Sigh. I wanted to like this brand, I really did. Artisan Claude is one of those lawyer / biochemist combos that usually work out nicely in wet shaving. His website is elegant and subtle. His scent design is pleasant and well executed. 5% of his sales revenue is given to a children’s hospital. Plus his brand is named after his two kids! What’s not to like?
“Bergamot & Vetiver”, Henri Et Victoria. ($14.57 for 4.0 oz tub of soap.)
Ingredients (from mfgr site): Potassium stearate, potassium cocoate, water, glycerine, potassium ricenoalete, Citrus bergamia (Bergamot) oil, Andropogon Zizanioides (vetiver) Oil.
Company started in 2014 when Mrs. Claude brought the future artisan an expensive shave soap (dare I guess MdC?) for his cakeday. Claude became intrigued by wet shaving and its retro elegance, and decided to attempt to duplicate same from his Quebec area home. H&V started with kickstarting shave brushes and then moved on into soaps and post shaves.
Well, unfortunately, the technical performance of this soap is very reminiscent of other extremely simple French soaps (Martin de Candre, Pere Lucien) and those that emulated such designs (Catie’s Bubbles original base, the late Tim’s Soaps). We have the usual coconut salt / acid, the usual glycerin, and (for H&V) the fairly minimal addition of castor oil. This very under-designed combo has rarely worked for me, and even the uber-costly MdC more often than not leaves my face dry and sore, due to insufficient cushion and mediocre post shave ingredients.
Let’s talk about this tragic parting of ways in more detail…
The great disaster began promisingly. I used H&V with both two different badgers and a synth, and the soap lathered up easily and densely with all brushes used. The soap is quite soft, reminiscent of Catie’s Bubbles original “French Style” soap. The consistency was so soft that the soap showed signs of cratering over use, where the middle of the product gets pressed down into the center of the tub and is surrounded by a wall of unused soap on the outer edge of the pretty small diameter tub.
H&V needed not much water at all, and about 45 seconds of swirling gave me more than enough lather for a three pass shave. The lather can take extra water, but does not do too much with the added H2O, as the initial consistency and hydration is quite good. The slick yogurt look appears after the usual 2 minutes or so of alternating swirls and brush strokes, and another 30 seconds of work gets some nice swirling peaks in the lather surface, which is usually the sign that I am in a good place. 5 of 5 points awarded.
The honeymoon was over by the end of the first pass. I used a quite mild Bevel razor, a midrange Maggards MR3 with their version 2 closed comb, and a more aggressive Weber PH on my various efforts to use H&V Bergamot & Vetiver (hereafter B&V). In all three cases, by the end of my first pass, I realized I was not getting enough cushion. My upper lip, jawline, and chin hurt (the usual suspects with deficient cushion) but even my middle neck hurt, and my neck is normally a tough, uncomplaining trooper. But HeV was so minimal in its cushion that I felt scraped and raw. The worst effect was from the Weber, which left my face a Painful Pink and which even made my cheeks sore after pass one.
Glide was fine, and I tried to use that to my advantage by taking lighter strokes, but for all three raises, anything that cut stubble also irritated my face. Other than this pretty important failing, everything else went well, and the soap stayed hydrated on my face during a pass nicely, needed only minimal reconstitution with added water between passes, and did not irritate my face due to any ingredients used. (Though my face was hurting, it was a scraped sort of feel rather than a dry deep burning that comes from a reaction to the base, or the milder burning that comes from the fragrance mix. Sadly, I know what all of these feel like very well…)
Ghost lather was not really tested by me, as the shave hurt quite enough even when the lather was fully visible, so trying to see if the insufficiently buffered soap worked just as well even after it had been shaved off during the initial pass seemed like rather a fool’s errand, so I cannot vouch for the persistence of this inadequate lather.
2 of 5 points awarded. Excellent glide, and persistence in hydration once applied would ordinarily nudge me towards 3 stars, but in this case, the annoyance factor of a lather that looked so luxurious and dense and then proved to have all the resistance of a politician to a million dollar campaign donation was irksome. Also, as a biochemist, can’t the artisan fella notice that his soap is un tigre de papier? It’s like driving a car personally made by an engineer that has a misaligned suspension.
I give B&V credit for being an all EO soap and one that works well without too complex of a scent formula. HEV tells us:
“Zesty and smokey, luxurious aroma. Bergamot gives a high note of fresh citrus, a little orange and lemon, yet more complex.With a base note of Vetiver producing a smokey,sweet, earthy fragrance. New extra strength scent.”
I’ll go with most of that. Bergamot is a sour, sharp kind of citrus odor, the sort that does not remind you of a tropical drink. It’s not anywhere near as acrid as citronella, but it is still worlds away from conventional orange or lemon scents. Not in the least gourmandy, despite the fact that the bergamot is actually a food. I liked this note as it was not as fierce as the lemongrass used in say Stirlings Port Au Prince, and also not as conventional as the more balanced citrus balances used against vetiver in many other shave soaps.
The vetiver used is a dark, smoky / earthy blend, giving the effect of maybe a basement in a smoke house. I don’t find this to be very sweet, and nor is it grassy, In general, this is not a very pungent vetiver, but is both smooth and smoky at the same time, agreeable to most who do not absolutely loathe even a hint of the aroma. I suspect this is Haitian vetiver, not quite as smoky as Sri Lankan, nor as grassy as Reunion Island’s cultivar.
The bergamot and vetiver oils were judiciously selected and carefully mixed, and I like the fact that Claude didn’t try in some other stuff to mess things up, like a sweeter fruit or florals. It seems new artisans these days try to throw the kitchen sink into scent formulas, and we often end up either with unpleasant messes, or wasted stews, where many aromachemicals are bulldozed under by their more powerful associates, leaving the user to wonder why the “nose” stuck the overpowered scents in there at all.
But H&V avoids such mistakes, and gives us an elegant, interesting dark citrus / vetiver mix, that has ample scent strength, and one that persists for the entire shave without development for either better or worse. Scent also does not fade over multiple uses.
4 of 5 points awarded. A very good though perhaps over-conservatively designed scent. Tim’s “Roots” & Barrister Mann’s “Vetyver Santal” were more daringly styled ventures, whose success came from a mix of classic use of vetiver / citrus along with some clever use of woods scents. If H&V had tried to mix things up a bit, I would have given them a perfect score, but, as matters stand, this is a well done execution of a simple though effective scent.
Glycerin is a very basic starting point to moisturize skin that has been dried by soap and abraded. My skin needs a lot more to help soothe it and rehydrate it. Castor oil is not an awful supplement, but it does not do the heavy lifting needed either. My experience is that shea butter, kokum butter, and / or lanolin is needed to help me feel less like Hannibal Lecter has given me a facial.
As mentioned above, my face was already put through the wringer by B&V, so I had a sore, irritated face at the end of my shave. When I went commando after one of these shaves (that means no balms or moisturizers of course; what did you think I meant?) my face hurt for most of the day and eventually felt dry also, insult to injury.
If I merely put a balm on after the shave, the irritation was shorter duration, though I still felt dry, dependent on humidity in the air, and it was only by using balm plus moisturizer plus ProRaso Sensitive PreShave (despite its name, a great post shave treatment for irritation) that I was able to get a calm, hydrated face in close proximity to my shave. Do I want to go through this whenever I shave? No, not at all.
Something like B&M, CRSW, or MLS enables me to go commando with no issues. Given the existence of these products, and at only a slightly higher price (if that; B&M’s $11 Latha also works fine for me, a soap that is actually cheaper than H&V) I could not imagine ever buying another tub of H&V.
2 of 5 points awarded. One point was added for the castor oil, which is better than nothing.
None noted, though as mentioned, lots of abrasion from insufficient cushion, and dryness from its minimalist post shave composition were seen. No points deducted.
The Bergamot & Vetiver is slightly more expensive than the rest of the H&V line, because it is alleged to use high amounts of essential oils, so the price is about 15% higher than the rest of the H&V line. Even so, it’s hard for me to see the value in this equation. As mentioned, the brand is charming, the artisan’s heart is in the right place, and he seems like a decent guy. That said, this soap is sold as a commercial product, and one in a highly competitive oversaturated market. The scent, while pleasant, is neither stunningly well done nor boldly innovative. The technical performance is based on a paradigm that was cutting edge back in 2012, but one which is outclassed by virtually every other soap available at any decent artisan website or brick and mortar emporium.
Maybe this soap outperforms the British T creams that are loaded with preservatives and deficient in modern chemistry design, but those soaps are not exactly the target to aim for in the current market either. 2 of 5 points awarded, as this could at least give ToBS and the like a run for their money.
15/25 points, a D-. H&V needs to revise this formula and add elements to cushion the shave and increase the post shave feel. Scent design is a strong point, and other scents in the line like Cognac & Cuban Cigars & La Poire Francaise are just as well done Price point is fine (if the soap worked better), packaging is good, branding is well done.
I should note that many online reviewers have liked this brand and its output. In that regard, I always feel like a canary in a coalmine, as my face appears to be a lot more high maintenance than that of many shavers. I am sure many men with less sensitive faces and less need for moisturization would do just fine with HeV, but I can only review products with the face that I have. And with this face, the rather tired French style formula that pays homage to Martin De Candre does not serve me well.
I contacted artisan Claude Pillon to discuss my findings, and he stated that most customers have not had complaints about post-shave or cushioning, and he also stated that he may well experiment with adding new ingredients to his soap formula like tallow and / or shea butter as the brand develops further. Mr. Pillon’s response was gracious and friendly, and I was impressed with his intent to continue to improve his brand and formula. I would certainly recommend doing business with this artisan, and should also point out that he offers some excellent hand made HeV branded brushes on his site.
We have the nucleus of an interesting brand here, but in the current minimalist iteration, I can’t recommend this soap to sensitive skinned purchasers in current form. Patriotic Quebecois may want to take the plunge, along with fans of French scent design. Shavers with more resilient skin can buy with more confidence.
Many artisans who once offered only MdC style soaps have branched out and have added more superfats (e.g. shea butter, avocado oil etc) and /or activated charcoal to their formulas in an attempt to compete with the increasingly popular tallow soaps, and Catie’s Bubbles “luxury” base has succeeded in more or less matching tallow performance in an all vegan base, albeit with higher quality ingredients. I hope that HeV will move in that direction, and build upon their excellent scents and partially successful base to offer a soap that even my face can love.