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Increasing Face Value

One Man's Brush with the Perfect Shave

October 19, 2003|Adam Tschorn | Adam Tschorn last wrote for the magazine about pineapple.

Gather 'round my hirsute friends, for I have found the key to a perfect shave. Contrary to what you've seen on TV, it's not about the ingredients in your shaving cream, the number of blades in your razor cartridge or the bracing scent of juniper berries. It's about the badger. More precisely, it's about the badger's hair, which, in addition to providing a lifetime of warmth and protection for the badger, happens to be perfectly suited for the shaving brush.

Last Christmas, my wife gave me a sterling silver Tiffany shaving brush with bristles made from badger hair. When I opened the package, I was sure there had been a mistake. Had someone switched my tag with my father-in-law's? But when I finally got the courage to give the brush a try, I realized the only mistake had been two decades of self-inflicted tonsorial torture. Now I can't imagine my morning ritual without it.

As it turns out I'm not the only badger fan in L.A. "Our shaving brush business has about tripled in the last year," says Cesar Tejeda, the buyer for the San Fernando Valley-based Beauty Collection Apothecary chain. Two of the three brands the stores carry are badger-hair brushes. "It's a hot market right now. This whole 'metrosexual' thing has made it OK for men to care about how they look."

In all honesty, some of us men have always cared about how we look. We just haven't had the intestinal fortitude to run the gantlet of product purchases actually required to achieve the desired result. It seems a little too much like, well, shopping. There are blades to consider (one, two, three or four? Safety, Sensor, Mach3, Quattro?), shaving creams (foams, gels, gels that foam, foams that gel, menthols, silicones, benzocaines, aloe veras), not to mention after-shaves (lavender, bay rum, French vanilla, eucalyptus).

Finding a brush-friendly shaving cream takes some trial and error, but after several months of research, I've discovered Italian Proraso with eucalyptus oil, purchased in the afterglow of a straight-razor shave. It smells like a down-home barber shop should. Another winner is the circular container of Kiehl's Lite Flite Shave Cream for the Brush, which is a no-nonsense workhorse of a cream with a pre-lather consistency somewhere between spackle and marshmallow fluff. And for the aesthete, the Art of Shaving offers a lavender-scented cake soap, which comes in a lidded wooden bowl. It's the only grooming product I've seen that's actually handsome in its own right.

In contrast, brush shopping is pretty easy to wrap the man-mind around. Once you go brush, you only need to look in the shaving mirror and ask one question: Just how much is my face worth?

But why use a brush in the first place? "The advantages of the shaving brush are incredible," says Henri Soucy, a barber of 44 years. "It stimulates the arrector pili muscles--the same ones that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up." Soucy explains that this allows a closer shave.

The brush also serves as a water delivery system during the shave, keeping the face hydrated. In that department, badger beats the more common boar bristle brushes almost every time. The badger's hair, according to Myriam Zaoui, co-founder of The Art of Shaving line of grooming products and author of a book by the same name, is the only hair that retains water. That makes it a popular, if expensive, choice for the bristles. At the Rite Aid on Larchmont Boulevard, for example, a Chinese boar-hair Burma-Shave brush sells for $4.99. Barely a badger's burrow away, the Larchmont Beauty Center offers three choices of badger-hair brush: $45 (e-Shave), $95 (Mason Pearson) and $100 (The Art of Shaving).

And prices can get even steeper. Brushes are ranked by four different grades of badger hair based on softness, density and bristle longevity (spanning from pure to fine to Silvertip to High Mountain). The Art of Shaving's High Mountain version can set you back a whopping $400.

Of course, a $400 brush isn't worth a dime if you don't know the proper technique. "Most people use it like a paintbrush," Soucy says. "But you need to go in a circular clockwise motion." So unless you're still living at home with your brush-wielding dad--in which case you should really be saving your money for the first month's rent instead of a shaving brush--you're going to need some professional help.

First-rate tech support is as close as your local barber, not stylist. Only licensed barbers can legally use a straight razor on your face in California. If you don't have a barber to call your own, try Nate Richard at Fred Segal Beauty in Santa Monica, Henri Soucy at Gornik & Drucker's in Beverly Hills or wait a few weeks and swing by the Beauty Collection Apothecary at the Grove, where The Art of Shaving will soon open its first West Coast barber spa.

As you sit back in the chair, ask the man in the white smock to talk you through the process as he goes. Pay attention to the motion of brush, the lathering process and the hot towels. Listen well. When he's done, tip him a couple extra bucks for the lesson and buy a brush. Remember, you're making an investment. Should money really be an issue when it comes to putting your best face forward?

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Resource Guide

Gornik & Drucker's, Beverly Hills, (310) 274-7131; Fred Segal Beauty, Santa Monica, (310) 451-5155; Beauty Collection Apothecary at the Grove at Farmer's Market, (323) 930-0300; The Larchmont Beauty Center, (323) 461-0162.

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