I’ve never been one to look on the morning shave as a chore. We males have few rituals to enjoy, and those few minutes spent with badger brush and blade, rare and precious scents wafting in the steam about our heads, are a magnificent start to the day.
Recently, the shaving cream I’d come to rely on like an old friend was drastically re-formul-ated, its clean, natural smell replaced by the manufactured pong of a cheap after-shave. It was a traumatic experience, and I have no wish to relive it here. But the silver lining was that it launched me on a voyage of discovery — into a sea of new, much more luxurious products.
My first stop was Carter and Bond (carterandbond.com), online purveyors of everything the serious wet-shaver could possibly demand, up to and including cut-throat razors. Carter’s is one of the few places that the British gent can get his hands on Musgo Real, a lovely old Portuguese cream. I was very tempted by its soothing and subtle aroma (rather like fresh-cut grass), but the problem is that it only comes in a brushless version. There are, I’m told, several solid, practical reasons why a brush leads to a more comfortable and closer shave, but really I’m against brushless simply because it removes from the operation an important element of theatre.
Simpsons shaving brushes (a-simpson. co.uk) are possibly the best in the world, and entirely handmade. The company is so old-fashioned that things have now come full circle, and Simpsons finds itself at the cutting edge of green energy: the lathes are still powered by the workshop’s water-mill. Even the names of the models are enough to whet the appetite: the Wee Scot, the Chubby, and the Major (the last one being a simple but ingenious travel brush originally designed for the intrepid Himalayan explorer Major Victor Beeching).
But into what should I dip my Simpsons best badger? Well, it turns out that most of the best shaving merchandise comes from those two small parts of the world known as Mayfair and St James’s. If that sounds horribly smug coming from a born-and-bred Londoner, I should point out that it is a conclusion I reached only after trawling the American-dominated ‘shave forums’.
The shave geeks take their beard-removal extremely seriously, even eschewing the modern multi-blades in favour of cut-throats, or at least old-school, double-edged safety razors. Although, of course, their real enjoyment of the whole procedure emanates from the brushes, creams, soaps and after-products. Like Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet (penhaligons.co.uk), whose woody undertones are cut through with the zing of more youthful citrus notes. It was a favourite cologne of Churchill’s, and is nowadays also available as a very smoothly performing shaving cream. Santal, similarly scented, is another lovely lubricant, this time presented by the granddaddy of all toiletry companies, Floris, established 1730 (florislondon.com). To enter No. 89 Jermyn Street is to feel a frisson down one’s spine, remem-bering that it was in this very premises that the great Beau Brummell himself would sit for hours talking smells with the second Mr Floris. The current, eighth-generation progeny follow in the founder’s fine foot-steps, filling their mahogany cabinets (these purchased from the Great Exhibition of 1851) with a wealth of wonderfully scented merchandise for men and women.
But being a modern sort of a chap, and one comfortable in his appreciation of the opposite sex, I have no hesitation in equally endorsing a Californian newcomer to the market: Nancy Boy (nancyboy.com). Springing from the herb garden of a gay couple in San Francisco, the two shaving creams in particular are excellent products which I would put on a par with those of the great English houses in terms of performance, aroma and avoidance of artificial ingredients.
Having covered the market from Churchill to Nancy Boy, and in possession of a bathroom cabinet fit to burst with all manner of luxurious unguents, I find myself unable to plump for just one. I can, however, personally attest to all the merchandise mentioned on this page — with the exception of the cut-throats. In fact, I have a confession to make regarding my weapon of choice, one which will have me immediately ostracised by my new friends on the forum: I use a boring, plasticky Gillette Mach 3.