Happy Moustache May everyone, it’s finally here! Those of you beginning to participate in this month’s event of growing a stache for the charity of your choosing might want to start with a clean shave…so we brought in the big guns! Anyone familiar with the classic technique of the wet shave, which we preach here, will have heard of our next guest, “Mantic 59.” Those who have not will think we are about to interview a popular rapper or graffiti artist, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Those of you on the up and up will also know “Mantic 59” to be Mark Herro, master of the classic wet shave over at Sharpologist.com, and also The Shave Tutor over at YouTube.
In much the same way taking an art history class opens us up to the finer aesthetics of the different modes of self-expression, and give us the words to describe them, Mark has done something very similar through his articles and tutorials. Mark has really made better shavers out of us all, and given us a true appreciation for the art. So again, for those who are new to the name, though I am not truly sure how well he can rhyme or how he fairs with a can of spray paint, this is neither rapper nor graffiti artist, but in fact Mark “Mantic 59” Herro, The Sharpologist. I know you will find this interview both entertaining and educational, Enjoy!
HTGAM: For the readers that are new to wet shaving and may, though I am not sure how, not heard of you yet, please give us a brief introduction.
Mark: Sure, I’m Mark, AKA “Mantic59.” Over the past 6 years I’ve produced a series of videos on how to shave properly, especially using an “old school” shaving kit (lather shaving soaps and creams, shaving brush, single blade safety razors, etc). I also co-founded Sharpologist, a website devoted to shaving and grooming and generally “staying sharp” (get it?).
[pullquote] I couldn’t stop touching my face (I later found out this is known as “faceturbating”).[/pullquote]
HTGAM: You certainly are a fountain of shaving knowledge Mark, what is your background in male grooming? Where you possibly a barber in another life?
Mark: Ha, maybe I was a barber in another life, but he didn’t show up for a long time. I used an electric razor for 30 years…buzz buzz zip zip done in two minutes without much thought. Then in the mid-1990’s I met a special lady. She loved the feel of my freshly-shaven face. Unfortunately she would only caress it for a few hours before it got all “sandpapery” again. We were married in 2002 in Las Vegas. In 2004 we were watching a TV show about things to do in Las Vegas (“Hey, we did that on our honeymoon!”) and one thing they mentioned was getting a barber shave. My new wife turned to me and said “Ohhh, you should try that.” I just kind of shrugged and we continued watching the show.
A year later we decided to go back to Las Vegas for our wedding anniversary. One morning while we were there she said “don’t shave today, I have a special anniversary present for you.” She took me over to the Art of Shaving store at Mandalay Bay and had them give me a barber shave. The results were nothing less than life-changing. My face was insanely soft and smooth. I couldn’t stop touching my face (I later found out this is known as “faceturbating”). My wife was quite taken with it too: she said “ohhhhhhh, mama likes!”
After we returned from our trip I researched this kind of shaving on the internet…and discovered there was damned little about it out there. Luckily I found the Wetshavers forum on MSN Groups (long since defunct). They were enormously helpful with teaching me “proper” male grooming (without the marketing hype and spurious claims of the big conglomerates).
HTGAM: What got you started filming the “How To” tutorials?
In 2006 there was a casual comment on the MSN group to the effect that someone needed to make a video about old school shaving. The general consensus was that it was a good idea but probably not practical. The thinking was you had to see lather building in three dimensions to understand the consistency, and shaving probably needed to be taught in person too. Besides, the new-fangled “YouTube” thing didn’t support video resolutions high enough to make it clear. But I have a background in broadcasting (the engineering part anyway) and I had won a camcorder from a business conference I recently attended so I took it as a challenge and made some test footage with the camcorder and Windows Movie Maker software. When I showed the footage to the forum guys it suddenly seemed possible. They gave me some good feedback and I shot the 3 part “Introduction to Traditional Wetshaving” you still see on my Youtube channel.
HTGAM: I really am a huge fan of the Sharpologist site, it’s as clean as the shave it promotes. How did this come into being?
Kind of by accident actually. I had a blog over on google’s Blogspot for some time, using it as a place for “production notes” and follow-ups for the videos. One of my followers, Andy Tarnoff, happens to own a full-service professional digital media company and he suggested I should start a “real” website devoted to shaving and grooming. With his help we launched Sharpologist in 2011.
HTGAM: Might there be a book in the future? Have you been approached by any publishers?
No, I haven’t thought of a book. Michael Ham has that covered with his excellent Leisureguy’s Guide To Gourmet Shaving. I’ve toyed with the idea of a DVD though. But that’s not a high priority either since my videos are freely available at places like YouTube and Blip.tv.
HTGAM: Your tag line is “what your father didn’t teach you about shaving”, this is so true for a lot of us…except probably your son. Why is this? How was this information lost in such a short time?
Believe it or not I don’t have any kids, though a lot of people have told me I’m like a second father to them because I taught them to shave! I think a lot of the information was lost when the world just got too damn busy for parents to pay as much attention to their children compared to previous generations. Plus, at least in the US, razors became over-hyped and “dumbed down” with things like extra blades (ridiculous, there has never been an independent, peer-reviewed study that says multiple blades work better), “lubrication strips” (notice they’re on the side of the razor that goes over the skin *after* shaving? WTF?), pivots (OK, even I think this is a pretty good idea), and male models taking giant swipes at their face leaving perfectly smooth skin behind. By the way, the introduction of multi-blade, non-interchangeable, manufacturer-unique cartridge designs had nothing to do with very profitable patents that were expiring. Nope, just a coincidence I’m sure.
HTGAM: What are your current blades, razors and soaps of choice right now and why?
Admittedly I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the past few years. Some I’ve purchased for myself, others for videos, some have been gifts, and a few were given to me by vendors. But my favorite safety razors include a Merkur Progress adjustable, a vintage bakelite “Slant” razor, a Parker 92R, and a Merkur Heavy Duty. The Progress gets the lion’s share of use though. I usually rotate among a few favorite brushes including an inexpensive brush from Shaveplace.com, a Simpsons “Rover” brush, and a brush made out of horse hair from Vie Long. I have dozens of soaps and creams but my personal favorites include Castle Forbes limes (obscenely expensive but its like getting hit in the face with a key lime pie!), Truefitt and Hill Trafalgar, DR Harris Arlington, and Speick (a surprisingly low-cost shaving cream from Germany).
HTGAM: A lot of guys reading this article will be inspired enough to hit up ebay immediately after where they will be bombarded by 3 piece, adjustable and comb guarded blades. Could you be so kind to explain the difference between them and what their benefits and weaknesses are?
OK, a safety razor’s head engineering can be broken down into their constituent parts for the purpose of installing and removing a blade. A three piece razor has a top cap, a base plate, and a handle. A two piece razor’s base plate is permanently attached to its handle. A one piece “twist to open” (TTO) razor doesn’t come apart but has little doors that open to access the blade:
The distance between the base plate and the top cap is called the “gap” and an indicator of how “gentle” or “aggressive” the razor is. The larger the gap, the more blade edge is exposed, and the more “aggressive” the razor shaves. An adjustable razor can, well, adjust the blade gap. So like Goldilocks’ older brother you can get a shave that’s “juuuuuust right.” But it also adds a level of complexity to the razor which increases its price. And most people don’t care about adjustability (though I love mine).
An “open comb” razor has little teeth in the top cap to help channel thick hair and shaving cream onto the blade edge. This was much more common in the early days of safety razors because most people didn’t shave every day. Think of it more like a “grooming” tool than a “shaving” tool. You can still find new razors that have open combs but they’re generally regarded as “aggressive” razors, exposing a lot of blade edge (though there are exceptions). Closed comb or “safety bar” razors have a solid (or sometimes scalloped) bar on the base plate, providing more protection from the blade’s edge on the skin. This usually means fewer chances for nicks, cuts, or razor burn. But remember blade gap plays a big part of this too so you will find “mild” razors and “aggressive” razors. It’s all about finding a balance between the characteristics of your stubble, skin, and the blade being used (safety razor blades may all look the same but they actually come in a wide variety of grinding tolerances, coatings, and thicknesses).
HTGAM: Have you, like us here at How to Grow a Moustache, noticed a revival in the old ways of shaving among the youth? Do you think it’s just a passing fad?
I definitely noticed it and kind of fretted that it would be a passing fad. But it sure hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. I think there are different elements in play here, including the ridiculous cost of razor cartridges, a desire to “connect” with family history (a lot remember themselves as a child sitting at feet of their father or grandfather as they shaved), and as a way of reducing shaving problems like razor burn.
HTGAM: Have there been any funny, blooper moments for the “shaving tutor” caught on film and left on the cutting room floor that you would like to share with us?
Well there was this one time when our cat decided to jump onto my shoulders while I was shaving….
HTGAM: Might you have any speaking engagements coming up this Spring and Summer?
As a matter of fact I’m working with a couple barber spa’s in the Houston area for possible speaking gigs. But nothing is firmed up yet.
HTGAM: Since we are a site dedicated to all things facial fur, particularly the moustache….might you have any shaving tips for us? The three pass proves difficult when sporting a handlebar tache or chinstrap beard.
As a matter of fact I have a video that might help with that. Even though it’s about sideburns the concept is the same: make a single “rough” stroke close to the border or edge you want to make then “back off” a short distance and make short strokes crawling toward the desired edge.
HTGAM: Do you have any favorite blade brand and safety razor combos you would like to share with our readers?
As I said earlier it’s no secret that I love my Merkur Progress adjustable safety razor. It will have to be pried out of my cold, dead hands. Or maybe I’ll be buried with it in my cold, dead hands. I like to use Israeli-made Personna (AKA “Crystal” brand) or Derby blades with the Progress, but that’s really a personal preference, “your mileage may vary” kind of thing. I’ve gotten great results with a Merkur Heavy Duty (34c) razor with Iridium blades, too. I also have a Parker 92R that seems to be happy with a wide variety of blades.
HTGAM: Bowl lather or face lather?
I bowl lather in the cooler months for a nice, warm lather and face lather in the warmer months.
HTGAM: Lastly, any advice for those extremely new and skeptical of the wet shave?
I can understand the skepticism so all I ask is to give it a try with inexpensive kit. You can find Van Der Hagen shave soap just about everywhere (~$2) and there’s usually a Van Der Hagen shave brush nearby ($10). Admittedly the brush isn’t very good so if you don’t mind wandering down the women’s cosmetics isle, try to find Ecotools “Kubuki” bamboo cosmetics brush–someone discovered it makes a decent shave brush and it’s only about $7.50). Then make yourself some traditional shaving lather (here is a video that can help)–it may take a few attempts to get it right; that’s OK, hang in there. Use your current Mach3, Fusion, Hydro, or whatever and see if you don’t get a better shaving (don’t forget to use proper technique). If it does, pick up a better brush and a few different lather soaps and creams if you want. Enjoy the process, the scents and the feeling of warm lather on your face, and the results. You may find that the multi-blade razor isn’t really necessary anymore. Then tackle a double edge razor if you want. But just try it…
A very special thanks to Mark Herro our hero! We hope you found this interview as inspiring as all of us over here at How to Grow a Moustache. We will keep you posted on all Mark’s upcoming speaking engagements hopefully at a barber shop near you! Thanks for reading and Happy Moustache May!
Interview by Douglas Smythe
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