Enchante - An Introduction
Welcome to a Q&A event with Charles A. Roberts, owner of Enchante Austin, TX, and father of Method Shaving. Enchante carries a full line of shaving products and fragrances from brands such as Geo F. Trumper, Taylor of Old Bond St, D.R. Harris, and many more. Charles has been in the business of wet shaving for many years and has a wealth of knowledge in all areas of traditional shaving as well as the development and ongoing advancements of his own Hydrolast shaving system. I posed questions to Charles and he graciously offered his time to answer them:
1. How have Method Shaving products and practices evolved since you first introduced them?
Method Shavings evolution over the last half decade has been a rich and complex one. At the same time its basic direction has been governed by three core principles: (1) Wet shaving products should be completely naturalor at least nature identical. (2) The client should thoroughly enjoy his wet shaving experience. (3) Wet shaving products should be affordable. Successfully conveying these principles to countless individuals in the so-called global market has sometimes stretched my tiny operation past its limits.
Shavers who are familiar with the general history of wet shaving in the United States well remember the days in the middle 1990s when Method Shaving did not exist in any form. Back then, traditional brush style shaving ruled the day. However, this does not mean that any kind of serious market existed for wet shaving goods of any kind. Quite frankly, there was none. And though none of us realized it at the time, back then the U.S. market for wet shaving goods was basically dead; the European shaving business was rapidly heading to a similar fate.
To make matters worse, there were very few products available for sale in the U.S. Every shaving brush, mug, soap or cream had to be imported. Since there was no internet at the time, it was impossible to create any kind of extended national market for ones products. This fact made the importation or production of quality wet shaving goods extremely expensive. The only U.S. producer to speak of was Col. Conk in New Mexico. Most people regarded traditional shaving as difficult and time consuming. Ironically, few men had any interest in the learning to shave; as a result I spent nearly a decade learning to sell wet shaving products to women. It was only after the year 2000 that men became interested in the subject.
Back in the early nineties, the only razors we had came either from Gillette or Schickthese were usually of the Sensor variety. Double edge razors could only be obtained in antique stores. Shaving brushes were invariably of the junk badger varietygrey, stiff and scratchy. Only the shaving creams were largely identical to the ones available today. Back then I entered the business as an import retailer of Trumpers and D.R. Harris shaving goodsa job I continue to hold even now. As a result of constant supply problems, however, I was usually out of stock on most items. This didnt really matter too much in those days since I probably only sold one pot of shaving cream a month. That is how bleak things were.
The first shaving product of my own I ever created was the ubiquitous shave cube. I believe I offered this product back in 1996albeit in a very crude form. The second generation cube came out in 1998. This was a much better product, though it did tend to dry out a bit. The current green machine came out in 03; it is this product that wet shavers really know and love. Simply put, without the cube Method Shaving in its present form would be impossible. Although I have gone on to invent an entire portfolio of wet shaving products, I still regard the cube with special fondness.
It will not be surprising to learn that the HydroLast wet shaving system was born in stages extending over many years. The process itself involved experiments endlessly repeated until the various products themselves performed perfectly for shavers. The sheer volume of personal effort, financial investment and frustration these efforts required cannot even be imagined. Indeed, I believe that most entrepreneurs seriously underestimate the vast sums of time and effort that even the simplest product requires to get to market. This fact largely accounts for the high percentage of product failures typical of most new product launches. One example will illustrate this fact: one of my oldest productscutting balmrequired nearly three years of continuous development until a successful formulation was finally achieved. The shave cube was first developed back in 1996. The 3X cutting forms originated in my shaving clinics almost a decade ago. I believe it was not until 2003 that I actually posted them on the internet. Today, they seem to be the best known images in all of modern shaving. Finally, working out the principle of velocity has consumed my entire professional careera term in excess of 15 years. American entrepreneurship is not an easy road to travel.
Ultimately, wet shaving, in even its most rudimentary forms, is an extremely fascinating, but complex, subject. I believe that most wet shavers intuitively understand this fact, especially when they are first struggling to learn how to build mix and properly cut it. All too many manufacturers of shaving products, however, do not appreciate this fact. For those few of us engaged in the creation of wet shaving products, I believe it is imperative that we constantly strive to simplify both the products and process our clients use. This is invariably easier said than done. Nevertheless, I would like to think that over the years my products have delivered better wet shaving results with less effort and at lower cost.
2. Where do you see the current resurgence in wet shaving leading in the near future?
The U.S. wet shaving market is the most dynamic and innovative in the world. But despite its very limited size, it is nevertheless savagely competitive. I really dont believe that any informed observer of the U.S. wet shaving business over the last five years would seriously doubt these claims. But in order to get a clear sense of where the U.S. wet shaving business is headed, it is first necessary to fully grasp its present structure. Right now, the practice of wet shaving in the U.S. is divided into two distinct segments: single blade shavers and multi-blade. The first group generally use my HydroLast wet mix system; the second group uses dry paste media, most of which presently comes from England. The list of these brands is already well known. They include Geo. F. Trumper, D.R. Harris, Taylors of Old Bond Street, Truefitt & Hill and so on. Single blade shavers are of course those who use double edge blades, injectors or open blade razors. Multi-blade systems are those presently offered through the mass market by Gillette and Schick. It is pretty obvious that the future markets for wet shaving products will conjointly develop within both of these segments.
At present, the distinction between single and multi-blade shaving is also closely adhering to geographic lines as well. Nearly all European wet shavinga very loose use of the term, to be sureis dominated by the Schick/Gillette multi-blade system. American single blade shaving only took off with the advent of Method Shaving at the end of the 1990s. Although there was considerable cross over between the two forms for several years, this practice is in sharp decline. Most shavers have found that the differences between the two forms prohibit easy switching. Given the increasing popularity of single blade in the U.S., my guess is that it will increasingly dominate wet shaving in the future.
3. How are the new ShaveMaster brushes different from the previous version?
Those who have followed the ShaveMaster story will probably recall that they were the first generation of power mixing shaving brushes. My basic intent with ShaveMaster was to provide shavers with a brush powerful enough to build wet mix using my HydroLast system. While developing the concept of building wet mix from scratch, I found conventional shaving brushes to be wholly inadequate to the task. Indeed, most quickly fell apart when used in conjunction with the shave cube. In short, I wanted to invent an entirely new kind of shaving brushone that could hold up to the substantial rigors demanded of Method Shaving.
These considerations resulted in the birth of the first generation ShaveMaster V200 high velocity shaving brush. Two distinct features characterized this brush: first was the use of a heavy grade polymer grip. The second was the distinctive full canopy or fan cut of the brush itself. Back then the ShaveMaster could only be bought in two colorsblack or white. Initial reactions to the first internet images of the brush were egregiously unkind. Most thought them hideously ugly. Initial sales were slow. However, not everyone responded in this way. Not a few were quite impressed with my new brush. For instance, one long time client of mine purchased one of the first ShaveMasters produced. He wasted no time in posting one of the greatest product reviews this business has ever seen; he described the ShaveMaster as the worlds first purpose built shaving brush. This description was perfect; everyone seemed to intuitively understand what it meant. After that sales took off.
The new ShaveMasters are radically different in both design and construction from their predecessors. The most obvious change can be seen in the use of exotic hardwoods for the grip material. In addition, the grip profile is much leaner, allowing for easier overall grip control. For those already familiar with the ShaveMaster concept, it is the unprecedented degree of core compression within the brush bucket itself that is most prized; this increased compression enables the shaver to build mix nearly three times faster than with a conventional brush.
4. What are your opinions about using the straight razor with Method Shaving?
My professional interest is in single blade shaving; this focus is generally confined to the use of the double edge razor. At the same time, national interest in open blade shaving continues to grow at an astonishing rate. This has not always been the case. When I started teaching single blade shaving many years ago, I dont believe that there were 100 dedicated open blade shavers in the entire country. Back then, the national authority on open blade shaving was the incomparable Ray Dupont; it was Ray who single handedly built the early business in open blade razors. While Ray promoted the open blade approach, I tackled the double edge. Between us, we tried to build the entire national wet shaving scene on our own; it certainly was not an easy thing to do. However, following Rays tragic death a couple of years ago, open blade shaving went into a rapidand almost permanent-- decline. Since then, fortunately, some new players have entered the business. For instance, we now have folks like Lynn Abrams; I think he has done a terrific job promoting open blade shaving. Classic Shaving, Rays original website, has continued to offer outstanding razors in the category. As a result, open blade shaving has really become a specialty shaving form in its own right; I feel that double edge shaving should be treated the same way. At least that is the way I treat it.
I think that the principles of Method Shaving lend themselves perfectly to the open blade environment. The use of water based media; the strict reliance on the use of the single blade; and the process of continuous recombination of steel, brush and wet media all contribute to excellent results in the use of the open blade. I should also note in this regard, that the new range of HydroLast shaving pastes is more enriched with buffering agents than ever; I consider this very good news for straight steel shavers.
5. Your recommended razor has been the Merkur HD, what do you think of the new Merkur Barber Pole razor?
I really dont think that any of the European shaving goods companies understand how much the wet shaving environment in the U.S. differs from their own. This fact is clearly revealed in the unsophisticated kinds of razors (cutting media as we call it in Method Shaving) they insist on producing. I personally think the Merkur barber pole razor is comically unsuited to the needs of the U.S. wetshaving market as it is currently configured. Most of the Merkur razors are useless for shaving with Feather platinum DE blades; this of course is the number one DE blade in the country. Merkur DE razors are also unsuited for use with traditional paste creams like Trumpers or D.R. Harris. It is much easier to cut these creams with a Gillette or Schick razor. Double Edge blades, on the other hand, are perfectly suited to the Method environment with its buffered mixes and stable cutting environment. At the same time, anyone attempting to use a Feather blade in a heavy weight DE razor to cut a traditional dry paste cream is usually asking for trouble. Unfortunately, most shavers get into trouble very quickly in this way. I have always recommended the Merkur HD for no other reason than it is presently the least objectionable of all the razors Merkur makes. However, with the exception of Merkur, I dont think any other shaving goods company offers a decent DE razor. The present dearth of excellent DE razors is very frustrating; however, I am currently at work on improving things in this area.
6. Do you ever alternate from Method to traditional shaving like some of us do?
This is an important, but problematic, question. I never switch from Method to traditional shaving. The main reason for this is fear of injury. I know well enough how to get outstanding consistent results using my own Method system; however, using traditional dry paste media with a DE blade can be a very chancy thing. It helps to remember that Method Shaving is driven by three operative principles: mix velocity, razor control and blade sharpness. These three elements, in turn, support the track and cut function of the DE razor. When combined properly, these constituent elements produce a seamless, extremely efficient, quick cut effect. Ultimately, the chief mechanism that controls all of these various factors is the consistency of the wet mix itself. Ultimately, it is the quality of the wet mix that controls the Method Shaving process. This is because the stability of the wet mix supports the DE blade and allows it to cut extremely close without injury or irritation. If the wet mix is made unstable, over wet, or subject to spontaneous dry down (cracking in Method Shaving terms) then the shaver can get hurt. Traditional paste creams are extremely unstableeven the best of them are nearly impossible to control. Hence I generally regard them as unsuited to Method Shaving in almost any form.
7. How has the growing community in the shaving forums helped or hurt your business?
The shaving forums are currently the lifeblood of the wet shaving business; no doubt about it. Indeed, without the forums, we would have never moved past the terrible struggles of the early years of the trade when none of us knew anything about wet shaving. Now product information and new reduction techniques make their way through the internet in no time. More importantly, the forums have largely taken over the heavy educational lifting that I previously had to largely undertake myself. Thanks to the forums, it is no longer necessary for me to schedule all day shaving clinics in my store. Most newbies learn how to shave from the forums.
8. There has been mention on your Method Shaving forum that there are several products that are not offered online and only available through in your store. Could you tell us anything about these products?
Most of these products are only suitable for very advanced Method style shavers; hence my reluctance to make them available to a wider, less skilled, internet audience. The folks who buy these products are usually very experienced wet shaversor open blade userswho want the benefit of very high velocity shaving. These shavers are well schooled in the principles of Method Shaving and want to move up to the next level. Many of the products not being offered online are used extensively by open blade shavers. This group generally requires personal, one on one, interaction and custom blending for their shaving products.
9. Are there any new products we can look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I have a new, super rich, wet shaving paste currently under development. I have sent a few pots out for testing and the results have been extremely positive. When it is market ready, it will appear on my website. The other products currently under development are more complex and involve much longer time horizons. So, there is not much to say about them right now.
10. What can we expect if we make the trip to visit Enchante?
Most people think of Enchante of Austin as strictly the birthplace of the U.S. Method Shaving movement. This fact is hardly surprising given the stores prolific reputation as a source of wet shaving products, instruction and publicity. Enchante is considerably more than the mere sum of its wet shaving assets, however. It is also a highly respected perfumery offering quality fragrance and toiletries for both men and women. I want to stress this last point, since most U.S. perfumeries offer very few fragrances of any kind for men.
Enchante is a bespoke concept, pure and simple. The bespoke principle is essentially a European idea in which quality goods and services are comfortably purveyed using deep expertise, unique history, and outstanding personal service. In this sense it is meaningful to describe Enchante as a true boutiquethe kind of place that everyone has heard of but few people have actually visited. It is a place rich with legacy goods, personality and professional stature. It is the kind of place that customers really enjoy and value; a few years ago a client described Enchante as one of the few businesses left in the world that has soul.
Ultimately, it is of course the wet shaving products that most visitors want to see. Some just want to meet the Shavemaster; others are brought in by something they read online or in a magazine. Visitors quickly learn that Enchante is a very hands on place. Shaving clients can watch me personally blend their favorite aromatic tonics and wet pastes. I also give free instruction on any range of wet shaving products made by other companies. Happily we are well provisioned in free samples of shaving goods, colognes and just about anything else we sell. I am usually available to offer shaving brush demonstrations, product explanations and answer all kinds of shaving questions. It is also now possible to receive a free complimentary Method style shave from an outstanding barberess located just up the street. Our hours of operation are 10:00 am to 6:30 pm, Monday through Friday.
Iwould like to thank Mr. Roberts for his time and willingness to share his ideas. For more information on Enchante and Roberts Method Wet Shaving please visit www.enchanteonline.com