The mysterious Cold River Soap Works (CRSW) should be familiar (as much as it can be) to our readers from my earlier review of that company’s “Select v 2.0” soap. However, CRSW also offers a second line of soaps based on a more radical base formula: Oliva, which replaces the goat’s milk and tallow from the Select series with olive oil. Oliva was introduced in early 2016, the same time frame in which CRSW introduced its revised tallow formula Select V2.
“Oliva Colonia Mediterrania”, Cold River Soap Works. ($18.50 for 4.0 oz tub of soap.)
Ingredients Oliva Colonia Mediterrania: From mfgr website): Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Stearic Acid, Aloe Leaf Juice, Potassium Hydroxide, Kokum Butter, Castor Oil, Glycerine, Jojoba Oil, Shea Butter, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Lactate and Fragrance
As of this writing, the Oliva line has three scents, the “signature” Colonia reviewed here, along with Honeywood, and Unscented. Besides these, there is also the Select V2 tallow line along with a variety of post shave balms, tonics, and lotions, along with the occasional seasonals. No hardware, and all the bath stuff that CRSW used to sell has apparently been discontinued.
The products appear to be available in the US only from the artisan website, and CRSW does not offer samples at this time.
The use of olive oil as a main element in a shave soap was kind of like the cold fusion of artisanal soap making due to the alleged inability of olive oil based soaps to produce usable lather.
Olive oil is known for being a very slick oil but one that tends to integrate air into the typical shave soap mix only very reluctantly, giving one a small number or tiny bubbles in a watery mix with little density and thickness. As we all know, slickness Is only one part of a good soap; cushion is the other vital component, and that is where olive oil based soap has its usual downfall.
Let’s compare formulas between the Select tallow base and the Oliva base:
SELECT Shaving Soap v.2
Tallow, Stearic Acid, Organic Goat Milk, Potassium Hydroxide, Kokum Butter, Shea Butter, Glycerin, Essential & or Fragrance Oil, Castor Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Lanolin, Sodium Lactate, Avocado Oil, Vitamin E, Tussah Silk Protein
OLIVA Shaving Soap
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Stearic Acid, Aloe Leaf Juice, Potassium Hydroxide, Kokum Butter, Castor Oil, Glycerine, Jojoba Oil, Shea Butter, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Lactate and Fragrance
So Oliva replaces the milk and tallow with the olive oil, includes the shea butter, glycerin, kokum butter, and castor oil from the Select base, but loses the lanolin, for a completely vegan base. Oliva also dumps the avocado oil, but adds jojoba oil instead. Finally, the fragrance comes in last in the weighted ingredient list for Oliva. Select by comparison has a lot more fragrance elements in its mix, a factor which makes Oliva a bit less intense olfactorily, a matter which we shall come back to in a bit.
Cold River faced a challenge is making a shave soap based mainly on an olive oil base. How did it work out?
Packaging: Oliva uses the same metal tin used in the Select V2 line. The tin has about 6 ounce capacity, and is filled about 2/3rds of the way up. The same waterproof label is used on the top, with only the brand name showing. Ingredients and specific soap scent are on the bottom of the tin. There is enough space to load a brush easily in the tin, and the tins are sturdy and attractive in a low key industrialized sort of way.
This is a great tin, but given the premium price point for Oliva (about 10% higher than Select, I would have liked to see different labeling so that Oliva products would stand out from the other CRSW soaps on my shelf. I’m all for the tasteful labeling scheme used by CRSW, but surely some way could have been found to keep Oliva tasteful while also separating it aesthetically from its tallow stablemate.
Other than the lack of differentiation from the standard line, the CRSW tin works well, allowing easy loading of a brush from the tin, and stacking nicely. I’ve found somewhat more of a tendency for metal lids to screw on incorrectly as opposed to the more typical PVC threaded lids, but this is a minor issue.
The ingredient label does not go into specific detail as to mix of essential / fragrance oils used, and also has not scent element descriptions on the tin anywhere. Don’t know what a Colonia smells like? Too bad, especially since CRSW does not offer samples, and is not sold in any brick and mortar stores, so a pre-purchase sniff is well nigh impossible.
Given the almost exact duplication of the less expensive Select tin, along with the pre-existing problems of that format (cross threading, lack of scent description, vague ingredient listing) I am tempted to give a lower score to Oliva than Select, but the overall attractive and utilitarian nature of the tin redeems it. There is lots of shave product packaging that is a lot worse, so the one eyed man is king here. All in all, 2 of 3 points awarded.
Scent in Tub: A classic Mediterranean type fragrance, elegant and timeless. Aromatic woods, spicy florals and light citrus are captured in the signature scent of our OLIVA olive oil based shaving soap. This one has considerably less power than the other CRSW soaps I have smelled, and also lacks the complexity of the quintessential colonia fragrance, Acqua Di Parma’s interpretation.
The fragrance is of course a “colonia” (cologne) and so should not be expected to knock one’s socks off, but even in the relatively mild world of shaving scents, CRSW’s interpretation of the breed is very low key.
In particular, compared to AdP, CRSW lacks the complexity of the woods (little vetiver and patchouli present) but has sweeter and more prominent floral notes. Both colonias are similar in having a complex and pleasant citrus scent.
I am giving Colonia 1 out of 2 points for a relatively mild scent in tub. Not unpleasant, but not one that thrills the buyer and makes him gratified with his purchase. Especially given (sorry to sound like a broken record!) Oliva’s higher price point.
Lather Creation: Select 2,0 was mildly challenging to get properly lathered, needing a moderate amount of water and maybe 120 seconds of labor. Oliva addresses all of the Select 2.0 base’s creation deficiencies. It needs less water, less swirls (maybe 3/4s of the figures given above), and gives a dense, slick lather in a bit less time than Select, I would say a minute’s worth of work rather than two. The olive oil base rather than tallow accounts for this I would guess. Oliva has no issues at all in its creation, and this is one of the few areas where it clearly surpasses Select V2. 5 of 5 points awarded. At the same time, this is a technical knock out on points, as few wet shavers can’t spare an extra minute in lather creation especially when they end up with a really high performing soap like Select, so only those extremely pressed for time will care about the time savings inherent In using Oliva.)
Lather Quality: Perhaps the finest compliment I can give Oliva is that it performs very similarly to its tallow based brother, and does so despite having the perfidious oil of the olive as one of its main ingredients. If I had to pick nits, I would say Oliva is a little bit slicker than its dead cow based comrade, but perhaps has a tad less protection in terms of cushion. This is really quibbling though, as both soaps are very close to each other technically and both outperform 90% of anything else out there.
The only noticeable difference from the tallow CRSW Select once created is that Oliva lather seems shinier and retains more apparent moisture throughout the shave, and so seems even more stable than the already rock solid Select V2. If you want a vegan soap that gives you the exact performance of tallow, CRSW Oliva comes closest to that ideal, with only Catie’s newest formula (luxury shave cream) a nose behind.
Oliva readily trumps such excellent competing vegan bases such as Soap Commander and Wholly Kaw, not necessarily in total package (i.e. including scent design) but in technical terms, Oliva’s blend of slickness and protection is superior to those two excellent brands.
If you like animals, and hate stubble and razor burn, you have found your paradigm right here. 5 of 5 points awarded.
Scent During Shave: As hinted at above, I did not expect much from mild mannered Clark Kent here. And indeed, the Supermen in the CRSW lineup are the Select V2 scents. That said, Colonia surprised me with its slow development once lathered, and ended up winning me over with its low key charm; call it a quirky, less overpowered superhero, like Dr. Strange or Antman.
The dry, understated citrus noted in the tin gets woodsier once lathered, and presents with more prominent notes of cedar and fairly non-sweet sandalwood. There is even some patchouli that creeps in after a bit, but that note is pretty mild, so hippyphobes need not worry too much. The cedar and citrus balance each other out, and the woodsy notes add some depth and staying power.
The “spicy florals” alluded to are the notes my plebian nose has the hardest time finding, which is weird, as they seem to be present in the tub, but then are diminished when lathered. I am guessing lavender and maybe a hint of petitgrain floating around. Definitely not a big floral frag lovers dream, but for those (few) lads who want that sort of thing, there is always Bois Floraux over in the Select line.
At the end of the day, my suspicion about the Oliva base is that it can’t accommodate the same boldness and complexity in scent elements as can the Select V2 base. I hope to be proven wrong, but the other two releases in Oliva so far have been “unscented” and “Honeywood”, a wildflowers with honey mix that does not exactly sound like a Led Zeppelin concert for the nose.
Given the mild nature of its vegan brethren, Colonia might well be the superstar of the Oliva lineup. As mentioned above though, I would love to smell a high impact Oliva sometime in the future, but for now we have a scent of pleasant complexity yet only moderate intensity.
This is somewhere between 4 and 5 stars to me. The scent is not under-powered by any means, and it is extremely competent in execution. Many guys do not want to be blown out of their shave den by a soap’s scent power, and this moderate yet sophisticated fragrance will appeal to them. Plus, CRSW does after all, call it a “cologne” scent. So I will award 5 of 5 points here, but please do not think this scent is of the same power or complexity of the higher powered scents in the tallow Select line. Instead this is a soap for the guy that watches PBS and reads The New Yorker: refined, thoughtful, low-key.
Post Shave Feel: OK, but compared to the magnificence that is Select 2.0. not as good here. A more ordinary post shave, certainly above average and no razor burn pain, but most skin will feel dry over a fairly short term. I would say the “vegan legacy” is most notable here, as in my experience, the best post shaves tend to come from tallow based soaps with a mix of superfats added.
Oliva has the superfats, but the absence of tallow leads entirely non-chemically minded me wondering if maybe the absence of all those juicy tallow molecules makes the post shave moisturizing a tad less effective. In any case, I got an 85 in Chemistry and that was more than 30 years ago, so take my root cause theory with numerous grains of salt. The bottom line is that the magic is far less palpable here, so keep your balms handy. 4 of 5 points awarded.
Value: We are now up to roughly $0.50 more per ounce than Select, for a soap that has somewhat worse post shave feel and a considerably less dynamic scent. Oliva has some slight advantage in lather creation and glide, but these are pretty nominal advantages when compared to the cheaper Select V2, which offers slightly superior cushion and significantly better post shave feel along with more impressive scent aesthetics. I will award 3 of 5 points here, but urge dedicated vegans to add 1 or even 2 points, as y’all ain’t gonna find much better than this that does not involve dead aminuls.
Total Score: 25/30. Which is a B+. An admirable ethical and scientific effort, but a relatively high price point and somewhat worse overall performance vis a vis its fraternal competitor, along with a less fascinating scent design brings Oliva down from the stellar realm into the “mere” very good range. As mentioned though, if your ethical compunctions limit you from tallow, this is perhaps your best option available, so add a grade level if you don’t want to have deceased cows included in your morning grooming.
At the end of the day, while I applaud the use of new bases and ingredients in shave soaps, I feel the end result simply needs to offer the shaver some benefit that cannot be found elsewhere. The olive oil base in Oliva may be a worthwhile technical achievement, but if CRSW is going to charge a premium for Oliva over its tallow base, performance needs to be better than tallow, not merely comparable,
The scent design’s limited power may be more acceptable in context, as some of you might like somewhat underpowered soap scents. Oliva certainly has more impact that PannaCrema or Valobra, and I know many love those two brands precisely because they’re not blowing you out of the shave den with their olfactory firepower. For me though, I view the very conservative Colonia scent as a step backwards from the great Select scents like “Bergamot & Bay” or “Bois Floraux”.
As I have mentioned before, the shave soap market has gotten really competitive. If an artisan’s time in the chem lab gives us something good and cheaper than the norm (e.g. Barrister & Mann’s “Latha” line) or gives us something that costs a bit more but works a bit better (e.g. Catie’s “luxury shave cream” base) I am all for it. But ultimately Oliva at this point looks like a relatively academic exercise: “can a good shave soap be made with a mainly olive oil base”? The answer is “yes”, but then the next question from a shaver who does not mind using tallow based soaps becomes “should I buy that olive oil soap?” and that is the question that is harder to answer in the affirmative.
Oliva’s vegan rivals are mainly in it’s own price range (Catie’s and Wholly Kaw) with only Soap Commander being significantly cheaper, both in total cost and cost per ounce. But the true problem for Oliva is that the CRSW is generally superior and at a lower price. History has shown that artisans offering both tallow and vegan lines tend to phase the non-tallow options out over time as most buyers seem to prefer tallow. Only time will tell if Oliva will meet the same fate. A price cut and / or adding Oliva scent designs similar to the more robust Select lineup may help to make the olive formula sweeter to buyers.