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Vetiver Review Festival Part 2: Bolder Vetivers, 3rd Contender

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“Grand Valley Vetiver”, First Canadian Shave Soap ($15.40 (U.S.) for 4 oz tub of soap)
Ingredients: (From mfgr website): Stearic acid, Tallow Adeps Bovis, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut Oil) , Aqua, Potassium Hydroxide, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), lanolin, Perfume, Silk fibres
Our third “true” vetiver is interesting, though perhaps a tad depressing at the same time. We have here an example of a trend that will delight the consumer and confound the critic: the convergence of excellence. Grand Valley Vetiver, GVV, is a soap that performs very well, smells very nice, is fairly priced… and yet does not amaze or delight because so many other products perform technically and olfactorily close to it.
Intro: First Canadian is perhaps Canada’s first shave soap maker of (some) note, located in Ontario Province. They lack a formal website, having a Facebook page and an Etsy “E store front”, neither of which give any info about the company’s history or its founder. We presume that as they become more successful more formal trappings will materialize to tell us more about the company, it’s mission, its founder, etc.
Perhaps the most important point to make is that this company is not the same as FirstCanadianCo., an utterly different vendor that also sells shave soap, though apparently nothing anywhere near as complex a product line as what First Canadian Shave Soap sells. Use the links above and be careful with your search engine results to make sure you have the right artisan. (The First Canadian Shave Soap fellow’s name is Brian Hoffman, if that helps.)
First Canadian is building a slow  but consistently developing reputation on shaving blogs for making polished soaps that perform well and smell nicely. The artisan recommends and sells entry level Semogue boars on his site, and appears to be a helpful and decent fellow from his blog posts. He seems to be especially popular among his countrymen, as importing products from US vendors and artisans is not always smooth sailing on inexpensive. Plus of course there is the Canadian patriotism thing as well…
First Canadian offers roughly half a dozen soaps, plus a few limiteds and seasonals from time to time. The soaps are divided into a fancier “Eau De Cologne” series, which features GVV, and other scents such as “Sandalwood” (anyone surprised?), and … brace yourselves!!… “Lavender.” The “Classic” line features more traditional scents like “Barbershop” (you in back, wake up!) and “Bay Rum” (I can still hear the snoring!). There’s also a mentholated soap available called “Sahara Sandstorm”… no, only kidding, nothing that unusual , it’s called “Polar Vortex”.
All snarkiness aside, it would be nice to see a new company enter the market with some more unusual product designs for its shave soaps. Wholly Kaw and Chiseled Face, for instance, are in about the same stage in their corporate lifecycle and have both been far more imaginative in their initial set of product offerings. But OK, let’s talk about Grand Valley Vetiver and see what First Canadian actually has to offer.
Packaging: This is a remarkably typical wide diameter translucent 6 ounce tub, which is roughly half full of pretty firm soap. What’s here is smooth surfaced and tidy, and the effect allows easy loading of a brush. The specific ingredients are listed on the packaging, but no scent notes, and the ingredient of “perfume” does not tell us about the balance of essential versus fragrance oils. We do have a lot of vetiver EO in here of course, so there’s that. The title of the soap answers most questions in this regard of course, though I do not parse the Grand Valley reference, being a south of the border sort of citizen.  As is also common among better packaging these days, we do not have any paper label at all, and the graphics and product text are waterproof.
No one seems to want to put scent notes on their packaging,  and I am tired of docking makers for the industry standard practice. Thank you Catie’s Bubbles and Barrister & Mann Latha for giving users some basic idea of what is in your soaps, and the rest of you artisans ought to step up to the plate. But in a world where Taylor sells tens of thousands of “Sandalwood” tubs each year, which smell about as much as sandalwood as my cat does, I guess we should not expect the little guys to fall all over themselves with offering us lots of info.
Anyway, I like the tub, this is as good as can be expected in pure physical terms, and the name is simple and corresponds well enough to the scent. 3 of 3 points awarded.
Scent in Tub: Per the website: “Grand Valley Vetiver is a dignified fragrance that women truly appreciate. Vetiver is fused with field grass, smoke, damp fresh earth, spice and citrus to perfect this relaxing essence.”
Hm, women truly appreciate this? Not sure where he’s going there. Does he aim to attract female leg shavers? Guys who hope to attract female companionship with their shave soap? Can’t say. And “relaxing essence”? What about grass, smoke, and damp earth is relaxing? Maybe to Ed Gein…
Anyway, ad copy miscues aside, this smells pretty good in the tub and matches the description’s basic elements well enough. The vetiver is refined smelling, with a slight smokiness and a sweet grassy scent. This smelled nice in the tub, and had among the most prominent notes of vetiver in this survey. Have to like that! 2 of 2 points awarded.
Lather Ease:  Nothing bad to say here. Lather is created quickly, and loads easily. Does not need too much water or too much fussing to get creamy and reasonably slick. Did not test this one in hard water, so I cannot comment on how that variable might change things. But the NYC soft water performance is quite good, and I like the relatively uncomplicated effort needed to get things rolling. I found roughly 30-40 swirls were enough to give a 3 pass shave with a non-lather hog brush (e.g. synthetic, boar, or cheaper badger) 5 of 5 point awarded
Lather Quality: Decent, but not stunning. Stays well lubricated during the shave, and neither dries nor runs. Ghost lather is average, i.e. you ought to re-lather before shaving a spot again, but this is not really a demerit. Folliclevation ™ is very good, not quite as good as Catie’s or Barrister & Mann. The cushion seems only very good rather than excellent; I would rank it inferior to PannaCrema and B&M, maybe a bit better than Tim’s, in the same ballpark as Catie’s and Wholly Kaw. You can see the issue here; this is a tallow soap that cushions about as well as vegan soaps. Not dreadful at all, but not first class either. 4 of 5 points awarded.
Scent During Shave: The nice grassy notes and moderate smokiness scented in the tub persist, and are joined by some very mild citrus notes. The vague “spice” notes alluded to in the description are neither smelled during the shave or in the tub, so the conventional presentation is only further affirmed by this absence.
The citrus and sweet grassy notes make this scent kind of a hybrid between the “Grey Vetiver” emulators of the first series, and the more direct vetivers seen elsewhere in this series. This compromise may please some, but vetiver fans will want less sweetness and Tom Ford fans don’t want all that messy vetiver, Like many compromises, then, GVV does not strongly satisfy any one group. The scent strength is good and stays robust throughout the shave.
The sad thing here is that this is a nicely refined scent that makes no grave missteps, yet to me it is not as beautiful as “Vetyver Santal” or “Un Jour Gres” or as fun as “Roots” or “Vetivertal”. I hesitate to call GVV derivative, but it is hardly imaginative.  If this soap came out two years ago, it would have been worth a point or two more, but given the current state of the market,  and its generally more noteworthy competition, I will award 3 of 5 points.
Irritation: None encountered during numerous shaves. No stinging, redness, or other irritation during or after the shaves. No points deducted.
Post Shave Feel: Better than average, less than spectacular. There’s lots of good stuff in here, but I never felt as if I could get by without a balm after using GVV. The base formula is not dissimilar to my personal favorite, the Barrister & Mann White Label base, so I expected similar marvels in post shave feel and never quite got them. Still, this offers better post shave than Wholly Kaw, Tim’s, or Catie’s, so I think 4 of 5 point awarded is a fair score.
Value:  $15 for 4 ounces of decent performing artisan soap is dead average. Again, too many excellent soaps out there that also smell just fine. Given GVV’s average price for its good performance and moderate artistic achievements, I can award only 3 of 5 points.
Total Score: 24/30. Which amounts to a solid B. Barring radical revision to the scent or base designs, only a price cut (increasing the value score) would elevate GVV closer to a higher tier. Again, as mentioned earlier, this is kind of a shame, as Mr. Hoffman has avoided any wrong moves in making a soap that performs very well and that smells very nice, but in a world where online sites carry several hundred soaps and creams in their inventory, more is needed to stand out.
Perhaps a more radical approach in designing a bolder less conventional scent might have paid greater dividends here. The scent designs, especially in the Eau De Cologne line, seem well thought out, but very much by the book. Chiseled Face or Soap Commander by comparison have a mix of bread and butter scents (Sandalwood, rose, citrus barbershop type stuff etc) but also some strange and wonderful stuff (teakwood and cardamom, petrichors, auto parts stores, etc.) First Canadian needs to take a few more risks, and / or offer lower prices to become a first choice in a very crowded industry.
Canadian nationals and / or patriots add a few grades to the above score, and those interested in seeing where a talented soapmaker will go next should keep an eye on First Canadian and see where they head next.
Into My Rotation? No.

Craig K

Craig K

2 thoughts on “Vetiver Review Festival Part 2: Bolder Vetivers, 3rd Contender”

  1. I’ve been looking at a few of your reviews now and find them actually the least helpful of any reviews I’ve read because I always feel I’m reading a frag board commentary rather than a shaving product review. Although I appreciate your efforts you seem to spend 90% on packaging and scent and only about 10% of your time on performance, which is far more of interest to me than weather you think it smells like sandalwood or is a decent impression of Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver. When you give a B to a solidly peforming product I just don’t know if it’s because the product performed average in slickness, protection and postshave feel or if you just didn’t like the packaging, name or base notes.
    I’m not sure if it’s because this is a series on certain scents or just your review style but I really hope that in the future you can talk more about the products shave performance, which to most shavers is the most important issue afterall.

    1. Hi David,
      Thanks for your input. To address your points:
      1) You are misrepresenting my reviews. Of the 9 soaps I have reviewed, technical performance complaints were featured prominently in 2 of the 9, and odd (though not bad) performance was mentioned in the review of a third. The other 6 soaps all had performance scores of 9 or 10 out of 10 possible points for the combined scoring categories of lather creation and performance. (Post shave feel is excluded as I presume you would not call that “performance”.) If I had no issue with the performance of a soap, I am not going to go into great detail about how few problems I had with it.
      2) For the soaps I gave 9 or 10 points out of 10 to, there is no perceptible technical difference to me, or I would argue, to most other shavers. That is, if you shaved with unlabeled, unscented versions of these soaps, you would get an excellent shave, all other variables being equal. Some soaps were slightly better than others to me (hence the 10s versus the 9s) but even that could have been dependent on my equipment or skill application during the lower rated shaves. If I give a 9 or 10 to a soap for performance, I am confident most wet shavers will get superlative performance out of it.
      3) The emphasis on scent in reviews is for a few reason. First, that’s what most important to me, especially in light of the convergence of excellent performance from most artisan soaps. When was the last time you bought a $15+ soap from a well known artisan and had significant performance issues from it? I would bet the answer is either “never” or “not in the last two years”. The market has gotten brutally efficient and is demonstrating clearly that merely OK performance is not acceptable and will rapidly lead to brand failure. The existing artisans and the newer successful ones are either fine tuning existing formulas or reverse engineering what the other guys have been doing for the past 2-3 years. If all performance is almost uniformly excellent, why spend a lot of time discussing how excellent A soap is when it’s in a dead heat with B, C, and D soaps in terms of technicals. Is performance the most important issue to most shavers when it is almost exactly similar from one top brand to another?
      4) Next, with great technical characteristics across the industry, scent is one of the few ways an artisan can make their soap stand out from other competitors. (Not that all of them even try that much, of course…) Discussing scent in detail helps a reader evaluate the main difference between one artisan and another.
      5) Finally, I like to discuss scent because it is more subjective an element than performance and can be described more distinctly and completely. No stubble and no blood / irritation is good performance in a nutshell, but what is a good smell? Far harder and more personal to say, so a detailed discussion of scent helps purchasers decide whether a given soap is worth their purchase.
      6) It is extremely easy to see why a given soap I am reviewing ended up with its final score. To use the example you commented on, First Canadian Grand Valley got 3 on 3 for packaging, 9 on 10 for performance (lather), 5 out of 7 for scent categories, 4 on 5 for post shave, and 3 on 5 for value. So clearly performance was quite good, post shave was above average, and my major issues with the product were in terms of scent quality and value, both of which I found average. So if you want to know if you should buy this soap solely on how it performed, there you go, 90%, A Minus. I would suggest that Barrister & Mann or Stirling would perform slightly better for you, but Grand Valley is certainly a fine performer, so if that is your main criteria for buying a product. have at it.
      Hope this clarifies and illuminates the logic behind my reviewing approach!

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