London is truly one of the world’s greatest cities. It is a city rich in both history and culture. I am always amazed when I think about how it dominated the globe both politically and economically from the end of the 16th Century up until World War I. In some ways, it still does even to this day.
London is a city the size of New York, and in it you can find anything you want. From world class museums and historical sites to everything contemporary, London has it all! I recently returned to my home in Texas after being over there for several days.
London is the headquarters for many of the biggest and most recognizable names of traditional shaving products. Being a traditional wet shaver myself, I absolutely had to pay them a visit. I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Geo. F. Trumper (GFT), Taylor of Old Bond Street (TOBS), D.R. Harris, and Truefitt & Hill (T&H).
All of these businesses are located within walking distance of one another. They are located on Jermyn St. and St James St. in downtown London. Both streets intersect one another. For a geographic point of reference, this area is about 1/3 mile west of Trafalgar Square and 1/3 mile northeast of Buckingham Palace. This district contains many fine and upscale stores.
After spending four hours at the National Gallery (which happens to be one of the finest art museums in the world), I made my way in a westerly direction and eventually began my shopping trip at Geo. F. Trumper. Unfortunately, they did not allow photography inside the store. I was able to photograph the store’s exterior:
It is located on the corner of Jermyn and Duke of York.
While I was not able to get any photos of the shop’s interior, I can describe what I saw and experienced. All of their creams and soaps were out for customers to sample. Their products tend to be lightly scented in my opinion. I prefer creams which have more potent effluvia.
One fragrance that definitely got my attention was their coconut scent. Both the cream and the puck were quite solid. In addition to their shaving products, all of GFT’s colognes were available to sample as well.
But what really impressed me was the number of razors they had for sale. Of all the stores I visited, GFT had the largest variety, particularly double edge razors. They also had a good selection of badger hair brushes. I asked the clerk if they sold anything else such as horse hair or synthetic brushes. The answer was a definitive no. He said, “Horse hair is too loose.” In addition to selling their products, the store also has a barbershop. Although I didn’t make a purchase here, the store itself is quite pleasant and the staff was very helpful.
Taylor Of Old Bond St.
My next stop took me down to Taylor of Old Bond Street. It is located directly on Jermyn St. (Now you know where the name of their “Jermyn Street” brand comes from. ?)
What an impressive store! Like GFT, all of their products were available for sampling. I have used several of their creams in the past. Here was a chance to find out what brands I had never used had to offer, including their two newest shave creams: Platinum Edition and Royal Forest. I found the Platinum Edition to be similar to the Mr. Taylor’s brand. They are “clean” scents in my opinion and have a mild aroma. Other creams which I found to be on the mild side were the Lemon Lime, Almond, and Avocado blends. Royal Forest has a fruity scent to it. I distinctly detected a pineapple fragrance of all things. I was expecting a woodsy scent given its name. Some of the brands I found to be rather bold were No. 50, Peppermint, Grapefruit, Lavender, and Piccadilly Lime (the most potent lime scented shave cream I have ever encountered).
In addition to the impressive display of creams, soaps, and sticks was the store’s brush collection (again, exclusively badger brushes). Whereas GFT had the largest razor selection, TOBS had the largest selection of brushes. One particular brush which was impossible not to notice was the largest usable (you will understand why I’ve italicized the word in a moment) shave brush I have ever seen:
The store clerk said, “One swipe and you’re done!” One can easily see why given its size. If you are interested in purchasing this monstrous fine badger hair brush, you will pay (at the time of this writing) a pretty penny of £295.
Regarding their selection of razors, TOBS is more into cartridge razors than double edge or straight razors (although both are available). I don’t use cartridge razors anymore but a couple of their travel versions caught my eye:
The TOBS Mach3 travel razor
The TOBS Fusion travel razor
I ended up purchasing a jar of Peppermint shave cream. I had never used it before and I liked the aroma when I sampled it. TOBS also has a barber shop.
I then proceeded west on Jermyn St. toward St James St. I then went south at the intersection and walked into D.R. Harris.
I had seen their products online before but had never used any so this was going to be new for me. The company was founded in the late 18th Century as an apothecary and it still is. You can buy over-the-counter medication as well as bring in a prescription to the pharmacy. Like GFT and TOBS, they had samples of their creams and colognes out for customers.
They had a sink to test build a shave lather. I did this and was impressed with the quality. According to the clerk I spoke with, their best seller is their Arlington brand. They also have a Windsor blend which is similar but has a lighter scent.
As I was unfamiliar with their creams from the start, I sampled all of them. Many of them had the “clean” smell to them. They do have Eucalyptus, Lavender, and Rose blends for those interested in a botanical scent. I ended up buying a jar of Rose. I really liked its scent and it happens to be the boldest Rose cream I have come across. There were a couple of things I saw which were quite amusing. They sold razors as well as brushes (again, exclusively badger hair) and there was an interesting decoration on the shelf.
Now THAT is a shave brush albeit a non-usable one! But who wouldn’t want to give it a try? I would!
The other thing I found which caused me to laugh a little was something which was for sale. Keep in mind, I am in a drugstore so you would expect to find some generic items associated with Walgreens or CVS. But this seemed to be sacrilegious given the high value creams, aftershaves, brushes, and razors which were available in the shop.
On one shelf were cans of pressurized aerosol goo! You know what I mean – the shaving “cream” or “gel” that dispenses when you press a button and which contains a lot of air, alcohol, sulfates, and a host of other ingredients which are terrible for the skin. I asked if people actually bought the stuff in the store and was told “yes.” Incredible! But, I don’t own the store so I’m not going to tell them how to run it. More power to them if they’re making money from it!
After making my purchase at D.R. Harris, I headed further south on St James St. to Truefitt & Hill.
Truefitt And Hill
T&H has been at the same location since its founding in 1805. Unlike the previous shops I had visited, they did not have shave cream samples out for customers. They did, however, have their line of colognes out. It was not a big disappointment for me as I am already relatively familiar with T&H’s shave products.
They were very kind to provide me with a complimentary sample kit of all their creams, aftershaves, colognes, and their pre-shave oil. North American readers will be interested to note that T&H has shops in Chicago and Toronto. As was customary, all of their shave products, razors, brushes, and colognes were available for purchase off the shelf. They also had a large selection of old fashioned shave scuttles. I was very tempted to purchase one but I had doubts as to whether or not it would survive a trans-Atlantic flight.
Like GFT and TOBS, T&H also has a barber shop. They next day after having visited all the stores, I returned to have a hot towel shave. Unlike the storefront and display area, T&H did not allow photography in the barber shop. But it was clear to me that they have a long history with royalty. Portraits of kings hang on the wall as well as pictures of some of T&H’s more famous clients from the 20th Century. Among them are George V, Churchill, and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery who signed his photograph. He was, naturally, wearing his trademark beret!
A Truefitt And Hill Shave
One of the barbers, Naseem, was available right then. I have had some bad experiences with straight razor shaves in the past from other barbers. But I figured I would give T&H a try as they no doubt have very experienced barbers. The shave began with a very relaxing hot towel which had a citrus twist to it. After a minute, Naseem removed the towel and applied a shave oil. He then put a fresh, hot towel back on my face.
As a sidebar, there has been some discussion about the benefits of oils when it comes to shaving. I think using oil in combination with hot towel treatment is excellent preparation before the main topical is applied.
After a second round of hot towel treatment, he applied unscented lather with a shave brush. He then went to work. It was relaxing and comfortable. He finished the shave with aftershave balm and touched me up with some cologne. The quality of the shave was excellent and my face was as smooth as a baby’s butt. It was by far and away the best traditional barbershop shave I have ever had.
I really enjoyed the time I spent in these four shops. As I stated, I bought two jars of new shave creams whose scents I really liked. I have begun using the TOBS Peppermint and it is fresher and thicker than any TOBS products I’ve ordered from online retailers. It also has a nice, cooling effect. Before this trip to London, ordering online has been my only option as none of these four retailers sell locally where I live (to the best of my knowledge). I realize it is a huge benefit to buy directly off the shelf from the store. The cream is going to be fresh as opposed to possibly being a couple of years old. Additionally, I got to sample many brands I would normally not have been able to. The alternative is taking a chance and buying online and hoping I like it. I encourage everyone to visit these shops the next time you are in London. I will definitely visit these stores again the next time I am over on that side of the Pond! Cheers!