Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Superlather

Do you particularly appreciate the variety of scents and products that traditional shaving offers? Are you a perfectionist, always aiming for a better shave?

If you can answer either of the above in the affirmative, and you haven't tried shaving with a superlather yet, I suggest giving it a go at your earliest convenience.

First off, a definition: A "Superlather" is any shaving lather made from a combination of two lathering shaving products (soaps, creams, and Italian hard creams/soft soaps known as "croaps").

Most wet-shaving experts specifically use the term to describe a combination of a hard soap and a soft cream, but I have combined soaps with soaps, and creams with creams before, and I called all of them superlathers (all the good ones anyway!).

There are a variety of advantages to be had from combining products (if you just want to give it a go already, I give a quick explanation of my approach at the bottom):

The Best of Both Worlds
Pretty much all reasons to try superlathering stem from this: "the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts".

As I've discussed before, there are some broad differences between soaps and creams in general. Certain brands also have a reputation for being particularly strong in certain characteristics. By combining a soap and a cream (for example), you should be able to make a good, rich lather with the moisturizing and protecting qualities of a cream, with the slickness of a soap- in other words, you can get a step closer to the perfect shave.

Scent Combinations
The best way to create a signature scent (short of approaching a bespoke perfumer) is by layering and combining products. Although shaving soaps and creams do not scent your skin with anything like the strength of an actual cologne or aftershave, they still add to the effect (someone has to get close to pick up the scent of your shaving products, so think of this part of your scent layering as a treat for the people in your life who you are close to). Through some fun trial and error, you are bound to find a combination that suits your personality and tastes.

Making your products punch above their weight
Even though my University days are behind me, I still enjoy picking up the occasional budget or own-brand product just to compare to the big name alternatives. Where shaving products are concerned, while you generally get what you pay for, I find the cheaper soaps and creams still provide an acceptable shave even if they lack some of the luxury refinement of the high-end products.
For my last shave (which I enjoyed mid-way through writing this post), I loaded a Vie-Long brush with Col. Conk's Bay Rum soap, then proceeded to whip up a lather using Williams Mug soap. I find that the Williams/Conk combination works far better than either soap on their own. I won't be giving up my Taylor's, Truefitt, Trumper or Harris products any time soon, but superlathering makes the cheaper stuff enjoyable enough to stay in my rotation.

Using up "second choice" product
If, like me, you enjoy picking up and trying new products, then sooner or later you'll have a few around that don't quite cut it, and which tend to get overlooked in your collection. Throwing them away is wasteful. Giving them away is a great option, especially if you think the product is good but not to your tastes. The third option is to find a product you can superlather it with that makes for an enjoyable enough shave that you find yourself wanting to use it again (this is why I started superlathering with the Williams Mug Soap in the first place). 

 How to create a superlather

 My personal method for combining two soaps is to gently splay out the brush, and load* the inner part of the brush with the first soap, gently "close" the brush, trying not to squeeze the soap out, then load the tips of the brush from the second soap- not applying too much pressure in the process.  I aim to have the brush loaded with as much soap as I would if I were lathering only one, so the time spend loading from each soap is about half that if I were only using a single product.

For creams, I prefer to place a small (about half what I'd normally use) amount of cream into the splayed out brush,  then load the brush from a soap as usual.

Either way, once the brush is loaded, you can proceed to build your lather in a bowl or on your face as normal.

This is in no way definitive- Mike Sandoval of Shaving101 and Mark H of sharpologist both prefer to load their brushes with a soap and place a small amount of cream in his shaving bowl before lathering. The basic techniques of lathering do not change significantly, you are merely trying to incorporate two products rather than one into a lather. For me at least, experimenting with new techniques and products is part of the fun- hopefully you'll enjoy finding the combinations that work for you!

*introduce plenty of soap, i.e. "soapy water" into your brush, before you aerate and hydrate it further by actually whipping up a lather.