Of all the retro, artisanal products currently experiencing a renaissance – sustainably harvested coffee, French farmhouse ales – shaving soap may offer the most practical benefits. Despite having been sidelined since pressurized shaving cream arrived on the market in 1949, lathery bars actually offer a better shave than most commercial creams and gels. Because they produce a lighter and slicker lather, shaving soaps facilitate a smooth, nick-free glide (provided, of course, that you're using a decent blade).
"When your beard is properly hydrated, the hair is about 25 percent more elastic," says John Scala, CEO and founder of The New York Shaving Company. "That means you can shave closer with less irritation."
Then there is the nostalgic pleasure of choosing a scent and wielding a brush the way your grandfather did. Soaps help make shaving an activity rather than a weekday obligation. In that spirit, we surveyed the market and picked our favorite shaving soaps – three European classics that have stood the test of time and three that are made stateside.
New York Shaving Company Old St. Patrick's Shaving Soap
John Scala's New York Shaving Company also makes a line of small-batch products in Brooklyn, including three types of hard shaving soap. He points out that they're glycerin and coconut oil based, and free of parabens, sulfates, detergents, and preservatives – ingredients that keep soap from going bad but are generally scorned by advocates of organic products. We particularly like the Old St. Patrick's shaving soap, named for the Gothic Revival cathedral near Scala's shop in New York City's Nolita. It's a mild, green, and fresh-smelling soap, with an old-world profile reminiscent of the English soaps yet slightly less intense, The rich lather is an organic triumph. [$18 for 113g; nyshavingcompany.com]