Who can conquer this metaphor by Tolkein.
Thirty white horses on a red hill: first they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still.
This beautiful Mongolian lake freezes in winter. It is so deep and vast it holds 2% of the worlds fresh water reserve. It is also said, that if you look into it for to long you will pass out due to its depth.
The 20th century gave birth to mass consumerism, and shaving was of course affected. For example, the first appearance of pressurised shaving foam in the late 40s; also the shaving giant Gillette’s first disposable cartridge razor. I blame the invention of these two items for a lot of men’s resentful attitude towards ‘the shave’.
There is little pleasure or glamour in this hastily reluctant act, yet the traditional shave offers a stark and welcome contrast. For me it’s a time of serenity and masculine elegance; the awareness needed for using a traditional razor is akin to Zen meditation, an allotted time of ritualistic focus that fills me with a unique sense of esteem.
A key part of the traditional shave is, of course, the shaving brush, first appearing in France as the Blaireaux (or ‘badger’) in the 18th century, That’s right, real badger hair. It’s still used today, although the hair used for the brush is globally diverse; Arabian horse hair, wild boar, and of course synthetic fibres. But the badgers hair is arguably the most sought-after as it very efficiently absorbs water and heat, two critical ingredients in shaving.
Personally, in preparation of shaving, I recommend submerging one’s face in a hot sink. The professional tonsorialist (barber) uses hot towels for the same reason; it softens the hair and prepares the skin. I also submerge the brush, as when it is hot and wet the whipped-on shaving soap will create a warm thick lather which is now ready to be applied to my boat race and Gregory Peck. I am now ready for the shave.
The shaving soaps I use and sell are wonderfully nourishing, cleansing and natural. Also, shaving soap is an economical buy; a good soap will last from 1 to 2 years of shaving which is a far cry from the bog standard supermarket foams which are often full of chemicals and relatively short-lived. Not only that but the canned foam doesn’t contain heat, the vital ingredient in shaving mentioned earlier.
Now, on to the razors. What I provide as a trader is my well-researched and practiced advise on the ideal shaving technique. I make sure a client is well instructed before they walk away with a straight razor or double edged safety razor as, if used incorrectly, these innocent status symbols are thinly-veiled yet dangerous weapons. For a lot of men, the element of danger provided by a straight razor is part of the appeal. As well as the benefits in terms of skin care and comfort, looking like a 1920s gangster in the mirror is a perk that many modern gentlemen can’t find elsewhere.
I teach straight razor maintenance – by way of stropping and honing – which is crucial to owning one. That’s a part of the archaic ritual which I very much enjoy; it’s a learnt skill that gives me a great deal of satisfaction and I also restore antique straight razors as a service. To bring a centenarian razor back to life as it was before all this modernisation is an incredible feeling. Straight razors are for life, no refills there.
I think men are drawn to the stall because the equipment I sell combines function and elegance, just like a diving watch or a sports car. Initially, I thought Edwards’ Traditional Shaving Emporium would be a hit with the East End vintage elite; apparently not. I put it down to the razor being something they can’t wear. Occasionally, when I would remark on how fashionable a piece was, the browser would say “Who’s going to see it in the bathroom?” I would then try to counsel these poor misguided people, saying “What about you? Surely your opinion matters?”
A demographic overview of my clients has shown a wide array of cultures, generations and occupations. People who get it. I’ve been at Spitalfields traders’ market for 18 months now. It’s a good vibe at Spitalfields; there’s a great community feel, and it’s fun to a part of it. I have a pitch on Fridays and of course at Saturday’s new Style Market. It’s a very fresh and exciting market that’s got an unusual edge to it, where you can find a wide range of talented designers pushing new ideas forward.
Thomas Beyer/ Edwards