THE HOLY GRAIL

Since starting with the straight razor, I found myself in a continuous search for the Holy Grail: the perfect shave. I used different brands of straight razors and different size blades. I lathered with various soaps and creams. I improvised on stropping methods, razor technique, angle variation and skin streching. I tried everything within my modest expertise with straight razor shaving to find the Holy Grail.

Yet I neglected to define for myself what exactly the perfect shave was — to me. Each shaver looks for his own Holy Grail. What exactly was mine? I know that in the end it's just a shave, a daily routine that most men undertake. Yet to me, that daily ritual involves extraordinary effort to hone a difficult task: that is to shave with a straight razor. My reward is one of life's great pleasures.

I can't wait to begin my morning shave. Sometimes I am even disappointed when the shave is over, because I must wait until the next morning to repeat the pleasure. When growing up, my two daughters sometimes complained they were bored. My stock answer to them was: "As long as you have a mind, you should never be bored. Look at me," I added, "I've never been bored a moment in my life."

In some way that thought applies to wet shaving with a straight razor, for the colorful ritual framing the act requires a mind that chooses not to be bored.

A baby bottom smooth (BBS) face seems to be the ultimate goal as the perfect shave for many gentlemen. Is that, then, the Holy Grail of wet shaving with a straight razor? I have realized recently that, to me, it is something else: the Holy Grail is more than just getting a BBS. Rather, it is the combination of the tangible and the intangible.

I have been a wet shaver, off and on, for about 40 years, exclusively for the past six or seven. Starting out with the double edge razor, in Vietnam I had to switch to the Army-issue plastic safety razor. Afterward my shave bumped along with a variety of other plastic and cartridge razors. By then stores had discontinued selling the double edge, and the Internet did not exist, at least not in its current form. Now scores of sites offer shaving products.

Years later I was back to the double edge, purchased online, and years after that I fulfilled a wish from my twenties and picked up the straight razor.

Whether shaving at home, at the gym or while traveling, I try to have the best possible shave, seven days a week. Knowing the cluttered, unruly and multi-directional fields of stubble on my neck, attaining a BBS down there is like tring to find the clues to a magical act. That's why I have never gone out for the perfect BBS, although some shaves are better than others, depending on a number of elements. They in turn set one shave apart from another.

A few days ago, while thinking about all this, I scored a fabulous shave. No, it was not BBS. Dots of stubborn stubble on my neck still wagged their tongue at me. Even so, I knew I had found the Holy Grail. It had been right in front of me all these years and I never saw it. Now there it was: the Holy Grail of wet shaving with a straight razor.

That day I loaded the Edwin Jagger best badger brush with Truefitt & Hill soap in my apothecary shave mug, played with it in my warmed pewter shave mug and then applied the rich and fragrant lather to my face. For the razor, I used one of my best shavers, the Thiers-Issard 5/8" round point with king wood scales. The stropping prior to the shave was exceptionally good on the 2-in. red latigo strop, with 25 strokes on the linen and 75 on the leather.

The shave — three passes comprising with the grain, across the grain and against the grain — felt as if from the hands of the king's barber. The razor floated on my face as if a royal barge on a calm sea and I as its master. No skipping and tugging. No nicks. Only a smooth glide. The lather remained fragrant and moist throughout the shave. And still warm.

Finally a touch of Truefitt & Hill's Spanish Leather aftershave transformed me to a 19th century gentlemen's club in the company of Oscar Wilde, Lord Peter Wimsey, Dr. Johnson, Charles Dickens and, with special permission from the club, Jane Austen — no matter that they were from different literary ages.

My Holy Grail was a perfect combination of the tangible and the intangible: I had a great shave, yes, but for some reason I felt as never before after a shave. Most of all, because the shave had set the tone for a day that I knew would be a perfect day.

The tangible was the visual part of the shave and the intangible that ethereal element in my 45-minute journey from the time I stepped into the shower until I left the bathroom, feeling as if I were a ray of color in the sunrise.

The Holy Grail — because the tangible and the intangible had combined to create my perfect shave.

— Obie Yadgar

 

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