Shaving in NZ.

March 22nd, 2008

I thought it was time to finally put a real post up here so here we go. You can probably guess this is about my new hobby, shaving. Or rather traditional wet shaving as it is properly known. This is shaving the ‘old fashioned’ way with real razors, real blades, real later and lots of water. Most people would wonder how on earth you can call shaving a hobby. It’s something most men do everyday (and going by the pictures on local Internet dating sites some women – I guess it’s part of the whole Kiwi chick thing of wanting to be ‘one of the boys’) and to most it is seen as a chore. It needn’t be that way though. Why not take something that was a daily chore and turn it into something enjoyable and interesting that you actually look forward to each day. It also has the benefits of being better for you too.

I remember when I first started shaving I used electric razors. I guess for most people that is the easiest and quickest way to start. Somewhere along the line I progressed to disposable cartridge razors. These are your Gillettes and Schicks that are common today. Usually most people using these will use either foam or gel from a can (hence the name ‘canned goo’ on shaving forums) and shaving typically consists of slapping some (cold) goo on the face, a quick scrape with the razor then you’re done. I used to be like that too.

Somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that the lather is really supposed to be generated with a shaving brush. Preferably a badger hair brush. I am not sure how someone first came up with the idea of rubbing soggy badger on their face but it was a damn fine discovery they made. Badger hair is used for brushes since the hair fibers will hold a lot of water. And water is of course very important when wet shaving. Good badger brushes can be tricky to find here in NZ but boar hair brushes and/or synthetic brushes can be found quite easily in most supermarkets. My first brush was one of these supermarket and not very good but still a step up from canned good straight on the face.

It was on a trip to New York for a friends wedding that I got my first real badger brush. Even that took some tracking down but eventually I found one in a Crabtree and Evelyn shop on 5th Ave. I got a ‘best’ badger brush which refers to the quality of the hair used. These brushes can be quite expensive but they will last a long, long time if looked after properly. At this point I was still using my brush with the canned goo and cartridge razors but the quality of the lather was much better and the brush is much better for your skin. The brushing of lather on the face helps lift and wet the stubble and the bristles of the brush gently massage and exfoliate the skin too. When I got back to NZ I did discover there is a Crabtree and Evelyn shop here in 277 in Newmarket, Auckland. This was a lucky discovery as it turned out as that was the first place I bought my first ‘real’ shaving soap from. But that’s getting a bit ahead of myself.

At this point I was starting to get the closer the the idea of traditional shaving. Several things were still missing. I was still using a cartridge razor at this point (a Gillette Mach 3) and I was still using canned good. As it happens I got rid of the razor first. I was watching TV one day when an advert came on for the new Gillette Fusion. This is the razor with 5 blades on it. 6 if you count the extra blade on the back supposedly there because a single blade gives you better precision and control for tricky bits. Or something. I remember thinking at the time that was just bloody ridiculous. 3 blades, sure, they had me convinced (and the Mach 3 is a good cartridge razor). Then Schick came out with a razor with 4 blades. Hmmm, starting to get a bit silly now and then finally Gillette came out with the new 5/6 blade thing. At this point things were just ridiculous. So much so this ridiculousness was even predicted over a year earlier buy The Onion!

It was then I thought enough of the marketing crap and my descent into the world of real shaving began. It was then I began looking around online for alternatives (when in doubt turn to the Internet – everything on the Internet is true) and came across the idea of using ‘old fashioned’ razors. These are also known as DE (double edge after the blades used) or safety razors.

It turns out that there is somewhat of a resurgence going on in the world of shaving. I guess many other people started getting sick of the modern razor marketing hype and are returning to the old ways. Modern safety razors are still being sold and there is increasing interest in old razors too. Unfortunately, as in most things, New Zealand is somewhat behind the times. As far as I know there is only one place that sells modern safety razors in NZ, the Shaver Shop on Pitt street in Auckland. Their selection is rather sparse and they sell only Nanji or Feather razors. You will also note they only sell two brands of razor blades too. More on that later. I knew from my Internet research neither of these was considered particularly great razors (although if you want to start cheaply and dabble certainly try them).

Luckily though we live in a world of international commerce and online shopping and I knew from my afore mentioned research that a good starting razor to get was a Merkur HD (also known as the 34C). This is a simple, all metal safety razor made in Germany. I found out later this is often recommended to beginners on shaving forums as a great starting razor. I decided to buy one online and eventually got one from Classicshaving.com who will do international orders and ship to New Zealand.

Blades are another matter and this is where we in NZ are almost totally screwed. The brand of blade you use makes a surprisingly big difference to the whole shaving experience. The different ‘feel’ of one brand of blade to another is quite surprising once you experience it. DE blades are surprisingly difficult to get here. In fact in most chemists or pharmacies that I ask in they don’t even know what I am talking about. In all my looking about for them I have only come across four types that seems to be available here.

The first two are available in supermarkets. Most supermarkets carry their own home brand blades. I have no idea where these come from but they are not good! I think they are made out of old recycled Fisher and Paykel washing machines somewhere in Asia. Oddly enough the famous New Zealand washing machines themselves are now also made in Asia! A 10 pack of these nasty blades costs today NZ$4.88

The second type is the Wilkinson Sword blades. I have only seen these in one supermarket (Countdown in Lynfield, Auckland) and they seemed to be priced at NZ$15 for 10 blades. These may actually be alright blades but I have never tried them due mainly to the cost.

Speaking of costs one of the major advantages of safety razor shaving is the cheapness of the blades. Especially when compared to cartridge razors. Currently an 8 pack of Mach 3 Turbo cartridges costs around NZ$26 and the latest Fusion blades are around NZ$20 for 4. Typically I would get one weeks shaving from a cartridge when I did use them and I currently get one week of shaving from each DE blade.

The other two blades are fairly well known blades and both are good quality. These are the two blades I previously mentioned as being available at the Shaver Shop. They sell both in 5 packs for NZ$5 per pack.

The first are the Astra blades. These are made in Checzoslovakia. These are my preferred blade to use. The second type are the Feather blades and these are made in Japan. These are also excellent blades with a well deserved reputation for their extreme sharpness. These blades can make mince meat of your face if you are not careful with them or use them in too aggressive a razor (more about that later). They aren’t recommended for beginners!

As you can see the DE razor blades, although hard to find, are considerably cheaper than the new cartridges. Even so here in New Zealand we are still being somewhat overcharged for these blades. I recently discovered that Astra blades (exactly the same as those available here) can be bought in the states for US$11 (about NZ$14) per 100 blades! Of course you must pay shipping on top of that and I am not sure that particular supplier will ship to New Zealand. Excellent deals can be found on blades on eBay too although you need to be a little careful that you are buying legitimate blades from a respected supplier. Most of the blades commonly available and referred to in the shaving forums (Dorco, Personna, Derby) are available online or on eBay. Some places also offer sampler packs which are a good idea since they allow you to try the different blades before buying 100 or more of them (for me that’s about 2 years supply)!

So, now I was set up with brush, razor and blades. The final missing ingredient was soap (or cream). This is one of the most important aspects of shaving and it also offer a lot of scope for experimentation and testing of different products and types. The purpose of the soap is to wet and lubricate the beard and skin and to moisturise the face. The choice of whether or not you should a hard shaving soap or a cream is a personal one. It is generally considered easier for beginners to get a good lather using a cream over a hard soap but with practice I find the soaps are no harder to use and I actually prefer them. Obviously with a hard soap you will need a brush to generate lather. With a cream you can generate a lather by rubbing it directly on the face with your fingers.

Shaving soaps or creams are yet another area where we here in NZ are a bit lacking in choice. Certainly avoid the canned goo. The very nature of the stuff means it isn’t nice to your skin. It contains some nasty chemicals and propellants and also coming from a pressurised can means it comes out cold (expanding gas cools down – the entire principle behind my famous Jet Powered Beer Cooler). And would you want to use something that is used for cleaning old tombstones on your face! Generally when shaving you get better results when everything is warm and wet. A lot like sex really.

There are a few basic soaps and creams available in NZ though as well as a few of the better brands. Again the Shaver Shop is a good place to start. A good basic soap they do have is Col. Conk. This is a glycerin based soap and it does provide a nice later and a good shave. It is also cheap at around NZ$13. I notice they have what they say is a higher end Vulfix (who are famous badger brush makers) cream for around NZ$30 although I haven’t tried this particular cream. It is worth noting that a typical can of goo is about NZ$8. When you consider that a tub of cream or a block of hard shaving soap will last considerably longer than the canned goo despite the higher initial cost it does work out to be cheaper over the long run (and lets face it you’re probably going to be shaving until you die which is the longest run you can have).

My first hard soap came from Crabtree and Evelyn in Newmarket. I bought one of their soaps in a bowl which sell here for around NZ$23. Another very good soap can be obtained from Smith and Caughey’s on Queen Street, Auckland (as an aside it’s worth calling them on +64 9 377 4770 just to hear their IVR system which is so over the top posh it’s bloody hilarious). They sell Tabac soap for NZ$ 27 which is generally considered to be a very good soap although it does have a very strong smell I find. A not unpleasant smell. Just strong.

Expensive (relatively), higher end creams and soaps are harder to come by here. Perhaps the most well known high end products are the so called three Ts – Trueffitt & Hill, (Geo. F.) Trumper, and Taylor of Old Bond St. All three are old school British companies selling what I would call ‘posh’ products.

The only one of these I have been able to try so far is Trumpers. They provide a sampler set you can buy (basically you pay shipping – the samples are free). Unfortunately in the drop down box in their online store New Zealand doesn’t exist so you have to contact them directly to order from them. They very kindly sent me samples and a nice glossy catalogue and they also answered some questions. I discovered that Trumpers have one distributor in New Zealand, a shop in Christchurch. On calling them though the don’t carry all of the Trumpers shaving soap range and also their prices were somewhat ridiculous.

I ended up buying a Trumpers Lavender shaving soap refill from a UK company, The English Shaving Company for around NZ$30 including shipping. The shop in Christchurch (who didn’t have the Lavender anyway) wanted NZ$45 and that’s not counting postage up to Auckland! So far I have found this to be my best shaving soap. It lathers up well and seems to hold a lot more water than the other soaps. The Tabac would be a close second with the Crabtree and Evelyn behind that.

One thing to note is the hard soaps often come in funny little wooden bowls. I tend not to buy these now (I only actually bought one – my first soap) but instead get the refills they sell for them. This is much cheaper and allows me to put all my soaps into similarly sized plastic containers that are much easier to stack (an issue when you start building up a collection of soaps). A good trick with the Col. Conk soaps is that because they are glycerin based you can actually melt the soap by sticking it in the microwave for a few seconds (try 10 and just keep an eye on it). That allows you to melt it into the container instead of having a small puck of it rattling about in the bottom of one.

So once you have the razor and blades and brush and soaps the one final thing you need is a shaving mug or scuttle. You can use the brush and either lather in the soap container itself (another reason not to use the wooden bowls as they are too shallow) or lather with the brush direct on the face. I prefer to make lather in a mug and I use a simple latte cup I got cheaply from one of the homeware type stores. You can sit the mug in a sink full of hot water to keep everything warm.

Now you have all these things you can actually start shaving. That will be covered in an entirely different post later. We haven’t even got onto the different types of razors yet!

As to the shaving forums I mentioned here there are several around and a Google search on anything wet shaving related will lead you to them. The one I use though is BadgerAndBlade which is well worth reading if you are interested in anything I have been ranting about here.

Posted in Uncategorized | | Top Of Page

24 Responses to “Shaving in NZ.”

  1. michelle Says:

    A badger brush?! Badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger

  2. Karl Says:

    HA, this is hilarious. Between you, me and that Herald article, we seem to be trying to switch NZ to traditional shaving.
    I wrote an article (albeit less detailed then yours) in the Waikato Uni magazine on the same day as you posted this blog (published a week after).
    have you tried the Mennen shaving stick or cream (found it at New World, Te Rapa)?

  3. Simon Says:

    Hi Karl, no I haven’t seen Mennen around here to try out. I did get some Tabac from Smith and Caugheys and you can get Crabtree and Evelyn soaps locally too. My favourite though is Trumpers but you have to order that from overseas unfortunately.

  4. Nigel Says:

    I got the Vulfix Sandalwood from the Shaver Shop in Pitt Street it is amazingly better then the Gillette gel I had been using before, though only been shaving with DE for about 3 months. It cost me $29.90 and so far have used about half so it lasts for ages – depending on how much work you want to put into the badger brush creating the foam 🙂

    Crabtree Newmarket have the badger brushes if you did not notice.

    Nice to see others are escaping the multi-blade tyranny.

  5. Simon Says:

    If you want another great soap to try out get some Tabac from Smith and Caugheys. It was about $30 for a replacement hard soap (or you can get it in the wooden bowl). It will last a long, long time and it has a very strong, masculine smell. I didn’t like the scent at first but it grows on you!

  6. Jim Says:

    I have been interested in traditional wet shaving for the last three or four years. As you say we are pressed for much selection of product here in NZ for wet shaving.
    For what it is worth I have tried most of the NZ made shaving soaps and additionally tried the Colonel Conk, Comoy and a french soap put out by L’Occitaine.
    The best soap that I have found to date is a NZ made shaving soap made by the Mermaid Bay Soap Company.
    Cost at time of making this post $6.70 if purchased online from them plus courier/ postage. This soap is also significantly larger than the likes of the Colonel Conk that I got from the Shavershop.

    I have no connection with Mermaid Bay and this is my personal opinion.

    Shaving creams that I have used so far and found good.
    Kapus – Shaver shop sells this for $5 a tube.
    Body Shop sells a shaving cream in a tub that is very good. Not sure of current price, think around the $20 or so mark – a little goes a long way with this.
    Currently have some Proraso in a tube that I got from Australia – but, have not been able to find anyone selling this in NZ.

    Economy and performance wise the shaving soap from Mermaid Bay is probably the pick.
    Depending on how you use it could last up to a year.

    Regards

  7. Simon Says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I ordered some of their soap. Was $13.20 including shipping which is excellent value! Since I have about 5 or 6 other soaps I use as well as you say a soap like this will last a very, very long time.

  8. Jim Says:

    I hope you will be pleased with your purchase of the Mermaid Bay Shaving Soap.

    As an aside I recently found a very reasonably priced after shave balm/ moisturiser.

    A product called ‘Sun’ Aloe Vera Gel that I got off Trademe. It is intended to be used as an after sun treatment to lessen the damage of too much sun.
    It is a cheap alternative to more traditional commercial after shave balms

    Link to the posting on it below.

    http://www.trademe.co.nz/Health-beauty/Sun-care-tanning/Self-tanning-products/auction-163227140.htm

    Although it doesn’t have much perfume to speak of it does seem to be very effective as a balm and doesn’t seem to leave any oily residue.

    Mermaid Bay make an aloe vera and teatree gel that they say is very good as an after shave balm/ moisturiser, they also sell a neem based moisturiser that the lady there claimed was good.
    However, having said that I have not personally tried the Mermaid Bay offerings in this line.
    The lady I communicated with there by E mail – Christie seemed to reccommend the Aloe Vera Gel over the neem product for effectiveness.

  9. Chew Says:

    Thanks for a good post

    I was getting a bit despondent about DE shaving kit in NZ – your post backed up most of what I’ve learnt about NZ DE shaving kit esp. its expense!

    Have you tried any shaving oils – I get the local aromatherapy shop to make my up to my specs: avo, jojoba and wheatgerm oil carrier with some essential oils – smooth shave, good for the skin, great smell and and less hassle than the brush and soap

    Cheers

    Chew

  10. Trevor Agnew Says:

    I grew a beard when I left the army about 40 years ago. [One of my grimmer shaving experiences was trying to use a safety razor with a mug of hot water propped on the bonnet of a Land Rover while the Squadron Sergeant Major was mooching around, wrongly convinced that I’d stolen his shaving mirror.) I still need a razor because I trim the cheeks and throat a bit. I just use my old Gillette safety razor, along with Wilkinson Sword razor blades. [All history teachers use Wilkinson sword razor blades.]
    At least I did until last week, when I found that both my local supermarkets in Christchurch have stopped stocking Wilkinson Sword razor blades.
    While I was searching the web for a supply. I came across this discussion.
    So watch out guys. They’r cutting off our supplies.

    Regards

    Trevor

  11. Simon Says:

    I had seen Wilkinson Sword blades at Countdown locally but they were stupidly expensive! I think the cost of Fusion cartridges and the like mean everyone expects blades to cost the earth. I still recommend getting blades in bulk from US based sites. Even with shipping it is cheaper than buying here!

    Simon

  12. John H Says:

    A recent chance discovery of mine is that “Neutrogena Hypo Allergenic Bar” makes a brilliant low-cost shaving soap. It is essentially a high-quality transparent glycerin soap (Neurtogena’s marketing department call it a “cleansing bar”) without any added fragrance and is very mild. When used with a decent quality shaving brush it produces masses of thick creamy stable lather. A 95 gram bar costs around $4 but tends to be more commonly found in chemists rather than supermarkets. Its lathering properties are similar to Colonel Conk but it works out to be about 1/4 the cost.

  13. Simon Says:

    I went off and found a bar of the Neutrogena soap and this does work brilliantly. It was $4.50 and I think it is actually larger than Con. Conk soap. And yes, with a good badger brush you get lots of nice lather off it and it shaves really well.

    The other handy trick with glycerin based soaps is you can melt them. I put all my soaps in small, round containers from the supermarket. You can put the bar of soap in one then microwave it (45 seconds on high did it for me). The soap will liquefy and fill the container nicely. Once hardened it is much easier to use.

  14. Steve Says:

    Hi there. I just came across this blog while googling. I’ve just set up an online wet shaving products store in NZ, if you want to take a look: http://www.mancave.co.nz
    I have some Proraso products (very limited stocks at the moment), Omega and Taylor of Old Bond Street. Coming soon will be Vulfix brushes and Merkur razors.
    If you’d like to receive a newsletter email when I get new products in just email me.
    Cheers,
    Steve

  15. Emile Says:

    Does anyone know of any shops that sell double edge razor blades in Wellington?

  16. Simon Says:

    Oddly enough I was in Wellington the other week and needing some blades. There was a shop near the train station that I got some blades in but it was a total rip off. $10 for a 5 pack of Astras! I would recommend trying mancave.co.nz. I am about to order a pack of 100 Astras from there for $39. We are really ripped off when it comes to DE blades in NZ so it is nice there is now someone selling them locally at a reasonable price!

  17. David Says:

    Wilkinson sword blades are very good but no longer sold here. For a real barrel of fun use a straight razor (cutthroat). Good quality bladescan be bought at the shaver shop.

  18. Brett Says:

    Great posting. Yep, shaving is getting easier by going backwards to the KISS pronciple.(Keep It Simple Stupid)

    As pointed out, NZ has crap availability for wet shaving supplies anywhere. However, thankfully the ‘net’ has opened the world to us all, and made other online stores available. To which I can highly recommend Steves’ store; http://www.mancave.co.nz

    Great prioces, delivery, service and options.

    The more DE Shaving/Wet Shaving is talked about, hopefully more people will make the change.

  19. Simon Says:

    Mancave is a great site! I should do a post about them actually. I have bought things from them and it was quick and easy and way cheaper than anywhere else in NZ. They have some nice things too.

  20. Fredric M. London Says:

    With all of the shaving enthusiasts out there, has anyone ever tried a single edged razor as opposed to the double edged versions. Having used both, I can state unequivocally,that the single edged razor is substantially better.

    Disadvantage: Must be bought used. Personally, I like the old Micromatics, because they hold the blade in five places.

    Advantages:

    Better shave
    Better choice of blades
    Carbon steel blades, the best type, are available in at least three versions. You would be hard pressed to find any other carbon steel blades, except for a straight razor.

    Just a thought.

  21. Jim Says:

    I have only recently stumbled across the ‘mancave’ web site and looked over the product that they have on offer.
    What they have on offer seems to be reasonably priced and all the products on offer are good bang for buck proven products from the wet shaving world.
    At this point I have not bought any product from ‘Mancave’, but, I am likely to in the future.
    No one else in NZ seems to offer the same sort of items from the one ‘store’.

    I am particularly interested in the Muhle R89 razor that they have on offer on the ‘Mancave’ web site.
    Currently my main razor is a Merkur HD.
    Anyone have any personal experience with the Muhle R89 – PS – I hve checked out the reviews on Badger and Blade on this razor.

  22. Simon Says:

    I am not familiar with the R89 but I did start on Merkur HD! Mancave is a very good place in NZ (the only good place really) to get good shaving products from at a very reasonable price. I have bought things from there myself and really recommend them.

    Currently I use an old Gillette e2 (1959) Fatboy. I recommend trying to get hold of one (hard in NZ – try eBay or Badger and Blade) as they really are a nice razor.

  23. Bruceonshaving Says:

    Surprised there are no mentions of the Goodfella DE razor which is made in New Zealand and which I wrote about in this article: http://www.bruceonshaving.com/2010/08/07/some-interesting-razors/

  24. De Razor Says:

    I just found your blog post on shaving in NZ. So I felt I had to tell you about my safety razor and shaving products – hand made in New Zealand. Take a look now at http://www.goodfella.com and tell me what you think.