Passing the Bar: In Praise of a Good Piece of Soap
Throw away that shower gel and try a proper bar of something nice
Article by Nicolas Payne-Baader
The first time I ever bought good soap was pretty much a complete farce, I was 18 or 19 at the time and had developed a fairly pricey cologne habit. Working in St James’s as I did at the time expensive habits were a little too easy to come by but a trifle harder to maintain. Other such habits included hand made over the calf socks, three pound latte’s and a weekly bottle of small vintner champagne.
So it was actually with a great sense of smug responsibility that I walked up the Piccadilly Arcade. A colonnade which has been left almost completely unchanged by big brands and commerciality since it opened in 1910. It does contain a shop selling exclusively mustard, a gallery specialising in 19th century militaria, two bespoke shirt makers and most importantly to this story, the perfumer Santa Maria Novella. Founded in Florence in 1612 all of Santa Maria Novella’s products are hand made by Nuns (or at least in the convent), anyway the results are amazing.
It was here that I was headed to resist buying expensive cologne, I’d run out of my previous bottle of the £95 olfactory sensual explosion but I was fairly out of pocket and could not really afford another one so had decided to see if they had a soap (an ingenious money saving technique, I know). It just so happened that they did, in the same scent as the cologne I had previously had. I was incredibly pleased with myself and declared that is smelt so incredibly delicious that I’d have to have a bar. It was certainly the closest I have ever come to a full blown Basil Fawlty style breakdown of internal frustration when they told me it was £24 and I fully knew that I had the choice of parting with £24 or being supremely embarrassed, of course I bought the soap in the most absurd, English of ways.
However it taught me something; it taught me that you really – and I think this holds especially true with men’s products, especially traditional ones – get what you pay for and they’re expensive for a reason. It was a completely different experience to your run of the mill soap, it smelt better, it felt better, your skin smelt smooth all day, people complimented me on how nice I smelt, this despite not wearing cologne and in fact I think that the faint but just noticeable aroma that a good soap gives you is far nicer and less intrusive than many colognes. It also lasted me about seven weeks, and that was using it daily; true I eked out every last sliver of the soap but it worked and it was good to the last drop. I don’t know what the stuff is made out of but it’s definitely different and longer lasting.
So that whole experience started something of an on-again-off-again love affair with a good soap, it’s not something I always have but it’s always something I relish when I do. Here is a little run down of some of the best I’ve had the pleasure of indulging in:
The Classic Italian – Acqua Di Parma
The fantastically packaged Italian grand dame of perfumers. A Lovely rounded box gives way to two pieces of their lovely signature scented soap. I would say that it does have something of a more European scent to it although it is also very much a unisex scent and gives a lovely lather. £27 for two bars.
The Classic English – Elite by Floris
Based on Jermyn Street for longer than anyone can remember and being able to count Beau Brummel and various kings as former customers, Floris does know a thing or two about scents. The beautifully balanced Elite is no exception to their classic and well executed range. Also exceptionally long lasting and with a wonderful lather. £32 for a box of three bars.
The French Modernists – Le Labo
If you try and imagine a perfumery started by the main character from Suskin’s novel ‘Perfume’ if he lived now, frequented Berghain and wore mostly Yohji Yamamoto, you would be some distance towards imagining Le Labo. Based out of Paris with shops in London and New York, Le Labo has paired down, almost industrial looking packaging and arrestingly impressive, lyrically modern smelling scents and soaps.
The scents are not what you would expect from the names and they really are something to behold. £27 per bar.
The Holy One – Santa Maria Novella Pharmacutical
I’m not sure how much more I can really say about the Santa Maria Novella soap that I didn’t at the beginning of this article but it really is something special. A very unfussy fragrance which smells more of a perfume than a soap, as with everything they do it is beautiful. £24 per bar.
Aqua Di Parma: Various stockists / uk.acquadiparma.com/
Floris, 89 Jermyn Street, St James’s, London SW1y 6JH / 0207 7473612 / www.florislondon.com/en_gbp/elite/
Le Labo: elabofragrances.com/uk_en/shop.html
Santa Maria Novella, Piccadilly Arcade, St James’s / 0207 4931975 / www.smnovella.it/home.html?lang=en