor twin-blade cartridges repackaged for fem-gam use that every woman I know has in the corner of her shower stall.

Somehow, my wife convinced me there was a Third Way. Just don’t shave. It’s Sunday, after all, the traditional day of not-shaving that’s practically a universal heterosexual male trend these days with near-total adherence.

Don’t shave? Was she insane? Surely, she above all others knows that if good shave = good day, and bad shave = bad day, then no shave must mean….well, what, exactly? No day? That doesn’t make any sense. All I know is, I look forward to my morning shave like it’s breakfast, coffee, a cigar, and the Sunday Times all wrapped into one. I haven’t skipped a daily shave since I started this whole old-school wetshaving trip. Haven’t wanted to. But even less did I want to cadge a shave off my sister-in-law’s Lady Sensor. So I blew the whole thing off.

My wife tells me she likes me with a day or two’s worth of whiskers. This is the only time I feel she ever lies to me. Why would she want to be married to a hobo? Some guys’ beards grow in evenly, so a day or two’s stubble looks like a continuous layer, like the short fuzz beard on ’70s black G.I. Joes. Same stuff as black light posters. Flocking, I think they call it.

Me, I grow stubble like a hobo, or an escaped mental patient. A thatch here, a patch there, and whole areas of little or no growth which have no complementary partner on the other side of my face. Trust me, I’d be all the way okay to skip shaving every once in awhile if I looked good while doing it. But I don’t. Which is why I’m fanatical about shaving every day, even if it’s a weekend, even if I don’t plan on leaving the house, even if I won’t see another living creature for the next 24 hours. I tell people I live by the adage “A Gentleman shaves every day”, but the truth is, I look like a jackass if I don’t shave. People stare hard when I venture out in public, and god forbid I smile at a small child — the torches and pitchforks come out immediately. Society has made it abundantly clear to me over the years that it wants me to shave, and shave regularly, if I want to be a part of it. So I do. I even love it, now that I’ve found the right way to do it. But I never, ever forget why I do it.

Anyway, I went the whole day stroking my raspy chin until we drove home and I went straight to the bathroom and stole a rewarding, leisurely shave with the most decadent He-Man rig I’ve got — the mighty Merkur Vision razor, Trumper Violet cream, and Vulfix silvertip #2235 brush. Took my time, emerged with a face of pure white alabaster, and felt like a human for the first time all day.

I can’t trust myself to remember to bring a razor when I travel. I should really just keep on on my person at all times, just in case something like this ever happens again. You think I’m joking.

A Quick One While He’s Away

I had fifteen minutes to shower, shave, and pack the kids into the car for a weekender, so I went to my go-to Quickie rig, the razor I know I can haul ass with and get a perfectly respectable shave without carving my face up like a turkey: my favorite Gillette adjustable dialed down to 4.

I usually shave with the Gillette dialed up to 5 or 6, depending on what kind of blade I’m using. But if I’m really in a hurry and I’m going for the quickest good shave possible, I dial the Gillette back to 4 and buy myself some slop factor. That is to say, I don’t have to be quite so careful with my strokes. With the razor set up for a less aggressive shave, I can fly like nobody’s business, and get through a shave even more quickly than when I used to use a Mach3.

And the quickie shave? Not bad. Not my best ever, but perfectly respectable, and certainly smoother to the touch than anything I used to get out of the modern multi-blade razors back in the day. I didn’t have time for that extra blade-buffing I do to get the problem areas on my neck (more on blade-buffing another time), but I can let that slide on the weekend.

Plastic Man

Wilkinson Classic
I got a new plastic Wilkinson DE razor today, sent from the UK. Seems Wilkinson still makes a modern-styled safety razor to go with its excellent (and usually very inexpensive) DE blades, but they don’t sell it in the US. If you want one, you have to go online and hunt one down from the handful of UK vendors that sell them. At around fifteen and change including shipping from the UK, the Wilkinson DE is a bit more expensive than a new Mach3, but I was dying to see what a modern plastic take on a DE would shave like, since the metal Gillettes and Merkurs we all use now are actually quite old designs, over a century in some cases.

Unlike the classic Gillette adjustable DEs, the Wilkinson is a fixed razor — but that’s not to say it’s neutured. It’s just non-adjustable. Actually, it’s set for a bit more bite than the non-adjustable Gillettes, but it’s not quite as aggressive as the fixed-head Merkurs. Of course, the Wilkinson is almost entirely made of hard black plastic, so its handfeel and facefeel are very different from the metal DEs I normally use. The handle is more akin to something modern like the Mach3 and Sensor, and the Wilkinson’s stateside corporate cousin the Schick Quattro.

And the shave? It was okay, I guess. I was hoping it would be some kind of miraculous left field find — you know, the cheap plastic razor that outshaves the heavy metal rigs. Like that incredible el-cheapo Bic Metal disposable that Gordon on Wetshavers turned me on to. 28 pennies apiece and the only thing metal on it is the tiny strip of single-edge blade strung across the head, but man alive does this cheap disposable razor shave like nobody’s business! I can get as good a shave with a Bic Metal as I can with my usual array of DEs — it’s only good for two or three shaves, and truth be told it’s a bit more touchy shaving against the grain than a good DE, but with a proper lather and a light touch, it’s silly good and far and away the best plastic razor I’ve ever used.

Not so the Wilkinson DE, I’m afraid. Like I said, it shaved me okay. But it wasn’t a huzzah moment, and I don’t recommend hunting one down like I did unless you just want it for grins, especially since a few bucks more can get you a solid steel Merkur DE which is a far better razor in every way.

It’s clear why US vendors haven’t gone out of their way to bring the Wilkinson DE over here. It’s decent, but it’s more of a novelty than a contender, especially when you consider that vintage Gillette DEs are still being won on eBay for under 20 bucks, and any one of them — even the old brass ones from the turn of the century, or the long-handled “ladies” DEs which were designed for shaving gams and pubes — would shave circles around the plastic Wilkinson.

Still, I’m nothing if not a sucker and a completist. I had to have it, and I’m glad I got it. Into my drawer o’ shaving oddities it goes, to join such never-to-be-used-again razors as the 99-cent Russian aluminum DE (the eBay listing called it “chrome”!)that almost sliced my cheek off — you shave with this crude, scrapey thing at your peril. Cost me 5 bucks S/H for a .99 razor that arrived in an unpadded envelope, and the best part of it all was that when I complained to the seller that it was cheap stamped aluminum without a lick of chrome anywhere on it, he graciously sent me a refund — 99 cents. Wotta guy!

Knock me over with a Feather

Today I decided to go all the way to Crazy Town and take the feared Feather straight razor for a spin.

Thanks to the past week of monogamous shaving, my self-barberizing confidence is sky high. Shaving with the same rig for seven days in a row smoothed out my prowess so much I feel like I could shave with a bench saw. Massaging your baby smooth mug all day for a week straight will do that to a mind.

So this morning I felt like a hardened gambler fresh off a good night on the nickel slots, drunkenly stumbling over to the $500 table while the winner’s aura still draped on him like silk pajamas. I went all the way to the top of the shaving foodchain and got out the Feather disposable blade straight razor.

I’ve spoken of the Feather before. It’s a straight razor that uses disposable blades of its own unique design, so you don’t have to hone and strop the blade as you do a conventional cut throat. The very lack of routine futzing means that the hardcore vets on the straight razor forums, and yes there are such things, tend to dismiss the Feather as not the “real thing”, because it relieves the user of all the maintenace these guys regard as part and parcel of the whole trip. Some of these guys give props to the Feather and point out that its proprietary replaceable blades are the sharpest things outside of an emergency room, and that even the most skilled razor honers can’t equal the Feather’s sharpness on a conventional straight razor. Where the Feather seems to have found its niche is as the fabled brass ring which competitive wetshavers who think they’ve mastered the DE and want to move up to the varsity team aspire to.

Some are more successful than others in making the transition from a helluva lot more forgiving safety razor to the utterly unforgiving Feather.

I am one of those who was not more successful.

Oh, I can handle the Feather alright, and if you give me 30 minutes and an hour or two to wake up and down some black coffee, my mind and hand are sharp enough to shave with this unholy scalpel without so much as a nick. That said, the shaves I get with the Feather are all over the map, and it’s got nothing to do with the razor and everything to do with me. I get a teensy bit better with the Feather every time I pick it up, but I’m always left with the question of whether I have the right personality type to shave with the world’s sharpest straight razor.

I don’t believe that all men are created equal. I think some people have special innate talents, and while many of us can train ourselves to become better at certain skills, there’s Jimi Hendrix and then there’s every bar band guitarist you ever heard who covered “Hey Joe”, including me. I know guys who can ride a unicycle — I’ve tried, and couldn’t if you gave me a million years to practice.

I know what you’re thinking. Being an American, you’ve grown up with that oft-repeated tripe about how you can do anything if you just put your heart into it. Really? Anything? I can shrink down to atomic size and dance the rhumba with protons? Can I have a dialog with a bar napkin? There’s things we just can’t do, no matter how much we’d like to. And I think one of those things I’m not wired to do is shave as well with a straight razor as I can with a DE.

I just don’t have the patience, or the precise touch with my hands, or the mentality to sloooow my brain down and tunnel-vision for the time it takes to shave. This morning I shaved two downward passes with the Feather loaded with its sharpest Professional Super blade, and the resulting shave was just okay. I washed my face, relathered, and reached for my Gillette DE, which, in one easy, no-brainer, upward pass, shaved me baby butt smooth in a minute or two. I’ve gotten better shaves with the Feather, but that’s just it — I don’t have the mastery of this particular approach to shaving to get consistent, easy shaves with it, and I’m beginning to feel that I just don’t have the right stuff for this trip.

Now, there are definitely areas of my life where I take the longer, harder road because I know it yields sweeter meat. Barbeque is one of them — I’ll happily smoke ribs for six hours with hardwood charcoal and waterlogged hickory chunks and tend to them like a mother hen the whole time rather than throw a few slabs on a gas grill and come back in twenty minutes. But if I could get pork ribs that tasted better on a gas grill as they do in my Big Green Egg smoker, I’d go gas and never look back. It’s quicker, cleaner, and you can pick up the skill needed in about two or three cooking sessions.

That’s how I feel about a DE razor. It seems to strike that sweet spot between the brain-dead modern razors like the Mach3 and the “you either got it or you ain’t” dextrous touch needed to be a successful straight razor shaver.

I’m sure I’ll keep pulling out the Feather every now and then and see if I can get better at it. If that makes me less of a man, then so be it. Anyway, how much of a man can I be if I listen to Maria Callas and wear violet cologne? I just get on with the DE much better at this point in time.

Rosey Palm

Today, I went back to one of my favorite combos — the vintage Gillette adjustable DE loaded with a Merkur blade, and Taylor’s Rose shaving cream in the tub. Working that Rose into a nice, thick lather with the brush swirling around in my lefthand palm, the aroma that wafted through the bathroom practically gave me a contact high.

Taylor is one of the great wetshaving finds. A genuine UK-made shaving cream that usually sells for less than half what competitors Trumper and Truefitt & Hill cost per tub or travel tube, Taylor is right up there with any cream on the market at any price, and truth be told, many serious wetshavers prefer the lather they get from Taylor creams to anything else. It’s a rich, densely whipped cream, and the line features a lineup of scents ranging from Sandalwood to Lemon-Lime that just knock me out (I’ll talk at length about Taylor’s uniquely incredible Avocado shaving cream soon, as it deserves a whole chapter to itself).

Now, when I first got into this whole traditional shaving trip and encountered rose scented toiletries for me, my first reaction was disgust. I’ve always hated the smell of roses, whether at a florist or on the over-perfumed bosom of an elderly relative (female, although some of my elderly male relatives have bosoms as well). Nothing spells “old lady smell” more to me than the heavy, suffocating, funereal scent of roses. Just the thought of it made me make a bad peanut face.

But then I started hearing how rose scented shaving creams were designed especially for sensitive skin, because rose water has a soothing and calming effect on skin irritation. So I picked up a tub of Taylor’s Rose to try it, and that’s when my nose did a complete 180 — I discovered, much to my confusion as a husband, a father, and a man…

I love the smell of roses!

The smell of Taylor’s Rose, and then later Trumper’s Violet cream, hit me like a ton of bricks. In an instant, I went from having hated floral scents my whole life to suddenly loving them so much I found myself buying some colognes that were floral as well. Truth be told, I went on a bit of a violet binge after discovering how much I loved the smell of Trumper’s Violet shaving cream, and I bought a bottle each of Trumper’s Ajaccio Violet and Santa Maria Novella’s Violetta colognes, the latter of which my wife now wears — okay, that sounds like Corky Sinclair from “Waiting for Guffman”, I’ll give you that. But it’s true. And it smells great on her, better than it does on me. But I digress.

Rose. Yes. Taylor’s Rose cream smells utterly wonderful, and is a much fresher and more — dare I say — manly scent than the cloying, awful rose colognes you’re probably used to. Turns out rose and violet scented toiletries like shaving cream have been a staple of the British aritocracy for hundreds of years. Who knew? What I do know is, Taylor’s Rose smells incredible, and it shaves like a dream if you find that other shaving creams and soaps cause burning or other skin irritation when you shave with them. It comforts, soothes, never burns or itches, and always results in a spectacular shave and a lingering aroma that perks up my senses. Highly recommended.

Monogamous Shaving: Day Seven

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, I’m free at last!

Today was my last day of monogamous shaving — that is to say, sticking with the same razor, blade, brush, and cream for a whole week. Sounds like no big deal to you mugs who shave with the same rusty disposable “Good News” plastic piece of @%#$ for months at a clip, I know. But for us serious wetshavers, a whole week without swapping out different razors, or different creams especially, is maddening. To not dip into the stash o’ varietal delights I’ve accumulated over the past year or so of serious wetshaving was sheer torture.

The good news: I learned a valuable lesson. By sticking with the same Merkur HD safety razor, the same Merkur Platinum DE blade, the same Vulfix #2235 silvertip badger brush, the same Trumper Violet shaving cream, and the same Trumper skin food post-shave moisturizer, I was forced to focus on my hand technique. And my shave got better, to the point where all the minor, niggling complaints I still had about DE shaving all went away, leaving nothing but a clean, smooth, irritation-free shave behind, day in and day out.

If I’d started out with a DE, a brush, and good cream when I first began growing whiskers, I know I’d be fine sticking to the same rig every day, getting perfect shaves, and none of this would seem exceptional in any way whatsoever. My problem is, I came to this stuff late in the game, after 20 years of shaving with el-cheapo disposables and then over-aggressive multi-blade catridge razors. So it’s all amazing to me, and I’m a little more juiced about it than is probably normal and healthy.

Which is why I can’t possibly be monogamous when it comes to shaving. At this point, I’ve given over an entire dresser drawer to my shaving crap. I’ve got seven different models of Merkur DE razors, and dozens of vintage Gillette DEs I scored on eBay before the gold rush — adjustables, both short handled and long, as well as non-adjustables, take-apart travel razors, you name it. I’ve got three disposable blade straight razors — the German Shavette, the Spanish Filarmonica. and the Japanese Feather. I’ve got scads of DE blades from Merkur, Feather, Wilkinson, and Personna. Too many brushes to think about. And even more creams than brushes. I’ve given away more of this stuff than I’ve kept for myself, but the problem is I keep buying it up, because it’s a sickness.

So tomorrow I may shave with a vintage Gillette adjustable set wide open on 9, with a Vulfix #377 brush and QED violet shaving soap. Or I might whip out the new Filarmonica which I’ve been dying to try, loaded with half a Merker DE blade. Or maybe I’ll take the Merkur Progress adjustable for a spin, to remind myself how on any given day I think it’s better in some ways than even the vintage Gillette. The handle’s less grippy but the added heft makes all the difference.

And when it comes to creams, I may go with Taylor’s Rose one day, Proraso the next, then Musgo, Taylor Lavender, Trumper Violet hard soap, and Pacific Shave Oil all by its lonesome. Haven’t decided yet. Don’t need to. That’s the beauty of polygamous shaving. It’s like that guy in Salt Lake City with all the wives who drilled cave dwellings into the side of a mountain for each one, and he made the rounds depending on his fancy. He had the right idea. Not about wives, but about shaving.

My hope is that the improved technique I acquired during this experiement carries over to my return to wetshaving tomcattery. I would love to be able to auto-adjust my hand movements to get the same great shave from whatever rig I happen to choose on any givemn morning. On the other hand, maybe it would be just as boring as this past week has been? if I get the same shave from an old Gillete travel razor as I do from the Feather straight razor, then why use different razors in the first place? Same goes for creams, brushes, all of it. So maybe it’s better to get different shaves from different razors, so when my face is starting to cry uncle from all the potato peeling the Feather straight razor’s been doing, I can settle things down with a few days’ worth of mild Gillette adjustable set to a nice, comforting 3. And when that fair-to-middlin’ type shave doesn’t do it for me anymore, I can kick it up a notch and flail away with the Shavette, till that starts to hurt a bit and I wind up back with the tried and true Merkur HD, which always gives great shave.

Vivre le difference!

Monogamous Shaving: Day Six

Hooray! Huzzah! Excelsior! A mediocre shave! It disproves my entire (feared) theory that shaving with the same razor, blade type, brush, and cream every day, without dicking around all the time with different combos, or moving back and forth between a DE and a straight razor, etc., is the surest route to the Perfect Shave! It’s….it’s….

It’s a lie.

My shave this morning was perfect. Again.

Smooth, effortless, quick. No irritation or red marks on my neck. That Merkur HD zipped across my face like it had wings. Every day since I stopped swapping out razors and creams and decided to try using the same rig for a week straight to see if things improved, my shave’s quality has jumped to a new high. And my dread of the horrible truth that I may never be able to enjoy the dicking around of days of yore and still enjoy the same shave o’ the gods grows more palpable with each pass of the blade.

The hugely perverse thing about this realization is that the information benefits absolutely no one. The hardcore shavegeeks on the shaving forums couldn’t keep with the same rig for two days straight if their lives depended on it — these damaged psyches are chemically unable to sustain a sensible regimen for any extended period, and crazily whip out the plastic every time some excitable trust fund brat raves about a razor or brush that’s the new best thing ever, only to abandon it right after the pack picks up on it. And regular guys who’ve never heard of wetshaving or the odd online forums which cater to its more codependent devotees are going to stick to their Mach3 and Edge gel anyway, which means their shaves will go on sucking forever.

I admit, it’s not easy sticking to this routine. It’s boring. Ever since I got turned onto DE razors, and all the different kinds of blades you can load them with, and all the different brushes and grades of badger hair, and especially all the different, incredible smelling creams from Trumper, Taylor, Truefitt & Hill, Proraso, Musgo Real, et al, it’s been an orgy of self-indulgent luxury every morning. It’s not just about getting a better shave — it’s about holding a precision machined metal razor in your hand instead of some cheap plastic junk, and spreading shaving cream all over your face with a soft badger brush instead of simply wiping it on with your mitts, and having the scent of fresh cut violets hang all around your face instead of an industrial chemical smell that reminds you of when the janitor used to mop the halls of your high school. Everything about this trip spells quality. It’s the exact opposite of the Mach3 experience, where even the staunchest 3-blade defenders still bitch about paying two bucks a cartridge when they only give two or three good shaves before they start nicking and dragging on your face anyway.

I’ve got one more day to go. This experiment was a week’s worth of monogamous shaving, and tomorrow’s my last day. Will I keep to the routine, now that I’ve see proof that it works so well?

Are you kidding?!

First off, I just received my Filarmonica disposable blade straight razor in the mail, which I’ve been chomping at the bit to try ever since it hit my doorstep. Second, while I dearly love my Merkur HD (the first DE razor I ever shaved with), I also love using other DEs — most notably Merkur’s adjustable Progress and Futur models, as well as the mighty vintage Gillette adjustable DE, perhaps the greatest safety razor of them all. And I want to try my Dovo Shavette disposable blade straight razor again, to compare it with the Filarmonica using the same type DE blade snapped in half. One half goes into the Shavette, the other in the Filarmonica, and may the best faux cut throat win.

Also, the feared Feather straight razor continues to haunt my dreams — the sharpest blade I’ve ever encountered, by far, and the scariest razor I’ve ever shaved with. I’ve gotten good results with it, but not great results, as my straight razor technique could definitely use some work. I want to keep at it until I get good enough to get the kind of shave the vets like Dr. Moss speak of. I am not a man of Dr. Moss’s achievement or intellect, but I want to shave like him.

And someday, when the dust settles and I make my shaving bones, I want to shave like Gordon, my wetshaving mentor and eminence grise of the Wetshavers forum. Gordon uses the same old Gillette adjustable DE he’s been shaving with for forty years, day in and day out, and watches with barely concealed amusement as the trust fund brat leads the lemmings to drop their trusty rigs and replace them with this over-aggressive razor or that skin-irritating shave soap or this marginally-different-yet-gotta-have-it-cuz-it’s-the-BEST!!! brush, which they all do happily, only to find that the TFB’s ADD kicked in again and now he’s raving about a whole new rig that’s the BEST!!! one that will ever be. My hat’s off to Gordon, as he lets the TFB make a jackass of himself without commenting upon it, and he’s always eminently helpful and kind to the wetshaving newbies who come in off the Net looking for help with their first DE, like I did.

So you see, even as I see how this past week’s worth of perfect and perfecter shaves proves, to me anyway, that sticking with the same setup and letting daily repitition hone your technique is the best route to the Perfect Shave, I can’t wait to mix things up again. I know I’ve got some big-ass nicks and slices coming my way, and I’ve already got the styptic pencil on standby. But how do you keep a guy down on the farm when he’s had a taste of the endless variety that is the modern wetshaver’s toolbox?