Our fourth bold vetiver (first, second, third) is an interesting hybrid, featuring a solid vetiver base accompanied by another 11 (!) essential oils. My personal frustration with this soap is immense, as I have never tried so hard to make an excellently scented soap work despite mediocre technical performance and significant irritation. After no less than 5 excruciating shaves, I have abandoned the effort, but would still recommend the soap on the basis on the quality of its scent and ingredients, or at least I would recommend it to those whose faces are a bit more indomitable than mine.
“Bespoke # 1”, Los Angeles Shaving Soap Company ($28 for 4.5 oz tub of soap) Sample Buying Sources:
Ingredients: (From mfgr website): Vegetable Stearic Acid, Distilled Water, Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Vegetable Glycerin, Vetiver Essential Oil, 35 million year old (approx.) Himalayan Amber Oil (in Sunflower Oil), Frankincense Essential Oil, Opopanax (Sweet Myrrh) Essential Oil, Clove Essential Oil, Pepper Essential Oil, Bergamot Essential Oil, Patchouli Essential Oil, Cedar Essential Oil, Vanilla Extract, Anise Extract, Labdanum Absolute (in Sunflower Oil).
My first LA Shaving Soap Company (hereafter “LASSCO”) product used was “Myrkivor” and I was stunned and amazed. Excellent smell, all essential oils, made with beer as a base, and a creamy, protective lather accompanied by an excellent post-shave, and at the eminently reasonable price of $18. I figured I was in trustworthy artisanal hands, and splurged, ordering another three soaps from that artisan, Bespoke and “Woody Lavender” & “Hollywood Romance.” The honeymoon ended rapidly and painfully….
LASSCO is another shave soap company founded by a lawyer / perfume enthusiast. (The other one I know of is Barrister & Mann, mentioned a few reviews ago…). Much like B&M, the origin story here is that a sensitive faced shaver became disillusioned with what was then available (2012) and decided to make his own soap and scents.
Unlike B&M, John, the LASSCO founder, set out to emulate the Martin De Candre formula. By many accounts he succeeded (more on my opinion later…) and LASSCO confidently published its formula and technique online so that other aspiring soapmakers could follow suit.
John is a dedicated vegan and so makes only non-tallow based soaps for ethical reasons. For somewhat murkier reasons, he also refuses to use fragrance oils in his compositions, and sticks to using only essential oils. This of course adds cost to his soaps (no $11 budget options here…) and, as John himself admits, limits his scent palette to a not insignificant degree.
LASSCO, unlike most other artisans, seems to be keeping a low profile with its operations in recent years. There have been virtually no “limited” or “special” editions, no seasonals, etc and no soap releases in 2015 at all. As a matter of fact, LASSCO has even discontinued two soaps from its 2014 additions, keeping all five of its 2013 lineup of scents, and retaining 3 other 2014 additions, and just recently added a soap for 2016, so the artisan has 89 soaps available for sale currently. There have been some crossovers, into cross-branding sales of expensive SS razors (made by another artisan), but nothing approaching the usual vertical product leveraging of scents that other artisans have manifested in recent industry history, so no pre-shaves, bath soaps, colognes, candles, etc, just the soaps and a beard oil.
Bespoke has an interesting origin tale: the word “Bespoke” means “made to order” and implies luxury and selectivity. In this case, a Reddit shaving group member won a contest and provided a list of his favorite notes to LASSCO’s John, who then worked with the winner to develop a scent whose high price would then supply a portion of its sales revenue to a cancer charity. This is a nice idea, and the fellow who won apparently had very decent taste in fragrance, based on the proof smelled in Bespoke.
This is a small, rather ugly off white plastic tub, smaller diameter than even Catie’s Bubbles. It is pretty well filled, though not all the way to the brim, with 4.5 ounces of product. You can just barely load your brush up neatly, if you exercise civilized restraint and a brush considerably smaller than say an Omega 10048.
All ingredients are listed, including a specific list of the Essential Oils (EO) used. This is nice, but as usual there are no scent notes listed, so unless “Bespoke # 1” speaks to you on some non-literate level, a buyer in a brick and mortar store would have no idea as to what was being featured here, though the list of EOs does help comprehension.
Tub is not translucent, but does at least screw apart and together precisely and reliably. Labeling appears waterproof and durable.
2 of 3 points awarded; larger diameter tub with less voluminous loading would be preferred, along with translucence for easy product remainder estimating, and some kind of scent descriptor would be nice.
Scent In The Tub
Per the artisan’s website: “This is a very earthy scent, with a vetiver base augmented by amber, frankincense, sweet myrrh, pepper, clove, and cedar. If you’re one of those who treats shaving as a ritual, this soap (which includes components that have been used in incense and fragrance for millennia), should complement that nicely.”
Vetiver incense is eminently perceptible when sniffing the tub along with some woody notes. This smells a bit like Polo Green with incense notes added, and I personally could not ask for a more interesting or pleasing scent. Though vetiver is prominent, it is modified by numerous other interesting notes and the quality of ingredients used is most apparent. 2 of 2 points awarded.
Lather Ease: Quick and easy, needing minimal water, product, and effort to produce a seemingly thick and lubricious lather. In order to get enough brush load for a three pass shave, 40 swirls with a boar or synthetic is probably overkill, but a dense badger could benefit from such effort. Loading is easy and product stays well hydrated during lathering preparation and application. LASSCO also does nicely in hard water, as I discovered on a business trip. Though not exactly as speedy of a lather producer as Martin De Candre, LASSCO is close, and certainly is the easiest and quickest soap to lather in Series Two. 5 of 5 points.
Lather Quality: Provides excellent slickness and glide, stays well hydrated. Ghost lather (persistence in lubricity after the visible layers have been shaved) is very good. Folliclevation ™ factor is excellent and the painful scarlet red ruin of my face after a typical Bespoke shave had not a milligram of stubble on it, resembling an atomic bomb testing site in its desolation.
However, cushion is far less than adequate. Shaving with a Standard or Weber razor loaded with a blue Personna with Bespoke as one’s soap of choice is like wearing a handgun caliber certified ballistic vest and being shot with a 20 mm autocannon slug. Even after my first shave of agony, when I used less aggressive razors and gentler blades thereafter, I never got a completely irritation free shave from Bespoke. Sometimes my jawline hurt, sometime my neck, always my chin and sides of my mouth would have razor burn. The pain would often last for hours and would survive multiple applications of various balms, splashes, and moisturizers. Certainly if one sought robust and persistent razor burn as a goal of shaving, Bespoke would be a masterpiece.
As mentioned, dear readers, I tried this stuff five times over the space of 6 months, using various types of razors and blades and brushes and post shaves, and never even came close to the same type of cushiony burn free experience that I’ve had from virtually every other shave soap I’ve tried, tallow and vegan. I would like to say it’s me that’s the problem, but the fact that pushes me over the edge of certainty that it’s the LASSCO formula that is to blame here is that Myrkivor and XXCIII, which both use a different base formula from LASSCO, perform perfectly fine on my face.
It should also be mentioned that Martin De Candre also works quite well on my face, offering lots of nice cushion, so the model and its emulator have utterly different effects on the same subject.
Moreover, it is important to note that I was careful to differentiate the razor burn from the redness and dryness I experienced. Sadly, due to my (mis)adventures with shaving products, I can tell the difference easily and I can state with confidence that what I experienced with Bespoke is nothing less than a soap that looked properly cushioning once applied but yet did not reliably protect my face from razor burn.
In any case, given its consistently poor buffering, and its elevated price point, I can only award 2 of 5 points to Bespoke.
Scent During Shave
This is why I endured 5 agonizing shaves. The vetiver and incense gets stronger once lathered, and the woody notes are joined by sweet amber and spices. Even as my chin began to throb, and every inch of my face turned scarlet, I thought “gee, that smells good!”.
The interesting thing is that there is a lot of vetiver in here and as I learned from my own perfume making adventure, vetiver is immensely difficult to balance in a fragrance formula, yet Bespoke manages this feat readily. Another great effect is that we get a non-smoky incense note, giving a clean earthy feel to the fragrance that nevertheless manages to be exotically transcendent at the same time. I didn’t get much patchouli and even less bergamot, but all the other scent elements claimed were apparent to my nose.
The odor is strong and persists throughout the shave. Nothing less than 5 of 5 points awarded here.
Some websites opine that fragrance oils are far more likely to cause irritation to the skin than essential oils. Those who hold this opinion should see my face 10 minutes after I finish shaving with Bespoke…
Interestingly, there is no burning or stinging at any point during application of lather for each pass. However, by the time the first pass is done, my skin has begun to feel dry and tight, especially around the mouth, under the nose, and on the chin. Then, by the time the third pass is done, my face is normally a bright, fiery red. Of note, the redness is not seen only in the areas experiencing razor burn but is seen on every area of my face where lather was applied, even those areas that are not prone to burn, and even in those areas which do not feel either irritated or dry.
The redness lasts for roughly two hours, and my face gets puffy and swollen as well. “You look like a burn victim” was my wife’s assessment of my condition the first time I used Bespoke. After she saw me inflict this same misery on myself another four times, she may well have had other, harsher assessments which she charitably did not share with me.
The dry, tight feeling sometimes lasts for most of a day and usually for 4-5 hours. After applying balm, I then apply moisturizer, and then the useful Proraso White Pre/Post Shave Cream in the affected spots as needed every hour or so, and things gradually feel better.
So.. minus one point for the dryness, minus another point for the redness, and minus a third point for unpleasant after-effects that last for more than one hour post shave. Minus 3 point deduction overall.
Of note, I get none of this irritation from the two LASSCO soaps I’ve tried that use their second generation formula, which adds cocoa butter and avocado oil to the glycerin and stearic acid that’s supposed to be the moisturizers and protectants in the “Mark One” base. Perhaps of some significance, the coconut oil content in the reformulated base is also allegedly considerably reduced.
Of note, I get none of this irritation from the two LASSCO soaps I’ve tried that use their second generation formula, which adds cocoa butter and avocado oil to the glycerin and stearic acid that’s supposed to be the moisturizers and protectants in the “Mark One” base. Perhaps of some significance, the coconut oil content in the reformulated base is considerably reduced.
As a matter of fact, the LASSCO description for Myrkivor states: “This soap is the first to use a new soap formula from The Los Angeles Shaving Soap Company which includes avocado oil and cocoa butter, and substitutes beer for water. The result is a nice light brown soap with an excellent thick lather, and an excellent post-shave feel.” Hm. So the new formula has an excellent thick lather and excellent post shave feel. So what then does the old lather offer in those areas?
Post Shave Feel
We are not going to spend much time here. My face, on the numerous occasions I used Bespoke, ended up with chafed sore spots from razor burn, huge swaths of dry, tight skin, and virtually every visible pore colored a crimson, lobster-like hue. I suppose there are worse post-shave feels imaginable; in my own case, both Truefitt & Hill “1805” & Taylor’s “Sandalwood” creams left my face in worse shape than Bespoke did, but “third worst shave ever” cannot really be called high praise.
The MdC style Euro minimalist template is problematic for those with dry and / or sensitive skin, as its simple base relies almost entirely on glycerin to soothe the skin. I cannot use MdC or similar base soaps without supplementing them with a balm. I think in this area that LASSCO should have set their design goal higher, and indeed, they eventually did, beginning with Myrkivor. It would have been nice if they had revisited their older scents and reformulated these to use the new improved base.
In any case, 2 of 5 points awarded, and that is both imaginative and generous on my part I feel. “Well, if my face was not chafed, dried out, and red, then maybe Bespoke would have left me feeling only slightly worse than other soaps over the long term…”
$28 for a soap with mediocre technical performance in a key area (cushioning), a very basic minimalist ingredient formula, and no real effort at dermatological biochemistry. This does not seem like a very good deal, even if we leave out the sensitizing issue. However, we do have a lot of high quality EO ingredients used, and an excellent smell. Plus, some of the added cost is (presumably) due to the allocation of some percentage of the sale proceeds to a worthy charity. The irksome issue, again, is that both of the newer (better) LASSCO soaps that use the improved base are cheaper than Bespoke and smell only somewhat less impressive. I am awarding 3 of 5 points here.
Total Score: 18/30 (after three point deduction for irritation). Which equals a D-. Tough grade for me to award, as I like some of this artisan’s other chemistry work quite well, and his scents are winners across the board.
Every other iteration I’ve tried of the first generation LASSCO base (“Woody Lavender” & “Hollywood Romance”) has had similar effects on me in terms of irritation (though not as severe or long lasting) and a similar issue with “eggshell cushioning”. It seems apparent that LASSCO realized they needed to change their game up, and hence base formula Mark II.
If only LASSCO went back and redid all their first generation scents with the new base, I could easily see this being an A or A- review. Bespoke is kind of like the LASSCO flagship, and it surprises me to see it languishing with a second rate base. Moreover (and this is only my half baked theory) maybe toning down the coconut oil percentage may have led to less irritation for me (and perhaps other customers also.) It is hard to tell if the coconut oil is the culprit here, as any of the EOs could also be to blame. But as none of the other LASSCO soaps that irritated me had similar scent elements to those in Bespoke, I am guessing that the original base is at fault.
Mind you, I realize it is hard to just change an old scent to integrate with a new base. There’s a lot of reworking and experimentation needed, and many artisans might not want to bother with all that work, especially if they have no idea how to fix the deficient base. I can see their point, but perhaps a price reduction in the old base scents might be appropriate if they are to continue with a second place and outmoded core formula. Moreover, LASSCO obviously has a second base formula available, one that fixes all of V1.0’s issues. It perplexes me then that LASSCO did not travel either route here; no difficult conversion to the reformulated base, no (relatively) easier to make price cuts, accompanied by a “LASSCO Classic” line segmentation.
UPDATE: After most of this article was written, but before publication, John, the LASSCO artisan has indicated that CCXII was an evolutionary dead end, and will not be continued. You can pick this excellent soap up on the maker’s website for a discount. LASSCO shows no sign or reformulating old scents to the Myrkivor base, and indeed now has a new base in their 2016 soap, “Black Rose” that uses a formula similar to the “Bespoke” base but adds bentonite clay and activated charcoal. So now apparently LASSCO will have three formulas: the original in most of their soaps (6 of 8), the multiple oil formula used in Myrkivor, and the new clay and charcoal formula for 2016. A braver soul than myself can test the black waters there…
Of course, not all users of this product will have this same issue. My face is more sensitive than most, and there are many online reviewers of LASSCO products that have nothing but high praise for the maker’s work, who rave of the excellent post shave feel and who (apparently) had no issues with irritation. As the old saw goes, “your mileage may vary”, and indeed it might in the case of Bespoke.
Consider this review an extended cautionary note then, especially if you have used the Creighton’s British shaving cream lineup (ToBS, T&H, GFT) and have had no issues with any of them. Even so, trying a sample of LASSCO Bespoke before investing 28 clams might be prudent. Though the artisan does not supply samples from his own site, some online vendors who sell the line do offer samples for low prices.
So then, if you have a face that by nature is resilient, imperturbable, and well moisturized, Bespoke (and the other Generation One LASSCO soaps) may be for you. I end with the same statement I began with: this soap frustrates me. It is one of the greatest and most complex scents in modern artisanal wet shaving and yet to me it is utterly unusable. I hope LASSCO will one day reformulate Bespoke and others to match a newer, gentler, kinder base, and I look forward to seeing how the company will grow and evolve its excellent scent line into superior formulas.
Into My Rotation?
Ha, are you kidding? After all that pain and suffering? Well, actually, I am tempted… but…No.