Battle of the Vintage Soaps!

Posted: July 6, 2017 in Shaving Articles

In wet shaving, there are some classic soaps that have done great service for many decades. Recently, I had the hare-brained scheme to do a bit of a comparison between them. A shootout, I suppose. I’m sure that my contentions will raise a certain number of eyebrows, but I’m just going to put my thoughts out there, for what it’s worth.

The Competitors:

1) Cella, the classic soft Italian soap from which pretty much the whole croap thing arose.

2) Proraso Green, another great Italian soap, this one with a cooling menthol and eucalyptus feel.

3) Mitchell’s Wool Fat, the tallow and lanolin soap of legend, for many reasons.

4) Tabac, the quintessential German shaving soap that tends to show up on Tuesdays…for some reason. <g>

Round One: Ease of Use

4th Place: Mitchell’s Wool Fat. Say what you want, “The Fat” isn’t the easiest soap to get a perfect lather out of. It’s one of the few soaps I’ll recommend people bloom. Even then, getting the correct load and lather isn’t like falling off a log.

3rd Place: Proraso Green. Even in third place, this is an easy, easy soap to work with. All the Proraso products are. Perhaps the only negative things I can say are that it ablates a little more quickly than the other soaps, and that it tends to leave a powdery residue on the sink and razor.

2nd Place: Cella. Cella is easy to lather, easy to load, and generally awesome. The only points it loses is that its classic container is a bit small, making it harder to get the brush down into the soap, and that it ablates somewhat quickly, being a soft soap.

1st Place: Tabac. I don’t believe I’ve ever used a hard-puck soap that lathered so easily. Through some magic of chemistry, this soap, without blooming, without any special treatment, can whip into a thick lather as easily as a croap. At the same time, the rate of use per shave is almost impossible to measure.

Round Two: Scent

4th Place: Mitchell’s Wool Fat. This is just a “clean” smelling soap. Really, it smells like bath soap to me. That might be perfect for some shavers, but I like to have a nose-full of something engaging while I’m shaving.

3rd Place: Tabac. At first, I wasn’t into the perfume-type scent at all. I’ve really come to like it a lot more over time, but it’s not a favorite for me.

2nd Place: Proraso Green: Good old, medicine-chest smell. I like the antiseptic smell of the menthol and eucalyptus. Others may have a differing opinion. Anyroad, there’s nothing left behind when the shave is done, so it’ll let your aftershave go forward unimpeded.

1st Place: Cella. The sweet almond smell of this soap always puts a smile on my face. It has just enough to bloom and make you feel like you’ve combined dessert and shaving for a few minutes. The smell goes away at rinse, though, so it won’t be fighting your cologne.

Round Three: Protection and Face Feel

4th Place: Proraso Green. While this soap has perfectly adequate protection and quite voluminous lather, it falls behind the other soaps here in terms of protection. The cooling feel nearly pushes it past the next competitor, but the quality of the other soaps just overwhelms the clearly mass-market Proraso a little.

3rd Place: Cella. This is a great old tallow soap. It works great, and is very slick. There are only a handful of soaps that can clearly best it. Some of those soaps showed up for this battle royale, though. I can say that, if this was just the soap of soaps, all I could get, I don’t know that I’d ever really have anything to complain about.

2nd Place: Mitchell’s Wool Fat. Yes, you heard me. Second. If it were just post-shave feel, it would be first, but because the lather from The Fat is more perishable and harder to get to that perfect, thick, creamy lather, and to keep it, Mitchell’s has to take the silver medal.

1st Place: Tabac. Last time I used this soap, I looked at myself in the mirror and just said, “That’s probably the best lather you’ve ever made.” Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of great soaps out there, and many of them make a heck of a lather. The combination of thickness, slickness, face feel, and durability of lather here is just legendary.

Round Four: Post Shave

4th Place: Cella. There’s no loser here. All these soaps work. Cella’s tallow formula isn’t the most nutritive you’ll find from a tallow-based soap. It’s fine, but this is tough company.

3rd Place: Proraso Green. This placing is pretty much solely because of the menthol and eucalyptus, which gives you a nice cool finish. Splash some mentholated aftershave on after a Proraso Green lather, and you’ve got a fantastic warm weather shave. I’d go with Aqua Velva, myself, but there’s a matching AS splash that many appreciate, as well.

2nd Place: Tabac. With a great tallow-based formuala, post shave feel is really excellent here, while the soap still washes away without a huge production (some high-fat/oil soaps can be tough to wash off). Few can climb the hill and challenge this old warrior.

1st Place: Mitchell’s Wool Fat. Tallow and Lanolin. A lot of lanolin. Say anything else about The Fat, but you can’t take anything away from its post shave feel. It’s kind of the king in that arena. Even more modern soaps with similar compositions don’t seem to be quite as soothing and nutritive. It’s this soap’s one true thing.

Final Standings:

I don’t want to say any of these great old soaps are “losers”. It should be mentioned that Proraso and Cella are both quite inexpensive, with Proraso being available for as little as around six bucks sometimes. None of these soaps are wildly pricey, but the two Italian soaps are certainly more affordable.

4th Place: Proraso Green. It’s a great hot-weather shave, a great workingman’s shave. It suffers a little in this difficult company, but deserves to be in anyone’s shave den.

3rd Place: Mitchell’s Wool Fat. The things that this soap does well, it does wonderfully well. It can be tempermental, though. It isn’t easy mode all the way down the line. That, and the lack of fragrance, holds it back in this test. Still, everythone should try it.

2nd Place: Cella. Just a great soap. Easy to work with, smells wonderful, and is available for a great price. No complaints here. It’s no wonder they sell this stuff by the kilogram.

1st Place: Tabac. It took me a while to fully appreciate this soap, and all its wonders. I’m still not as big a fan of the old-school, floral scent as some, but in terms of performance, yield, and just straight-up class, Tabac wins the day. For me. This year.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have other thoughts and opinions on the subject? What did I get wrong? What soaps did I miss? There could be a round two, maybe.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!


  1. Christopher Potvin says:

    I’m almost exclusively using Vikings Blade now. It has such a unique texture, scent, lather, and overall protection, that I haven’t used any of my Sir Hare, Razorock, or hard pucks for almost 2cmonths of shaving

    • Chris, I haven’t tried that soap. Glad you’re enjoying it. I’ve been going through my whole roster of soaps, just to get an overall picture of where they all stand, qualitatively. Also, trying a few new soaps. I’ll have their reviews written and posted in the fullness of time.

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