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Wet Shaving In Italy

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[Note from Mantic59: Michael Goldweber had been living in Italy but was forced to return due to the current world health situation.  Before that happened he wrote up an article about wet shaving in Italy.] Quick; what is the first name that comes to mind when you think “old-school Italian shave?”


wait for it…

one more second…

Yep, Proraso! The 112 year old shave cream from Florence, Italy. While it may not top many “best shaving cream” lists based on shave quality alone, if one were to somehow relate some numeric measure of shave quality to cost per shave, I am confident Proraso, regardless of color/flavor (green, red, white, or blue) would be a serious contender.

[ed. note: Amazon, Grooming Lounge, The Art Of Shaving, and West Coast Shaving links are Sharpologist affiliate.]

It is interesting that in the American wet shave community, old-school British shave translates to the three T’s – premium shave creams/soaps and possibly the even older and pricier Yardley brand. However, when our thoughts travel south down to Italy, they land on the ubiquitous corner drug store brand – and yes, it is available at every corner drug store in Italy.

The goal of this article is to introduce (or reintroduce) readers to the glories of premium and more affordable Italian shave software.

As a past Sharpologist article chronicles, I began my shaving life with my father’s DE razor. Upon leaving home for Uni, I began a many decades wander in the desert of multi-blade cartridge razors. In 2004, while living temporarily in Bologna, Italy, I rediscovered DE shaving. Truth be told, I was shamed back to DE shaving by Italian colleagues who claimed that no self-respecting man used a disposable cartridge razor. Except for my travel kit, I’ve remained true to DE shaving.

Fast forward 16 years and I am once again living temporarily in Bologna, Italy. It’s great to observe that while DE shaving is enjoying a renaissance in the US, it never really fell out of favor here in Italy. While the Gillette/Borg cartridge pushing collective is making inroads here, it never erased DE shaving, like it did in America. Italy is a country whose national identity, culture, and lucrative tourism industry is based on preserving the old, slow ways of doing things. From Parmesan cheese, to balsamic vinegar, to hand-made Italian shoes, doing things the way one’s parents and grandparents did is celebrated.

A quick contrast of Bologna, to my hometown of Cincinnati, OH is illustrative. Greater Cincinnati is about 50% larger in population than Bologna. Cincinnati has two retail outlets for shaving supplies outside of big-box offerings: An Art of Shaving outlet in a mall, and Appointments, a downtown fountain pen store which also stocks some brushes, creams, razors, and stands. In Bologna, stores which stock high-end shaving supplies are ubiquitous. I counted at least six such stores within a ten minute walk of my flat. (Euro-speak for apartment.) Furthermore, there are no barber shops in Cincinnati where one can safely(?) get a cut-throat shave. In Bologna, it seems every old-school barber shop boasts of their barbers’ skills with the razor. A future Sharpologist column will hopefully chronicle my shave experience at Bologna’s oldest barber: Barberia Marchi, founded in 1870 by Luigi Marchi.

Italian Shave Products & Barbershops

While not quite a universal truth, it seems that many of Italy’s high-end shave products came out of individual barber shops. For many, the mother ship of such shops and their products is Antica Barbieria Colla, or ABC. ABC is a barber shop in Milan that also produces and sells their own line of shave software. Their shave cream, like many Italian shave products, is almond scented. It’s also very very expensive: $60 for a 3.4 oz tub (ed. note: in the US it is available at Bullgoose Shaving And West Coast Shaving).

Continuing with high-end expensive shave creams — Italians seemingly prefer creams over soaps — is Acqua di Parma. Available in two versions: brushless or for brush, a 4.4 oz tub costs about the same as a tub of ABC (ed. note: Acqua di Parma is more readily available in the U.S., including Maggard Razors, and Grooming Lounge)

Rounding out the lineup of super premium Italian shave producers is Panama 1924. Also originating from a barber shop, this time in Naples, Panama 1924 produces an almond scented tallow-based cream and soap. What can I say: they grow a lot of almonds here in Italy.

Since my goal is to introduce readers to Italian shave software they may be unfamiliar with, I’m going to skip over

RazoRock: A relatively new brand whose goal is to produce high quality products in Italy for online distribution. Not surprising, I have yet to find RazorRock in Italian brick and mortar stores.

Cella: Another almond scented shave cream out of Milan. Like Proraso, its cheap, ubiquitously available in Italy, and provides a very good (excellent?) shave. Some Italians when discussing (talking loudly/arguing) Proraso (green) vs Cella (extra pure) remind me of  Americans when talking about Coke vs Pepsi or Ford vs Chevy.  In the US Cella is fairly widely available at places like Amazon and West Coast Shaving.

Tcheon Fung Sing (TFS): In spite of the name, it is an Italian brand from Turin. It was started after WWII by a Chinese immigrant. TFS is considered a middle-of-the-road brand whose focus is on vegetable oil-based creams. TFS is also the factory behind many of RazorRock’s creams.  It is also available on Groomatorium.

There are three more brands I wish to introduce to you: Mondial 1908, Omega (yes ,the shave brush people) and a new brand I’m quite excited about, Barbieri Italiani.

Mondial 1908 and Omega are two companies that instead of starting out as a barber shop (though Mondial now has an upscale boutique barbershop in Florence), began their lives as shave brush producers. Mondial produces a high-end line under the Mondial name in addition to their Antica Barberia line priced to be within reach of those stepping up from Cella or Proraso.  In the US Mondial is now available at their US site.


Omega, which like me is based in Bologna, produces, in addition to their extensive line of shave brushes, both the Omega shave cream (which I can not tell apart from Cella by scent or shave quality) and a newer line: Via Barberia.  Via Barberia is the name of a street in Bologna, in the city center, about a 5 minute walk away. For those who’ve forgotten any Latin they may have once learned, Via Barberia translates to “Barber Street.” Bologna is an old medieval city whose streets still reflect their ancient purpose. Barberia Marchi, the 150 year old barber shop I hope to get shaved at is just off of Via Barberia.

Finally, I wish to introduce Barbieri Italiani. This is a newish barbershop located on Via Barberia that like many of its predecessors (e.g. ABC) also produce their own shave software. I can’t yet report on the quality of their products since I thought I would also shop “old school” by first getting a shave at their barbershop with their product before buying any for myself.

I know that this has been a confusing trip through Italy’s shaving landscape – which seemingly is concentrated in Italy’s north. It’s hard enough with companies with Chinese names, or founding years, let alone the repeated use of “Antica” (old) or variations of “Barberia.” Barbieri Italiani, Antica Barberia, and Antica Barbieria Colla are three different products, to say nothing of La Barberia (sorry, its from Spain).  I also apologize if I left out anyone’s favorite Italian product: Valobra, Barberia Bolognini (which is NOT from Bologna), Acca Kappa, Saponificio Varesino, Pannacrema, and others.

For those still reading, I hope that I successfully shared my excitement at being an American shave tourist in Italy. Walking around and seeing all these different shave products in the flesh is so different from the American DE shaver who essentially does all their shopping online. Really, for shave nerds like us what could be cooler than visiting barbershops for a shave using their own shave creams/soaps. From Milan (ABC), to Bologna (Barbieri Italiani), and then on to Florence (Mondial). I recommend stopping in Parma between Milan and Bologna for their famous cheese and ham. Unfortunately, Acqua di Parma moved to Milan years ago.

Michael Goldweber

Michael Goldweber

14 thoughts on “Wet Shaving In Italy”

  1. Nice article, but you forget to mention Razorine, they have a long story and at the moment they produce some of the best and unique razors in brass really made in Italy, you can find them here

  2. Very nice article,just used for the first time Cella aloe cream,very good shave. Looking forward to your next article.

  3. Bell’articolo, grazie!

    Thanks for the nice article.
    We can discuss a bit more about the italian way, but I’d like to elaborate a bit on RazoRock.
    Well, as you mentioned most of RazoRock are copycats of Italian Classics (some are not more available) or something that “reminds and italian sound”, some are even made in Italy. To me and to many, let’s make like that, it’s a non sense.
    You know why it would never be so popular here? Well it’s like having a wannabe italian product, made in Italy, sold in Italy. But here the original are pretty cheap or at least the same price. Why so, using such products? Just becasue they are “Ameritalian”.
    No way, to me.
    And for many many others. We have a huge offer, of excellent quality. So if we, amanti dell rasatura, have to spend to something coming from the other side of the pond, well i’ll go for (many) excellent true americans, canadians, english, german, etc.
    At the very end, please take note also in your article that…
    The King of Italian Cheeses is Parmigiano, not Parmesan. Parmigiano is a trade mark, recognisend and protected. Parmesan is the way you speak and you recognize it and how you probably buy in US. But here (well you can with a little help) we sell Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano not Parmesan.

    Hope this clarifies and thanks againg for your view and article about us. The italian way of wet shaving.

    aka ShavingMostho

    1. Michael Goldweber

      Gracie Mille.
      My heart is bleeding for Italy right now – having left only two weeks ago. I can’t wait until I’ll have the chance to return… Tutto Andra Bene!
      Thanks for the correction regarding Parmigiano Reggiano, the true king of cheese! I had mistakenly(?) assumed that Sharpologist’s readership was primarily American, so opted for the more recognized, though incorrect term Parmesan.
      FWIW: Whenever I return home from time in Bologna, my suitcase is always stuffed with Parmigiano Reggiano! One day over a real coffee we can swap stories and opinions… like the time I had so much cheese in my bags that a US customs official that I was importing for sale, rather than for personal consumption!

  4. Thank you for the great entertaining article. It really enriched me because I’m going to have a whole new dimension of appreciation when I use some of my products.

  5. Brian Fiori (AKA The Dean)

    Michael, thank you for a great overview of popular Italian products. A quick question: What is Aqua Di Parma like now? I still have a tiny bit of a jar I bought many years ago. And while scents aren’t really my thing,I found the quality and especially the scent of that soap to be first class. I read where they had not only reformulated it, but went unscented. Very strange since Aqua Di Parma is one of the most famous scents in Italy, if not the world.

    Any light you can shed on this is most appreciated.

    1. Michael Goldweber

      Not sure how much light I can shed. I know of only two Aqua Di Parma options: brushless and for brush. When last sniffed (about a month ago in an Aqua Di Parma store) both were “traditionally” scented.

    2. I recently bought the Acqua di Parma shaving creme in the brown jar and it is virtually scentless, which is a pity because I bought it thinking that it would be scented. AdP is one of my favourite scents so was a bit disappointed. Perhaps the yellow packaged cream is more scented.

  6. When I was a child, every barber was Italian, every Laundry Chinese, and every Deli Kosher.
    I miss those days

    1. Michael Goldweber

      It is true, we live in a more dynamic, diverse, and complicated world. Sadly, the traditions you speak of were due to prejudice and limitations. Laundries were Chinese, since there were very few entrepreneurial options open to various immigrant classes. It is not because Chinese either liked doing laundry or had special skills in that arena.

      Of course, I could go for a good corned beef on rye any day. I try to visit Katz’s Deli every time I get to New York City…The closest “real” deli in Cincinnati is Jack’s in Cleveland or Shapiro’s in Indianapolis.

  7. I enjoyed reading your article and look forward to reading more. As an Italian-American who still has some family in Italy, I have always had a soft spot for these products.

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