Skip to content

The Lack of Depth and Complexity in Men’s Shaving Scents Part 2

Listen to this article

The first part of this series introduced the basics of scent families for fragrances and began to explain the complexities of creating a complex scent for a shaving soap or cream.  We continue that explanation here.


From a soap / cream design standpoint, two of these three families are especially complex to execute. Fougeres need a base of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin. Some soap makers claim that oakmoss and coumarin are both legally regulated and mildly toxic to work with, and hence they either have discarded the “requirement” altogether in favor of less problematic substitutes (HERE is some additional commentary).

Whether or not these “neo” or “semi” fougeres recreate the scent typology of the originals can be debated by purists. But what cannot be argued is that for the most part, there are not many fougeres out there in cream and soap land, and this formula is the mainstay of many of the most iconic and recognizable male fragrances of the past 50 years (or longer!)

Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (PH), Drakkar Noir, Grey Flannel, Brut, Rive Gauche PH, Tuscany, Azzarro PH: all utterly unrepresented in the shave world due to the complexity and / or cost of developing a traditional fougere that works nicely in a soap or cream (many small soap or cream makers claim to have duplicated the scents of a few of these, with Drakkar Noir and Brut being the most popular targets. I’ve tried a few of these attempts, and, well, let me just say the search is still ongoing…).

As for chypres, well, the standard recipe for those are even more complex, to the point where some still argue over what the standard actually is (bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum is perhaps the best recognized standard, but some would swap in another citrus for the bergamot, or add in a floral element, or maybe sandalwood, or maybe swap in amber for the labdanum, etc.). As of yet, no soap or cream maker has, to my knowledge, attempted to recreate a chypre in shaving format.

As for Orientals, well, those are simpler as they basically contain a mix of multiple scents (not soliflores) that are neither fougeres nor chypres. Most of the products linked to so far that are not attempts at fougeres are Orientals, at least if we are reasonably strict about what we call a chypre.

Maybe the most complex Oriental shave product made currently is Rhapsody by Barrister & Mann, featuring three accords and 14 (!) scent oils.

Still, for the most parts, shave soaps and creams have diverged significantly from the complexity and traditions of male perfumery, whether for reasons of cost, difficulty in using materials, or the amount of time needed to develop and perfect such an intricate design.

The Usual Suspects Were Not Rounded Up

The companies that make the complex, expensive roster of classic male fragrances generally do not make shaving products and vice versa. Dior, Yves St Laurent, Chanel: not a tub of shave cream to be found among any of them. Even Pinaud and Brut have never swam in these saponified waters.

This is significant, as a big company with experience in the fragrance design might have a better shot at developing a soap or cream mix that would solve the various technical and financial challenges involved. But ultimately, the reason why these players have not entered the market is probably due to the lack of perceived profitability (see the “A House Divided Against Itself” section below.)

A special mention must be made here of the fancy Brit companies that have tried to produce families of related scents for both soaps / creams and fragrances. Taylor, Trumpers, Castle Forbes: most of these cologne and EDT examples are not well rated by fragrance buffs and are not considered to be of the same quality as EDTs from the big perfumeries.

Penhaligon is perhaps the one successful crossover line that both shavers and fragheads admire, but even there, the praise is not unanimous. Penhaligon hired Bertrand Duchaufour, a famous perfume “nose,” to design “Sartorial” for them, and some loved the resulting product.
On the other hand, some were considerably less enthusiastic.

To most wet shavers though, the prohibitively high cost of entry for both Penhaligon’s shaving supplies and their fragrances are likely to keep the company more of a footnote than a major force in market innovation.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

So even if some genius fella came along and recreated Fahrenheit in a shave cream, would it matter? Many wet shavers balk at paying more than $20 for a shave cream or soap, and quite a few think anything much higher than the cost of a tube of Proraso is a needless luxury. If some dude recreated Fahrenheit with all the research, testing, use of expensive scent oils, and the extensive period of time needed to develop and perfect such a beast, the price would probably be well north of $20.

Even if the price were lower, or shavers were willing to pay $25 or $35 for such a triumph, how many would do so? There’s a reason why scents like “lime”, “orange mint,” “lavender,” and (alleged) “sandalwood” are so popular. Wet shavers in my experience generally tend to be men of simple tastes. They either don’t wear fragrances at all in their daily lives, or they slap on some Old Spice or Pinaud that cost less than $10 and fades away in an hour or two. They in essence want to smell like their forbears, and they don’t really want anything too fancy, and so they won’t want to pay for anything too fancy either.

A House Divided Against Itself

And then, even if we have our magical Fahrenheit or Azzarro PH shave cream or soap, many guys that buy colognes and EDTs wouldn’t touch it. Since the late 80s / early 90s, the male fragrance world has become increasingly dominated by “fresh aquatics” in the style of Cool Water by Davidoff. These scents are usually disliked by men older than say 30 or so, as they are seen as being simple, monotonous, and all too similar to each other. On the other hand, younger men call the traditional male fragrance schools “old” and / or “feminine”, with the ultimate insult being “this makes me smell like Grandma”.

There are some soap makers trying to come up with more modern aquatic scented smells that are not too different from say Nautica Voyage, Polo Blue, or Bleu De Chanel:

These products are good in their limited aims, that is to replicate a rather simple fragrance style from the world of male perfumery,  but even  so, a Cool Water fan will not be entirely impressed, as the entire scope of Cool Water’s scent notes are not fully duplicated. And the traditionalists, who want their chypres and woody fougeres are still not serviced at all. The problem is clear though; even if a maker successfully developed a replica of one of the old school fragrance designs in shave soap media, such a product would not be an automatic “must buy” on the purchase list of every guy that ever bought a bottle of Nautica Voyage.

So this looks pretty bleak, eh? There are technical problems, questions of product safety and cost, debates over how shavers even perceive smell in the first place, a complete disconnect between how male fragrances traditionally smell and how shaving products are designed, a disinterest on the part of the fragrance makers to enter the ring, and a question over whether anyone even wants this fancy stuff or will pay for it, especially if they don’t even like these “Grandpa / Grandma” style of frags,

Is there any hope for our hypothetical traditionalist fraghead dude who wants a reasonably complex and interesting smell during his daily shaving ritual? I think there is, and we will discuss some of these options in the next part of this series…

Craig K

Craig K

9 thoughts on “The Lack of Depth and Complexity in Men’s Shaving Scents Part 2”

  1. Very interesting series. I have a some vintage shaving soaps: Paisley, Yardley, and Lenthéric. Both Paisley and Yardley have a very pleasant but sort of standard high-end British shaving soap fragrance that seems to be mostly lavender. The regular Truefitt & Hill was a lot like that (prior to reformulation—I’ve not smelled the current version).
    But the Lenthéric even today is an amazing and (to my nose at any rate) complex fragrance. I like it a LOT, and so far I’ve not encountered a shaving soap whose fragrance seems to have so much in play. Great stuff.
    And a good series of posts. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the praise. I’ve heard great things about Lentheric, but have not actually smelled it. Maybe the wet shaving renaissance will lure the original makers (or some eager substitute) to bring it out again…

  2. There are some soap makers trying to come up with more modern aquatic scented smells that are not too different from say Nautica Voyage, Polo Blue, or Bleu De Chanel:
    These products are good in their limited aims, that is to replicate a rather simple fragrance style from the world of male perfumery, but even so, a Cool Water fan will not be entirely impressed, as the entire scope of Cool Water’s scent notes are not fully duplicated
    I own Chiseled Face
    I don’t know about Mickey Lee, but I was certainly not trying to recreate Cool Water – I merely reference it in the scent description because that is the easiest way to explain it. It is very simple to do a reasonably close facsimile of most popular fragrances, since there are pre blended oils that duplicate them. They are not particularly accurate, but after they are mixed into the soap, they would come reasonably close considering the medium. Soap makers are split – some do a lot of clone or fragrance types, and some do mainly original scents. I tend to lean toward the later one. I have 2 duplications, but I intend to discontinue them as I develope more scents.
    As to fougeres, there is a wide variety of them available. Barrister and Mann makes 2 fantastic ones, and there are at least a dozen other fougeres available.
    As to there not being a good Drakkar Noir soap, that is due to the base scent of the soap, and the composition of it. Fragrances rely on alcohol to dissipate and lift the scent. Soap does not do that. Add the flatness of soap – no built in dispersor like alcohol, and the scent of unscented soap, and you will never get an exact duplication.
    Thanks for the work you do promoting wet shaving – keep spreading the word, and promoting shaving education.

    1. Hi Ron,
      Great to hear from an artisan, thanks for your input!
      Part 3 of the article deals with specific fougeres and oriental scented shaving products that I like, and the B&M Fougeres get their due praise.
      I am a great fan of your own “Summer Storm”, a unique petrichor scent that stands alone in current shave scents, and I look forward to trying “Sherlock” as well. I’m glad to hear you have more originals coming out, and look forward to seeing (or smelling) what’s coming up.

  3. Acqua di Parma made a top notch shaving cream for years. Yes, it was quite expensive, but it delivered in scent and performance. I’ve heard rumors the reformulated version of a couple years ago was scentless. Odd choice for an old-school fragrance company.
    On the other hand, Razorock has incorporated some top fragrances into their own, very affordable, creams and soaps.

  4. Nice Article Craig. I would love a well designed shaving cream myself! I do agree with you that most in the wet shaving world would not pay for something more than $30. You should be the man to create it! 🙂

    1. Hi Wim,
      I don’t think that one is made any more. The last reviews I found of it were from 2009 or so,before my entrance into the world of slow paced ritualistic face abrasion. Mama Bear’s website is vast, so I am not sure if I am missing it somewhere there, but it would be interesting to know how it sold and why it was eventually discontinued.
      Thanks for the info!

Comments are closed.