Dedicated Western hemisphere soapers (and there's countless thousands judging by the forums, all presumably dedicated to American artisans whom do not undergo any of the stringent EU stability/allergen testing requirements to bring soaps to market) should be pleased we stock a rare & quietly-esteemed German soapmaker's hard shaving soap, Zartgefühl...Zart is an extreme enigma, the biggest outlier in all of latherfueldom to me; it is the low volume 'PITA' fuel which one can still come to adore. There's nothing remotely similar.
This ain't an easy thing to lather, keeping it polite, and its export's occasionally more transient than Hoffman and Voight's "Midnight Cowboy" pairing. But cast next to the relative ease of soft creams, these two demerits are fair criticism of many good hard shaving soaps. Extra difficulty and slickness, along with knowingly buying water and shorter shelf life, constitute the main difference between "cream" & "soap"; all shaving cream is still soap to a chemist, you know.
I've never used a product which imparts more hydration to the beard during the shave than Zartgefühl-it is like it isn't soap. Soap's universally drying, no? You could be fooled here, and this is why I returned to it perpetually. Ignoring everything except the finished face feel (which is all that it excels, but boy does it excel there!), the result is softer and more conditioned than anything I've tried in >25 years of brush+fuel to make lather. And thus the Zartgefühl product presents itself as the enigma that it is; in the wet shaving world where love of processes is a vital cog in the 'hobby' of facial maintenance, how resolute is one's pure devotion to results, and how much will one endure to improve results? If only this stuff gave glorious mounds of effusive, stable lather no matter what you did (like Sampson's All Natural, Proraso, Tabac, and many others, hard soaps included). But she is the soap lady who compels you to jump through the most hoops for the most reward, and that describes what attracts me in all manners of life this side of one's daily driving petrol-burner.
I was a ski bum in Aspen's '94-'95 season, living 'downvalley' with two "trustifarian" Californians who'd each somehow managed to graduate college, the text at left between comma #1 & comma #2 not great at dissuading one from generalizations they may have heard of the 'University of Spoiled Children'. Both trustifarians were named Jeff, and Jeff #1 refused to refer to his native state beyond its first two syllables; that's how the hip referred to it, you see. New to this phenomenon, I began referring to myself "from floor" (~ = Florida) whenever asked to best assimilate (nobody'll accuse me of brilliance at makin' friends!). Also new to Aspen itself, I'd asked Jeff (#2) early on what was the difference in skiing Aspen Highlands' uppermost steeps with the rest of the valley's offerings for young dependent-free daredevils such as the former version of myself. Jeff #2's perfect prose "Well, with Aspen and Snowmass, it is like you're on the mountain...but with Higlands, it is like you're in it." would mean so much more to you if only you could hear the accompanying mid-90s Keanu Reeves accent (I take the meaning to be the ° pitch at Highlands was closer to 90°).
That story, taking far too much of your life away forever, sums up Zartgefühl's hydration capacity; it feels like the effect is going in to rather than merely upon your skin, like a good facial serum.
I mentioned lathering's not so simple, right? Start with enough to get that knot all pasty on a soaked-but-thoroughly-shaken brush, and then re-introduce the water bit by bit and you'll do pretty well. If your brush is too wet at the onset you'll never get there. Please watch the supreme leader's YouTube video atop this page along with the contrary opinion just below...Simpsons "Classic" CL1 is my favorite brush for this stuff because you can load its head like a toothbrush, but I've had great luck with VP Leonhardy #1593, and a devout user espouses a narrow-headed stiff horse brush. Remember that all lather fuels will have an "ideal" formulation of the fuel/air/water elements introduced by you, and a range in that zero sum game where you can still get good results. For pass #1, this stuff works best to be thick of fuel and low of air and water; get it any drier or suffocated and the razor would not glide and you'll be impressed. For pass #s 2+, you can make it more airy and wetter and it will be creamy and slick and transient, but I find that's fine after the first pass... for this soap, anyway. I have also found our "Rein Dachs Klassik" house brand knots do well with this small-target hard soap.
Lather difficulty and transience are extremely high; the choice of lye and the very low temperature when saponification occurs are to blame here, but then that is what makes the "excess" fats stay retained in the soap itself, and thus what makes Zartgefühl truly special. It has solid slickness, but not slickest by any means; if you're a hobbyist there's lots more slick, for our shop the Bourbonnaise being slickest. It certainly can be slicker than many fine fuels on its good days (or, more accurately, on yours), though. Hydration is absolutely unsurpassed; the reference forever. Cushion once you get that lather dialed in isn't bad at all - but almost any good cream (Trumpers and Proraso among them) is much better. Odor? Yeah, it has something installed; pretty hard to pick up...the only difference in "Ziegen Bart" and "Prinz Charming" is their parfum, the ZB being more 'earthy'...I get a faint citrus/sandalwood combination for ZiegenBart, while Prinz Charming has a more forward presentation of the lemon/citrus, not much to the 'barnyard'/'earthy' tones, and a touch of cinnamon. The scent complexity is deep for each. But one buys this for the moisture and the skin condition afforded thereafter, or not at all. Not everything need be well-rounded for unequivocal brilliance; Reggie Miller was a one-trick-pony if ever there was one, but what a trick, and the idiots who did not vote him into the HOF on try #1 need to spend more time with their eyes on games instead of websites with gobs of stats-denoting text.
Hacking off samples with a little chiselling tool isn't exactly elegant, but works nontheless. Fish out the soap sample with something inert like wax paper or a strong wooden dowel, malleate into a continuous target patch of your favorite lather fuel bowl (don't touch it w/ your bare fingers, of course), and get to the good livin'.
Couldn't have said it better myself!