It started with a kiss, and a very bristly beard. Decades later, Tucsonan Noel Trapp has reworked a family recipe into manscaping gold. By Kaleigh Shufeldt.
“If you are ever going to steal a kiss, you’re going to need this,” Noel Trapp’s grandfather said, handing Noel a small amber vial. It contained home-made beard oil.
As a little kid, Noel remembers that “everybody else’s beard felt like a Brillo pad,” while his gramps’ beard was always soft.
The oil was a concoction thought up by his grandfather Richard in the 1940s to placate his wife, Angeline. She disliked the scratchy bristles that poked her every time she tried to kiss her husband. But Richard loved his beard and did not want to shave it. As Noel puts it: “He wouldn’t give up his beard and she wouldn’t give him up.” To keep both of them happy, they made a deal: he could keep the beard as long as he kept it soft.
More than 70 years later, Noel has reworked that recipe as part of a line of men’s grooming products to be launched in Tucson this month. Noel’s Restoratives will be sold online and at various local stores. It’s the latest evidence – as if we needed it – that beards are a hot accessory (see ‘Combing through the manscaping facts’ below).
While facial hair is in vogue, for Noel Trapp it has always been a family tradition. Noel grew up in Northern Michigan, where most men had beards to protect their faces from the harsh cold and snow and where no one spoke of men’s grooming. A taboo topic, it was never discussed in Noel’s family. So when his grandfather handed him this vial, Noel was clueless as to its contents and its origin.
His grandfather’s, or gramps’, original beard oil was a sloppy mix of whatever he had at the time, Noel says. Growing up during the Great depression, Richard understood the concept of rationing and making do with what you had. The result was a recipe that could definitely use some fine-tuning.
Noel spent years working on the beard oil, trying to find the perfect combination of ingredients. He experimented, changing and adding elements with each try. But it was never quite perfect. During the Holidays, he would give his friends small amber vials filled with his newest batch.
Beard oil was a new concept to many of the recipients, but they would soon be clamoring for him to make more, and to sell this novel product. For Noel, the beard oil was a hobby; he had fun making it and he enjoyed giving it to people.
When Noel gave a sample to his friend Rob Easter, co-owner of Too Strong USA, Rob was “stoked.” Beards have no natural oils to keep them soft and strong, they get brittle. Says Rob: “If you have a beard it might as well be healthy, look good and smell good.” One of the few people who had heard of beard oil, Rob says it is rare to find someone who knows the science behind what they are doing.
For Noel, the science came naturally. He has worked with coffee for the past 20 years – from barista to, more recently, Educational Director of Exo Roast Co – and says it is easy to transition into formulating anything when it comes to fragrance. To Noel, it is simple. Coffee involves organic chemistry and understanding how things interact. His experience with coffee aided him in his experimentation with the beard oil.
HiEnd Tight Barbershop in Tucson’s midtown district sees beards of all shapes and sizes. Owner Chris Willhoite says he sees men with full beards, chinstrap beards and everything in between. Offering hot-towel shaves with lather and straight razors, along with cleaning, trimming and shaping beards, the barbershop speaks to a historical period in American culture. It is an old-fashioned experience that, as Noel says, is the barbershop in the truest form.
Like the barbershop, the beard oil is a part of a bygone era when everything was handmade. There was this generational gap where no one really knew how to make anything, Noel says. It is a product with a story.
Over the holidays, Noel did what he does every year; he gave the batch to his friends. However, this time was different. It was the first year he handed his friend Alok Appadurai a small amber vial.
Alok, co-owner of clothing firm Fed by Threads, was unfamiliar with the beard oil concept, however he decided to humor his friend and give it a try. Immediately there was a noticeable difference in his facial hair – it was supple and began to grow evenly. He pushed Noel to start selling his product, helping him with the business aspects of starting Noel’s Restoratives.
Every year people have asked Noel why he wasn’t selling his beard oil and every year he had an answer. “This year I finally didn’t have a good answer,” Noel says. In December 2013, he decided to “bite the bullet” and start Noel’s Restoratives.
In addition to selling the beard oil, Noel will also sell what he calls cologne solids. Another recipe from his grandfather, cologne solids are a balm or salve with a mixture of natural ingredients and fragrance.
During the Depression, Noel’s grandfather grew up in a family that rationed everything, from soap to candle stubs. They would melt thin slivers of soap and beeswax candles, mixing them with whatever oils and herbs they could find. After being poured into a shoeshine tin, the balm would harden into a solid that had a subtle scent and lasted longer than traditional cologne.
While Noel’s cologne solid won’t be quite as rustic as the original, it will follow the same basic concept. Noel said he was aiming for a combination of scents when making the solid, which smells like heat, summer among the pine trees, needles, and bark.
Both the oil and cologne solid will sell for $29.95 each. For people living in the area, Noel wants to set up a local pickup or delivery option. He enjoys talking to the people who want to know more about his products and put value in the concept of American-made.
For Noel, it is important that his customers know the story behind his beard oil and cologne solid. “I consider value to be based on the history that comes with the thing,” says Noel. His products have a rich history, along with quality ingredients.
Last February, Noel’s grandfather passed away. This is the first batch he’s made without his gramps. “I felt like this year I finally nailed it,” says Noel, “I really worked hard to tweak it to where I wanted it.” The release of Noel’s Restoratives will coincide – fittingly – with the anniversary of his grandfather’s passing.
‘Manscaping’: combing through the facts
* Beards are a part of history, a feature that has defined men for centuries. In prehistoric times beards were for warmth, intimidation and protection. In ancient civilizations they were a sign of honor.
* 33% of American men and 55% of males around the world have facial hair. It is a trend that keeps on growing.
* Consumer product giant Procter and Gamble recently announced a dip in sales of its razors and razor blades, thanks to beards being in vogue, and events like the annual Movember month, which encourages men to grow beards and mustaches to aid men’s health, including prostate cancer.
* But P&G executives see men’s body shaving as having big potential. Last year it brought out a men’s body razor just for the purpose of ‘manscaping’ body parts other than the face.
* Pogonophobia is the fear of beards, and pogonophilia is the love of beards.
• This Hollywood awards season, beards have ranged from the scraggly (Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Fassbender) to the tidy (Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper) to the goatee (Jeremy Renner). Expect more bristles on the red carpet when the Oscars come our way March 2nd.