Ease of Lathering: Slightly challenging.
Anyone who has done any research into Mitchell’s soap knows that the stories of difficult lathering abound. Some would have you believe that “The Fat” as it is sometimes called, is nearly impossible to load and lather. This has not been my experience. I have not found that it is necessary to bloom the soap, although it wouldn’t be the worst idea, if you’re having a problem yourself.
What I found is this: being a hard soap puck, you need to work the brush for a bit longer than with a soft soap or a cream. I found that the way to do it was this: I loaded for perhaps a minute, then did a preliminary tour across my face to lay down some soap there. I then went back to the puck for another fifteen seconds or so, getting just a bit more soap into the brush. From there, I added water and lathered until I got the consistency I like. This is a soap that requires a little bit of patience, but even with a badger brush, you should be able to get the lather you want after a bit of trial and error. As with all the soaps I’ve worked with, the newest synthetic brushes with the Plissoft/Plisson fibers tend to facilitate lathering and make it one category easier.
Protection: Once the lather has been created, it is a beautiful thing. Thick, rich, and creamy. Even using a very aggressive razor proved to be safe. Is the tallow and lanolin going to be a whole order of magnitude more protective than another good soap? To me, no, not really. There are a ton of great soaps out there, and whether they are based in coconut oil, glycerin, or tallow, they can protect your face as they should. The differences are not so much between soap bases, but between the philosophies of the soap makers. If you want to make a very rich soap that carries nutrient-rich oils and butters, you can do so. Both tallow and vegan soap bases are capable performers. Both can be bungled. Mitchell’s, being a soap that dates from the 1800s, has clearly found the way. On the other hand, it has a slightly steeper learning curve than some formulations you’ll see today.
Residual Slickness: With a tallow base and lanolin added in, the soap is slick. For me, the primary issue in residual slickness is making sure that there’s some water left on your face. No matter what you have going on, if the water dries up, the razor will still judder or slow down. As I’ve warned in the past, it’s always smarter to re-wet and re-lather if you’re going over your face again. If you wonder how to tell if your soap gives you residual slickness, just take a bit of water and swirl it across your skin after a pass. Take a gentle pass with your razor. If you find that the razor glides easily and comfortably, that means the slickness is there for you.
In addition to slickness, the composition of this soap tends to leave your skin feeling hydrated and nourished. Provided that you are ideologically okay with lanolin, and don’t react to it (some do), its inclusion will often create that soft, smooth finish that will allow you to be less stringent about using moisturizer after the shave.
Scent: Mitchell’s really doesn’t have much of a scent. It is a gentle, soapy smell, and nothing else. If you have a bad time with sensitivity to fragrances and the like, this might be a good try for you. If, on the other hand, your big draw is the aroma, you’ll find it lacking here. This is probably the least fragrant soap I’ve tried. You could, of course put a drop of essential oil or cologne on top of the puck, if you wish, but I think that there are so many scented soaps out there that it might simply be easier to try one of those. Mitchell’s will certainly not interfere with your aftershave in terms of scent.
Production/Value: Wool Fat soap is not the cheapest to buy. The refill puck that has no packaging is the better deal, falling into the mid-priced category. Because it is a hard puck, it should provide a lot of shaves per ounce. I don’t know if I could realistically say that it is one of the best bargains out there. Among both classic and artisan soaps, there are so many great deals to be had. So much great soap. As a shave enthusiast, I am glad that I have Mitchell’s in my collection, but it wouldn’t be my first recommendation to a new shaver. Both in difficulty and in economics, there are other soap brands out there that spring to mind as good starters.
Notes: Mitchell’s is one of the oldest shaving soap formulations out there. It’s a classic. It works, provided you exhibit a little patience. I don’t know that it works better than Cella or Tabac, however. Cella is almost as old, just as classic, and certainly less expensive. It has a wonderful smell. It’s way easier to lather. It has great protection, slickness, and post shave feel. Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a soap that, to some degree, must be viewed through the lens of history to be fully appreciated. It isn’t perfect, but it deserves your attention. Mitchell’s storied formula stands as one of the foundation stones of how to make a shaving soap. Is it amazing to think that some modern soaps have improved upon it over the years? No. If they hadn’t, that would be the saddest fact in the business. The Fat remains a great soap, one that could easily be your daily companion at the shaving mirror. So could soaps from dozens of other manufacturers. It’s a great time to be a wet shaver.
Postscript: I found that, if one puts the soap into a container where it can be bloomed – that is, soaked in warm water for a few minutes, the process of lathering it is far easier. While there has been bloody religious warfare about blooming on the shaving forums, I have typically not had an ideological stand. With most soaps, I don’t find it necessary or useful. I’m not, on the other hand, opposed to trying it if lathering has proved difficult. As with other hard soaps, a brush with a good amount of backbone will make things easier for you. My recommendation is to get the replacement puck, put it into a wide-mouth mug, and use it out of there. As with all things, your results will vary, and this is just one man’s opinion and anecdotal experience. Void where prohibited, some restrictions apply, and so forth.
Okay, I’m done with the blather for the moment. Back to what you were doing.
Cheers, and happy shaving.