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Vetiver Review Festival Part 2: Vetyver Santal

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Our next offering is a simple though elegant blending of vetiver and sandalwood. This soap ‘s fragrance is made entirely from three essential oils: lemon oil balances the sandalwood and vetiver. I should add we are not speaking of synthetic sandalwood replacers, but actual pricy sandalwood essential oil, albeit from New Caledonia, not the even more expensive Mysore sandalwood, which has become rare, endangered, and hence quite expensive (more info on the sandalwood “crisis” in perfume design can be found HERE).

Barrister And Mann’s Vetyver Santal

As it is, the large amount of NC sandalwood used in this soap does much to drive the price up, more on which later. Also, if you have even moderate sensitivity to real sandalwood, this may not be your best choice in shaving products. Almost miraculously, real sandalwood is one of the few things in shaving soaps that I am not allergic to, so this product works for me personally.
Barrister and Mann (hereafter “B&M”) has established a reputation in wet shaving for robust scents that are original, and indeed even radical at times. “Roam” (now out of production) was based on the smell of grass, leather, and campfires, and proved very polarizing in the wet shaving community, while “Leviathan” features an animalic take on a leather and coffee accord, another fascinating concept that will usually be either loved or hated by the user.  Vetyver Santal (hereafter “VS”) is less polarizing; few will be offended by the scent here, and the simplicity of the design stands in contrast to something like “Leviathan” which has more than a dozen fragrance elements in its scent composition.
B&M’s founder started his company due to his own sensitive skin and poor experience with then available shaving products. The homemade base eventually finalized uses a bunch of relatively costly chemical agents designed to moisturize and soothe: castor oil, kokum butter, shea butter, lanolin, glycerin, vitamin E, silk protein. I won’t be giving much away when I opine that this mix gives a very high quality post shave feel, but there is a price to be paid for this… (More later!)  The firm also makes pre and post shave treatments, women’s shave products, and may well move into formal fragrance sales (things like colognes and EDTs) in the future.
B&M products are available from a few brick and mortar retailers, including Pasteur’s in NYC. Also, the products are sold by numerous online retailers, and directly from the artisan’s site. (The artisan charges less for direct sales on most of the line.)
VS is part of the costlier White Label B&M line; there is a second B&M product line, “Latha”, which is cheaper, uses somewhat simpler scents, and a different base that has a few less “luxury” ingredients in it when compared to White Label.
Barrister & Mann is rather like Bartles & James in that there is no one named “Barrister” or “Mann” actually affiliated with the company. The comparison ends there though as B&M is known for innovation and quality, rather unlike the once popular purveyors of wine coolers. The Barrister & Mann company has been around since 2012, and was started by a law student with an interest in chemistry and classic male fragrance design. Will, the artisan, has since graduated from law school and has taken the Bar exams of various states.  The Barrister and Mann  operation is currently headquartered in Cooperstown, NY, hall of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Vetyver Santal”, Barrister & Mann ($23 for 4 oz tub of soap)
Ingredients: (From mfgr website): Potassium Stearate, Sodium Stearate, Potassium Tallowate, Sodium Tallowate, Aqua, Glycerin, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Citrus limonium (Lemon) Oil, Andropogon zizanioides (Vetiver) Oil, Santalum austrocaledonicum (New Caledonia Sandalwood) Absolute, Coconut Milk, Potassium Kokum Butterate, Sodium Kokum Butterate, Butyrospermum parkii (Shea) Butter, Potassium Cocoate, Sodium Cocoate, Lanolin, Allantoin, Silk Protein, Tocopherol Acetate.
Packaging: This looks like a pretty flat 8 ounce tub, which is roughly half filled with smoothly poured and leveled product. Even a noted lather slopper like myself has a hard time making a mess when loading from this one. Plus the tub has a very wide diameter, close to 4 inches, making it even harder to sluice soap all over the sinktop. Physically, this is just about the perfect container. There is no paper label at all, as the product text is etched directly on the plastic, making the container perfectly waterproof.
However, there are other issues. No scent description given (though as the name lists 2/3rds of the scent ingredients, it’s hard to be upset). However, the ingredients list is “generic” i.e. lists only the base elements and not the exact essential oils used. I believe this happened here because the bottom half of the tub is produced in bulk to match up with the more individualized top half, and the bottom half is where the ingredient list resides; hence it gives only general details that apply to the entire line of White Label soaps.
B&M hurts themselves with this approach IMO, as the high price of this particular soap is best understood when the purchaser sees the fancy EOs that are inside. In any case, the company is redesigning its packaging and labeling, so these minor deficiencies may well be addressed in future iterations of VS. If there are any…(see Conclusion for explanation of this ominous tone.) Anyway, current packaging gets 2 out of 3 points; could use a full ingredient list, and a scent description of some sort.
Scent in Tub: Per the B&M website: “We blended a healthy dose of lemon essential oil with Haitian vetiver and elegant, creamy New Caledonia sandalwood absolute to create a light, clean, fresh vetiver scent well-suited to cooler weather.”
My first sniff of this product created disappointment. I smelled mainly lemon and sandalwood, with only mild notes of vetiver in the mix. “Did B&M wimp out on this?” I thought. After Roam and Leviathan, I knew this low key approach was unlikely. What scent that was there was powerful, pleasant and elegant, but the de-emphasized vetiver may scare away the prospective vetiver fan sniffing this in a brick and mortar retailer.  1 of 2 points awarded.
Lather Ease:  Ah the controversy begins! With my immensely soft NYC tap water, White Label works like a dream. Quick lather, applies smoothly and creamily, and needs only a few extra drops of water and an added minute of work to become both thick and lubricious. However, the castor oil in here allegedly creates lathering problems for users with very hard water.
In the interests of science, I’ve used B&M when traveling to other parts of the US, and can testify that in moderately hard water Harrisburg PA, the WL lather was a little bit more challenging, but in very hard water Tampa FL, lather was an immense chore to create unless heavily filtered or distilled water was used.
Nevertheless, for my actual place of residence with its actual water, VS lathered quickly and easily. It does need a bit of extra water, as do most tallow soaps, but nothing excessive. 5 of 5 point awarded on these highly specific geographical grounds. (If you do have very hard water and don’t want to go the distilled water route, the cheaper B&M line Latha works extremely well in hard water, so you may want to try that product if WL gives you trouble.)
Lather Quality: Pretty much all one could ask for. Though not incredibly slick, B&M VS lather is very sleek and gives a bit of feel as you shave, which I actually prefer. The cushion is gold standard, even with a new Feather in a Standard razor. If I definitely need a non-irritated jawline and chin on a given day, I know I can turn to VS or any other B&M soap. Ghost lather is excellent, and the folliclevation ™ factor was superlative. Virtually any combination of razor and blade in my collection can reliably be turned into part of a smooth and comfy shave with the addition of B&M soap. 5 of 5 points awarded.
Scent During Shave: A great surprise here! You get this lemony sandalwood scented soap lathered up – and a few seconds later, you get the earthy smoky note of vetiver wafting into your nose. The sudden appearance of powerful vetiver lasts throughout the shave and perfectly complements the lemon notes, with the quality smoothness of the sandalwood EO linking the two. This is a perfectly balanced mix of elements that suggests subtlety and power at the same time, and this is the sort of clever design that succeeds in creating a complex impression from a simple mix of quality components.
Such work is definitely in the classic tradition of male fragrance design, and creates a unique experience for most wet shavers, where the rule is normally that the smell fades away and / or gets simpler once lathered as compared to the scent in the tub. VS turns that sad principle on its head and gives one instead a smell that gets more robust and complex once lathered up. 5 of 5 points awarded.
Irritation: None encountered during a lengthy shave. No stinging, redness, or other irritation during or after the shaves. No points deducted. But remember: if you are allergic to real sandalwood, this will probably irritate you to some degree.
Post Shave Feel: Again, my personal gold standard. This is the one brand that I can confidently pass on using any sort of ASB or splash with, and know that I don’t need to worry. Though I normally do use a balm or splash anyway, my “unprotected” experience with just using B&M with no post shave at all almost never results in any dryness or soreness. (On a cold windy winter’s day, all bets are off!)  The lanolin and shea butter are very welcome for my personal facial skin type, and I really could not ask for a better mix to keep my face moist and pain free. 5 of 5 point awarded.
Value:  Another tough call. $22-23 for 4 ounces of soap is roughly 50% over the artisanal average price for soap that works well. You do get a lot though: an all essential oil mix, vast amounts of such oils, including the comparatively costly NC sandalwood, and an all star mix of skin care ingredients. You also get an industry leading shave in terms of quality, ease of use, and post shave feel. Finally, you get an originally designed scent that could rank with some of the finest male fragrance designs of this century, along with a neat olfactory “surprise” once you get the lather applied.
It’s hard for me not to award maximum points here, but I will give 4 of 5 points here, and urge you to add an extra star if you like vetiver a lot or don’t mind spending a fair price for high quality.
Total Score: 27/30. Which amounts to an A-/A. Minor revision in packaging (which may well be happening even as I write this) and / or a price cut (unlikely) would readily move VS up into an “A” rated soap. The lack of strong vetiver in the tub is also a very minor issue , unless you like sniffing your soap when you’re not shaving, so you might consider adding a point back for that deduction if you don’t care about scent in the tub at all.
I like this one quite a bit, and consider it a reference example of what can be done with vetiver in a shave soap, as well as a calling card for Barrister & Mann that shows what they can do in creating a mens shaving product that reflects a rich tradition of historically inspired fragrance design. On the even higher level of representation, if some dude in Chanel or Guerlain wanted to see what men’s shave soaps could achieve in terms of design and execution, this product is one I would recommend to them. (They don’t ask my opinion with any regularity however…)
All of the above are reasons why you should buy some Vetyver Santal! More dramatically, B&M has indicated that this soap might be discontinued (temporarily or permanently) after the holiday season in 2015 unless it sells quite well.
Due to the all EO design, VS is one of the costliest White Label soaps, and many buyers prefer the cheaper  B&M soaps like “Seville” or “Bay Rum”, which are also excellent. But if you like vetiver, real sandalwood, and / or premium quality shave soaps, buying a tub (or two) of Vetyver Santal could extend this soap’s lifespan for another year or longer. Sorry to sound like an NPR pledge drive here, but I like this one a lot, and think many of you would as well, so get it now before it goes away!
Into My Rotation? Yes

Craig K

Craig K

3 thoughts on “Vetiver Review Festival Part 2: Vetyver Santal”

  1. Note to bargain minded shoppers: The artisan now sells all products on his site at the same price that retailers charge, so there is no longer any price difference. Some products might be available on the B&M site though not in stock at retailers (or vice versa) but the price will be the same no matter where you buy from.

    1. The site offers points toward a discount, but one must accumulate a ton of them for very little advantage. But there are occasionally sales that are announced via social media and their mailing list. For example, if you’re reading this on December 16, 2015 you can go to the site and purchase Vetyver Santal for $18, today only.

      1. Thanks for pointing this out! Sadly, the sale is in effect because the Vetyver Santal soap is being discontinued, so this may be the last opportunity to get this particular scent from the artisan.

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