Those who enjoy wet shaving are used to seeing historic products. Kent brushes were established in 1777, La Toja began in 1837, and Trumper and Coate's began in 1875. There is one brand, however, that predates them all: Around 1221, the Dominican monks at Santa Maria Novella began creating elixirs from rose water and vinegar. If you travel to Florence today, you can visit the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, which is part museum, part boutique. The historic wooden doors open to dimly lit hallways and display cases, where you can find traditional products ranging from potpourri and candles, to herbal teas and ceramics, to bath and body products. Among them is Santa Maria Novella Crema da Barba, one of the oldest and finest shaving creams in the world.
Santa Maria Novella Crema da Barba is presented in a very classy card stock box bearing the crest of Santa Maria Novella. The shaving cream is packaged in a large 250ml/8.4oz white tub that has a screw-on lid that seals well and protects the cream inside from drying out. The fragrance of the cream itself is very medicinal in character with strong aromas of menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus. Many men who are familiar with other traditional Italian creams, such as Proraso, will find this the scent of Crema da Barba to be very similar and many have mistakenly assumed that the cream is actually the same formula. Santa Maria Novella Crema da Barba, however, is superior because it is produced under very strict and traditional methods to ensure its quality.
The cream itself is very dense in texture, much more so than many of the other traditional shaving creams that I have used. After several attempts at creating suitable lather with Santa Maria Novella, the technique that worked best is the Load/Hydrate Technique, which I have found effective for dense creams. The other method that proved useful was simply to leave the cream in the tub and lather the brush on the surface as you would for a regular hard soap. The cream is dense enough that this technique works well, especially if using a smaller diameter brush.
Crema da Barba produces a very rich and thick lather that easily coats the face for a well-protected shave. While shaving products with menthol are very popular among men who enjoy the cooling sensation, I have never personally cared for them. Santa Maria Novella's formulation with this shaving cream, however, provides a good balance of fragrance. The cream's menthol content is adequate to provide a nice cooling sensation, but not overbearing or uncomfortable. During the shave, the razor glides smoothly along the skin comfortably and the lather remains rich and well lubricated without drying out or sliding off. I have found Crema da Barba to perform equally well with double edge shaves as well as straight razor shaves.
Post-shave is where the quality of the ingredients of Crema da Barba really excels. The shaving cream does a great job of leaving my skin feeling well nourished and moisturized and the medicinal components leave my face feeling soothed and comfortable.
Santa Maria Novella Crema da Barba is an outstanding shaving product that captures the rich history and fine quality of the brand. It can be found throughout Europe at authorized Santa Maria Novella boutiques; however, its distribution is limited in the U.S. to a few reputable retailers, such as Lee's Safety Razors. This shaving cream retails for $52, which makes it one of the most expensive shaving creams on the market. It is suited for someone who loves the fresh scent of eucalyptus and is willing to pay to have the best of the best. Try Crema da Barba and see for yourself why this brand has thrived for nearly 800 years.