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New Proraso Santa Maria Novella Showdown!

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
Someone else just did something similar, and I love the Bobby Flay Showdowns on Foodnetwork, so I'm gonna do it!

First, let me warn you all I'm not particularly impressed with 'classic', 'artisan', 'old style methods', 'traditional', et al, unless they actually matter. Which means it has to perform, no brownie points for style. And I am convinced that price has NOTHING to do with the quality of anything in this activity, brushes, razors, blades, soaps, creams, none of it. I often wonder what would happen if we did 'blind testing' with regard to price and just handed people stuff. First thing they'd ask is "how much did it cost?" and I'd always reply, "What does it matter?"

Another thing you should know is I cannot make as fine distinctions (apparently) as so many others here can. So if it's thick, slick, and smells good, I like it. I tend to lump stuff together that excels in all three of those areas, without trying to rank them. So unless there is a definite difference I can easily discern, be prepared for me to call this a tie. Because I think that's a good possibility.

Anyway, I shaved this morning with the new proraso soap (courtesy of Marco, thank you, my friend!) and I really loved it. Although I still like the occasional TOBS Rose cream, Tabac, or QCS Green Irish Tweed, I have become quite the Italian soap slut of late. Cella, RazoRock Artisan, La Famiglia, the new Proraso, I like them all, and I'd be proud seen strutting down the street with the whole gaggle of them! :lol:

So today, I got my 1/4 split of SMN from Garry's Sample shop (a real Mensch, Garry is, check him out!) and off for a test lather I went. Now for the noobs, don't feel bad if you don't see this in your bowl every morning. Neither do I. When we do these things we spend about five minutes whipping it up, using way more soap and water than we normally would, bowl lather, palm lather, bowl lather, palm some more, squeeze the brush, whip some more ... in other words this is not real life. But it is pretty! :001_tt1:

Note: All photos at bottom, lather, then Proraso then SMN ingredient list.

Now that the obligatory lather pr0n is out of the way, lesse, what's next? Oh, yes, ingredient list. Despite my mental image of nuns pacing about with cauldrons of 'old stuff' singing Gregorian chants, I was quite surprised to find the SMN all 'chemicalled up". And I mean bigtime. This looks nothing like Martin de Candre, or even RazoRock. This looks like DuPont Corp put it out. But, frankly, I've never worried about all that. The global warming folks and the 'safe foods and cosmetics' folks have cried wolf so much, I am immune to their cries. Parabens, schmarabens, I care not a whit.

It was dense, and verrrrry slick. I think the SMN is going to win on slickness, but the Proraso is just as dense and both are easy as pie to lather. I loved the test lather, and I can tell this stuff is world-class soap.

So, tomorrow will be the SMN shave. Then on Wednesday, I will lather both and do a half/half shave with them together. Because I need to do that if I am going to tell any difference at all. Stay tuned! I'll update this OP as I go along.


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I am a fan of SMN and I have been using it everyday since the weather turned hot. I enjoy the slight cooling effect plus there is plenty of cushion.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
OH! I did not know that. I knew they were both made in Firenze (Florence), but I did not know that. BRB.


Hmmmmm. No mention of the company on either the SMN box or the Proraso tub. We'll have to wait for Marco to weigh in here on this, I think.
 
Looking forward to seeing your feedback and head to head comparisson. SMN has always been one i've wanted to try, but never gotten around to.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
Well, today was the SMN shave -- very nice, indeed!

  • Santa Maria Novella Soap
  • Omega 10098 boar brush
  • DE89 head on BRW Mastiff XXL handle
  • Gillette Super Platinum - Blue (Russian) second shave on that blade
  • Thayer's Witch Hazel
  • Some green AS Garry sent with SMN split labeled 70 menthol


Well, as I have come to expect with any Italian soft soap, this stuff practically lathers itself. I did a tepid water shave today, no more hot stuff for the summer. The lather is thick, pleasantly dense, but not too much so, and very slick. The cooling sensation is noticeable, but mild. I'm not a menthol freak that likes liquid nitrogen type products, and I liked this very much. IIRC it was on a par with the Proraso cool feeling from yesterday's shave. The stuff is very slick, I did a 3-pass with touch up around jawline and chin and got a very comfortable DFS. I'd call it a BBS except for one line along the right jaw with some barely perceptible stubble. And surprise, surprise! The parabens in the SMN did not eat my face! I really cannot get excited about the whole parabens thing, frankly.

Tomorrow I will do the head-to-head, lathering the two soaps in identical bowls using my Omega 10098 and 10049 brushes. I'll lather up one soap on each side of my face for the shave. This should be interesting. I only wish I had someone else who could lather me up so I would be doing the test blind. But as I said, I normally cannot tease out very fine distinctions so I won't call a winner unless I really notice some big differences.
 

Marco

B&B's Man in Italy
OH! I did not know that. I knew they were both made in Firenze (Florence), but I did not know that. BRB.


Hmmmmm. No mention of the company on either the SMN box or the Proraso tub. We'll have to wait for Marco to weigh in here on this, I think.

The manufacturer of both Proraso and SMN Crema da Barba is the Ludovico Martelli S.r.l. company, an old and prestigious Italian factory founded in Florence in 1908. The Proraso line was introduced in the 1930's and actually is the most classic and Old-School Italian barbershop brand.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
So SMN isn't the winner hands down? For the price differential, I'd expect it to not even be close.

It may turn out to be, I don't know yet. I shaved with the Proraso (new) yesterday, and the SMN today. I loved them both. They are very similar, and so tomorrow I will shave with one on half my face, the other on the other half and see if I can tell a difference.

Again, I am not so good at detecting very fine nuances between soaps, so I am likely to be somewhat indifferent between these two, but I won't know until the 50/50 shave tomorrow.

Now, some of the soap 'experts', like Price, or Marco can probably give you much more detail about the soaps than I can. I liken this to wine. They are more of a, "Well, that area had a rather dry spring this year, which led to a lower sugar content, so the reds are a bit drier than normal this year. This one has top notes of cherry and subtle notes of vanilla and ... blah, blah, blah."

I'm more like, "Hmmm. Red. Bold. Good with meat! I like it!"


I'm probably not the best guy to do these things, but anyway, hang on until tomorrow. Also, while I may come to the conclusion I am indifferent between them, Marco or Price or other more sophisticated soapsters may think the differences are well worth the price differential. So remember the YMMV thing here.

I can tell the difference between an $8 bottle of wine and a $25 bottle of wine. But I probably could not tell the difference between a $25 bottle and a $75 bottle to save my life. That does not mean the $75 bottle is not 'better' or 'worth it' to someone. Just not me. Make sense?

Anyway, there is no verdict yet. Stand by ...
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
Well, you guessed it! I really cannot tell any difference. I refer you to my comments about my ability to discern tiny differences in post #10, above. I think the wine analogy is an apt one. To my mind, both the new Proraso soap and SMN are like $25 bottles of wine. Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, however, let me hasten to say, others on this forum may find SMN to be a fine $80 bottle of wine. and they are not wrong. One cannot pass judgement on another's assessment of value. I just usually can't tell the difference between a $25 and an $80 bottle of wine, so for me, it's a waste of money.

Today's shave:

  • Omega 10098 brush for the Proraso on the left side of my face
  • Omege 10049 brush for the SMN on the right side of my face
  • Both lathered in identical bowls
  • DE89 mounted on BRW Bull Mastiff Deluxe XXL handle
  • Gillette Super Plat Black on third shave
  • 3 passes + touchup, DFS, finished with Aqua Velva. Very comfy!

In terms of latherability, lather density, slickness, longevity, and after face feel, I could really tell no difference at all. None.

While I won't judge anyone else's perception of value, if you are using SMN and have NOT yet tried the new, reformulated Proraso soap, I urge you to do so. I don't have any of the last Proraso left, but I used a lot of it, and I remember it clearly. SMN was the hands-down winner against that soap. Frankly, they've upped the game in the current version of Proraso so radically, you really should try it again before reloading on SMN. I know that many of you, being the fine soap connoisseurs that you are, will still prefer the SMN. However there is no doubt in my little military mind that at least some of you who preferred SMN to the old Proraso will find that the new Proraso may be its equal.

Anyway, I call this a dead heat, they are indistinguishable to me, and although I had to try the SMN, it will be Proraso for me on the reload! I would love to hear from anyone who has not done the SMN new Proraso comparison. I would love to get confirmation on how much Proraso has upped its game with the new Proraso soap.

Again, I'm not dissing anyone else's evaluation of SMN! Just sharing my experience.
 
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Marco

B&B's Man in Italy
John, thank you so much for this great thread. I, however, have a different opinion on the SMN - Proraso head-to-head comparison. I sincerely think that SMN is a somehow better product. Proraso is a lovely soap and a trusted barbershop item and I also think that the new Proraso is definitely better than the old one. But SMN just is an "upgraded version" of Proraso - creamier/thicker lather, superior moisturizing properties and better post-shave feel. I'm not sure if it's the added lanolin in SMN that makes the difference for me, but these are my feelings. All above is obviously only my own personal point of view, my friend. And, again, I love your passion, enthusiasm and commitment to B&B!
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
Marco, it may well be with more use I will begin to discern a difference, no doubt about that. I think it may be simply that I've only been at this for about a year and I don't yet have enough miles under my belt to reliably tell a difference. I may use one solid for a full week, then switch for another week and see how it goes. I have about a 1/4 tub of the SMN it's more than just a sample. I do hope I made it clear that I'm not suggesting they are, in fact, the same, nor that SMN may not be worth the upcharge.

My friends here who take vacations in California's wine country and go from one winery tour to another most definitely can make repeatable distinctions between the run-of-the-mill and the 'good stuff'. I think it is probably very much the same in this shaving business. And I'm just not that experienced yet.

How do you find them different? Is it slickness, skin protection? What are the attributes that make it a standout in your mind? I'd like to do the shave soap equivalent of 'educating my palate'.

I will say I have become quite the Italian soap and Omega brush fan, though. While I still get to my Tabac, my TOBS Rose, and my QCS Green Irish Tweed (currently out of stock :sad: ) on occasion, a good six days a week I find myself reaching for the RR Mughetto di Bologna, my new love, RR Don Marco, Cella, and now the new Proraso. I like my silvertip badger and other products, but if I had to settle on one class of products and one type of brush, without hesitation it would be these Italian soaps and Omega brushes. I love these products!
 

Marco

B&B's Man in Italy
In my opinion, slickness is pretty much equal - both soaps actually offer the same excellent glide when properly lathered up. The main difference is the post-shave feel and here is where SMN reveals its superiority. Again, I don't know if it's the lanolin that makes the difference, but with SMN my face feels definitely better and smoother. Try to alternate your shaves day by day using these two products only for a few days. After this period of tests, report your thoughts and let us know. Maybe you could change your mind and share my ideas, or simply confirm your initial impressions. Sounds good?
 
I have found the "difference" to be VERY subtle indeed. The Santa Maria Novella really knocked me out when I used it for a good stretch of time. The Proraso was ohhhhhhhhh so close but not quite in the same league and I believe it has much to do with the finishing nuance of the SMN and now if I could only tell you with a straight face that the price differential is justified. It in fact IS if you want that Santa Maria Novella experience. If you want very very close to it, choose the Proraso/Bigelow.
 
great comparisson john. i loved the cheek side/side.

not to add more variables, but just out of curiosity, is SMN considered a soap or cream? i'm wondering if that plays a part in the post shave feel and slickness.

there seems to be very little lanolin in SMN (looking at the ingredient list and where it alls, as well as what i've heard), but they are obviously doing something right. i've never tried or done it, but apparently the old formula OMEGA soap is the poor mans SMN and i've seen posts about people thinking of adding a drop of lanolin to their current proraso/omega to give it that extra umphf.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
In my opinion, slickness is pretty much equal - both soaps actually offer the same excellent glide when properly lathered up. The main difference is the post-shave feel and here is where SMN reveals its superiority. Again, I don't know if it's the lanolin that makes the difference, but with SMN my face feels definitely better and smoother. Try to alternate your shaves day by day using these two products only for a few days. After this period of tests, report your thoughts and let us know. Maybe you could change your mind and share my ideas, or simply confirm your initial impressions. Sounds good?


I had not thought about the lanolin, but you are right, that should make a difference. I have a pretty tough face, but I use lotion with lanolin on my hands and it makes a difference. Great soaps, though, no doubt about it. The scent of the SMN is better, I did not focus on that, but it is a great scent.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
@ Hoosier, are you speaking of the new Proraso, or the old? I think the SMN blows the old Proraso away, frankly. I really think Proraso did a terrific job with the reformulation, kudos to them!

@ Brucered, it's a soft soap, not too different in density/firmness from the other Italian soaps, definitely not a cream.
 
Thanks for the great feedback between these two.

Bottom line though, you are comparing a $10 cream to a $68 cream with minimal differences.

I just used the new Proraso Sandalwood and for the $, it can't be beat.
 
@ Hoosier, are you speaking of the new Proraso, or the old? I think the SMN blows the old Proraso away, frankly. I really think Proraso did a terrific job with the reformulation, kudos to them!

@ Brucered, it's a soft soap, not too different in density/firmness from the other Italian soaps, definitely not a cream.

John, Marco will need to confirm but I am sure SMN is classed as a cream as in Crema da Barba(not sapone da Barba)
 
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