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A Pilgrimage to the Mecca of Men’s Cologne

  • Written by Derek Johnson
Joey Diaz is a crass, blue-collar comic from New Jersey. He recently talked about men’s fragrances. “Let me tell you something,” Diaz said. “No man should ever wear cologne. The way you smell is the way you smell. Quit trying to be something you ain’t. Listen up guys, if you wear cologne, I oughta just put you down right now!”
 
I burst out laughing. Then I went into my bedroom and counted up my colognes and aftershaves. There were 47 bottles.   
 
WSP2Leighton "Lee" T., owner of Wet Shaving Products in his Chandler, Arizona showroom. (Photo by Derek Johnson)Yes, let’s get this out of the way: I love colognes and aftershaves. Ten of my bottles are from a company called Wet Shaving Products in Chandler, Arizona. On my recent vacation, I ventured into their shop.
 
I was greeted by a pleasant woman named Lily. I proceeded to buy three more bottles: Tobacco Vanilla, Barbershop and Marrakesh. “I hope all these bottles don’t give me trouble with the TSA,” I said with a smile.
 
I was waiting for Lee, the owner. Now, when I say this place is a mecca, I’m not kidding. The creations coming out of this small artisan shop in the desert are frigging awesome. Almost everything Lee puts out is a home run. Take Ol’ Kentucky, for example. You breathe it in, and you get hit with top notes of bourbon and creamy base notes of oak and sandalwood. The first time I wore it, I couldn’t stop smelling my arm like a crazy person.
 
When Lee walked in and introduced himself, I found him to be soft-spoken. We sat down in his office.
 
I had gone into the visit thinking that Lee had toiled for years in his garage before starting the business. But in reality, he’d been a lawyer. He started WSP as a side business, selling razors and brushes. It was only later that he began experimenting like a mad scientist, coming up with his own creations.   
 
“I discovered that I have a talent for it,” he said. “I was good at research. And so I just spent hundreds of hours researching and experimenting. We started making soap and aftershave and it just exploded. Push came to shove, and I had to decide between law and this. But I figured that I can always go back to law. But I can’t restart this company. And besides, this is more fun!”
 
We walked into the back of the shop and I met his employee Sam. Every order was being filled by hand and made in small batches. Sam carefully weighed, combined, and poured the contents into each bottle. “We don’t have a bottling plant,” Lee said. “We just have a funnel and some mixing bowls.”
 
Once filled and capped, labels are applied by hand, the bottle is cleaned, and shrink wrap or tape is applied.
 
WSPSam Smith at work in the back room. (Photo by Derek Johnson) Their best sellers are Barbershop and Tobacco. I can attest to both. And trust me, Tobacco doesn’t reek of stale Pall Malls -- It’s fresh and clean.
 
Another favorite is Black Amber Vanille. It’s a combo of decadent French Vanilla, amber, black Myrrh and a splash of Egyptian Musk. Oh, baby!    
 
“We’re like a niche fragrance house,” Lee said. “We’re not constrained by cost and manufacturing processes. We can make whatever we want as long as we can get our hands on the [ingredients].”
 
We concluded the visit. I gathered up my purchases and headed back out into the Arizona heat.
 
A few days later, I was at the Phoenix airport, heading back to Seattle. And it was almost like a scene from a bad sitcom. In the background was a sign that read WELCOME TO SKY HARBOR -- AMERICA’S FRIENDLIEST AIRPORT.
 
Meanwhile, a gruff TSA agent rifled through my bag. “Sir, why do you have five bottles of cologne?” he asked.
 
“I like cologne?” I said.
 
“You can keep three of them, and leave two behind,” he said. “I’ll let you choose.”
 
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. Then I shook my head and pointed to the ones I wanted. I watched as the others were carried away. I felt like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, watching Wilson the volleyball float away.
 
Author’s note: I was not compensated by WSP to write this article. I did it simply because I love their products and they’re cool people. Check them out at wetshavingproducts.com  

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