A Close Thing

“If you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas.”   – Benjamin Franklin

Murdock shave

Hair grows out of your face, so persistently that you have to scythe it off with something sharp enough to slit your own throat. With the recent release of Sweeney Todd, the blatant terrors of the shave have never been more in the public eye. But there’s nothing to fear, not really. At Murdock there are safer hands than the trembling, vengeful mitts of Benjamin Barker. In fact, shaving is a strangely luxuriant, invigorating ritual, it’s the grooming equivalent of pulling up your socks or rolling up your sleeves – shaving means business, energising a kind of innate professionalism like nothing else. There is a distinct joy in the daily taming of the wild man that lurks beneath, or, even better, teasing out just enough stubble to allow it to think it’s on the verge of victory, before a deeply restorative smoothing of the skin. 

The straight razor shave adds the gentleman’s touch to your morning routine. This method of shaving stretches back to the Iron Age, when men, desperate to disassociate themselves from their furry wives, would use bronze or flint to scrape their beard away. Even earlier incarnations would be made from clam shells or shark’s teeth, leaving the alluring aroma of fish stink. The razor as we might recognize it was introduced in ancient Rome by king Lucius Tarquinius Priscus a hundred years before such grooming tools were common use. The razor was, in truth primitive andLucius would often be found clutching his face and rolling on the ground, a tradition still practiced today by arch-Romanista Francesco Totti. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1740 that the first hard steel grade was commercially produced, by Benjamin Huntsmen of Sheffield. Daily shaving is relatively recent as a common practice, introduced by American men in the 20th century, desperate to give a false impression of prosperity during the Great depression. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was far more common to receive a weekly shave, usually on a Sunday – a delicate, civilized procedure by a servant if you were wealthy enough or a far less accurate slice in the back alley of a gambling house if you were at the other end of the social scale. Easily slipped behind the trouser belt and readily available, the straight razor was also often used as a particularly unfriendly instrument.

There is a certain amount of nostalgia attached to the straight razor shave – conjuring images of hot towels, leather straps, lathered jabbering jowls and confidential old men in vests – but there is also no doubt that, when properly executed it is also the cleanest, closest shave around and has received a renaissance of late by those in the know. But the straight razor is only half the story. Every good barber knows that a clean, close shave relies upon a good lather and the key to a good lather is a great shave brush. These apt little instruments have there own intriguing fashions. Handles can be made from anything as remarkable as ivory, gold, silver, porcelain or crystal and the tail usually from badger hair (cheaper versions resort to the coarser boar hair). A number of fine brushes are available at Murdock: from the Murdock Best Badger Brush, with imitation ebony handle, to the Murdock Super Badger Brush, using slightly finer hair from the back of the badger, to the Murdock Silver Tip Brush, an exceptional brush of the highest quality, hand-filled and the softest of its kind available. All such brushes cleanse as well as lather the face – a unique feature, lost to most modern grooming rituals. The brush is all part of the process and ceremony that makes the shave not only enjoyable to take part in, but also to watch. Staring into the mirror as we must, shaving has its place as man’s most popular domestic spectator sport.

The simple mechanical pleasure of stroking through the lather in composed stages is a hypnotic visual spectacle. Apart from Burton’s immediately infamous musical about the demon barber of Fleet Street, the cinema has offered some memorable uses for the razor blade. Here are 3 of our favourite picks.

1. The Big Shave

Martin Scorsese’s short film is offers the ultimate shave, in fact, probably the closest shave there is. I’d love to see this as the next advertisement for the new monstrous 7-blade contraption from Gillette.

2. The Untouchables

Sit back and watch de Niro hold court as Al Capone, receiving one of the classic shaves in cinema. Remarkable both for the elevated camera at the opening and the unforgettable look of disgust on Capone’s sour mug.
 

3. The Royal Tenenbaums

There is something both deeply disturbing and refreshing about the painstaking stripping down of this scene. It’s all or nothing. Great music provided by Elliott Smith, “Needle in the Hay”.
 
Can you think of any better shaving scenes from the movies? Let us know in the comments section.

Pay a visit to Murdock’s for a memorable shaving experience. We guarantee that once you have had the pleasure of our straight razor shave, you’ll never go back to flicking that little plastic disposable under the tap.

Until then, here’s a fellow happy and clearly paternally proud to show us all how to carry-out the perfect straight razor shave. Most impressive about this chap is his absolute, earnest commitment to his craft:

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2 responses to “A Close Thing

  1. Be sure to check out the traditional shaving sub-culture at websites like http://www.straightrazorplace.com, http://www.badgerandblade.com, and http://www.shavemyface.com

  2. A shave at Truefit and Hill in London is one of those moments. Steeped in history and warm West Indian Lime cream lathered across your face makes Sweeny Todd just a faint memory.

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