One of the originators and innovators of fragrance use, China has used essential oils for medicinal and fragrance purposes for well over four thousand years. In celebration of the Year of the Dog, we’ve put together a set of products that draw inspiration from the land of the Red Dragon.
Wholly Kaw Donkey Milk Shaving Soap, Monaco Royale:
Although the small country of Monaco lies tucked between France and Italy on the Mediterranean Sea, the fragrance notes of this grooming product show the wide-spread reach of eastern aromas. Monaco Royale makes its presence with notes of lavender, bergamot, neroli, petitgrain, oakmoss, cedarwood, tonka bean, ambergris, guaiacwood, agarwood, vetiver, sandalwood, labdanum and musk. The resulting aroma brings forward the notes commonly hailed in Chinese culture; oakmoss, cedarwood, and agarwood (or oud). A dry, woody, aromatic note with light florals and the deep, sweet presence of agarwood for a complex, oriental fragrance.
Reef Point Soap Soap, Dragon’s Blood:
The history of incense in China can be traced back to 2000 B.C., when it was used in religious ceremonies and popularized during the Xia dynasty. Incense is the burning of (often) several powdered woods, spices, and/or florals. Reef Point Soapworks’ “Dragon’s Blood” hits this profile right on the mark, with notes of vanilla, incense, patchouli, amber, and blood orange. Incense and blood orange dominant the scent for a sweet, smoky, and spicy shave bolstered by a ridiculously slick soap base that will last you quite some time.
Stirling Soap Company Shaving Soap, Sandalwood:
Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time in wet shaving is familiar with the use of sandalwood. While many have used this as a base supporting note in sweet, complex and “Westernized” scents, many forget that this wood is of Asian origin, used quite often in Indian and Chinese culture. Sandalwood is one of many components used in incense powder, and, while Stirling’s Sandalwood is in no way an incense-related scent, it is one of the few soaps that utilizes sandalwood as a dominant note. This means you can appreciate the true nature of most sandalwood species’ scent; woody, dry, slightly powdery and earthy. All supported by a slick, very well-cushioning soap base and a virtually unbeatable price point.
Chatillon Lux + Declaration Grooming La Quatrième Ville:
One of my favorite collaborations in wet shaving at this time: Chatillon Lux and Declaration Grooming have decided to team up and provide some truly uniquely-scented shaving soaps. Chatillon Lux is no foreigner to daring scents, and La Quatrième Ville is no exception. While the true inspiration of the scent lies in St. Louis, Missouri’s Forest Park, notes of vetiver, cypress, incense, nagarmotha, violet leaf, benzoin and cardamom take your shave on the Orient Express. The rails take me to a windswept landscape of nothing but tall, vetiver grasses with dark cypress spearing the horizon. Incense and cardamom make this a truly ritualistic scent for a shave that pulls you into a meditative state. Scott’s infamous Bison tallow shave soap will ensure you finish with a clean, smooth mug free of any irritation.
Wholly Kaw Donkey Milk Shaving Soap, King of Oud:
While I try to give everyone a fair shot in these curations, I just couldn’t pass up throwing in a second Wholly Kaw masterpiece. Agarwood - also known as “oud”- is one of the most expensive oils available and is a rollercoaster of notes in and of itself. Used since antiquity throughout Asia, it is mentioned in one of the world’s oldest written texts, Sanskrit Vedas. In this concoction, oud is joined by a plethora of companions. Angelica, rosewood, galbanum, oud, sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli and amber takes a sweeter, almost “sap-like” quality to what may seem like a very dark fragrance on paper. The complexity of oud lends itself to this quality, as it is equal parts musky, woody, and sweet. Sri’s Donkey milk-laden tallow formula is highly prized in the wet shaving community for providing a silky smooth, dense, shiny blanket of lather. Enjoy.
Barrister and Mann, Le Grand Chypre:
It’s no surprise that Barrister & Mann landed on this list; they’re among my (and many others’) favorite shaving soap artisans. Most wouldn’t hesitate to regard Will as a master perfumer; his fragrances are admired and sought after by many a wet shaver, and likely will pull in many a frag head as well. Le Grand Chypre - or, the Large Cypress - features notes of bergamot, labdanum, oakmoss, patchouli, peach, rose, frankincense, cedar, and cinnamon. While some behold a sweet, “foresty” result, I get a rather smoky, animalic conifer forest, thanks to the ever-present labdanum and oakmoss. Cedar also lends itself to this dry accord, and some may be surprised to learn that China is one of the main producers of Cedarwood oil, making this a perfect fit for this curation. Peach and rose push a slightly feminine understory, adding a floral component to this initially masculine fragrance.
Imaginary Authors L’Orchide Terrible Eau de Parfume: In Chinese culture, orchids symbolize wealth, fortune and unity. Orchids were of great importance to the legendary Confucius, who likened the flower to an honorable man. Imaginary Authors’ L’Orchide Terrible is a lighthearted representation of this esteemed floral, with notes of orchid (no way?!), honey, muguet, aldehydes, white musk, and satin. Orchid gives off a very citrus-forward head, and honey and muguet - otherwise known as Lily of the Valley - present an amber-like, musty heart. Airy, sweet aldehydes and white musk complete this fragrance fit for an elegant kimono or changshang of Chinese nobility.
Czech and Speake, No. 88 Shaving Soap: No. 88 has been featured in many a curation here at WCS. Its complexity lends itself to many preferences and occasions with its notes of geranium, rose otto, cassie, frangipani, vetiver and sandalwood. The inclusion of geranium is what lands this scent on our list, as it’s mainly produced in the Yunnan Province of China. Vetiver and sandalwood must be used in significant proportions, as No. 88 presents itself as a complex, spicy, smoky rose fit for the mysterious and adventurous alike. Czech and Speake uses Valobra’s sought-after shaving soap formula to make sure you’ll be satisfied not only with the scent but the stellar performance.
Meißner Tremonia, Himalayan Heights: The Himalayas are a mountain range sprawled throughout Asia and border the region of Tibet; known as the Roof of the World. Famous for space-scraping Mt. Everest, the Himalayan mountains are home to various species of fir, pine, birch and cedar. Meißner Tremonia creator Thomas is dedicated to crafting soaps with formulas of ancient inspiration and scents that, while not lengthy or complex, are quite literally unrivaled. This passion lends itself well to Himalayan Heights; a Kaolin clay-based soap infused with dark, ashy Himalayan cedar and briney Himalayan salt. This leads to an insanely stable lather with great cushion, and a scent fit for a true mountain man.
Tallow + Steel, Himalaya: Tallow + Steel is a name many wet shaving enthusiasts are familiar with. Artisan of all organic, local ingredients, T+S has graced traditional wet shaving with a truly superior product, excelling in scent, performance, and ingredients. Ryan has modeled his new line after various regions or countries; this one is modeled after (go figure), the Himalayas. Each note in this Eastern aroma is native to the aforementioned mountains, presenting notes of cedarwood, benzoin, amber, tobacco, labdanum, vanilla, jasmine, rhododendron, palmarosa, cardamom, beeswax, and sugandha kokila. The effect is a spicy, smooth floral (thanks to jasmine and rhododendron) that is upheld on the muddy, peppery, animalic bed of amber, tobacco, cedarwood and labdanum. This makes me think of a long-forgotten temple overgrown by the native flora of the wind-battered Himalayas.