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August 04, 2016

I'm used to close shaves.


Not life and death sorts of things, more to do with pushing the limit on the gas gauge or cutting it close with airline travel.


Why get to airports early if you don't have to. That's what trusted traveller cards are for -- to breeze through the queues. And you can take some liberties with check-in times too, much to the chagrin of cautious companions.


All these years and I've only missed a flight once. Security was to blame that day. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Besides, the plane was at the gate when I got there. They could have let me on, right?


Truth is, I've had quite a few close shaves like that, but never like the one on my birthday a few weeks ago. For this was a close encounter of a different kind. One where I had some skin in the game: My first proper shave with a blade.


So it was that we found ourselves in London at Truefitt & Hill, the men's grooming specialists located a short chariot ride from the Horseman's Guard and Buckingham Palace.

Truefitt & Hill has the royal seal of approval, you know, and has been looking after the male aristocracy since its founding in 1805.



The Duke of Edinburgh is its patron and the royal warrant is proudly displayed in the reception as you walk in.


We were greeted on arrival by the affable Stephen Wild, the front of house and art connoisseur who had a hand in selecting the salon's paintings of royal figures and who's who to have graced the Truefitt & HIll premises for more than 200 years.


Dressed in suit and tie, Stephen conveys a persona of the perfect gentleman. This is one of those places where you know that you are in England, and nowhere else.


Ushered through to the grooming area, Stephen presents a cup of afternoon tea while I sit and wait for the ultimate shaving experience, the straight faces of royalty gazing down upon me. I half expect the Duke to pop in any minute.


Ahead of me in the chair is a man, clearly cut from proper English thread, recounting concerns he had about a recent experience at the barber.


"I was at another barber a few weeks ago and he cut up my face horribly," he told his groomer incredulously. This being my first real battle with the blade, those words got my attention.


My cuppa now consumed, I stepped up into the big chair, greeted by a well dressed barber named Gino. Courteous, articulate, professional, Gino's mom would be proud.


He gets right down to business, showing off the many instruments of his craft. Straight blades, velvety smooth brushes, and of course the magical Truefitt & Hill creams. They are truly the secret behind the shave.




Gino has done all this a thousand times and then some. He proclaims that he never forgets a face, or more precisely, the skin on the face.


It's his job to know the bumps, ridges and contours of each person's skin he treats. You see, the more frequently a man applies a proper cleansing scrub to his mug, the closer each shave gets. Apply, say, Truefitt & HIll's Authentic No. 10 Cleansing Scrub before bedtime and together with the shaving cream the next morning, more of the hair follicles in the skin will open, making the blade's result more impressive over time.


Which means that I have not come prepared on this day. My face isn't ready for a properly close shave. Gino will have to do his best with what he's been given.


Gino busily begins to brush on the shaving cream, which I can assure you bears no resemblance to the miracle whip foam that languishes in tins on many men's shelves. You would be far better to give your visage a lathering of soap.


I liked the promise of the Ultimate Comfort unscented cream, so Gino was in top gear now. This was good stuff. You can tell the moment it hits your face.


Gino lets the lotion sit a bit before breaking out the straight blade.


Really, he says, any sharp razor will suffice day to day once the face is prepped. Still, his weapon of choice looks mighty impressive.


For him, the shave is effortless. No ups or downs with the knife, no little bits of tissue to patch up the mistakes, it's all one smooth, unidirectional movement.


Truefitt & Hill's moisturizing balm is then applied, followed by the hot towels, in order to hydrate and soothe the face. Without question, it's a great coverup considering what he had to work with on this day.


Gino kindly made a breathing hole in the towel - recommended! - and left me to my own devices. iPhone begone. Time to relax.


A few minutes later, a softer, more gentile me emerges for inspection.


Yes, that is a damn good wet shave.


Yes, that was thoroughly re-energizing.


Yes, that skin feels a whole lot smoother than it did half an hour ago.


And yes, it can get even better.


Just give your face a good scrub-up each night. The perfect close shave is at hand.