Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Annual Beard Growing Experiment

Normally, I can't grow more than a couple of day's worth of facial hair before the urge to shave becomes overwhelming. However, for the last few years, usually around October/November, I find that not only can I go longer without shaving before caving into the need to reach for my razor, but part of me actually wants to know if I can pull off a bearded look (this seasonal change in attitudes is usually accompanied by an increased interest in folk music from colder climes, knitted woolen products, and the sudden decision that porage is an edible breakfast food after all).

This time around, I've managed to last long enough for my facial hair to go from proto-beard (my previous growth cutoff point, pun intended), to something I can claim as an actual, honest Beard. I've decided I'm going to keep it, urge to shave be damned, at least until I've had my first bottle of Muskoka brewery's Winter Beard Stout for the year (available from November 1st).

I suspect that over the course of the rest of the month, and quite possibly beyond, I'll end up learning a thing or two about maintaining facial hair (my current expertise is exclusively in it's removal); how to properly define a beard's lower limit, and how to shave with even more precision than before as I try to keep my neck clean-shaven without ruining the line of what I wish to keep. I may even, finally, be able to own a first-hand opinion on some of our (apparently) very good mustache and beard waxes. I'll be reporting back with any advice, lessons learned, and useful sources of information of potential interest to my readers- stay tuned.




Monday, September 29, 2014

Royall Lyme Interview


Royall are a classic brand from the sunny British Overseas Territory of Bermuda. Known especially for their zesty Royall Lyme and masculine Royall Rugby fragrances, Royall are a favorite perfumer for men around the world. Learn more about them from our interview with Philip Sabatino, President of the Royall Lyme brand. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Safety razors, handles, and tactile feedback

Earlier this year, Edwin Jagger introduced a new line of razors with an emphasis "grippier" or longer handles (the shave head remains the same). Some have added texture- there is a model with barbell-like knurling, another with a very refined and subtle barley pattern (see below), and one with a 3D diamond pattern laser cut into the handle. Others have rubber coated handles, and finally there are some long-handled versions of existing models.


I'm not gifted with an over-abundance of manual dexterity. I find that using a shorter handled razor improves my technique, whether I'm thinking about technique or not. The fact that I have to hold it a bit more delicately reminds my hand that my technique NEEDS to be more delicate. In other words, tactile feedback matters. I love the heft of the longer handled razors, but to me, shorter models "feel" more maneuverable and precise (a personal preference obviously, I think I've met more men with a preference for the larger models).

One of my favorite articles on design is a criticism of touchscreens, and how they rob us of tactile feedback in our interactions with technology (I still stubbornly use my antiquated Blackberry because I'd rather be able to feel my keyboard than have a larger screen to browse on). One of the things I love about safety razors is how they feel in the hand. Even when I was using cartridge razors that gave me a decent shave (the King of Shaves Azor wasn't bad), I never particularly looked forward to handling the razor. The quality of a shave will be largely down to the shave head and the blade, but the experience of actually using a razor is as much about the handle, hence there are enthusiasts selling aftermarket handles for popular shave heads. As well as feeling more impressive in the hand, traditional razors tend to engage more of your senses and give you much more feedback about your shave, as it happens rather than five minutes later via razor burn.

It is a "feature" of many modern cartridge razors that they allow the shave head to flex and follow the contours of the skin, ostensibly to help the blade stay close and achieve a better shave.  Gillette's latest and most complicated looking razor, the "Proglide FlexBall" has a hinge intended to allow the blade to maintain maximum contact as it moves over the contours of a man's face. Great in theory, but these features essentially take control away from the user and gives it to the razor (or Gillette's product designers). I suspect the FlexBall hinge will act like a really soft suspension on a car- you will get very little feedback from it while it's in use. To me, this is a recipe for a poor shave, not a great one. A single edge razor with an inflexible head gives you a good feel for what you are doing (and with a single, thin blade often gives audible feedback as well).

As for the new Jagger models; I really like what I've seen of them so far, the shorter handled, non-rubber models appeal to me particularly, and while they don't offer significantly more feedback than the older models (for that, you'd probably need a nice hollow-ground straight razor), they have a lot of character and feel very interesting in the hand.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reasons not to buy a straight razor

We love straight razors, and a large number of hits on our website and this blog are from people looking for information on them. If you are one of them, you probably already understand the appeal of getting one. In the name of balance, and to help you weigh up your decision, here is our only occasionally tongue-in-cheek list of reasons NOT to get one.

Straight razors need maintenance

Sure, you'd never need to buy another blade again, but the one you have will need regular care and attention. Are you really going to take a minute or two out of every morning to go through the ritual of stropping it? Are you prepared to learn to hone it (and to look after your honing stones), or send it out to get honed once or twice a year? Will you remember to oil it now and then? These aren't deal-breakers for many people, but certainly this is more effort than your cartridge razor has ever demanded.

Straight razors demand patience

With proper care and attention, a straight razor will deliver the best shave of your life, but stop paying attention, and you WILL cut yourself. Don't believe me? I have visible scar tissue on my chin from the time I was shaving in a small bathroom and managed to knock the light switch with my elbow. In my initial moment of confusion, I managed to hit myself in the face with the Wade and Butcher wedge razor pictured in this article. It was not pretty, and 4 years later I can still show you the scar. The razor and I are still on good terms, and my chin still seems to do...whatever it is chins are for... just fine. If I'm feeling impatient or hurried though, I save the straight razor shave for another day and use one of my safety razors.

On a related note:

They are less safe than safety razors (duh!)

Provided you use it properly, you'd have to be very unlucky to do anything seriously life changing/ending in the normal process of shaving with a straight razor. All the examples I can find in a quick search are due to infection rather than blood loss, and are not coincidentally from before the era of antibiotics. Still... in thousands of years of human history, someone must have managed to actually cut themselves to death with one. Nicks have the potential to be deeper as straight razors lack the safety bar that give safety razors their safety.

There is a learning curve

Getting to know a straight razor is a journey. Sure, all razors have a learning curve to some degree, but a straight razor will demand much more from you than even the most aggressive safety razor, and your very first shaves with it may not feel great. You will have to get to know the contours of your face and the growth directions of your facial hair in a level of detail you never imagined. On the bright side, if you make progress up this learning curve, then decide straight razors aren't for you, you'll be that much better at shaving when you stitch back to something less demanding.

They cost more

...initially. The real barrier here is initial cost of the razor, strop and (optionally) hones. If you're on a budget but interested in straight razors, this can be the major factor holding you back from trying. In the longer term, an entry level straight razor should pay for itself within a few months to a couple of years compared to the more expensive cartridges. Compared to a traditional safety razor with double edge blades, or a Dollar Shave Club style arrangement, a straight razor will take a little longer to pay for itself, but over a long enough time should save you $. If nothing else on this list puts you off trying one, then you probably shouldn't let cost hold you back. If it does, then maybe double edge razors are more your speed.  

You may become a snob

Once you've had your first perfect shave, you won't want anything less. You've been warned. If you are used to flying hand baggage only, be prepared to start packing hold baggage just as an excuse to take your razor with you. You may find yourself sneering at products in the men's grooming aisle of your local drugstore. There is a distinct risk that you will gravitate towards specialist shaving forums to discuss the pro's and con's of particular types of razor, shaving creams, technique, etc. This may hurt productivity in other areas of your life.

You might end up with a collection

Sure, one good straight razor should be enough for anyone. But there are many really NICE designs out there; from your basic, reliable Dovo "Best Quality", to Boker's Damascus steel blade, to a Thiers Issard with genuine mammoth horn scales. And that is just new, current production razors. Vintage restoration is a whole other (and rather more complicated) ballgame. Get hooked on straight razors, and you may need either plenty of willpower, or plenty of disposable income, and quite possibly a forgiving partner.

Visitors using your bathroom may be intimidated

Using a straight razor is a little bit dangerous, albeit in a fine-if-you're-careful, vaguely-life-affirming sort of way. After all, an infected cut from a straight razor killed of Lord Carnarvon, though a mosquito, lack of antibiotics, and if you believe some people, Tutankhamun's curse share rather more of the blame. Still, some people may not understand the appeal of it. Case in point; I once, briefly left my travel shaving kit on a bathroom counter at a friends house. I later heard from my host that another guest went to use the bathroom in the meanwhile and was apparently scared by my shaving hardware. Bear in mind that my travel razor at the time was a Merkur 34 safety razor. If that intimidated them, imagine what they'd have thought of me if I'd brought one of my straight razors instead!

If after all this, you still wish to join me among the ranks of Straight Razor Shavers, may I humbly suggest taking a look at Kaliandee's selection. It currently includes popular models from Boker and Dovo, including the affordable Dovo "Best Quality" already named in the article, which is an excellent model for the beginner (I have one myself), and we have more models and brands on the way. If I've put you off straight razors, maybe a safety razor is for you?


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gillette Vintage (1920's) Travel Razor

Last month my wife bought me a vintage Gillette travel razor as an anniversary gift; I've been using it on and off for a month, and think it's high time I showed it off.

I consider vintage razors like this to be proof, were it needed, that traditional safety razors can stand the test of time*. This model is already older than my Grandparents, and will probably still be delivering good shaves when the latest Fusion cartridge is obsolete.

This 1920's** razors has clear similarities to currently available models, but also a notable difference.


Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, assembled front view
Note the open comb

Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, assembled rear view
Brass ages well

Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, in case
I haven't dared use the old blade, it's currently fitted with a Wilkinson
The similarities between this vintage model and ones available today is clear, and for the probably obvious reason that they all use the standardized double edge blade, and there are only so many shapes that make sense for this- something to hold the blade, and something to hold the razor by. 

This model is a three piece design, much like Jagger/Muhle razors. This works well for travel as it allows it to be disassembled into a fairly low-profile case, though this is still much larger than Merkur's travel razor. It is also a bit simpler to make. Some people find two piece razors easier for blade changes, but the difference is pretty minor. 

The biggest difference between this razor and most to be found on the market today is the shave head. First of all, it is brass, and like the rest of the razor, it is not chrome-plated. Most modern safety razors use a shave head cast from zinc alloy and plated in chrome or nickel (iKon are an exception). 

A cast zinc head used to be the mark of a cheap "pot metal" razor, as the older zinc alloys were very prone to corrosion if the plating was chipped in any way. Today, these alloys are much more resistant, although good plating is still important for shave quality. It is much easier to cast a precise shape from zinc than it is to create a similarly precise shave head by machining brass or stainless steel. This use of cast shave heads helps to keep modern safety razors affordable without any detriment to the shaving performance, but is probably why modern shave heads are noticeably "chunkier" in profile than the vintage Gillette. With no need to plate the head, the whole razor is left as plain brass.

This razor gives an enjoyable shave, somewhere between my Edwin Jagger and Merkur 34 for comfort and closeness. Currently it is my only open comb razor. 

If you are interested in picking up a good quality new safety razor razor to be someone's future heirloom, check out the selection in the Kaliandee store

*Of course, travel was less affordable and accessible to most people in the 1920's, so a razor aimed at someone who traveled enough to need a travel razor was probably not a cheap, "low-end" model, which possibly also contributed to it's survival. 

**my expertise is not in vintage razors, so this dating could be wrong, but I'm fairly confident in it.




Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Kaliandee Guide to Summer

Fun though Winter sports can be, Summer is most people's favorite time of year; or is at least the time of year when most people feel like they ought to be enjoying themselves. Some of us however are rather less adept than others at coping with Summer's few downsides.

1) Summer Skincare

The most important skincare consideration in the Summer is to avoid sun damage. Technically, this is a year-round issue, but people tend to expose a lot more skin in the Summer so it becomes much more pertinent. 

The skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and if your diet is in any way vitamin D deficient, some exposure is healthy. Sunlight would also appear to have an effect on mental health, as bright light therapy has shown to be an effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, extended exposure brings with it the risk of sunburn, skin cancer, and aging effects (and despite the implications of some skincare marketing, skin aging cannot be reversed). Several health organizations have endorsed 15 minutes of unprotected exposure (per day) as being optimum for receiving health benefits from sunlight. Anything beyond that, and you are advised to cover up. 

Sunscreen
If you are relying on sunscreen, there are 4 things you need to bear in mind.
  1. Pick one with an SPF of 30 or higher. If you are fair skinned, aim higher.
  2. Pick one that protects against ultraviolet A and B rays ("UVA" and "UVB")
  3. Be plentiful- it's easy to apply too little. Follow the instructions on the pack or aim for about a palm's worth, and don't forget your face, the back of your hands, feet if wearing sandals etc. If you are fair skinned, you may need more.
  4. Reapply- Even sunscreen meant for use while swimming will rub or wash off. Reapply at least once an hour- money wasted on sunscreen is better than money wasted on aftersun.
Some people have concerns about the safety of sunscreen, but they are rigorously tested products, and all the medical evidence so far says sunscreens are far safer than skin damage.

Shade and Clothing
I personally don't rely entirely on sunscreen. I've come to the conclusion that old-school explorers with their long sleeve shirts and brimmed hats had the right idea, and I think it's foolish to ignore the fact that the Tuareg, the Indians, and other inhabitants of hot climates tend to cover up. 

A good summer shirt (loose fitting, linen, long sleeves with a button to hold them loosely in place when rolled up) is often the better choice than a t-shirt or tank top. A shirt is more versatile than a t-shirt; sleeves can be rolled down to cover the arms or up to make the most of a breeze, collars can be raised to protect the neck, buttons can be undone to expose more skin without having to go shirtless, and you look smarter too (it is easier to dress down a shirt than dress up a t-shirt).

To help protect the face, a hat with a brim is ideal. There is a time when no sensible person would leave the house without a hat- this is a habit people really ought to re-adopt. Preferences will vary, but I favor a straw fedora or trilby. Goorin Bros. make some nice examples, though there are cheaper options that will work equally well (I've had several compliments for the £10 hat I picked up in an English supermarket).

If you are planning a day on the beach, it is highly recommended that you bring some kind of shade with you.

Skincare routine
You may find that your skin changes with the seasons- usually in how dry/oily it is. You may need to adjust to a lighter or heavier moisturizer to accommodate this. Geo. F. Trumper's Extract of Limes Skinfood is a great Summer option if you need to go for a lighter one.

Geo. F. Trumper Extract of Limes Skin Food; a good, light moisturizer
Geo. F. Trumper Extract of Limes Skin Food; a good, light moisturizer


2) Dealing with Sweating

Being sweaty is not in itself a bad thing, it is a necessary body function to keep your body within its safe operating temperature. The undesirable side of sweating is a) Body odor, and b) Sweat patches. 

As someone who sweats rather easily and copiously (though I have the good fortune to be as tolerant to cold as I am intolerant to heat), I've picked up a few coping strategies over the years. 

Go old-school and layer products

Body powders (mainly, but not exclusively talcum powders) are excellent, and often overlooked products. They have fallen somewhat out of favor thanks the successful marketing of spray-on and roll-on deodorants, and due to concerns about safety. As long as you buy from reputable brands, and don't go out of your way to inhale large quantities of the stuff, talcum powders are generally considered safe. Clubman, D.R. Harris, Taylor of Old Bond Street, and LUSH Cosmetics all make great options.

Pinaud Clubman Finest Talc
Pinaud Clubman Finest Talc


For me, talc has two main benefits. Firstly, while it doesn't stop sweating, it seems to buy a little extra "dry time". Secondly, I find that the application of dusting powder makes all the difference in scent. My wedding day was a stifling 31°C with high humidity, and I was wearing a 3 piece bespoke suit. At the end of the day, my suit and I, while slightly disheveled, still smelled mainly of Clubman Pinaud's Finest Talc, which I'd layered on top of my regular deodorant. 

Osma Alum Block
Osma Alum Block


Another product worth trying is an Alum block. Normally used as a post shave treatment, these crystals of hydrated potassium aluminium sulfate is antibacterial and mildly antiperspirant, and can help reduce odor. 

D.R. Harris Arlington Stick Deodorant
D.R. Harris Arlington Stick Deodorant


For best results, try layering one or both of these with a good quality conventional deodorant, such as D.R. Harris' Arlington Stick Deodorant.


Clothes

As I said above, on all but the most humid, still days, a good summer shirt is usually the better option than a T or tank top. Picking clothes that protect you from direct sun while being light enough to allow sweat to evaporate is a great help. 

Don't overdo the air conditioning

Years ago I read "Unscathed: Escape from Sierra Leone" by Major Phil Ashby. Phil Ashby was a Royal Marines officer sent to Sierra Leone as a military observer, who eventually found himself on the run from rebel fighters with three other officers. He mentioned in the book that, unlike most of his fellow observers, he chose to make minimal use of air conditioning when he arrived in country, so as to better acclimate to the heat. Later, while on the run, he credited this with making his time on the run from rebel fighters marginally less miserable. 

Reading this inspired me to cut back on my AC use during Summer. I've found that this works well. If you are in reasonable shape and take proper precautions to avoid heatstroke and dehydration (and over-hydration), working out in the heat seems to assist this acclimation.

I'm not suggesting that you give up using your AC entirely, but restricting it's use for only the hottest times of day will help to make venturing outside less unpleasant.

...............................................................


Now it's time for me to venture out into the heat to check out Toronto's World Pride celebrations. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Wet-Shaving Setup

Just a quick post today; I thought someone out there might be interested in what's in my shave den, and which products I use regularly.

Safety Razors:
Merkur 34
Merkur Futur (the matte version)
Edwin Jagger DEL8614BL (long handle, imitation ebony)

Straight Razors:
Vintage Sprock 5/8 hollow ground
Vintage Wade and Butcher near wedge
Dovo "Best Quality"
A hollow ground razor marked only with "Solingen"

Brushes: 
Edwin Jagger 181P27 Best Badger
Vie Long Badger & Horse mix with wooden handle (currently on loan to a friend)
Men-U Barbiere Pure Bristle (boar)
"Invisible Edge" Pure Badger (currently on loan to a friend)

Creams:
Proraso Menthol & Eucalyptus (currently on loan to a friend)
Truefitt & Hill West Indian Limes
Boots Cool Cologne Lather Shave Cream
Boots Freshwood Brushless Shave Cream
Men-U Concentrated Shave Creme
Mondial Sandalwood
Mondial Zagara
Bulldog Original Shave Gel
King of Shaves Alphagel

Soaps:
Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood
Edwin Jagger Sea Buckthorn
Williams Mug Soap
Osma Shaving Soap with Alum
Col. Conk Amber Glycerin
Col. Conk Bay Rum travel soap
Boots Travel Shave Stick

Other:
Osma Alum block
Proraso Menthol & Eucalyptus Pre & Post
Various brush and razor stands
2 Dovo strops
Assorted Edwin Jagger cream and lotion samples
Various brands of blades
Shaving Mug


My current favorites:
Obviously, not all of this gets used every day. A lot of it was bought more out of curiosity than expectation of it being good (mostly the cheaper products like Williams mug soap).

I'm on a bit of an Edwin Jagger kick at the moment, so the combination I've been using most often in the last few weeks is my Edwin Jagger or Men-U brush, the Edwin Jagger DE razor with Feather blades, and the Edwin Jagger Sea Buckthorn soap in combination with the Truefitt and Hill cream. Lately I've not felt the need to use pre-shave, but I still tend to finish off with alum.

The bad:
Bear in mind that "your mileage may vary"; products that I hate may be loved by others.

The non-lathering creams really don't work for me with single edge razors, though I really liked the King of Shaves gel back when I was still using cartridges. The Osma shaving soap was also a big disappointment: I liked the scent but the lather actually irritated me, it has spent the last few years on a shelf.

The Boot's own brand cream and soap (Boot's is a chain of drugstores in the UK) and the Williams Mug soap aren't great performers, but they do get the job done and at that price point I don't feel I can call them bad products.

Men-U's concentrated cream didn't do a lot for me, although I'm still not convinced I'm lathering it right. That said, if it's harder to use than the $2 Williams mug soap, then some criticism is justified.

The rest:
I liked both my Merkur razors just fine before the Jagger came along, and the DEL8614BL only beats them by a small margin- the chrome on it is fantastic though. I prefer the 34 to the Futur, but have no regrets at purchasing the Futur (I bought it at full retail price).

My straight razors are all overdue a good honing, but when they're actually in shaving condition I tend to favor the Wade and Butcher for those rare occasions when I have more than a week's growth, and the Dovo for everything else. The hollow grind of the Dovo lets you feel each hair "pop" as the blade cuts it, whereas the wedge grind of the W&B relentlessly plows through the thickest stubble with barely any noise or feedback.

All four brushes are more than capable of whipping up excellent lather. I slightly favor the Edwin Jagger best badger, but the Men-U also stands out for me. I purchased it at the same time as the Boot's own brand creams, and was surprised at how good it was for £10- I have something of a preference for stiffer brushes.

I've hinted at my attitudes to cheaper and more expensive soaps and creams in the post on superlathering; I find that you generally get what you pay for, but cheaper products can still be fun to use, especially in combination with others. In the warmer months I particularly appreciate the scent of Edwin Jagger's Sea Buckthorn soap (now discontinued, but Muhle's Sea Buckthorn is identical), and find that it shaves at least as well as my winter favorite, Taylor of Old Bond Street's Sandalwood.

I'm less fussy about creams than soaps, and find that Proraso, Truefitt and Hill and my Edwin Jagger samples all offer equally good shaves. I tend to choose between them purely on the basis of scent.