Shaving Points : Straight Razors, Badger Brushes and Silicone Gels Smooth Men's Chins

Craig Fisher is a contributor to The Times.

LIKE THE PERFECT martini or the cure for the common cold, the smoothest possible shave has inspired one of man's enduring quests.

Reaching that goal may be as simple as starting with a sharp razor blade and a wet beard, then adding a shaving aid such as Noxzema shave cream. (When Noxzema became available in England last year, the men's magazine Arena informed readers that it is generally regarded as the best shaving cream in the world.)

But for men looking to upgrade their shaving kits--or for women in search of holiday gifts--Southern California emporiums stock a full complement of luxurious gear.

Most men probably won't be willing to switch from a safety razor to an electric shaver, or vice versa, but Jerry Baxter of The Sharper Image in Beverly Hills sells a high-tech gadget that just might change some of their minds. "The new concept of wet and dry is big," Baxter says, and, in line with that, he's recently been selling large quantities of Panasonic's new Power Shaver ($139). This rechargeable, cordless electric razor has a titanium-coated foil covering its blades, which, Baxter explains, keeps them sharp longer, and it can be used as safely with lather in the shower as on a dry face afterward.

The Sharper Image also has just come out with its Face Maintenance System, a group of products that includes Silicone Formula Shave Gel ($10). The company, which also has stores in downtown Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks plus several locations in Orange County and San Diego, maintains that the form of silicone used in this softening agent is so slippery that the gel can be applied directly to dry skin and still facilitate a close shave.

Still, some men may crave a more elaborate ritual when they shave. Says David Rosenthal: "There's a customer out there who appreciates the way gentlemen used to care for themselves in the early 1900s." That's one customer Rosenthal is aiming for at the Rosenthal-Truitt haberdasheries on Sunset Plaza, in Century City and at South Coast Plaza.

The English-made shaving brushes at Rosenthal-Truitt ($45 and up), like all good shaving brushes, are made from badger hair, and the best feature the silver-tipped hairs from the animal's belly. "Badger hair has the perfect length," Rosenthal explains. "It's strong but soft, and it's one of the few animal hairs that doesn't clump together when wet." The stores also carry shaving soap ($15) and a selection of razors (around $20), including some with beautifully carved ivory handles from 19th-Century cutlery pieces ($110).

One traditional shaving implement unavailable at Rosenthal-Truitt is a straight razor. But straight razors can be found at Hoffritz for Cutlery, whose local outlets include stores in Santa Monica and Northridge. The company offers two German-made models: one with a plain white handle ($50), the other with a mother-of-pearl handle ($70). It also sells a variety of ordinary razors and electric shavers, along with shaving brushes, shaving mugs and razor strops ($28 to $50) for keeping a straight razor sharp.

As for those straight razors, Sandy Klenk of the Beverly Center Hoffritz says, "We can't keep them in stock. A lot of people want them because they're not disposable." But Klenk advises anyone buying a straight razor as a gift to include with it a package of balloons. Only when a man can shave an inflated balloon without popping it, she says, is he ready to take on his face.

Of course, if a man is just hankering to receive an old-fashioned shave, he can always try his local barber shop. In fact, Tony Palladino, owner of the shop at the Beverly Hills Hotel, says he frequently sells gift certificates to women for a shave ($21) preceded by a facial ($32) for their husbands or boyfriends.

Palladino acknowledges that the price he charges for a shave is "outrageous," but he says the reason is that a good shave takes as long as a haircut. And, he adds, men find it "very relaxing. They walk out like they're on cloud nine."

Although he uses a straight razor on his customers, Palladino questions the practicality of the implements for home use. They're difficult to keep sharpened, he says, and a man can get a nasty razor burn from a dull straight razor.

What does he recommend? "Those little Bic throwaway razors. They're sensational."

Stylist: Paula Elins

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