It’s been the Summer of Dunce, and with a bang and a whimper, it’s finally over. I mean, I knew this country was 75% Deliverance Boy but ye gods, after this summer I feel like there are eight sensate Americans left and seven of them are sterile.
Speaking of idiocracy, I freely admit that making fun of the “advice” found on such unpaid intern written sites as Lifehacker, Digg, and Instructables is only slightly North of shooting fish in a barrel, but when these clueless naifs who don’t even bother to shave more than once a month in the first place claim any kind of expertise in the Manly Ablutive Arts, it’s time to load the Glock for carp.
Let’s see…shaky video cam, check. Simpsons’s Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel accent, check. Wiping a 5-blade dung-razor on your jeans to get more shitty shaves out of each cartridge? Check and checkmate, Jonas Salk.
As Fake Steve would say, Namaste, Jake T. Robinson. Your corn liquor wisdom is only exceeded by the tidal wave of drool in your comments section.
Nope, no site reboot today, I’m afraid. There are still some kinks to be worked out with the new layout, and some of the old links and pics weren’t working right with Today’s Wordpress aka Blogger For Masochists (“Now With 10% Less Banging Your Against Your Desk!”), so give me a few more days of forehead bruising and I should have something a lot nicer and much more readable for you to look at and then say “Meh” about.
Meantime, here’s a little ditty to tide you over.
I stumbled onto Shaveblog and I am completely sucked in. I love doing things the right way, even if it means going back to the “old-fashioned” way of doing things. My husband loved the injector razors he had in the past, and after reading your recommendations, I’m sure he’ll love getting a better quality razor than even the one he was happy with. He’s also excited to start using a brush and cream like he always saw his dad use.
My question for you is regarding women’s shaving. Reading your blog, I started to get jealous that you guys have access to such quality shaving products. Is there anything out there for women? I saw in one of your blogs that your wife uses Cremo Cream and a Lady Sensor, but I couldn’t find the Lady Sensor anywhere online. Also, does your wife have any tips for getting a good shave? For example, I’m having a hard time picturing a woman using a brush to apply shaving cream to her legs, but has she found another option for “prepping” her legs and exfoliating? Any tips you can offer would be much appreciated. Thanks!
You women have always gotten the shaft from Big Shaving. Like tampons, lady razors suck because they’ve always been designed by men who’ve never had to use them.
I wouldn’t begin to lecture you on the proper gear for gam shaving. I’ve never done it myself, though I did shave my armpits once, in high school, while talking on the phone with my girlfriend who was simultaneously shaving her own — it was actually kind of thrilling and kinky and constituted the only time in my life I’ve engaged in something that could broadly be considered phone sex aside from calling Barney Greengrass to place an order to go.
So my resident gam shaving expert is Beloved Wife, whose legs are as easily nicked as my neck has always been. When I started getting better shaves with brushes and good creams, she ported them over to her gams and did her own research into the matter. Some things she found: a shaving brush isn’t really needed for a woman’s legs, and a single-blade DE or Injector razor takes ages to shave a pair of legs with and doesn’t really give better gamshave than a good twin-blade. But she did find that the better creams (her favorite is Cremo Cream) really did protect her skin better and let her shave more closely and comfortably without nicks. Fortunately for Cremo, she’s not as bothered by the pansy-ass Pina Colada scent as I am (memo to Cremo: when you come out with a shaving cream that smells like bacon, or Dogfish Head 120 Minute, or (dare I dream?) both of them as you chew a huge mouthful of beer and bacon, do a brother a solid and tweet me.)
More gamshave wisdom via the better half: Exfoliating is bullshit. Makes your skin feel softer for a few hours but does nothing for shaving, no matter what the sites selling “shaving loofas” say. What really matters — as always, whether you’re shaving your face or your legs, is softening the whiskers with water and using a good blade. Water is absorbed into the hair and changes its character from copper wire to wet noodle, and wet noodle is most certainly what you want when it comes to good shaving. It takes two minutes for human hair to absorb water and become soft enough to slice through cleanly and easily, so showering before you shave, not after, will do wonders for your legs.
According to Beloved Wife and every female I know, the twin-blade Sensor For Women is the best lady razor in current production. The 3 and 5-blade razors sold to Women under such names as Venus couldn’t possibly be less good for your legs if they had SARS virus built into the lubricating strips. I know men are stupid, buying this crap up by the hectare, but you women are too smart to fall for this nonsense. Avoid any razor with more than 2 blades. Loathe as I am to recommend anything Proctor and Gamble sells, Beloved Wife swears to me that the Sensor For Women is a good gam shaver, which doesn’t surprise me seeing as how the Sensor Excel for men, which uses the same blade carridges, is the only thing Gillette still makes these days that doesn’t wholly suck.
That said, here’s a dirty little secret: the men’s cartridges are better than what Gillette sells to women. A lot better. The white plastic Sensor For Women cartridges are markedly inferior to the grey plastic Sensor cartridges sold to men, even though they both fit all Sensor razors. Don’t believe me? Neither did Beloved Wife, until she tried a men’s Sensor blade in her razor and was shocked by the improvement. Those white Sensor cartridges are nasty business — wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they were seconds off the production line, marketed as gam shavers instead of the off-spec rejects they are. Fit your Lady Sensor with man blades and you’ll be much happier with the cut.
As Beloved Wife discovered, the really good creams like Cremo make all the difference, but maybe you don’t want to spend $20 a tube when you use so much more of this stuff per shave than us men do. So here’s another trick: an economical alternative to high-end shaving cream is plain old hair conditioner, which actually works crazily well as a shaving cream for women’s legs as long as you don’t expect thick, rich, foamy lather. It softens the whiskers and gives great lubrication. Doesn’t need to be the fancy stuff, either — Suave conditioner works just as well as anything else I’ve tried. After showering, apply a liberal amount of hair conditioner to your legs and leave it on for at least a minute before you start shaving. Works a treat as my British editor used to say, and even I hit the conditioner for a shower shave every once in awhile when I’m running late and don’t have time for my usual Little Lord Fountleroy joie de beauty routine that wows them at dropoff/pickup.
As for your husband and his Injector lust, I’ll have more to say once I get this @%#$ blog rebooted with a fresh new coat of paint. I gave up on the Injector a few years ago when Schick switched production of its blades to a new supplier and the quality dropped like a stone. But I just can’t quit this beautiful razor. More to say later.
“We keep a food pantry at our church for individuals who need it to get by. The other day one of our regulars asked for men’s toiletries, toothpaste soap and shaving stuff. Shaving stuff? How could I not have thought of stocking up this essential of human worth and dignity? Kraft Dinner and canned soup are good for your belly, but what about your soul? So my question…what low-cost shaving products could I solicit as donations?”
Excellent question, Padre. The most economical option would be Bic single-edge disposables “for sensitive skin”. Some drugstore chains carry their own house version that seems to be identical and even cheaper. I get the best shaves from any disposable from these BICs, but you need to make sure they’re the single-edge razors, not the twin-blades. Those are pretty rough.
For lather, a bar of Dove soap is cheap, long lasting, and surprisingly good as a shaving soap. Not all bath soaps are. If you want to go with real shaving cream, Palmolive shave cream in the tube is really cheap and very good. Look for the red tube, not the green “brushless” tube, it’s garbage. Red tube’s much better. The scent’s not wonderful but the shave is.
Follow the shave with some witch hazel — $2 a bottle at any drugstore. After trying every post-shave poultice on the market, I’ve come back to simple witch hazel. It Just Works.
Obviously, a straight razor shave using warm water as the only lube is a possibility, as this setup offers great shaving with zero operating costs moving forward. However, the upfront for a decent straight razor is considerable, and I also don’t think it’s wise for churches to be arming people who might be a little jumpy and anxious these days with free cut-throat razors. Love thy neighbor yada yada but it’s probably best we don’t go down that road, yes?
I ran across your blog “Hail Andy!” from almost 4 years ago and am thinking about trying those feather blades. You mention that the Pro Guard blades worked great, but the Professional didn’t. You said you were going to experiment a little more with the Professional and Professional Super, but I can’t seem to find the results.
Did you ever experiment with the other blades? Which would you recommend?
I don’t recommend Feather blades anymore. I experimented with them years ago when I was trying to get the closest shave possible, but I came to the conclusion that the Feathers were bad for my skin long-term. I know these blades have their fans, but I no longer use or recommend them.
Feather is a company that makes surgical blades for the medical industry, and they repurpose some of these blades for men’s shaving. I and many others find their shaving blades to be extremely sharp yet very unforgiving in the context of shaving. Your first few shaves with Feathers are amazing because your chin feels absolutely hairless, like a cue ball. But you’re also left with a lot more nicks and blood than usual, and that tingly feeling you feel for the rest of the day isn’t the mark of a great shave. It’s your skin telling you to back off, you overheated geek, you shaved off too much skin along with your whiskers. Keep using them day after day and your skin will eventually beg for mercy, if you have any left.
I’ve found that for the best shave long-term, you want a blade that’s sharp enough to cut whiskers but not the top layers of underlying skin. I know the hardcore shavegeeks chase the extremities — the sharpest blades, the strongest scent, the softest brush, the cheapest Cheese Whiz — but I think you’ll find that a gentler blade like the Israeli Personnas I use and recommend shaves just as closely as the Feathers without leaving your skin feeling numb and looking pretty beat-up.
For the past several years, no trip to Vegas has been complete without checking in on my pal Daphne Gastis who runs Truefitt & Hill’s shop at Caesar’s Palace. Beyond just the sheer amount of brushes, razors, creams, and assorted poultices to peruse, it’s always a treat talking with Daphne — for some reason, most of the men in this business are odd, cranky loners, but Daphne’s this hip, brainy woman who loves yakkin’ about shavegeekery between keeping the T&H barbers and staff on their toes and running back and forth to Steve “Classy" Wynn’s casino to service its high-end salons with T&H products.
Daphne’s one of the biggest boosters of old-school wetshaving I’ve come across, so I was surprised when she called me this summer to tell me she’d left Truefitt to help start a new company, and that she’d be in touch once they were ready to hit the market.
And so it was that a month ago some product samples showed up, which I’ve been testing and comparing to my usual standbys, waiting to spill the skinny when the brand officially went live. And today marks the launch of a unique new entrant in the high-end men’s wetshaving scene: The Gentlemens Refinery.
The guiding vision behind The Gentlemens Refinery happens to be Daphne’s son, Perry Gastis, who Truefitt-Vegas regulars will remember as one of its master barbers who wrapped their head in hot towels, wielded the Dovo Shavette, and on a bed of Lather-King’d T&H cream shaved them closer than they’d ever been before or ever would be again.
Perry’s been a professional barber for many years, well before his stint with Truefitt, and it’s the barber’s perspective he brings to TGR that sets the brand apart from other newcomers to the men’s grooming counter. Because it was barbers who started this whole trip more than two centuries ago, when all the great English wetshaving firms like Trumper, Taylor, D. R. Harris, and yes, Truefitt & Hill began as barbershops servicing London’s upper crust back when said crust wore top hats, monocles, and indulged itself in a bit of hard, cruel wilding before settling down to a fine tavern sup.
What’s really interesting about the Gastises’ latest move is how it plays against the backdrop of their former employer’s own recent developments. Truefitt’s revamping of its classic colognes and shaving creams, and its emphasis on a new line of more modern-styled grooming products targeted to a younger, trendier demographic point to a move away from the company’s roots as London’s oldest barbershop (est. 1805) and seemingly on a collision course with the more metroey likes of The Art Of Shaving.
Gastis sees things differently. By blending the best of the old ways (barbershop shaving techniques and disciplines) with the best of the new (all-natural ingredients), he’s developed a new line of men’s shaving products which isn’t simply just another minor variation on what’s already been done. And rather than just target the new line to consumers, Gastis always had professional barbers in mind as his true clientèle — so the shaving cream is formulated to work exceptionally well in a Lather-King hot lather machine, a fixture of any self-respecting barbershop. The Gentlemens Refinery’s credo seems to be “please the barber, and his customers will follow”.
TGR’s new line is made up of a shaving cream, a pre-shave oil, an aftershave balm, a moisturizer, and an eye gel. All of The Gentlemens Refinery’s products are made of 100% natural ingredients, with no parabens (widely used preservatives which have been alleged but not yet proven to be carcinogens) or skin-drying alcohol. While Gastis told me he decided to tone down the anti-paraben rhetoric on the final product packaging, he remains committed to keeping TGR’s products free of such ingredients.
Now, here’s the deal. I’m all about all-natural — the less crap we cram down our gullet and cake our pores with, the better. And I fully accept that the down-with-parabens brigade (Hi Chris) may have a point, and that while we may not notice any ill effects from a microgram here and a picoliter there, I’m not saying we may not someday look back on parabens the way we do lead paint chips, the binding of women’s feet, and men’s shaving forums.
I’m just saying that plenty of the very best shaving and grooming products on the market include parabens and alcohol. Nancy Boy, Trumper, Taylor, Truefitt, D. R. Harris — they’ve all got ‘em. George Burns smoked twenty parabens a day, ate a pastrami-and-parabens on rye at the Stage Deli every afternoon, slept on special paraben-coated bedsheets, and only died at 178 because he went swimming too soon after eating a paraben blintze.
I’ll level with you — since the blog started getting some media attention, I’ve started to get all manner of grooming products from all manner of companies sent to me in hopes I’ll blog it. Most of it is just plain forgettable, but unless the product smells like ass, I’ll try it at least once. I mean, you never know whether that unassuming little bottle of whatsis will turn out to be the next Cremo Cream, or the next bit of supporting evidence that we as a people are too fucking stupid to continue.
But The Gentlemens Refinery lineup impressed me right off the bat, and no matter what I threw up against it, I always seemed to come back to using it. Even the excellent eBay-scored Kent shaving soap (which is really Mitchell’s lanolin-tastic Wool Fat shaving soap) couldn’t keep me from reaching for the TGR when I wanted the best possible shave.
The Gentlemens Refinery shaving cream is definitely a New School cream, chock full of good, glisteny glycerin just like Truefitt & Hill’s Ultimate Comfort shaving cream. In fact, it’s so similar to the latter in appearance, consistency, and even scent that I went scurrying to the ingredients lists on both products just to make sure they weren’t the same. They aren’t. While both are made in Canada, the two creams do have different formulas and if you really jam your honker up close, TGR’s cream has a slightly stronger, more complex scent than the UC, which is marketed as an unscented product and has just a very slight lavender scent.
TGR lists a mixture of lavender, ylang ylang, and sandalwood oils as its scent agents, but it’ll take a more discerning schnozz than mine to tell you what “notes” this band’s playing. I can tell you it smells pleasant and subtle, lavendery with a sweeter thing also going on, but this cream is not at all the kind of olfactory sex bomb I’ve come to expect from my favorite English creams like Trumper’s Violet and Taylor’s Rose, and the stateside triple-threat of Nancy Boy’s lavender-peppermint-rosemary wakeup blast. There’s a scent happening, it’s nice and clean, but it doesn’t bowl you over like the heavily-scented creams I like to get off with.
As for the shave, TGR is in that upper tier of creams where ranking becomes a matter of splitting atoms, not hairs. In purely pragmatic terms, The Gentlemens Refinery cream lathers and shaves as well as the very best creams I’ve come to favor, and I’d have no problem using it as my only shaving cream. Its lather is superbly lubricating and protecting, and the extra cushion it provides between the blade and skin remind me very much of the shave I get from Nancy Boy’s cream, which has been my go-to for quite awhile now. Fans of Nancy Boy, and of Truefitt & Hill’s similar Ultimate Comfort shaving cream, now have another option for an upper-tier New School cream that falls somewhere in the middle between the other two on the scent intensity scale.
Being a man of a certain age now, I use moisturizer on my face before I go to bed. Am I proud of this? Of course I’m not. I find the whole thing depressing as hell. But I don’t eat Whoppers and onion rings for lunch anymore like I did all through my 20s, so I don’t have all that nice superfatted goodness coursing through my veins and keeping my skin looking its pasty best any longer. I need to compensate. So I moisturize.
I don’t do the full-on cucumber slices on the eyes and a turban to protect my perm, but I do squirt three drops of rosehip seed oil in my hands and rub them all over my face and neck, and this does keep my skin feeling and looking nice even in the dry winter months. The Fisher King hipped me to the magic of rosehip seed oil awhile back and it’s one of his best tips — it’s cheap, it’s all-natural, and it works crazily well for me.
The Gentlemens Refinery’s moisturizer is a blend of some of the most well-regarded, all-natural skin soothers available — aloe barbadensis leaf juice, Jojoba, shea butter, cocoa butter, glycerin, grapeseed oil, vitamin E, and some ylang ylang and sandalwood oils to carry the family scent across the product line.
This is a very, very effective moisturizer. While it mostly sinks into my skin nicely and doesn’t shine me up like so many other creamy moisturizers I’ve tried, it does leave a moist finish on my skin and keeps me moist till I wake up the next morning. This is serious stuff. I’ve been using a single squirt from the excellent pump applicator, but I could probably get by with half that amount. My skin is crazily sensitive and most moisturizers make me break out, but my skin likes the TGR and I haven’t had any issues at all.
But as good as the shaving cream and moisturizer are, I’ve saved the best for last. And it’s funny, because aftershave is such a, well, afterthought for most of us when it comes to shaving. Most guys I know don’t even bother with it — they just rinse the lather off their face and they’re good to go.
Me, I can’t get away with that. I need closure. I need something that’s going to soothe my freshly-shaven skin and re-moisturize it without leaving my face shiny, stinging, sticky, or smelling funny. Like, sadly enough, most of the even highly-touted aftershaves do.
I basically have three aftershaves that work best for my skin — Trumper’s Skin Food, Nancy Boy’s aftershave, or a few drops of either rosehip seed oil or Jojoba. Everything else I’ve tried that’s currently on the market falls well short of these three.
See? I said “currently on the market” — I gave myself an out. Because D. R. Harris’s wondrous Aftershave Milk, far and away the best aftershave I’ve ever tried, was discontinued earlier this year. Harris still sells something they call Aftershave Milk but it’s not the same stuff — bears no resemblance at all to the old formula, which was unique to the market. A thin, milky liquid, you poured a bit into your hands and wiped it all over your puss, and it sunk instantly and totally into your skin, leaving behind a wonderfully fresh cucumber scent and the feeling that you just had the greatest shave of your life. No shine, no stickiness, no nothing. Just perfectly soothed and settled skin.
The old Aftershave Milk was the perfect aftershave, which is why Harris had to kill it off. I mean, look, of course I don’t know why they did it — for all I know it had parabens out the ass and Harris fanboys were dropping like flies all up and down St. James Street. It was an old formula, I know that, so maybe there was some trouble sourcing some of the arcane ingredients. I don’t know. All the unfounded shavegeek speculation in the world isn’t going to bring it back. It’s gone.
Well, no, not really. Actually, it’s back, and even better than before. Only now it’s called The Gentlemens Refinery After Shave Balm. And believe me when I say this: as great as the original D. R. Harris Aftershave Milk was, the TGR is better. Noticeably better. Simply put, it’s the best aftershave I’ve yet tested. It’s not cheap at $40 a bottle, but like the equally expensive Trumper’s Skin Food, a little goes a very long way — a bottle should last well over a year’s worth of shaving.
The TGR After Shave Balm is thin and runny, and milky white just like the old Harris Milk. it doesn’t have that product’s cucumber scent, but it does have a fresh, earthy scent to it, veering a bit from the rest of the line, though in sixty seconds there isn’t a trace of scent left on your skin.
What’s in this stuff? Glycerin, Jojoba, shea butter, olive oil, allantoin, lime, geranium, and sandalwood oil, and a couple of gums, xantham and acacia, whose purpose I know not of. What I do know is that a squirt of TGR After Shave Balm is the closest I’ve come yet to aftershave nirvana. Like I said, it’s just like the old Harris Aftershave Milk, only moreso. Fans of the discontinued Milk (Hi Gordon) should be plenty happy with Perry Gastis’s take on the ultimate aftershave. I’ve been using this stuff for a month now and I don’t really want to use anything else, even the stuff that I’ve been very, very happy with. That’s how good this new stuff is. TGR’s shaving cream and moisturizer are world-class products, but the real star of this new line is the After Shave Balm.
Okay, so the prices. Yeah. This is expensive stuff. Not crazy expensive like the new Acqua di Parma shaving cream ($54!), but firmly in imported-from-the-UK Trumper territory. The cream is $28 and the After Shave Balm is $40, but TGR takes some of the sting out of it by throwing in free shipping to the lower 48. That’s not cheap, but it’s not as nutty as some of this stuff can get.
I like The Gentlemens Refinery shaving products a lot. They’ve definitely joined my short list of the top-tier products I use every day, and I have no problem recommending them highly to the fussiest shavegeek and newbie alike. It’s great to see a real professional barber like Perry Gastis bring such an impressive and unique line of wetshaving products to a scene that’s lately been overwhelmed by all kinds of me-too designer junk that smells funny and doesn’t really shave any better than drugstore goo. I welcome The Gentlemens Refinery to Planet Shavegeek, and I’ll say it again — TGR’s After Shave Balm is not to be missed. Best. Aftershave. Ever.
Since that Dutch researcher is theoretically paying me 343.873 guilders to deca-opine about modern man (Note to the Netherlands: I want it in stuivers and dubbeltjes, or else the deal’s OFF), I guess my job is to shamelessly work the words “modern man” in for nine more missives, whether it makes any sense or not.
Like I’m really going to stick to this plan — I can barely focus on finishing my breakfast, much less ride a theme for ten straight essays. But the Dutch researcher thing and the guilder joke still have a few drops of milk in their udders, so bear with me.
In our last visit, we examined that curious strain of modern man that battles the onset of comfort-waist pants by donning the cloak of online anonymity to play insert-era-here dress-up and boast of honor-upholding beatings doled out old-school. That’s too many hyphens, probably.
Today we look at the modern man — modern men, actually — who’ve been emailing me lately asking what they should buy for their first safety razor, brush, cream, etc. Before the advent of Cherished Offspring and the calming effect of sleep deprivation, the younger, feistier narrator would’ve hissed, “JFGI”, or at the very least, he would’ve directed his young and earnest supplicates to my original primer on wetshaving and answers most of the questions I get on a daily basis.
But part of being a modern man is getting as good as you give. Some of you pips have turned the tables and paid Miss Havisham back with interest, and for that I wouldn’t trade one or even thirty-seven of the daily “what’s better, an old Gillette DE or a new Merkur?” emails that have now raised a permanent welt on my thigh where the vibrate thingie in my Blackberry rests against it.
For without Young Petrovich’s help with fixing my WordPress template, I’d be just another cantankerous retiree with a laptop trying to force a USB cable into one of the ventilation slots. And The Outlaw Josey Garcia will forever be in the god column for hipping me to the shockingly excellent jammy bottoms at (Lord help me) Old Navy, a cosmic incongruity of such startling head-non-wrappable-around-it that all I can do is stare at the four walls of my office while hallucinatory numbers and equations and all kinds of hooded fleecey shit race by in neat Matrixy rows.
Okay, so what would I recommend for your first foray into proper wetshaving? This:
The Merkur fixed-head DEs can be a mite unforgiving with Merkur’s own blades, but the much smoother Israeli blades really calm these excellent DEs down and let even the newbie get an ungodly close shave without a bloodbath. And if you do get a few nicks, that’s what the alum block’s for. Shaveblog Insider Trading Tip #414: click on the “Buy Now to get a sample” at Encure’s site for a $25 box of 100 blades (2 yrs. worth) if you don’t quite feel like springing for the full 10,500.
The Vulfix brush is the biggest bang for the buck going in a handmade English deluxe-grade badger shaving brush. Most of the forum geeks go for the biggest brush they can hoist, but I’ve gone that route and come full circle to find smaller brushes far more useful and effective, no matter what cream you use. All the best English wetshaving houses from Trumper to Truefitt get their brushes made by Vulfix, and for good reason.
Shaving cream is where the true shavegeek goes nuts, as having a nice variety of pleasing scents to choose from is the pamperingest part of the whole trip. I keep a nice stable of old-school English creams from Trumper and Taylor on hand, but most days it’s Nancy Boy I reach for. Especially for a newbie, NB is much easier to nail the water/cream ratio to get a nice thick lather, and getting this issue out of the way so you can focus on blade technique and developing a lighter touch than when you’re using a Mach3 really shortens the DE learning curve something fierce.
Trumper’s Skin Food remains my favorite post-shave soother, and I usually recommend the Limes version over the original Coral (rose-scented) simply because most newbies, the younger guys especially, haven’t gotten over the whole rose/pink/floral = gay thing yet. Me, I love both versions, but since they’re identical save for the color and a few drops of lime oil, it’s your call. The scent disappears in a few minutes anyway, so you can’t go wrong either way.
The best part of all this is that you’ll start off with this rig, and then once you’re up to speed and feeling all modern mannish and whatnot, you’ll want to hunt the really big game, so you’ll go down all sorts of expensive paths snatching up adjustable DEs, gold-plated vintage Gillettes, scary-sharp extreme-geek blades, gigantic brushes of exotic bristle with more ludicrous backstory than Anderson Cooper, and when your adrenal gland finally gives out and you reach the end of what’s buyable and eBayable, you’ll realize that you never got a better shave than you did with your first Merkur HD and your little Vulfix brush.
Fantasy seems to be a constant theme with modern man (you’ll be seeing the term “modern man” a lot over the next ten Shaveblog installments, because some research study in the Netherlands asked me to do a series of essays on “modern man”, offering 200 bucks upon completion — shyah, like I’m ever going to see guilder one, but it’s a good excuse to get off my ass and write about a subject I know next to nothing about).
When Beloved Wife and I have finally put Cherished Offspring to bed and we’re sitting at our his ‘n’ her Macs winding down with a glass of wine and what-we-do-instead-of-watching-sitcoms, my guiltiest pleasure is checking out Grown Man Dress-Up sites. I thought I’d died and gone to guffaw heaven when I found The Fedora Lounge, a place where men dress up as 1940’s flyboys and dish about spats — TFL’s Matt Deckard has become a web-celeb of sorts, not quite an A-lister like Peter Pan Guy but certainly more of a household name than Mini Gene Simmons. Always in costume, never dropping character, generous with expert tips on how to cop the Elliot Ness look at Nordstrom, Deckard rarely disappoints the true connoisseur of self-immolative web loons. What, you thought real men don’t tuck their undershirts into their Underoos? You stand corrected.
And now, after having run the snooker table and sunk every web-yuk cliche in the book and then some, Planet Shavegeek has joined the ranks of online man-tasy. Specifically, the classic “98-lb. weakling beats up big bully” man-tasy.
First popularized by Charles Atlas on the back of every comic book I ever read growing up, the franchise grew to encompass escapist man-tasy films where scores of solitary milquetoasts rocked suppressed-rage boners as Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood kicked over rows of Harleys outside biker bars, threw much larger stuntmen than themselves around like Raggedy Andy, flipped the bird to anyone in a position of authority and basically made porn for pencil-necks.
The genre finally spent its nuclear fuel and collapsed like a white dwarf star after the Mitty Goin’ Medieval classic "Falling Down" set the bar so high dorks everywhere just sort of retaped the bridges on their nerdlinger glasses and went back to their cubicles, certain they’d witnessed the End of an Era.
When I first got hooked on shaving with old safety razors, I started out with the classic double-edge DE. And I loved this type of razor to death until my pal Gordon (not this Gordon — this Gordon) turned me onto the other classic safety razor from wetshaving’s golden era — the almighty Schick Injector.
At which point I went on a serious, serious bender with these things. Wouldn’t shave with anything else, yoinked as many off eBay as I could, and marveled at how a single-blade safety razor could have zero learning curve compared with a DE and yet shave just as well and maybe even better (actually, so ungodly close my face tingled for an hour and stayed stubble-free till well after I finally went to bed after staying up late to make bloggedy fun of guys who need to ask other guys how to get your face wet with water).
The Injector I love the most is the early version from the 1940’s, with the big brass head and the bakelite handle. These 40’s Injectors look cooler and show more blade than the later Schicks — feed them with modern Schick or Personna Injector blades, or better yet, cut-down Feather disposable straight razor blades and you’ll get a shave so close and so easy it almost takes the fun out of it.
By the mid-‘50’s, though, the Injector took a serious aesthetic nose-dive. The stylish brass shaving head was replaced by a generic stamped-metal assembly, and the cool-man bakelite handles gave way to plastic, and it’s that embarassingly cheap, low-rent plastic that doesn’t age well at all and never quite gets clean no matter how hard you scrub it, so there’s always that sinking feeling as you try not to think about who may have used that razor and where they might have shaved themselves before you wound up with it. I’ve tried boiling these things and they just melt like snowflakes. Hit ‘em with bleach and the cheap metal plating on the head corrodes. You can boil and scrub the hell out of an old Gillette DE till it looks brand spanking new, but funky Schick Injectors from the 50s/60s/70s/80s stay funky for life.
Gordon, our pal Andy and me all have our stashes of vintage Injectors and we swap interesting specimens back and forth for kicks, but we keep having the same conversation about how insanely great it would be if someone came out with a really upscale Injector, something along the lines of the luxurious chrome-plated DE razors Edwin-Jagger makes in the UK. Something really beefy and elegant, as nice to hold as it is to look at.
So imagine my surprise a few months ago when I learned that an outfit called Nationwide Campus was planning to sell newly-manufactured reissues of the 1965 Schick Adjustable Injector and the 1999 “Type O” non-adjustable Injector sold primarily in Japan for the last few years before Schick finally pulled the plug entirely. These razors are officially available today, for $15.99 and $14.99 respectively (plus $5.88 S/H). So for twenty clams you can have a brand new, mint condition Injector. Sounds good, yes?
Nationwide Campus didn’t ring any shavegeek bells, though. Frankly, I’d never heard of them till I caught wind of their planned reissues. I figured that if someone was going to come out with a new Injector, it would be one of the established high-end manufacturers like Jagger or Merkur. They certainly have the tooling in place — all they’d need to do would be to make an Injector-compatible head and screw it onto one of their thick brass handles, and then hold out a big net to catch all the shekels raining down on their heads from the four corners of Planet Shavegeek.
So who’s Nationwide Campus? Well, it’s not a high-end manufacturer of upscale shaving tools. This much I know. The rest is a little murky. From all outward appearances, Nationwide Campus is a kind of “jobber” web site that sells commodity-type items like NBA fan jerseys, batteries, disposable douches, bar stools, cheap perfume, and classy chairs. It’s sort of the online equivalent of a truck stop in Oklahoma that’s got shelf after shelf filled with driftwood Jesus clocks, or when you find yourself on the wrong side of town and there’s all these dollar stores that stretch for entire city blocks with Tazmanian Devil beach towels piled up on the sidewalks next to enormous oil paintings of naked black women lolling around with leopards like that one above Scatman Crother’s bed in “The Shining”. You know the drill.
I called Nationwide Campus a few weeks ago and spoke to Jay, the VP of Sales. Ordinarily I’d applaud a man’s gruff disinterest in shavegeekery and the fetishization of a grooming tool designed to remove facial hair, but jeez, I don’t know, I guess I was hoping for a little more zazz from a guy who was about to relaunch the Injector.
"So how did this project come about?" I asked him.
"I sent some razors to a factory and had them copy them," Jay replied.
"So where are they made?"
"So, China or India?"
And that was pretty much that. A man of few words, and many units to move. But I was curious, and a pathetic Injector fanboy, so I pre-ordered one of the non-adjustable razors and tried to keep an open mind about it.
I don’t mean to pick on Jay and Nationwide. He’s a warehouse jobber, after all, not a Kool-Aid chugging happytime shavegeek. And more power to him — there’s a hell of a lot more people in this world who need these than need quality razors. God knows Schick was never a high-end boutique brand, and neither was Gillette. Only a fool like me constructs elaborate fantasies about old Italian artisans hunched over workbenches of golden oak, holding a loupe to their good eye as they carve endless, perfect ridges into nickel-plated razor handles while Verdi hangs softly in the Florentine air.
So last week I got the new NatCamp Injector in, and took it for a few test shaves. But first, I want to show you something:
This is the lowliest non-adjustable Schick Injector I’ve got — it’s a “Type J1” from the early ’60s, with the rancid off-(i.e. once)-white plastic handle and the generic stamped-metal head that always jiggles loosely on these handles due to nobody giving a shit by this point. But despite all this, it shaves like a dream, like all the Injectors do, even the fugly ones. Because when it came to tooling the blade mechanism and exposure gap — where the rubber meets the road — Schick got it nuts-on. And it’s something you can feel no matter what Injector you shave with.
Now here’s the new Nationwide Campus reissue:
Tell me something: which razor would you rather load a sharp blade into and scrape across your face? The Schick looks straight as an arrow while the NatCamp’s got “cheap Chinese knock-off” written all over it. From the bent safety bar to the ragged metal edges to the cheap rubber handle insert to the unacceptably loose tolerances all around, it’s a disgrace. Only a callow, easily-impressed chump would be taken in by this kind of cheesy build quality. Even with a new Schick blade installed, the middle part of the head assembly moves side to side, taking the blade along with it.
Still, my Type J1 Injector isn’t a prize pig at the county fair either, and it shaves like a madman. Sometimes looks are deceiving.
Except when they’re an excellent indicator of the road ahead, which they definitely are in the case of this reissue. Right off the bat, despite my usual lather o’ the gods courtesy of Nancy Boy’s shaving cream and Simpson’s Wee Scot shaving brush, the NatCamp nicked me something fierce on my neck and left me with a nice red ingrown hair bump — my first in well over a year. It’s still there as I type this, and probably has a few more days to go. The next morning I decided to give the razor a second chance, and I got a second ingrown for a matched set. Lovely.
As far as the rest of the shave went, it reminded me less of a real Injector and more of how a Mach3 or a Quattro cuts. Like you’re scraping your face something fierce, but then after you rinse off at the end and feel your skin, you can still feel stubble. That’s the kind of shave I got from the reissue.
I’ve got dozens of genuine Schick Injectors, and even my least favorite of the bunch shaves circles around this Nationwide Campus razor. From the earliest all-brass “scissor handle” Injector to the gaggle of 40’s bakelite jobs to the alloy-handled “Type F” to the boring but shaveworthy “Type L” (I’ve even got a few “Lady Eversharp” gam’n’minge razors that to be quite honest are excellent men’s razors, pink handles and all), there’s a certain face-feel to the classic Schick Injector shave that carries over from version to version. Sadly, there isn’t even a hint of this quality in the knock-off.
Now, I don’t have a real “Type O” to compare it with, so it’s entirely possible that the Nationwide Campus reissue is simply a perfectly executed clone of a lousy razor. But if that’s the case, why choose a lousy razor to knock off in the first place? Why not reissue a good Injector like the ’40s bakelite model? My suspicion is that the Type O wasn’t the best-ever Injector, but neither was it as rough or cheaply manufactured as this Chinese knock-off.
It’s a real drag, because I was hoping against all odds that this new razor might be something I could recommend to guys who are itching to try an Injector without going the eBay route. But it doesn’t even come close to delivering the classic Injector shave. Honestly, I get better shaves from cheap Bic single-edge disposables. It’s fitting that Nationwide Campus’s reissue doesn’t actually have the name “Injector” anywhere on it. It’s not a worthy representative of the breed.
My advice is to avoid this thing at all costs. Until someone more quality-minded (Jagger! Jagger!) decides to take a stab at it, your $20 is better spent buying a real Injector on eBay and getting the shave you deserve.
The most amazing thing happened to me the other day.
Back when I hit my teens, I graduated from comic books to hifi magazines, partly because DC and Marvel started simultaneously sucking in the 80s but mainly because I wanted to build a stereo so loud it would drown out my dad’s screaming at me to turn that @%#$ music DOWN for @%#$’s sake.
Most of the guys who wrote for hifi magazines in those days were, as they are now, pussies, but there was one guy who towered above them all and who wrote with such a powerful, stripped-down elegance that I became kind of a fanboy and actually went looking in libraries for old back-issues just so I could read more of his stuff. His name was J. Gordon Holt, the best and most important audio writer of them all.
Gordon not only invented subjective (i.e. opinionated) hifi reviewing, but birthed the high-end audio industry itself. Before Gordon launched Stereophile Magazine in 1962, there was no such thing as specialty audio, or audiophiles. The “audio hobbyist” magazines of the 1950s assured their readers that everything sounded pretty much the same, i.e. “just fine”.
Gordon was the first person to say, “Wait a minute — some of this gear sounds like crap, and some of it sounds like live music, and here’s what I’d buy if I were you”. It was a radical stance at the time, and it sparked an upheaval that changed the audio industry on not just the publishing side but the manufacturing side as well.
As high-end audio grew into a billion-dollar industry, Gordon continued to burnish his position as the only rock star audio journalism has ever produced. And years later when I found myself writing for Stereophile and barely believing we shared a masthead, Gordon couldn’t have been more kind, generous, and supportive despite the fact that he was a classical music buff on first-name basis with conductors while I eschewed underpants and judged speakers based on how pristinely they conveyed the harmonic delicacy of the Sonics.
So anyway I got an email out of the blue recently from a fine young gentleman named Charles who introduced himself by saying we’d actually met fifteen years ago in Santa Fe when he was a kid and I was writing for a magazine there which had been founded thirty years earlier by his father — Gordon Holt!
Charles had come upon Shaveblog without knowing of my connection to his father — just another guy looking for a better shave. So we e-yakked about shaving and he caught me up on what his dad’s been up to since he “retired”, and now miracle of miracles, Gordon and me are emailing each other on our Macs after over a decade since we last spoke. I’m thinking god, how “Circle Of Life” is this? I’m a kid who went looking for info and found Gordon, and now his kid’s gone looking for info and found me, which led me back to Gordon.
So then Charles says he has something to send me. A few days ago I get a large package in the mail, and it’s a framed, signed print of an old cartoon that Gordon drew back in the ’50s for the Saturday Evening Post back when he thought he wanted to be a cartoonist.
Ahh, summer. Though it’s only 6/6/6 and we’ve still got two weeks and a day till the official start of summer, we’ve had a few days of searing, wavy-lines-off-the-sidewalk kind of heat here on the Forgotten Coast. And that can only mean one thing to inveterate Shaveblog readers:
It’s shaving season again!
Yes, Planet Shavegeek rejoices once more, as cruel, cruel winter recedes to her Stygian depths, taking with her the dry skin and the merely adequate shaves I’ve been putting up with lo these many months of frigid darkness, wondering, in private moments of despair, if the season-long string of partly crappy shaves meant that I’d— dare I even think it? — lost my way.
But today’s shave put that light-starved jibber-jabber to rest, because I finally got my ass in gear and made it over to the YMCA after, christ, a month at least of shameful torpor. It felt good to sweat like a pig again, to put in the hour of cardio and weights and then sit for awhile in the sauna, letting the sweat stream down from the top of my head and marinate my whiskers (that’s right — I always save my shave for the Y). I sit there in the steam room and rub my face, working the sweat into my beard, accelerating the process of softening up the hair for the kill. The other guys stare, sure, but out of awe, not discomfort. Definitely awe.
Proraso may be my favorite hot weather shaving cream. Chock full of skin-friendly eucalyptus oil and menthol, Proraso shaves as well as any of the high-end English creams like Taylor and Trumper, but it’s got this wicked-excellent ice cold smack at the end of the shave when you rinse your puss with cold water. Really, there’s nothing else like it on the market.
Today’s shave was the best I’ve had in months. Unless I’m dicking around with a new razor or cream and the whole thing goes out the window, my shaves have been consistently good since I started sticking to the Super Speed razor and the Israeli blades. This mild-mannered DE and these mild-mannered safety blades stand in stark contrast to the pinhead escapades on the shavegeek forums, where urinal cake salesemen from Modesto do that barking thing they do during Tim Allen concerts and wield manly, skin-peeling rigs like Merkur Slant Bars loaded with Feather Platinum blades, or Merkur adjustables cranked up all the way so you’re not shaving with a razor anymore, you’re shaving with a blade on a stick.
Hey, I play around with razors, too. In the last week alone I’ve shaved with the Merkur HD (still the best razor Merkur ever made), an all-metal Schick Injector I yoinked on eBay, a stick-shift knobbed Injector from the same yoinked lot, and even a hundred year-old Gillette DE Beloved Wife got me, which was sweet beyond words but kind of like Ferdinand giving Imelda another pair of shoes.
Shavetention Deficit Disorder keeps me from settling down with one true rig, but god help me, it’s the 40’s Super Speed — The Little DE That Could — that gives me the best, most consistent shaves. And no matter what other blades I try, I keep coming back to the Israelis as the best combination of closeness and comfort. If I’d known about these blades as a newbie, lots less blood would’ve been shed, let me tell you.
That said, there have been shaves these past few months that weren’t all that great. Good, but not great. Close, but not super close. Little patches of micro-stubble around the base of the neck I could feel with my fingertips, even if nobody else except Harvey could see it. I blamed myself, and lived with the shame, forgetting it was the winter blues that were limiting my shaves to those of a commoner.
Well, today marked the return of wetshaving as usual. A good workout to get the blood flowing and the face swelling, a nice sit in the sauna to open the pores and soften the whiskers, and that time-tested, money-in-the-bank combo of a Gillette DE, a Simpson brush, and Proraso shaving cream.
When it’s hot outside, I’m more than willing to put up with Proraso’s not-terribly-shavegeek-swooning scent (think Vick’s Vapo-Rub pulling a train with Noxzema and Hall’s Mentho-Lyptus) just to get that spectacular shave and the bracing cooldown at the end that lasts for a nice long while. Used to be you could only find Proraso at Italian markets, oronlinefromtheusualsuspects. Now Target (!) of all places stocks it, making it even easier to pick up a $10 tube of this insanely great Italian marvel.