Tallow + Steel “Dark” and The Holy Black SR-71 slant
I received this soap yesterday and was immediately struck by the crisp, clean graphical design of the lid—and, for that matter, by the pure cylindrical shape of the jar. That sort of design/presentation creates expectations: if you make a strong impression of quality in the design, you pretty much have to deliver a quality product—if you don’t, the disappointment of the user is greater because the difference between the expectation created by the design and the experience of using the product is too great.
I removed the lid at once, and saw that the design theme is carried through into the soap:
I have to say I enjoy getting a soap that’s been embossed: Meißner Tremonia does this to very good effect with their shaving soaps. Again: that level of design consciousness continues to build one’s expectations. (The tub in the photo above is Tallow + Steels “Classic,” rather than the “Dark,” which is (as you might expect) darker.)
I sniffed the “Dark” and the fragrance, I’m happy to say, exceeded my expectations: the chocolate note is clear, but it’s just part of a very interesting and attractive olfactory experience. T+S describes it thusly:
Dark, rich, and earthy – yet mysteriously sweet. Dark is a bold essential oil blend of coffee, cocoa, ginger, and vetiver, combined with the sweetness of peppermint and benzoin.
Dark features a coffee essential oil from South America, and a cocoa absolute oil from France.
Coffee + Cocoa + Vetiver + Ginger + Benzoin + Peppermint
100% Essential Oils
Clearly we’re not in Kansas anymore. Indeed, the T+S backstory is worth reading. Not Kansas, but it’s clear that some mighty fine things come out of Winnipeg: “Manitoba, Home of Excellence” is perhaps actually a slogan. Tallow + Steel certainly is consistent with that slogan.
Of course, our expectations do not occur in a vacuum: they are shaped by our prior experience, and the (often broken) promise expectations offer is that our future experiences will be in line with our past experiences. That idea, however, undervalues the richness of reality, which always seems to present new surprises.
In this case the visual experience of the design created an expectation of the soap; the experience of the fragrance exceeded that expectation and increased the expectations for the soap’s performance.
I chose the Plisson High-Mountain White size 12 brush shown, with a horn handle. (The French, from being the colonial power exploiting Vietnam, have long offered a range of products using horn from Vietnam, shaped (I’m guessing) by artisans there: handles, combs, little boxes, etc.) I wet the brush well, gave it a couple of shakes, and started loading.
The soap loads easily. I did add just a little water as I did it, and once I was working the lather up on my face, added a little more water. The lather is first-rate: expectations fulfilled, to say the least. Their list of ingredients:
Stearic Acid + Tallow (from local, pasture-raised, 100% grass-fed cattle) + Water + Potassium Hydroxide, Sodium Hydroxide + Organic Castor Oil + Organic Glycerin + Organic Coconut Oil + Organic Avocado Oil + Lanolin + Silk + Essential Oils + Vitamin E
This is a soap that will make an excellent gift for any number of occasions: graduation, Father’s Day, back-to-college, Christmas, birthdays, and so on. My advice is to hint like mad.
With a well-lathered face, I picked up the SR-71 slant made by another company with a definite design aesthetic: The Holy Black, which has chose 19th-century American as their design touchstone. The slant did an excellent job, smoothly and easily delivering a trouble-free BBS result.
A splash of The Holy Black Gunpowder Spice aftershave, and I’m set for the day, which will be a somewhat somber day: the air is filled with smoke for the raging wildfire just south of us, now 55% contained.
UPDATE: I should add that artisan vendors in general are paying more attention to the story their designs convey. Chiseled Face, for example, has striking designs for his labels (for example, Summer Storm (petrichor scent), Midnight Stag (Russian Leather, Motor Oil, Hoppes #9, Birch Tar, Oakmoss, Gasoline, Smoke, Cedar, Cade, Bergamont, Vanilla), and others, each label a separate image. Barrister & Mann also has a fine appearance (and a great soap). And the same is true of other makers. Design is indeed a part of the experience—and in general, design is an important part of the experience: see this report in ProPublica, for example, or read The Design of Everyday Things. In this post, however, I was talking about visual and graphic design.