The English taught the world to shave. Shaving is in the British DNA. But, for the best shave in 2023, you may have to go back in time over two hundred years.
Founded in 1805, at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, London’s Truefitt & Hill is the oldest barber shop in the world. It has offered luxury skin food, bespoke grooming aids, and male toiletries for two hundred years. John Wayne was a big fan, as were Frank Sinatra and Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The company founder, William Francis Truefitt, called himself a hairdresser to the British Royal Court. His firm received its first Royal Warrant from King George 111. In 1911, Edwin Hill set up a barber shop on Old Bond Street in London, near the royal neighborhoods. H.P.Truefitt moved there in 1935. The other Truefitt outlets merged in 1941. The present location at 71 St James’s Street dates back to 1994. There are now locations in Toronto, Beijing, Canberra, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.
Signature goods include 1805, Trafalgar, No.10 (Sir Winston Churchill was a user), Spanish Leather, Sandalwood, West Indian Limes, Lavender, and Rose. Truefitt’s still supplies many traditional hair management products such as Circassian, Melliflore Fibre hair creams, Julep Paste, and Euchrisma hair creams. Tonic and C.A.R. hair lotions were initially created for the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall. All these products come in etched bottles, and Truefitt also sells heritage shaving soaps and bath oils.
The historic barbershop still offers beard oil and mustache wax using beeswax, shea butter, kukui nut, avocado, sunflower, and aloe vera. Master Barbers offer the ultimate grooming experience, a 60-minute (£130/$165) pampering comprising haircut and shampoo, traditional hot towel, and straight razor wet shave. A 30-minute beard and mustache trim comes in at around £40/$50.
Truefitt & Hill offers bottled British history.
West Indian Limes was the first citrus fragrance and floral fougere. Originally called the Imperial Bouquet, it was specially made for Queen Victoria in 1876 when she became Empress of India. Freshman Cologne is one of the oldest formulations. Clubman was first called The Exhibition Bouquet after the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851. The Grafton range of pre-shave oils, bespoke shaving cream, post-shave balm, and Eau du Cologne is named after the HMS Grafton battleships. Apsley (grapefruit, lemon, and pepper) commemorates the first Duke of Wellington.
Truefitt & Hill has been caring for gentlemen for two centuries, as has another luxury London institution, Trumper’s—purveyors of gents’ skinfood.
A younger company is Daimon Barber, which offers ethically-sourced, science-led, luxury, image-elevating grooming products that champion individuality. These include a beard and stubble softener, post-shave balm, and shave cream with Honeybee complex. Daimon Barber has a bespoke retreat in Stratford-on-Avon.
Men’s chins have evolved from Bronze Age obsidian. They have come a long way from clam shells, hot towels, and cutthroats. The precision shave is still the Holy Grail.
Home grooming is a colossal business. A lot of research goes into men’s cheeks, chin, jowls, throats, and the area under the nose. Shaving has become a billion-dollar franchise.
Every day 80 consumers visit Proctor & Gamble’s Reading facility in the UK. They are observed through two-way mirrors trying different shaving concepts to gain feedback on their changing shaving habits.
And why they nick themselves.
The word nick is thought to come from the name of King Camp Gillette’s assistant William Nickerson, who submitted a patent for a new variation of safety razor in 1901. Jacob Schnik also patented an early razor.
Gold and copper razors have been found in Egyptian tombs since the 4th millennium BC. The baby-faced Roman historian Livy reported that the razor was introduced in ancient Rome in the 6th century B.C. by King Lucius Tarquinius Priacus.
However, Yorkshire in the UK brought civilization to men’s faces. The first modern straight razor, complete with decorated handles and hollow ground blades, was made in Sheffield. Benjamin Huntsman produced the first superior hard-polished steel in 1740. Solingen in Germany progressed male grooming.
The first guard razor was invented in France by cutler Jean-Jacques Perret in 1762. The Kampfe brothers refined his work.
John F. O’Rourke invented the first electric razor in 1898. Industrial production of electric razor machines started in 1937 by the US company Remington Rand and two years later, the Dutch company Philips began producing electric razor machines.
In 1960, Wilkinson’s reusable stainless steel blades became available, reducing the cost of safety-razor shaving. Then came high-tech shaving.
For many, the go-to state-of-the-art razor is a Bolin-Webb.
Founded in 2011 by Derrick Webb and Marina Bolin, the luxury British brand aims to bring properly conceived and aspirational grooming products to men through design excellence.
Originally a geographer, its founder Derrick, became a technical journalist in London. After working in London and Oslo, he switched to manufacturing and joined a major international metals company. His roles spanned strategic planning, sales and marketing, operations, and general management. He traveled extensively and got under the skin of wherever he went. He studied the topography of men’s faces and became obsessed with their epidermal surfaces from an engineering standpoint.
Derrick said, Our products are aspirational, contemporary, performing, and distinctive. Little thought was given to visual appeal, shaving enjoyment, or modern design. My idea was to use design cues from the world of cars and apply these to shaving: shape, color, and materials. That was how the original R1 razor with the Gillette Mach3 blade was created.”
He said, Color cues are taken from luxury car manufacturers such as Aston Martin, Lamborghini, and Porsche, among others. We adapt these to our handles to narrow down to a product we are proud of. The names we choose for our different colors also come from the car world, but not always. As an example, the name R1 Blue 3000 comes from the Austin Healy 3000, while the R1 Ferrara Yellow refers to the home of the Lamborghini marque. The R1 Chrome, with a smoked chrome finish and a matching stand, is a striking and masculine application of materials and design.
Bolin Webb’s X1 carbon fiber is made by Reverie— the leading parts supplier to luxury cars in the UK.
The luxury Prestige Range is a collection of designer razors in smoked plated Chrome and 24ct gold. They are perfect for those who wish to celebrate contemporary design and their own success before going to work in the morning. It handles beautifully in the fog; when the mirror mists up.
It pays to splurge on a razor if shaving is to be a status-enhancing ritual and a socially uplifting experience and not an exercise in self-mutilation.