Dec 1, 2013

Some Seasonally Scented Shave Soaps: Barrister & Mann "Hallows" vs. How to Grow a Moustache "Pumpk'n 3.14"

Sharpologist Scent Off logo designed by Douglas Smythe

Single blade shaving is a whole Thing. [Here is my overview of traditional wet shaving.] You either do it or you don't and, if you do, you really, really do. At least, that's what a passing glance at the internet community built around wet shaving would lead one to believe.

The revelatory nature of switching to single blade shaving from using cartridges or an electric razor makes for zealous converts. [A future piece on this website will make a case for the argument that you should certainly consider making the switch.] Check out /r/wicked_edge or Badger & Blade and you will find a horde of men and women discussing: straight razors vs. DE razors vs. SE razors; soaps vs. creams; vegan soaps vs. tallow soaps; pre-shave prep & post-shave care methods; brush handle size; brush bristle length & diameter; bristles made of horse/badger/boar hair vs. synthetic bristles. You will find the same people, some clearly channeling their addictive personalities into this grooming practice, posting "shave porn" photographs of bathroom shelves bent under the collective weight of their paraphernalia. Like I said, It's a Thing.

One of the biggest sub-Things about wet shaving is what you use to lather your face. Sure, there are no doubt some sick puppies out there who stick with their canned foams and gels but for most practitioners that is downright sacrilege. The reverent initiate uses a soap or a cream and whips it with a brush into something resembling the top of a cremé pie. Shaving soaps and creams are a rabbit hole the likes of which Alice herself never came across, friends. Be warned. Legion are the innocent who decided they'd try one of these luxury products and woke up a year later, bills unpaid, clothes torn, the camera crew from My Strange Addiction knocking on the door... Okay, maybe not. But the wet shavers like their soaps and a great obsession for these folks is scent. Odd, considering the neurochemistry of our sense of smell. An odor which calls to mind fond childhood memories to one will cause another to turn away in disgust. Another peculiarity here is that the scent of a shave soap is not designed to stay about your person once the shave is over. It's purely for the shaver's indulgence during the shave and nothing more. Nevertheless, it is a topic of much enthusiastic conversation and users are eternally comparing their experiences with particular scents offered by particular brands.

Enter the Scent Off.

Wet shaving guru mantic59's website, Sharpologist, is hosting this contest that challenges six artisanal shave soap manufacturers to produce a seasonal scent and submit it for evaluation by a panel of judges, of which I am not one. I have, however, been lucky enough to obtain two of the entries, one of which only had an extremely limited 33 puck run. So I feel obligated to review at least that soap and may as well compare it to the other.

How to Grow a Moustache Synergy Pumpk'n 3.14 Shave Soap info

How to Grow a Moustache is an all-things-man website providing articles, podcasts and grooming products geared towards, you guessed it, men. Having already produced a game-changer of a vegan shave soap, Synergy, lauded for its instant, blooming lather and easy-to-use wide tin format, HTGAM set their sights on producing a pumpkin pi(e) scent to end all others. They have.

Pumk'n 3.14

"Description: This version of Synergy is its own special blend. We added Pumpkin Seed Oil (a rich source of skin shielding vitamins and minerals), Pumpkin Enzyme Powder, Organic Yellow Dock Root, Maca Root, Chaulmoogra Oil, Neem Oil & Aloe Vera Extract (for scent, color & more skin food).

Ingredients: Organic Kokum Butter, Organic Mango Butter, Organic Cocoa Butter, Chaulmoogra Oil, Organic Avocado Oil, Organic Pumpkin Oil, Organic Castor Oil, Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Organic Neem Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerine,Purified Water, Sodium & Potassium Hydroxcide, Soy Bean Protien, Aloe Extract, Pumpkin Powder Enzymes, Yellow Dock Root, Maca Root & Essential Oils

Note: This product does contain cinnamon & clove oil and may not agree with all. If you have sensitive skin this is not the soap for you! Try our Lime, Vanetiver, Lavender Cedar or Scentless.

Here we are presented with many unusual ingredients. One imagines a company so dedicated as to produce that formula would be equally invested in giving it a desirable scent. HTGAM does not disappoint. Their Bay Rum and Lime scents each warrant a daily stop-and-smell. This Pumpk'n is triply pleasant and extremely strong. To my nose, though, it smells more like cinnamon (particularly, Red Hots candy) and graham crackers than it does an actual pumpkin pie. [Douglas of HTGAM has pointed out to me that graham crackers were invented in his neighboring town of Bound Brook, NJ. Coincidence?! Maybe if you haven't considered the divine purpose behind the creation of those delightful crackers. Heavenly cracker, heavenly scent.] Still, very much of-the-season while also suitable for year-round usage. 10/10, one of the best things you will ever smell. 

More importantly, I say, the lathering properties of Synergy soap have received rave reviews throughout Internetdom [How is that not red-flagged as a typo? Is this a word now? I thought I was being clever...] and with proper justification. Poured into a 5" tin to provide maximum surface exposure, applying a damp brush to this soap materializes an immediate explosion of lather. 

How to Grow a Moustache Synergy Shave soap test lather

Provided you have no sensitivity to the ingredients*, Synergy deserves a place in your shaving experience, whether you choose this aroma or another. HTGAM has been rolling out some very exciting new products lately and will no doubt continue to do so. [I have heard that their Cavendish pipe tobacco scent is nothing short of lavish.] Too, at 8 oz. a puck, one could easily dispatch a bathroom intruder with this thing. Don't lie. You've seen Psycho. You think about it.

How to Grow a Moustache "Pumpk'n 3.14" is still available for purchase.

Barrister and Mann Hallows soap mustache skull logo

Barrister & Mann are a shaving product company. That's it. They do their thing and they do it well. Aftershave, beard oil & soaps. Well-established as a small-scale vendor, an instant favorite of nearly everyone who has used their products, B&M's new scents are enthusiastically anticipated in the wet shaving community, often drawing upon throwback scents for inspiration. From a modern (and vegan) take on the traditional almond soft soaps of Italy, Tre Citta, to their own, brand-new tobacco, leather & smoke formula, Roam, both of which I hope to be able to try, these fragrances induce nostalgia and offer an experience increasingly rare in contemporary times.


"Description: Taking inspiration from the swamps of Boston, we combined vetiver, oakmoss, black pepper, cocoa, labdanum, and cedar to produce a deep, cold scent suited to the chilly, bitter days of late October. Gloomy, rich, and perversely elegant, Hallows is a reminder of why men once feared the dark.

Ingredients: Potasium Stearate, Sodium Stearate, Potassium Tallowate, Sodium Tallowate, Aqua, Glycerin, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Fragrance, Andropogon Zizanioides (Vetiver) Oil, Cistus Ladaniferus (Labdanum) Resin, Juniperus Mexicana (Cedarwood) Oil, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Absolute, Coconut Milk, Potassium Kokum Butterate, Sodium Kokum Butterate, Unrefined Shea Butter, Potassium Cocoate, Sodium Cocoate, Lanolin, Allantoin, Silk Protein, Tocopherol Acetate.

Now, I've never smelled a Boston swamp but I have smelled swamps and this is that, for sure. I'm unfamiliar with the odors of vetiver and labdanum, so I can't say if either takes precedence here. The description of fragrance given above is quite accurate but allows some room for misinterpretation. Like a peaty scotch, this smells dirty and mossy. The black pepper and cocoa can be sniffed out, which is good because the scarcity of good Cacao Absolute is responsible for the limited run of this soap. There is the smallest hint of cedar. Subtly layered and complex, I've spent at least five minutes a day with my face up to the tin in attempts to pin down what's going on inside. You see, this soap smells like something that was in my grandparents' bathroom when I was a child. I don't know what. Some product of my grandfather's surely, because this is a very masculine smell. [This is important to clarify, as there are, as mentioned above, women who use luxury shaving products.]

Known for producing a "thirsty" soap, B&M is sometimes, mistakenly, judged by the novice lather-builder as being difficult to work with. It is not. Tallow-based, the feel of the lather on one's face will differ from the HTGAM but performs equally well in the brush of a shaver who knows what they're doing. This is wet shaving and you want a wet lather, it's as simple as that. [I'll save the tutorial for my next shaving piece.] If your lather is dry, add more water to it. Hallows has given me extremely satisfying shaves and left my face feeling great for the rest of the day.

Barrister and Mann's Hallows test lather

Barrister & Mann are regarded as top-of-the-line soap manufacturers for a reason. Do yourself a favor and order a sampler, if you haven't. I can't wait to see what they come up with next. Rumor has it they are toying around with a new packaging format with a Bauhaus [not the band] influence. Keep an eye on their website. When placing your order, do not have a stroke when you see the shipping subtotal. Continue the checkout process and there will be an option for first-class shipping at a greatly reduced rate.

Barrister & Mann "Hallows" is completely sold out. Do check out Barrister & Mann's other wares.

In conclusion, Pumpk'n 3.14 would certainly have attained a larger mass appeal even if Hallows hadn't been such a rarity. Of course more people are going to want to smell a dessert than a swamp. But I do have a soft spot for the guys who go for the weird thing. Honestly, the two soaps are so distinct from each other that it's hard to compare them. Pumpk'n 3.14 is more of an in-your-face, instant gratification to the olfactory senses, like a house full of relatives for the Holidays. Hallows is more of an elusive mystery, playing to the Halloween/Dia de los Muertos aspects of the season. Both are aces in my deck.

Thank you for your time. Are there any questions?


*Do not let the sensitivity warning of Pumpk'n 3.14 scare you away from HTGAM's other fragrances. Cinnamon oil and clove oil are common irritants in those with sensitive skin issues. If you do decide to give Synergy shave soap a try, and I encourage you to do that, if any problem should come about from their product, simply contact them and they will see that you are satisfied with the transaction. Their customer service is unparalleled. You could also choose their unscented option.

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