Ariana & Evans | Kaizen
Leo Frilot Captain Marvel | AP Shave Co. Cashmere 30mm
Phoenix Shaving | Ascension DOC SS/Cu | Triad Rolling Hex SS
Treet | Platinum Super Stainless
Ariana & Evans' base prior to Kaizen was already a superior product. In fact, if memory serves, I believe at least the last two iterations were competitive with the very best available bases. Kaizen is evidence they don't seem to be satisfied with just being in the pack.
As I've stated before, since several of these high-end artisanal soaps perform at such a spectacular level, I've given up on trying to define a single leader, or even a top three. There are probably 5 or 6 soaps that consistently yield a flawless shave for me despite my hard water, but they do it differently. Probably the most notable variable factor is post-shave feel. Some offer a long-lasting freshly moisturized feeling, while others offer a silky, almost powdered sensation. Then there are others that make my skin (scalp) feel like it never had hair to begin with---simply a natural, soft, bare skin sensation. Ease of loading and lathering as well as slickness are aspects that probably speak for themselves, and are hallmarks of any elite soap. Yet even density can vary from clay-rich, craft glue-like textures to yogurt or whipped, shiny, buttery consistencies.
I had the honor of being included in the test group for the Kaizen base and fragrance. (Kaizen being the launch fragrance for the base of the same name.) I'm fairly certain the base was at release level by the time most of us testers used it. There really wasn't anything to say other than "release the product, now." The fragrance was tweaked a bit after feedback demonstrated the sweetness needed to be toned down a bit. The following comments are in reference to the final product with accompanying splash. While a gift set was offered in appreciation for my participation in the group, I purchased this set for club member price in line with my usual standard for products I review.
Kaizen is the easiest to load and lather of all the soaps with which I'm familiar. That's actually a pretty significant thing to note considering the current elite line-up's ability to overcome my hard water. Frankly, most of the upper-end soaps are foolproof as far as loading and lathering, but somehow Kaizen gets there more quickly. It does seem to be slightly softer than the previous base in the dry tub, so one could end up with more product than bargained for, but even my stiff boar knot doesn't dig out clumps. With generous amounts of water, in very short order, this soap becomes the most creamy, dense, lather I've used to date. I realize that sounds hyperbolic, but I can't identify a currently available soap that outdoes it in terms of density and creaminess. There's no guesswork. If it looks like a good lather, it's shave-ready. Beyond that, this is a fun lather to explore. In so doing, I discovered I prefer it at the point in which the lather just starts to drip off my chin. While the learning curve is virtually nonexistent, I encourage the wet shaver to push the water limits. It's unlikely you'll ever drown this soap to the point of breakdown, but you may discover a new level of shaving, particularly in terms of glide.
Kaizen's slickness, especially residual, is incredible. I can take long, sweeping passes on my scalp with residual slickness only. Sure, I can do this with several of the other high-end soaps, but with Kaizen, once again, I get there more quickly. This is one of those soaps in which I have to take particular care during shower shaves. The slick lather that migrates down the razor handle inevitably interferes with my grip, so I have to rinse often.
Ariana & Evans has been mastering post-shave for a while. Kaizen significantly improves upon it. This is yet another soap that I enjoy retaining the pulled lather on my scalp while I clean up the gear. The longer the exposure time, the better. The resulting post shave leaves my skin feeling like I've applied a moisturizing lotion, and this sensation persists until the stubble reemerges. Once again, this offers one of the best post-shaves I've experienced.
In terms of fragrance, the documented notes are: mandarin, bergamot, lemon peel, green apple, rose, honeysuckle, tobacco absolute, sandalwood, cedar, Haitian vetiver, and cinnamon leaf. Both the lather and splash open with a very sweet and blazing bright citrus. It's a bit artificial initially, reminding me of "Sweetarts" (or "Smarties" for you Canadians). It tones down after a bit, becoming more blood orange and verbena, but still fairly sweet. I honestly do not detect green apple, tobacco, cedar, or Haitian vetiver. The honeysuckle blends right in with the sweet citrus. I don't specifically pick up on sandalwood, either, but it may be grounding the overall fragrance. After the rather bracing opening, I expected to hate the dry down, but I was surprised to be met with a pleasant, light and slightly woody rose dry down. My aversion to overtly sweet fragrances is well known, so take that for what it's worth.
Despite the fragrance being outside my wheelhouse, I'll continue to use this Kaizen soap simply because it's an absolute joy to use this supremely luxurious product. That is, at least until I get my hands on the Kaizen base in a different flavor. I already have "Peach & Cognac" on order.