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Catie’s Bubbles Royal Garden

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I am one of the 20 shavers who has never really liked Catie’s past work. The bare bones glycerin as the only moisturizer formula has never left my face in good shape post shave, and the fragrance mixes in La Terre Verte and Le Piment de la Vie both irritated my face. Plus paying $20 for an 8 ounce tub of soap that I will certainly never have time to fully use before it spoils makes no sense to me. (Maybe if that tub was the only soap I use, 8 ounces would be done in less than 3 years, but add another 20 soaps and creams into the rotation, and most of that 8 oz. is bound to spoil.)

I looked forward to Royal Garden for a few reasons. First, this is CB’s new “French Plus” formula base, meaning they add jojoba oil as a moisturizer to the mix. Second, the tub is 4 ounces rather than 8 and sells for $14 rather than $20. A higher cost per ounce compared to the basic line, but a more reasonable actual purchase price, and an amount of product that fits better into a rotation with many other soaps. I knew the soap would smell good, but would it sear my face red as the other Catie’s soaps I had used would?
Packaging: Nice sturdy plastic tub, attractive label art, label appears waterproof. Complete ingredients listed, scent description is featured: “A Rose Centric Tour of His Majesty’s Kingdom.” Tub has enough space at top to allow lathering of brush in the container. Nothing more needed here. 3 of 3 points awarded.
Scent in Tub: As the label suggests, this is meant to be an olfactory tour of the UK, based on a mix of rose scents and other minor citrus, herbal, and woody notes. Supposedly, this scent is based on a fragrance used by Edward VIII of England during the 1930s, and is meant to represent the smells of that nation.  This original scent was made by ultra-costly perfumer Creed, and they have recently released a new version of this scent. This new version is called Creed Royal Mayfair, and is not exactly inexpensive.
The scent description of Royal Garden on the web site mentions rose, lime, orange, eucalyptus, juniper, cedar, and pine. (What, no fish and chips?☺ ) In the tub, one gets a strong scent of rose and a bit of cedar and juniper. Scent is strong but not quite as complex as claimed, and the absence of the citrus and eucalyptus notes is unusual, as these tend to be noticeable when they are present to any degree. 1 of 2 points awarded. (The Creed Royal Mayfair mentioned above lists all the same scent elements as CB RG, along with a gin accord. I did not scent any gin in Rose Garden at all.)
Lather Ease: Bloomed the soap (let small amount of water sit on top of soap for a minute before lathering) and then loaded boar brush with 40 swirls. Soap lathered up easily, and needed an average amount of water. Lather was easy to create, did not need any extra hydration, and seemed to use a minimal amount of product. All good. One oddity noted was that the soap was very stringy when applied, lots of thread like projections as I applied it. It looked strange and I was a bit concerned about lather quality, but (as will be covered in the next section) there were no performance issues, and once the lather was worked into the face and smoothed out, it looked very normal. Maybe the jojoba oil gave some textual change to the normal CB formula? Not sure, but no harm done other than minor aesthetic concerns. 5 of 5 points awarded.
Lather Quality: Very good, not quite excellent. Glide and lubrication was admirable, and the lather stayed well hydrated during the shave. “Ghost lather” effect (lubrication remaining after an initial pass removes visible lather) was quite good, and the soap gave a smooth shave. Cushioning was a bit deficient compared to other products (my gold standards for cushion are Barrister & Mann White Label and Soap Commander) and some of the hard to shave parts of my face (chin and jawline) were a bit sore after a 2 pass with touch up shave. The follicle elevation capabilities of the lather (the ability to cleanly remove stubble by making it stand up on the skin) was excellent and the shave was very clean and neat. 4 of 5 points.
Scent During Shave: No complaints here. The rose and woods scent in the tub became more dramatic and complex, and the pine and citrus notes come out more. Eucalyptus is still not much of a player, but the featured star, rose, is complex, realistic, and masculine in its effect. Smell was powerful throughout the shave and lasted right to the very end of the rinsing. There was no lingering scent afterwards, but that is both normal and perfectly acceptable to me. This is an interesting and unique scent, as it combines a realistic and manly rose with an interesting mix of woods. Reminded me of a less complex Aramis 900, which is high praise from me, as that fragrance is one of my favorites. 5 of 5 points.
Irritation: None encountered during a lengthy shave. Worlds away from the torture fests I had experienced with other Catie’s products, yet at the same time the smell was still potent and long lasting. I was happy to have an irritation free shave and to encounter a CB soap that was not painful for me personally to use. No points deducted.
Post Shave Feel: Pretty good. Better than regular glycerin only soaps, but apparently my dry sensitive face likes shea and / or cocoa butter in a soap if I am to forego using post shave moisturizers. In this case, my face felt a little dry within 2 hours or so of the shave, so if I was to use this soap regularly, I would use either an ASB balm with some sort of butter in it and / or would put something like Aveeno Daily Moisturizer on afterwards.
With soaps like Strop Shoppe or Soap Commander, I can skip moisturizers and still have a happy face for the day, but Catie’s is not quite there. Either the jojoba is not quite as effective in my case as the butters, or CB needs to use more of it. (It is the last mentioned ingredient in the list, meaning it has the smallest proportional weight in the mix.) Still, much better than glycerin only soaps, so I regard this as a big improvement over the normal Catie’s base. 4 of 5 stars.
Value: $14 for 4 ounces of good performing soap is a good deal in the artisanal soap market. The lower price point is appreciated by soap collecting me, and the excellent packaging adds value to the deal. 4 of 5 points.
Total Score: 26/30. A solid B+/A-. The scent is this product’s main selling point, as it is complex, unique, and powerful. This is not a pure rose like Catie’s own Rose Du Mechant or Soap Commander’s Love, but the rose note is well developed and smells real. The added scent elements make the central rose more complex, and adds a creative element that really does suggest an olfactory symbolic tour of a European nation. Technical performance is as good as most mainstream artisanal stuff, that is to say it handily blows the doors off of stuff like Proraso and British soaps whose names start with the letter “T.” If these products are what you’re accustomed to, this soap would be a fine intro to the world of inexpensive artisanal excellence. However, the best domestic artisanal products have somewhat superior technical merit in terms of cushioning and post-shave while maintaining comparable aesthetic value.
Better cushion and better post shave feel would have moved this soap into the next level, but as it stands, this is good stuff, and if your particular face is tougher than mine, you may not need the added cushion and moisturization that I miss. I personally am happy to see that Catie’s is improving their staid old Martin De Candre style formula, and am also pleased to see them give me a powerful, great smell that does not also irritate my skin. Plus, you can get a scent approaching that of the $120 per ounce Creed Royal Mayfair for the smallest fraction of that cost. Highly recommended!
Ingredients: (from mfgr site): Stearic Acid, Water, Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Fragrance, Sodium Lactate, Glycerine, Jojoba.

Craig K

Craig K

16 thoughts on “Catie’s Bubbles Royal Garden”

  1. Very good in-depth review, although I still use a great toner by Seaflora and moisturizer by USPA (Aloe Hydrant Gel with Green Tea) after shaving with my Strop Shoppe special edition soaps. It calms down any irritation and I feel it’s important for sealing in moisture and protecting the skin from pollutants.

    1. Hi Jared,
      I love some of TOBS’ scents: Sandalwood, Jermyn St, Mr. Taylor. But their preservative mix in their creams (which is really the same mix most of the other Brits use also, save for Harris) tends to both dry and irritate my face. By the end of a 20 minute shave, my face is dry as a mummy’s and red as a lobster.
      The Dean would be horrified to hear how many times I’ve tried TOBS (or St James or Trumpers or Truefitt) creams in hopes of getting a better result, but after trying 7 or 8 creams a few times each, and ending up as Mummy Lobster Face for a couple of hours afterwards, I have no interest in ever touching the stuff again. (Jermyn Street has the mildest effect of all the Brit creams I’ve tried, but it is still far from pleasant.)
      The soaps would logically be a better bet, not being loaded with the preservatives like the creams, but the TOBS soaps I’ve tried have underwhelmed me with technical performance and scent projection. My impression is that the company puts its best foot forward with its creams, and the soaps are a footnote. Plus for roughly the same price as a TOBS soap, you can get something artisanal that will wow you with scent and performance.
      To me, TOBS makes some fine scents, but their creams and soaps are off my radar. As I mentioned though, I think my face is more sensitive than most other visages, so assuming you get a good shave from TOBS, enjoy the brand, but do also consider trying some of the smaller market offerings like Catie’s, Barrister & Mann, and Soap Commander. I think you would be pleasantly surprised!

  2. Thank you for taking chance on the enhanced formula and your time to put this all together.
    When you have a chance, try it again without blooming, start very dry and slowly work the water into the soap little by little as you lather. I find this approach to provide the best balance of slickness and cushion as it doesn’t let the potassium cocoate puff up the soap too quickly and reduce its cushion. I will soak my silvertip to soften the hairs but then hand squeeze all the free water between them out and the friction created by lathering the soap will open up the aromatics for you.

    1. Also blooming causes the stringiness you observed and noted because it makes it easier to overload the brush by softening a soft soap even further. I actually don’t recommend blooming any soap that only contains potassium based soap salts because of how hydrophilic they are.

      1. Thanks for the advice Chris. I usually face lather with a boar brush, though I do have a few badgers kicking around that I could use as alternatives. The next time RG comes up in the rotation (which might be a week or two…) I will follow your method and will update the comments with the results.
        Is there any gin accord in there though? I am wondering if my nose is gin-blind…

          1. Hey Chris,
            I love the way a boar changes and improves over time, rather like a cast iron skillet. User and tool develop together. It’s like building a relationship. Plus if I drop my $30 boar on the floor or it loses a few bristles in the AM shave, I can still get to sleep later that night…

      2. That’s a great tip, thanks. Not sure I have any soaps like that, but I will make a not of it. I’ve moved onto, mostly, concentrated creams or Italian style crema soaps. But I still have to move some old inventory!
        There is a lot of good stuff in this review and the comments, this time. Even if the product might not be for me, I still like reading a good post.

      3. Hello Chris and Others —
        I followed the maker’s advice (even digging out some badger brushes to use) and discovered that the French Plus formula does indeed improve significantly when not bloomed, and when used with less water in the lather creation process. The stringiness vanishes completely, and the cushioning is improved to some extent. The lather is also quicker to create with a drier brush (not completely dry though). I will boost the “Lather Quality” score to 5 on 5 points, bringing the overall RG score to 27 out of 30, a solid A Minus.
        I would also add that Catie’s now has four additional French Plus soaps available for sale, some of which sound very interesting (“Tonsorial” & “Cape Cod Cranberry” for me, but there are many great options in the mix.)
        Check the new scents out at:

  3. Very good review. Thanks. I’m curious about your “blooming” the soap. I’ve tried that, and so far as I can tell it does nothing. Have you compared (say) a week of shaves not blooming the soap, a week blooming the soap, and another week not blooming? If so, can you describe the difference you experience?
    When I tried it, I found no difference in ease of loading the brush or in quality of lather, but I do brush the soap briskly and firmly.

    1. Can’t believe blooming a very hard soap hasn’t made it easier for you to load. Like night and day, for some soaps, IMO. It doesn’t make a difference in the lathering or performance. Just makes it easier to load–again, in my experience.
      Not that I bother with soaps that are hard to load, or lather, anymore. My new approach is, just use stuff that works with zero fuss. I have plenty of great options without having to fight the product.
      Craig, great review. But unless you simply try product for the heck of it—or just to do reviews—why would you choose another soap from a company you’ve had bad experiences with? (Especially irritation.)

      1. Hello Leisureguy & Dean!
        LG, I bloom mainly to enhance the smell. After sitting for a minute or so, the smell gets fuller and more prominent. I think (and my entirely subjective opinion here) that the smell of the applied lather also is more complex and developed with blooming.
        I have never really had loading issues if I have not bloomed, as I use an immense number of swirls (50) and so scarce product on the brush is never an issue. (I have never finished a shave thinking “gee, I used too much product there” but have occasionally thought “gee, I used too little product there and now my face hurts..”. Hence the 50 swirls!)
        My face is more sensitive than most, but I like to experiment, especially with brands that have good reps and interesting scents. In most cases, the pain lasts until I wash the lather off, or maybe for 15 mins thereafter, and it is usually more irritating than agonizing.
        Generally, I have learned to figure out if the base formula components or the fragrance in a soap or cream irritate me, and if it is just the fragrance, I am willing to try other examples of an artisan’s work.
        That said, there are some horrifyingly napalmesque experiences that have convinced me never to try any more examples of a given line (e.g. T&H’s “1805” and WSP’s “Fougere Noir”.) I tried Catie’s again mainly because of the new “French +” formula, as I wanted to see if the new addition of the jojoba improved post shave feel.
        But my persistence with Catie’s has paid off, as after trying RG, I went back and tried LPV and it caused no issues whatsoever. Sensitivities are weird things.
        There’s an article topic in there somewhere!

      2. My own experience, which has been repeatedly tested, is that blooming the soap makes no difference in ease of loading. See, for example, this video in which it takes only 10 seconds to fully load a brush from a completely dried-out puck of MWF.
        (The lather pushed over the edge of the bowl is foamy, because that’s the initial lather. The brush is loaded with good soap and makes a fine dense lather.)
        I’ve tried multiple hard soaps, blooming and not, and letting some water sit on the soap never made a difference for me.

        1. Just curious, how hard is your water there? And, while it’s hard to tell, you seem to be smashing that brush into the soap harder than I care to, with my fine badger. But give that, good job.

          1. The water here is pretty soft. (Those who have hard water can readily soften it by dissolving a small amount—half a pinch or a pinch—of citric acid in half a sinkful of water. This post and this post describe the difference it made for a couple of shavers.)
            I do use firm pressure with all my brushes, include some very fine badger brushes—e.g., a Rooney Style 2 Finest. I’ve been doing this now for some years and it has had no adverse effects on the brush. Of course, the amount of pressure depends on the brush. I do have some extremely fluffy and soft badger brushes (a couple of Omega silvertips) and in terms of actual force I use less than in the video, since that amount of force would smash them flat, no doubt. So I use “firm” pressure, the amount depending on the brush.
            I suggest you experiment. You’re unlikely to damage the brush if you don’t smash the handle directly against the soap, but you do want enough firmness that the brush splays a bit.
            And, as you see, I am able to eliminate one step in the shave. 🙂

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