Avocado a Mano
February 13, 2006
As reported here last week, Taylor of Old Bond Street has updated some of its classic English shaving creams, to meet both new EU regulations over there, and FDA regulations over here. So I had Taylor send me some tubs of the new versions of Taylor’s Avocado and Lavender creams to compare with the old versions.
The new Avocado cream’s green logo appears on a clear sticker on the jar’s lid, replacing the bronze-inked logo that used to be printed directly on the lid. As you can see from the photo, the old Avocado’s inked logo had a tendency to smear off over time, a problem the new stickers should eliminate.
But the real differences reveal themselves when you crack open the tub. The new Avocado is creamier and smoother than the old version, and its surface has little of that glisteny shine I always assumed was the skin-friendly avocado oil that set Avocado apart from all other Taylors, even though the new version still has avocado oil.
In fact, Taylor’s Barry Klein tells me the cream itself is largely unchanged, but that the company had to turn to different fragrance ingredients to comply with new EU regulations going into effect in April. The new scent includes citronellol, an oily liquid with a sweet, floral odor that’s a naturally-occurring substance in black currants, certain fruits, edible plants, wines, beer, and black tea, and geraniol, another oily liquid with a sweet rose-like scent found naturally in flowering plants including geraniums and roses.
Sure enough, the new Avocado smells quite different than the old. It’s a greener, lighter, fresher scent, more of an outright floral than the woodier scent of the old version. It reminds me a bit of the “Fern” type scents from Trumper and Penhaligon. That said, neither the new or the old Avocado cream smells anything remotely like a real avocado, but I never considered this Taylor a “sniffer” anyway — the old version certainly smelled pleasant enough, but it was the extra comfy and moisturizing shave that set this cream apart from the rest of Taylor’s line, not the scent.
One of the things Taylor’s doing differently now is allowing its cream to settle for a week after it’s been mixed, and then for another week after it’s poured into the tub. These extra stages are said to make for a creamier, less dense product that resists forming a thin, dry crust on top that’s led some shavegeeks to think their tubs of Taylor have dried out and otherwise gone bad. The new Taylors have the consistency of Philly Cream Cheese, while the old version of Avocado was a looser, goopier glop, and the other Taylor creams have been as thick as cake icing at times. The extra settling time is designed to standardize the creams’ consistency across the board, and I can report that the new Avocado and Lavender creams have exactly the same consistency, which I could never say about the old versions.
Using a Simpson Wee Scot and plenty of hot water, the new Avocado cream lathered up big and beefy in no time flat. I’ve rarely been able to get the old version of Taylor’s Avocado to whip up into that really thick, meringue-like lather — it’s a looser, oilier cream than my other old-school faves like Trumper’s Violet and Taylor’s own Rose and Lavender creams, but the new Avocado quickly lathers up into that dense, peaked lather the English creams are noted for. Even with a teeny tiny brush like the Wee Scot, the new Taylor made a ridiculously large amount of lather from just a schmear of cream on the brush tips.
Shaving with the new Avocado cream was a pleasure. My 1940’s Gillette Super Speed DE razor glided over my skin smoothly and without a hint of skip or drag, never once leaving a dry patch for the blade to scrape over. Even though the new version doesn’t glisten as much as the old, it feels and shaves exactly the same, and after an exceptionally close and comfortable shave my face felt perfectly smooth and moisturized, even in this dry winter weather. New scent aside, this new Avocado cream shaves just like the old version, which is a very, very good thing.
Fans of Taylor’s Avocado shaving cream can rest easy — the new version shaves just as superbly and lathers even better than the original. As for the new scent, it’s a greener, fresher, more floral trip, and to be perfectly honest I find it no better or worse than the old version, just different. I’m just happy Taylor kept its Avocado cream as special and unique as it’s always been, and I’ll be happy to switch over to the new formula once I run out of the old stuff.
See? I didn’t make fun of shavegeeks once this time, not even the guy who got so hysterical about the new scent he almost stopped taking photos of himself and sending them to other men so they could see what nice skin he has.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The Shavegeeks Are Falling! The Shavegeeks Are Falling!
February 6, 2006
It’s not even the second week of February and I’m already breaking my New Year’s resolution to stop making fun of the hapless flailers on the shavegeek forums.
I want to be good and leave the geeks alone, really I do. But 30,000 Shaveblog readers can’t be wrong. You people want me to make fun of shavegeeks. You need me to make fun of shavegeeks. You demand that fun be made of guys who think up stuff like “International Shave Day” where they all use the same shaving cream one morning in a show of jeez, I dunno, capacity to ick the rest of us out?
This past week the geeks all lost their shit over Taylor of Old Bond Street, one of the UK’s oldest and most well-respected manufacturers of traditional English shaving cream. A longtime shavegeek fave, Taylor makes some of the very best old-school shaving creams available, and they’re priced at less than half what most of the other top-shelf English shaving cream brands cost.
But last week, a forum geek thought he saw a piece of the sky falling, and before you could say “lemmings”, suddenly there were Rooskies under every doily.
Seems one of these guys was eyeballing his tub of Taylor’s Avocado shaving cream and was startled to discover (mistakenly, as it turns out) that skin-friendly avocado oil wasn’t listed in the ingredients anymore. Rather than simply ask Taylor about it with the same lack of hesitation these geeks show when demanding the company send them free samples from the UK of a shaving cream that costs ten bucks a tube, he posted his observation on a forum.
A warehouse full of children’s fire-retardant Barney jammies couldn’t go up in flames faster. Angry hands grabbed torches and pitchforks, and the wholly uninformed accusations began to fly. One geek cried the “new” Avocado doesn’t shave as well as the “old” formula! Another geek opined about the beginning of the end for Taylor (a week ago, these same geeks were loving this brand, but now it was DEAD to them).
One particularly pedantic geek began immediately doom-spewing — if Taylor was changing its formulas, it had to be for the worse, because change is always bad, and then what if all the other English shaving cream brands might change theirs, too?! Panting and out of breath, he finally fell to his knees and shrieked like a girl, his pale, outstretched arms raised above his head as if to both implore God to hear him in this time of need and to shield him from pieces of the heavens which were surely falling toward him at frightening speed.
“WHAT WILL BECOME OF XANAXDU?!!!”
Me, I like getting my facts straight before I smear the reputation of a company whose products have served me fantastically well over the years. So I emailed Barry Klein at Taylor, and he called me shortly thereafter to answer my questions about what, if anything, was going on with Taylor’s shaving creams.
Turns out the geeks were all wrong. Taylor didn’t remove the avocado oil from its Avocado shaving cream. It’s still there. It’s just that six months ago, Taylor brought its creams into compliance with new EU regulations that take effect in April, and that entailed making some slight changes to a few of the scented creams. The changes are as follows:
1. Taylor’s Avocado still has just as much avocado oil as before (it’s listed in the ingredients as persea gratissima) — the only change to the formula was a different scent. You can tell the new Avocado by its new green-colored label, which, like all of the Taylor creams from now on, is a decal stuck on the tub lids instead of the inked lids the company used to use. The old Avocado tubs have a brown label that’s printed right on the lid. The new labeling system was designed to let Taylor use the same generic lid for any of its creams, thus speeding up the company’s ability to deliver whatever creams its customers want, instead of running out of inked lids for a certain type of cream and having to wait while new ones are made.
2. Taylor’s Lavender is now a slightly different color due to FDA regulations regarding certain coloring agents, but the real difference is in its scent — Taylor now uses real lavender oil to scent its Lavender shaving cream, replacing the synthetic lavender scent used in the old version.
3. All of the Taylor creams are now allowed to settle for a week after they’ve been mixed and whipped, and the company now fills its 150-gram tubs with 160 grams of cream and lets them settle for another week, to eliminate the “shrinkage” which has caused complaints in the past when shavegeeks cracked open a new tub of Taylor’s to find it seemingly half-full.
In addition, Klein says these extra stages of settling before the creams are shipped to dealers make for a creamier product that doesn’t “crystallize” on top and make the cream seem dried-out or hard (Klein advises that any such “dried-out” tub of Taylor’s can simply be stirred to restore it to normal consistency, as it’s only a thin layer on top of the older creams which had a tendency to crystallize if it sat unused for a long time.
I took the opportunity to ask Klein some questions about Taylor I’ve always wondered about.
Q: Why do Taylor shaving creams cost less than half what Trumper, Truefitt & Hill, and D. R. Harris creams cost?
A: Even though all four brands have their shaving creams made by the same source, the UK toiletry maker Creightons, the hard plastic tubs are one of the most expensive components, and Taylor buys its plastic tubs in bulk orders of over 100K/year, so it pays less for each tub and can charge less for its creams.
Q: Why does the Avocado cream come in a metal tube while all the other Taylor creams come in plastic tubes?
A: All of Taylor’s creams used to come in metal tubes, because that’s what the much larger toothpaste industry used at the time. As toothpaste manufacturers began switching to plastic tubes, Taylor phased out the metal tubes as well, but since Avocado has always been its slowest seller, the metal tubes of this particular cream have still been available long after the other creams began shipping in plastic tubes. New tubes of Avocado will be plastic just like the other Taylor creams.
Since all of my tub’n’tubes of Taylor’s Avocado and Lavender are the old versions, Klein offered to send me some tubs of the new versions to compare them with. I look forward to getting in the new batch and seeing how the updates to this venerable company’s shaving creams fare.
Now I feel bad for making fun of the geeks again. I promised myself I wouldn’t. It’s a new year, I said to myself. Live and let live, I said to myself. They’re people too, I said to myself. People who eat Crunchwrap Supremes —
Okay, New Year’s resolution begins…….now!
Fusion 2: Aftermath
January 30, 2006
My face doesn’t look like this today.
It looks a bit beat-up. Because it is a bit beat-up. I have red bumps on the base of my neck around my Adam’s apple, and the surface of the skin under my chin is noticeably more rough and bruised than it’s been since, oh, I first tried a Mach3 Power.
When will I ever learn?
Listen to me and listen good: I will never, ever buy Gillette’s new mutli-blade shaving system unless two of the three Wee Scotsmen (more about this gang of shavegeek elites later) tells me it’s the bomb first. Screw this Lewis and Clark shit. One shave with the new Fusion 5-blade razor on Friday and I’m still nursing my wounds on Monday.
Some say shaving with an old-school safety razor like a DE or an Injector treats your skin so nicely that it conditions it over time so it’s less able to stand up to the kind of harsh, scraping shave a three, four, and (sigh, now a) five blade razor subjects your face to. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say, but I do know I get beat up every time I try one of these @%#$ multi-blade razors now.
So today I took it easy on my face. Just a light shave, nothing too heavy, and certainly not the kind of tushy shave I usually aim for. Some Nancy Boy cream and a new Swedish blade in my 1940s Super Speed DE, and the lightest possible touch. Even half-trying, I got a better shave than I did with the Fusion.
I can already tell it’s going to take a week for my face to heal from the Fusion tryout. I’d skip shaving till I heal but my beard isn’t one of those cool beards that comes in looking chic and downtown. It looks like Emmitt Kelly Jr.
Meanwhile, I’m looking at this 1946 Gillette Super Speed DE I use every morning, next to the 2006 Gillette Fusion:
One was precision tooled of solid metal, still looks brand new, shaves like a dream SIXTY YEARS LATER. The other is made of plastic, and nobody will want one in a few years, when either of two scenarios plays out:
1. (less likely) The Fusion flops in the marketplace as men around the globe suddenly all get hit on the head with a Krazy Kat brick and come to their senses in time to figure out the Fusion’s no better than the Mach3, and the less-fair sex has its own James Frey-style righteous indignation-a-thon, complete with the male Oprah (Jon Stewart?) leading the charge against Gillette’s tearful execs, forcing them to admit on live TV that they made up all that stuff about spending tens of millions on R&D, and that they knew all along that it’s been downhill ever since the Sensor Excel, but what the hell were they supposed to do, admit that they couldn’t improve on a twin-blade system and simply continue to sell trillions of Sensor blades every year to satisfied users?
2. (more likely) The reason nobody wants a Fusion anymore is because the Fusion Nitro, Fusion Turbo, Fusion Aggro, Fusion Gummo, Fusion Eggo, and Powered Fusion Eggo, have superceded it.
Meanwhile, I have got to find out how the Asian Prince gets his hair to do that.
January 29, 2006
I tried Gillette’s new 5-blade Fusion razor over the weekend. Not the battery powered version — that’s for saps. No, I just tried the regular Fusion. Five blades on the shaving side, and an extra blade on the back for trimming around the sideburns/goatee/pubic mound or anywhere else five blades can’t quite spelunk.
I actually snuck out to CVS last Thursday to get a Fusion on the first day they put them on the floor, lying to Beloved Wife that I needed to go run a few errands, because I couldn’t admit to her that I was getting in my car and driving to the drugstore solely to buy the new Gillette shaving system. I can stand in front of this woman in boxers and black socks without shame, but I couldn’t tell her where I was going or what I was going to do when I got there.
It wasn’t any better standing in line to pay for it. I would’ve felt less embarrassed holding a tube of strawberry K-Y and a copy of Barely Beagle in full view. I felt like a sucker, and if anybody I knew had come into the store, I would’ve dropped the package and pretended I was there to buy almost anything else in the store. Seriously, how can anybody at Gillette say the words “five blades” with a straight face? Three blades was silly. Four was ridiculous. Five is where I feel pretty confident that, as Hunter Thompson put it, the wave finally broke and rolled back.
As a card-carrying shavegeek who loves vintage razors, I’d love to dis the Fusion’s fake macho futuro/Nike/Terminator looks, but as Gillette chose a blue/orange motif — Bears colors — I cannot. The plasti-chrome is plenty cheezy, but the colors are sacred. Sweetness. Danimal. Fridge. Ming the Merciless. Iron Mike. So we won’t spend any time making fun of the looks of this razor. We will let them be and move on.
The thing that bothers me most about the Fusion’s design isn’t the fact that it’s got five blades. It’s that the “micro-fins” that precede the blades as you shave, supposedly raising your whiskers and setting them up for the cut, take up much more space in front of the blade array than on any other razor I’ve ever seen. The Fusion’s micro-fin zone is twice as long as the Mach3’s, even though its shaving area is nearly the same size, owing to the closer grouping of the Fusion’s blades versus the Mach3’s.
Why does the Fusion need such a long patch of micro-fins in front of the blades? Well, because if it had as short a patch as the Mach3, you’d slice your face open. The extra-long micro-fin zone is required to keep the 5-blade array flat on your face so it won’t nick your skin. The more blades Gillette puts on a razor, the longer the safety bar in front of the blades has to be to keep the blades angle from becoming too aggressive.
Do you see where this is going? When they come out with six, or seven, or maybe ten blades (laugh now; report back in a few years), they’ll have to lengthen the landing strip in front of the blades even more, till the shaving head becomes nearly as big as your face. The Fusion’s shaving surface is too long for the average face, and makes the Mach3 seem compact and nimble by comparison.
In fact, the Fusion’s head is so large, it’s even harder to shave under your nose or square off your sideburns than it is with the Mach3. So Gillette put a single blade on the back of the Fusion, just for these tasks. Some shavegeeks have even hoped this single-edge blade might actually deliver a better shave than the front of the razor, and convince billions to suddenly throw down their multi-blade razors en masse and join the DE-volution.
Keep dreaming, boys. The single blade on the back of the Fusion is mostly useless at anything but trimming your sideburns. I tried shaving half my face with it to see how it performed, and it’s just not up to it. The shave was mediocre, harsh, and not nearly as good as using the front of the razor.
As for the Fusion’s 5-blade shave, I’ll give it this — it’s surprisingly comfortable, even a bit moreso than the Mach3’s shave. After tearing my face up with the free 4-blade Quattro Schick sent me awhile back, I was leery of shaving with a razor with yet another blade added to the mix. But the Fusion is actually a very comfortable razor to shave with — razor drag is practically nil, and even against the grain the Fusion simply glides across the face as if it were hovering. Of course, my prep was better than the typical scenario this razor’s going to find itself in — I took a hot shower beforehand and used Nancy Boy shaving cream and a Simpson Wee Scot badger brush — but even so, the Fusion was a bit more comfortable to shave with than the Mach3.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, the quality of the shave just wasn’t any better than a Mach3’s. Rubbing my fingers against the grain, I could still feel stubble, despite three full passes — with-grain, against-grain, and then a second against-grain because I still felt stubble all over. Yet even this extra against-grain pass didn’t leave my skin as glass-smooth as Gillette’s 66 years-older Super Speed DE safety razor does every morning. What I got was the typical Mach3 shave — quick, easy, requiring no thought, technique, or concentration, and looking good enough for the office even though if you rub your face you’ll still feel some stubble.
Like the Mach3, the Fusion’s a deceptively comfortable razor. During the shave it hardly felt like I was shaving at all. But afterward, my skin felt raw for hours, and still felt pretty tender at the end of the day. I remember feeling this way every day back when I was using the Mach3, which is why I tried so many different shaving creams and after-shave lotions to help “fix” the problem, which immediately went away when I started using a DE.
All that said, I don’t think the Fusion sucks. It’s no better than a Mach3, but it’s no worse, either. I don’t care for these razors, but they don’t suck. They just don’t shave nearly as closely or as irritation-free as a safety razor.
Finally, there’s the matter of cost. Much has been made about the price of the Fusion’s blade cartridges — $3.50 apiece on average, or 50 cents more per blade than the Mach3’s. I don’t know and won’t be finding out how long a Fusion cartridge lasts before the shaves start to go south, but I was only ever able to get about three or four good shaves from a Mach3 catridge. That’s a buck a shave! (Could I have ever been that stupid?) (well, there were those parachute pants
back in the 80s..)
I remember back in ‘98 when the Mach3 hit the market. Guys (me included) went apeshit for it, because it really did shave and feel different than any razor that had come before it. Millions of men felt it really was much better than what they were using at the time. I mean, the freakin’ New Yorker even did a profile on it written by Mr. Tipping Point himself, Malcolm Gladwell, who treated the new razor like the Next Big Thing that it actually was. The Mach3 devoured the market in no time flat. 99 percent of the guys I know who shave, shave with a Mach3.
I don’t think the Fusion’s going to be the same kind of hit. Besides the fact that there’s a world of difference between the tail-end of the go-go Clinton years and the slow-motion depression this country’s in today, the simple fact is the Fusion just doesn’t shave any better or differently than its predecessor. It’s a bit more comfortable during the shave, but that’s it — the shave’s no closer, the razor burn’s no lesser, and the blades are even more expensive. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone trying a Fusion and feeling it’s better than, or even different enough to elicit interest in switching from, the Mach3.
I’m not one of those deluded shavegeeks who thinks the world’s male population is just one DE shave away from a mass exodus away from multi-blade razors. It’s never going to happen, for a myriad of reasons, first and foremost being that it takes some time spent learning the proper technique before you start getting amazing shaves from a safety razor. With the Mach3 and Fusion, your first shave is as good as it’s ever going to get. It may not be “the best a man can get”, but it’s pretty good right off the bat and stays that way, and for most men that’s good enough.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next few months. The ad blitz during the Super Bowl will be concussive, and then the apes will descend upon the fruit. You can’t count Gillette’s marketing expertise out, but this time, I wonder if they can really convince a planet of men to change razors when the new one shaves just like the old one but costs more.
Nancy Boychik Hard Shaving Soap
January 26, 2006
Ever since I started using Nancy Boy’s incredible shaving cream, I’ve become addicted to the brand’s signature scent of lavender, peppermint, and rosemary. It’s soothing and relaxing and energizing and stimulating and sensuous all at the same time, and it got me to thinking: why not enjoy this incredible scent in a hard shaving soap as well?
As it happens, Nancy Boy makes a bath soap in their signature scent, but as with most bath soaps, it doesn’t really work as well as a shaving soap as it does in the shower. So I decided to make my own faux Nancy Boy, or as I call it, Nancy Boychik hard shaving soap.
Luckily for the intrepid DIY soaper, it’s dead easy to make your high-end shaving soap in whatever custom scent you want, using a cake of Classic Shaving’s hard shaving soap. It’s made with virgin olive oil, glycerin, and bentonite clay, and it’s the best shaving soap I’ve used to date. I love Classic’s scented shaving soaps like Violet and Lilac, but you can also buy this soap in an unscented version, which is perfect for custom-scenting.
For my Nancy Boychik shaving soap, I bought little bottles of lavender, peppermint, and rosemary essential oils from Body Time, a great web site the Fisher King turned me onto for this kind of stuff. Body Time’s got all kinds of high quality essential oils and fragrance oils on hand, and they’re fairly cheap — my three bottles came to less than $30, and I got enough to make dozens of soaps with plenty left over.
The nice thing about Classic Shaving’s soap is you can melt it down in a microwave till it’s liquid, and then mix in your essential oils before letting it cool off and harden back into shaving soap. I put a regular size cake of Classic soap in a glass coffee mug and put it in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time till it was fully melted — took two zappings. Then I tapped 7 drops each of the lavender, peppermint, and rosemary essential oils into the melted soap, stirred it all up, and let the mug cool off at room temp overnight. It was hard again in a matter of minutes, but I wasn’t going to shave till morning anyway, so what the hey. Couldn’t hurt to let it cool overnight.
When I went to shave this morning I stuck my nose in the mug and was greeted with a nice big blast of Nancy Boy signature scent! Not a reasonable facsimile thereof, not a Rich Little impersonation of Johnny Carson that kinda sorta sounds like Johnny, but the real deal. I’m telling you, it smelled exactly like Nancy Boy shaving cream, exactly like their Signature Aeromatics (i.e. potpourri for guys), exactly like all the other lavpepmary scented Nancy Boy products I’ve bought to pleasure my schnozzola. Exactly.
And let me take a moment to pay fealty to Eric and Jack at Nancy Boy, for what they have come up with may just be the greatest scent combination of all time. Lavender alone is nice. Lavender and peppermint, that’s some good stuff right there. But adding rosemary to the mix was the master stroke. John, Paul, George, and Pete would’ve gone down in rock history somewhere on the foodchain between the Kinks and Nelson, but adding Ringo put them at the top forever. So it is with rosemary. Rosemary is Ringo. Taken on its own, and maybe backed with Joe Walsh and Sheila E., it’s okay but nothing special. Mix it with lavender and peppermint and you’ve got Sgt. Pepper.
Now, I’ve made a couple of custom-scented shaving soaps with Classic’s unscented cakes and Body Time scent oils before, and they lathered like kings and gave me titanic shaves. The voilet-scented soap I made, in particular, is still a favorite I catch a shave with every now and then. But this Nancy Boychik shaving soap is in a different class entirely.
The scent was incredible. The lather was thick, rich, lubricating, cushiony — all the good things you want in a shaving lather. Shaving with this stuff after a few days of shaving with the Latherking was a real wake-up call — there’s good lather, and there’s gooood lather, and there’s a wide enough gulf between these two points that I need to stop dicking around and just stick with the goooood stuff, because life’s short and I want all my shaves to be like today’s (1940’s Gillette Super Speed razor, Swedish Gillette DE blade, Simpson Wee Scot brush). It was perfect. Closer than it’s been in weeks, yet my skin felt great afterward and all day long.
Plus, as an added bonus, when I rinsed with cold water after the shave, I got this incredible cooling effect on my skin from, I guess, all that peppermint and rosemary essential oil. There must be less of these oils in Nancy Boy’s shaving cream, because I never get this kind of cooling effect when I shave with it. My Nancy Boychik soap has a stronger scent than Nancy Boy’s cream, as befits a hillbilly DIY overdone kitchen project. I’m sure Eric and Jack tweaked the ratio in their shaving cream just so, until it gave up enough scent to please the sniffer but stayed gentle on the skin. My custom soap packs an amateur whallop, but I like it that way. It reminds me a lot of the cooling effect I get from Proraso shaving cream. Some shavegeeks don’t care for this cool-down but man, I love it. I wish I got it after all my shaves. Even if you don’t need it to soothe any burn, it just feels great anyway.
So now I’ve got the best of both worlds. The scent of Nancy Boy, and the lather of Classic Shaving’s hard soap. I’m mainly a shaving cream guy, but I do like to haul out a hard soap every now and then for a change of pace and the extra close shave a good hard soap can give you. I can see using soaps more often now that I’ve seen what Nancy Boychik can do. It’s my favorite hard soap yet.
And it looks like I’m going to need all the help I can get, because, God forgive me, I picked up a Gillette Fusion today and I’m going to try it in the morning.
Why, Lord, why?
The Once And Future Latherking
January 25, 2006
Slick lather at last! Slick lather at last! Thank God Almighty, slick lather at last!
A great man once said that. Me, this morning, when I finally got the kind of lube-happy goods I’d been led to believe this Latherking hot lather machine could deliver.
Turns out you do need to add some sort of slick-me-up to the tap water and shaving cream after all, despite what I’ve been told by a few professional barbers who swear by the Latherking. They told me all I had to do was add a couple of fingers of old-school shaving cream from a tub to 8 ounces of water, stir it till it dissolved, and then the Latherking would reward me with gobs of shaveworthy lather, as hot as the day is long.
But the lather I got with that simple recipe wasn’t slick at all. I got lousy shaves that way. On a lube scale of 1 to 10, the lather scored a 3.
Smashing an Etch-a-Sketch open and smearing the aluminum powder on my face scores a 4.
So I took Paul Sanka’s advice (PS is the guy I got the Latherking from) and added a tablespoon of Lucky Tiger Shaving Lotion to the mix I already had in the tank — two fingers of Taylor’s Shaving Shop cream and 8 ounces of water (full tank).
Sanka sent along a bottle of the Lucky Tiger when he sent me the Latherking, nice guy that he is. I ignored it, of course — shaving lotion? What the hell? But Lucky Tiger’s been around since the ’30s, even if this lotion is a new product in their “New School Organics” (!) line, so I figured it was worth a shot.
Well. It worked like a charm. I’m not going to take back everything I said about the Latherking — the “hot” lather only stays hot for 2 seconds once you smear it on your puss, so it should more truthfully be called a “momentarily hot lather machine” — but I will say this: feed it what it needs and the Latherking can burp up some excellent, extremely slick lather. That’s a fact. Water and cream alone won’t do it. You need to add something else to the mix like this Lucky Tiger lotion. But when you do, you will get (fleetingly) hot lather that shaves very nearly as well as what you can get with a top-shelf cream and a brush.
This morning I just stumbled out of the shower, pressed the Latherking’s button, smeared the lather on my face and went to town. This time, my 1940’s Gillette Super Speed razor didn’t skip and stutter on my skin at all — it glided just as smoothly as it does when I lather with my Simpson Wee Scot brush. And the shave itself was excellent. No irritation, no problems, just the usual great Super Speed shave — except I didn’t use a brush, it took half the time, and I got to press a button and hear a motor whine, which is always nice.
Okay, so I got this thing to work well. Will I keep using it? Nope. I satisfied my curiosity about the Latherking, and now I can empty it, strip it down, clean it like new, and pack it up for the next wide-eyed shavegeek who’s always wanted to play with one of these professional barbershop hot lather machines.
See, I like using a brush to much to give it up and switch over to the Latherking. I like what a good shaving brush does in terms of making great lather, but even more than that, I like the way it feels — the way it wakes up my face, scrubs and exfoliates my skin, lifts my whiskers, and okay fine, looks cool sitting on the counter with a head full of lather. Casey Jones wins this round.
I’ll tell you what, though. Next time I get a haircut or a barbershop shave, I’m going to ask what they feed their Latherking. If it’s just cream and water, that lather’s not touching my skin before they shave me. They better go fetch an Etch-a-Sketch.
January 24, 2006
I admit it. The Latherking has not been filling my life with glee. The more I use this thing, the more I think it’s only appropriate for a professional barbershop, and totally useless for an at-home shavegeek scenario.
The problem is the lather. For all its vaunted ability to deliver instant hot lather anytime you press its button, the Latherking’s lather just isn’t as good as what you get when you use a shaving brush to make lather with a good tub-style shaving cream. And let’s be brutally honest here — that “hot lather” is only hot for a few seconds when you pat it on your skin, and then it plunges to room temp. So what you’re buying, essentially, is two seconds of hot lather. I was kind of hoping for, oh, maybe some heat for the duration of the shave, but I hoped wrong.
The previous owner of this beast reads Shaveblog and suggested I add a tablespoon of Lucky Tiger Shave Lotion, a bottle of which he’d included along with the Latherking when he sent it to me. He said it would add mo’ lube to the lather, so I mixed the Lucky Tiger in with a tank of water and two fingers of Taylor’s Shaving Shop cream, and let it marinate overnight.
I’ll be honest with you. My face took kind of a beating from the shave I caught with the Latherking the other day. I got a close shave, but even as I was shaving I knew I’d be paying for it later — the blade skipped on my skin, which always means less-than-optimal-lube which itself means I’m not going to look or feel so hot for the next 24-48 hrs.
So today I took a break from the Latherking and went and caught a post-workout shave at the gym. I even spent double the usual time in the steam room, because I was listening to the latest Ricky Gervais podcast on my iPod in there and stayed for the whole thing (apologies to anyone who walked in and found a lone, drenched, semi-naked man giggling like an idiot to himself in an otherwise silent steam room).
I shaved immediately after the steam with my usual gym rig — 1940s Gillette Super Speed DE razor, Swedish Gillette blade, Simpson Wee Scot shaving brush, Nancy Boy shaving cream, and Trumper Lime Skin Food — and got the kind of alpha shave that makes all of this prissy nonsense worthwile. I don’t need @%#$ hot lather. I need to just stick to this rig and NEVER DEVIATE FROM IT, EVER.
Like that’ll happen.
By the way, I want to clear something up about the 1940’s Super Speed razor. Ever since I wrote about this amazing vintage Gillette, my favorite by far of all the old Gillette DEs, I’ve seen guys snapping up Super Speeds and then complaining that they don’t shave worth a damn. The problem isn’t the Super Speed — the problem is you guys got the wrong razor.
This is a 1940s Gillette Super Speed, the one I recommend:
And here’s the later version from the ’50s and ’60s which some of you shavegeeks are scoring off eBay:
You can tell the later Super Speeds by their larger, flared TTO (twist to open) knobs. They look like bell-bottom pants, perhaps in a nod to the prevailing fashion of the day. The original ’40s Super Speed’s knob is only slightly wider than the rest of the shaft and doesn’t flare out at all, as God intended pants to be.
These two versions look similar, but they shave very differently, and the later Super Speeds aren’t even in the same league as the originals. I’ve got quite a few of these ’50s and ’60s Super Speeds, in all kinds of color schemes — red, blue, and black knobs (indicating how aggressive the blade exposure is), black shaft with a silver knob, silver shaft with a silver knob, you name it. None of them is manufactured to the same standard as the original ’40s Super Speeds, and none of them shaves nearly as closely and comfortably. Some of these later Super Speeds are decent enough razors, but if you really want the magic, hunt down the first version.
Further Adventures of the Latherking
January 23, 2006
So I’ve been dicking around with this Cambell Latherking hot lather machine, trying to get it to deliver the cream of my dreams.
On the surface, this mechanized beast couldn’t be simpler — you add water and a few fingers of old-school shaving cream (i.e. the stuff in the tub, not the pressurized can), press the button, and the motor churns it up and forces it out a heated spout to make nice, hot lather, as much as you want, any time you want.
But in practice, this thing clearly needs some dialing in. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t designed to be used with a water/old-school shaving cream mix in the first place. No, Campbell meant for the Latherking to be used with the company’s own liquid soap solution:
God knows what’s in this stuff, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who’s ever liked using this stuff in his Latherking, either. Everyone I know who’s got one of these contraptions says to forget Campbell’s own soap solution and use a water/cream mix instead.
The only problem is, I tried that, and it didn’t work so hot. Two fingers of Taylor’s Rose shaving cream to eight ounces of tap water made for a pretty runny lather. The good news is that this machine is so simple, adding cream or water to thicken or thin the mix makes an immediate difference in the lather that squirts out of the spout. A third finger of Taylor’s Rose thickened the hot lather nicely, but then it was too thick — after awhile it wouldn’t come out at all, and then I had to add more water to thin the mix a bit so it would flow properly. I ended up dumping the whole mess in the sink.
Next up was Trumper’s Violet shaving cream, one of my favorites. I always need a smidgen more Trumper’s than I do other creams to make the same amount of lather with a brush in the usual shavegeek manner, so this time I added three fingers of Trumper’s to the water tank right off the bat, and this worked out much better than the Taylor’s cream. The resulting lather was thick, rich, and nicely larval. Very Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man in consistency. But when I applied it to my face, the lather dissipated almost immediately and collapsed into a thin film on my skin. No good. I upped and lowed the water/cream ratio a few times, got nowhere, and dumped the whole mess into the sink.
Nancy Boy! Yes! I’ve been loving this new-school cream lately, so it was the natural choice to try next. A little Nancy Boy goes a long way so I started with two fingers to a full tank of water and — and — nothing. Leaned on that button and the motor did whine a mighty whine but no cream did emit. Added some more water and got a little bit of thick cream, but then nothing. Dumped whole mess etc.
The gentleman I got this Latherking from had suggested I use a recipe of old-school shaving cream, water, glycerin (you get it from a drugstore), and a tablespoon of Lucky Tiger liquid shaving cream, a bottle of which he thoughtfully sent along with the Latherking.
But all the barbers I’ve talked to who have these machines say they just use shaving cream and water, and get professional grade hot lather all day long, day in and day out. I really don’t want to mess with a complex recipe every time I fill this damn thing. I just want to top her off with tap water and a few fingers of cream and go.
Clearly, the Latherking wanted a cream a bit thinner in consistency than the Taylor, Trumper, and Nancy Boy creams I tried in it. The only shaving cream I have on hand that fits the bill is an older tub of Art Of Shaving Lavender, which has got to be three years old if it’s a day. It’s been kept tightly sealed, though, and it looks fine (lathers with a brush as well as it ever did, too). I mixed a couple of fingers of AOS into the water tank and tried it.
I had lather! Lots o’ lather. Lots and lots and lots o’ lather, in fact. If I’d kept leaning on the button all day, I could’ve filled my bathroom with hot lavender-scented lather. I don’t like this cream as much as the other three I tried, but that’s with a brush — in the Latherking, the AOS cream worked far, far better than the Taylor. Trumper, and Nancy Boy creams.
Still, I think I have to work on this some more. I got the thing humming, definitely. I can come back to it hours later, a day later, and as soon as I press the button, thick, perfect hot lather comes churning out of the spout. It’s thick and rich and plenty hot.
But when I put it on my face — either slathered around or just patted into place — I only feel heat for a second or two before the cream plunges to room temp and then it’s no different than lather from a brush.
Well, it is different, because it’s not as good. It’s thinner, not nearly as slick, and doesn’t cushion the razor anywhere near what it does when I make lather with this AOS cream with a shaving brush. Not even close.
The shave I got with this AOS hot lather was very close, but not as comfortable as what I can get from this cream with a brush. The razor skipped a fair amount on my skin, and afterward my face felt a bit raw, which is always a sign that I didn’t have the right amount of lube between the blade and my puss.
The longer I wetshave, the more I realize that all of this rigmarole — the choosing of the badger brush, the right amount of cream, the right amount of water to keep in the brush when you go to make lather, all of these little calibrations — boils down to creating a slick barrier between the blade and you. That’s it. When everything’s right, the blade glides across my face like it’s not even cutting, but then afterward I feel my skin and it’s like I’m four years old.
Despite the marketing jizz of the big-name gels and foams, you never get this kind of righteous glide with any of this crap. What you get is a razor skipping on your skin, just like it did with the Latherking lather. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not as good as brush-made lather.
I’m going to try adding some Lucky Tiger to the mix and see if that slicks things up appreciably. I really don’t want to shave with this lather anymore the way it is now. It’s not nearly good enough to get a proper shave with. No wonder the back of my neck is always red and sore every time my barber “cleans up” my neck with a Dovo Shavette disposable blade straight razor after the haircut. He just lays some Latherking lather right on the back of my neck, dry, and proceeds to shave it with a naked blade. This is not optimal. No sir. I realize he can’t get my neck wet with hot water because I’m sitting there with my shirt on under the smock, but next time I get a haircut I’m bring a tube of Cremo Cream and asking him to try that instead of the Latherking. Even dry, I bet the Cremo would lube better than hot lather.
I’ve got more work to do. This machine is cool, and I’m having a ball playing with it, but I do want to get respectable, usable lather out of it before I pack it back up and unload it onto some other Sisyphean soul.
January 19, 2006
I’ve wanted a hot lather machine ever since I was a kid. My dad had a Sunbeam (or a Schick, I can’t remember which) latherizer that accepted a can of shaving cream, and when you pressed the button on the top, out came hot lather. It was a miracle of 1970s technology. I can still remember him pumping me out a handful of hot lather — the smell of the lime foam haunts me to this day — and thinking that a hot lather machine was just about the coolest mantraption you could possibly imagine.
Well, now I finally have my own hot lather machine. A used Campbell Latherking with the charcoal finish, in cherry condition. The Cadillac of lather machines. The workhorse found in every upscale barbershop and quite a few downscale ones as well. The king of lathers and the lather of kings. The Latherking.
This electro-mechanical beast has been around since 1939, and the really old ones were all-chrome, which must have been bitchin’. Mine is a more recent version, though it could be twenty years old for all I know. You can still buy these things new, though Classic Shaving, from whose website I purloined the pic, has quit carrying the Latherking due to “an unacceptably high incidence of defective Campbell LatherKing machines”.
That may be so, but I’ve seen these machines in service at lots of barbershops including the Truefitt & Hill shop at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and just a few weeks ago when I was there, the Truefitt barbers were all extolling the virtues of the Latherking and urging me to pick one up for myself. They use Truefitt’s shaving cream in their Latherking for all the straight razor shaves performed in their barbershop, and last summer when I got one there, and they say they’ve never had a problem with it.
My Latherking looks almost brand new — I don’t think it’s seen any time in a professional barbershop, because every Latherking I’ve ever seen in the trenches, including the one I saw at the barbershop (different place from the one I went to a few weeks ago where the old Italian barber told me to shave with a dulled Bic and Noxzema — by the way, nice job, Brettmeister General, actually giving this crazy rig a go — you’re a better man than I am, Charlie Shavegeek) today when I went in for a “trim” (i.e. a full-blown haircut, which is what I get every time I ask for “just a trim” no matter what barber I go to — is it a pride thing with these guys? That if they don’t chop a noticeable amount of mane they’re somehow not doing their job?) are caked with crud and perma-dried lather scum. My Latherking is most likely the equivalent of the barely-scratched vintage guitar that’s never actually been gigged with, just barre-chorded in a succession of bedrooms and basements.
The Latherking is an ingenious device. You pour a mixture of water and your favorite shaving cream in the reservoir tank, and then when you press the button, an electric motor spins a paddle and whips the water/cream solution into a thick lather which then gets pumped through a heated tunnel before emerging as a hot white larval mound into your hand. You keep the Latherking plugged in all the time, and it rewards you with instant hot and fresh lather on demand.
Sure, it’s overkill for one guy shaving at home in his boxer shorts. The Latherking was designed for continuous duty in a barbershop, with three or four barbers all going to the well for hot lather all day long. It’s built for gangbanging, not a quickie. But overkill is what being a shavegeek’s all about. You don’t need a Latherking any more than you need a hundred-dollar brush. As long as you wet your face with hot water for a few minutes, whether in the shower or at the sink before a shave, your whiskers are as soft and shave-ready as they’re ever going to get. Hot lather’s about hedonism, not improvement. It just feels good on your puss. That’s it. If it takes a motor-driven machine to make this happen, then all the better.
Right out of the box, the Latherking reminded me of every vintage guitar amp and Leslie rotating organ speaker I ever bought and then spent the rest of the day cleaning up and restoring to good working order. It’s an old, simple, crude contraption that smells old in the best possible way, like an old Lionel train set. I stripped it apart, cleaned everything with a toothbrush and warm water, and put it all back together looking good as new. Then I went about figuring out what to feed this thing.
Campbell, the maker of the Latherking, sells a liquid soap solution you’re supposed to use to make lather, but everyone who owns a Latherking says it sucks. Apparently, you can get much better lather by using a mixture of traditional English-type shaving cream and water — the unofficial recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of cream mixed with 8 ounces of water. Everyone’s got their own special formula, with some guys adding a few drops of glycerin for extra lube, and other guys mixing a traditional cream with a liquid shaving solution like Lucky Tiger. The underrated Portuguese shaving cream Musgo Real is also said to be spectacular when pumped out of a Latherking, though some say you shouldn’t use creams with lanolin because it gums up the works. I love all the do this/don’t do this lore that surrounds the Latherking. I know I’m going to have fun with a vintage fixerup if it has this kind of hazy, unfocused lore. There’s no PDF manual to download from a web site, because there’s no web site. Just some low-rez scans of Xeroxed diagrams, passed on from geek to geek. Beautiful.
I decided to try keeping it simple the first time out. Two tsps of Trumper’s Violet to eight ounces of water, stirred until it was a purplish concotion and then fill ‘er up. They say you need to leave the Latherking plugged in for at least an hour for the heating element to hit its stride, so I let the machine warm up for an hour and then gave it a push.
Then a spurt of thin lather, and then nothing again, despite the motor’s constant whine. I held the button down and the Latherking made a racket, but not hot lather. Or rather, it didn’t make any hot lather I would consider shaving with. What came out of the spout, in spasmodic fashion, was warm, watery spew. So I lathered in the usual way, with Nancy Boy shaving cream and my vintage silvertip Simpson’s Wee Scot brush, and got a fine, though fully manual shave.
I’ll futz with the Latherking some more tomorrow. I don’t know why I’m so intrigued by this thing, because I love using a good brush to make the lather, especially this vintage Wee Scot. But the Latherking has been my Moby Dick for some time now, and I need to harpoon its fat motorized ass before I’m done with all this.
January 18, 2006
So I’m about to get in the shower so I can wash up and then catch a shave afterward with my new Latherking hot lather machine when the power goes out. And stays out. Beloved Wife and the kids are upstairs and light shines through the windows so everyone’s fine, but I’m in the downstairs bathroom, my bathroom, where all my crap is in the medicine cabinet, where there’s no window and it’s very dark.
Beloved Wife brings me a flashlight, but stoically I wave her off. If the grid goes down, Lord, so be it.
I shower, towel off, and the power’s still off when I fill the sink with hot water for my shave. Truth be told it’s not pitch black dark, just dark. I can sort of see my way around, but just barely. The mirror is useless, but I can see the razor and the brush and cream if I look down and squint.
I was going to try my new Latherking for the first time, but the Grid thought otherwise, so the hot lather spewer will have to wait. I lathered up with my Simpson Wee Scot brush and some Nancy Boy shaving cream and brought my old Gillette Super Speed DE razor to my face, slowly, because I was shaving blind.
Actually, it went surprisingly well. Amazingly well, I have to say. I guess if you do this long enough, you don’t really need to watch yourself doing it. Back in the disposable Good News! razor and Gillette Foamy days I shaved in the shower for years without one of those piece-o’-crap “fogless” (please) mirrors you get for 15 clams from Sharper Image that SUCK which is why I ditched it and just shaved without one thereafter. So it can be done. I just never did it with a safety razor before today.
Okay, so I got one nick. Fine. So I rubbed an alum block on my nick in the dark, too. Lots of dark doings this morning. I felt like Daredevil, or Blind Lemon Jefferson. He played a small woman’s guitar, aka “parlor” guitar, that sat high up on his whale-like belly when he played. Now, playing guitar blind? Forget it. But shaving went okay.
Tomorrow I’ll have some stuff to say about the Latherking. I dicked around with it once the power came on again, and it’s a pretty interesting piece of machinery. More tomorrow.