German ‘blade city’ has edge in straight razor revival

  • AFP, Solingen
  • Updated: Jun 01, 2016 10:44 IST
Managing director Ulrich Wiethoff poses in the factory of sizzle and razorblade manufacturer "DOVO". (AFP)

A German craftsman forges a small blade in a workshop where sparks are flying, water is gushing and business is good, thanks to a worldwide revival of the straight or cut-throat razor shave.

“At our place, most work is done by hand,” says a proud Ulrich Wiethoff, director of the Dovo factory, as he wanders past workers who polish, sharpen, varnish and package the razors.

The small enterprise was established as Dovo Steelware in 1906 in Solingen, Germany’s ‘blade capital’, whose craftsmen made swords and daggers in the Middle Ages and are now better known for knives and cutlery.

Dovo -- its company symbol a small knight with sword and hammer -- now has some 70 employees. It also produces hairdressers’ scissors and manicure sets but owes its fame to its straight razors, of which it is one of the world’s leading manufacturers.

With its elongated handle and long folding blade, this type of razor almost vanished in the second half of the 20th century, with the advent of disposable and electric shavers.

But “in the past 10 years, there has been a renaissance of traditional shaving with the male public and a very strong recovery in demand,” says Wiethoff, presenting a showcase of elegant razors bound for shipment around the world.

Gentleman’s accessory

The cut-throat razor has made a comeback as an essential gentleman’s accessory, a stainless steel blade that typically slips into a wooden or imitation tortoiseshell, ivory or mother-of-pearl handle.

Since early 2000, Dovo has boosted its production of razors from a few thousand to tens of thousands a year. Twenty employees now work exclusively on the shavers, against just three in 2000.

It’s the same story at knife maker Boeker, also in Solingen, which said that demand had about doubled annually in recent years as cut-throat razors have become especially popular in Europe and the United States.

“Men take more care of themselves ... and it almost inevitably leads to the rediscovery of the old method of classic shaving,” said Chris Kurbjuhn, author of the German blog Nassrasur (Wet Shave).

“Running a shaving brush with foam across the beard, gliding the blade across your skin in peace and quiet, it’s like a ritual, it reflects a return to a certain style of manhood,” said the passionate fan.

Open razors are now discussed on blogs, websites and online videos, while barber shops and Internet retailers are making a brisk trade with shaving paraphernalia, from badger hair brushes and shaving soap to cowhide strops for sharpening.

The razor’s retro appeal has been boosted in popular culture. In the 2012 James Bond film “Skyfall”, Daniel Craig shaves with a straight razor, while a decade earlier, in “Die Another Day”, Pierce Brosnan had opted for the electric variety.

‘Vintage trend’

“Today people are sick and tired of consumerism and brands,” said Geoffrey Bruyere, co-founder of Bonne Gueule, a French-language male fashion blog.

“We are witnessing a vintage trend, a return to authentic things. It’s a very anti-consumerist and a very hedonistic approach” that, given the price tag, is likely to stay limited to a small number of men, he said.

Moreover, when it comes to learning the art of the straight razor shave, “you can’t just do this overnight,” said Kurbjuhn.

“You have to learn the right steps... This kind of shave takes a little more time and is not very suitable for men in a hurry.”

And even if “a well-kept straight razor lasts a lifetime,” he added, the around 150 euro ($170) starting price, plus the cost of the accompanying materials, are a barrier for many.

The Solingen craftsman seem to like it this way.

“We do not want to make a mass-market product,” said Carsten Felix-Dalichow, director of Boeker. “We want to keep alive the spirit of craftsmanship and of the workshop.”

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