soap: 8 posts

The Simple Magic of a Soap Bar

For many people around the world soap is the only scented product they’d use. Fine fragrances are out of their reach. I remember my grandmother Dasha using strawberry-perfumed soap to scent her clothes and linens. Dasha was frugal, and she wouldn’t dream of spending money on anything but the most basic clothes and accessories. A fragrant soap bar, however, was her only indulgence.

When I began my perfumery training, soap projects attracted me because I imagined that my creations would delight someone like Dasha–a person reluctant to spend money but who enjoyed scents. Eventually I too became a soap lover and whenever I traveled, I first visited local pharmacies and markets to see what kind of detergents people used. These days I have a special soap basket loaded with soaps from around the world. They reflect local tastes and traditions, such as the birch tar soap from Siberia, rice and turmeric soap from Thailand or pomegranate scented soap from Iran. The little bars of fat, solidified by being treated with lye, delight me as much as fine perfumes.

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The Simple Miracle of a Soap Bar

Ever since I made my own scented soap as a perfumery trainee, I’ve been fascinated by the transformation that happens when oils and lye come together. How could such simple materials produce a shiny white bar? And how could the addition of aromatic essences transform an ordinary soap into a small luxury? This is the topic of my recent FT magazine column, Artisanal Scented Soaps.

I talk about my favorite fragrant soaps from brands like Marius Fabre, Claus Porto and Santa Maria Novella.

When exploring artisanal soapmakers, I would be remiss not to include one of Florence’s treasures, the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. This venerable institution was founded by Dominican friars around 1221 as an infirmary for the monks. Eventually it began producing a range of balms and medicines for the general public. Today, Santa Maria Novella is a cosmetic and perfume house reputed for its simple but elegant formulas.One such example is its iris-scented soap Sapone Fior d’Iris. The fragrance is of iris roots and it lasts on the skin well after a shower, making this soap a perfect companion to an iris perfume like Santa Maria Novella Acqua di Colonia Iris or Chanel 28 La Pausa. To read the full article, please click here.

What is your favorite scented soap?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Holiday Gifts for All Senses : Soaps and Creams

For this holiday gift guide, I decided to put together some of my favorite scented body products and some fun accessories. I also wanted for all selections to be under $50. Despite what beauty magazines tell you, you can really score some great, quality products on a budget. The second part of my holiday guide includes interesting finds like soap made with real sandalwood, luscious looking powder puffs and orange blossom scented skincare for men.

soap incense etc

Holiday Gifts for All Senses : Perfume Discovery Sets

Rosewater or Orange Blossom Water

As a scented gift for someone who also enjoys cooking, floral waters are unbeatable. They are available at gourmet food stores, Iranian, Indian and Middle Eastern shops and Whole Foods. $5-15, depending on the brand. If your gift recipient is new to floral waters, including a note with some of your favorite ways to use them would be a nice touch. You can find extra ideas here: 10 Ways to Use Rosewater and 10 Ways to Use Orange Blossom Water.

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Mysore Sandal Soap : Bath & Body Review

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Does luxury need to come with a big price tag? If you take a stroll around any department store, you might come away with that conclusion. But if your shopping strategy is more of the Poirot sleuthing variety, then you can turn up some affordable gems. My local India shop doesn’t fall under any definition of upscale. It’s a tiny, overcrowded space that smells pungently of cumin, wilting coriander greens and fried snacks. But it is here that I discovered my favorite soap of all, Mysore Sandal Soap. And it cost me 1.95 euros.

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Mysore Sandal soap is produced by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited, a company owned by the Government of Karnataka, a southern Indian state famous for its sandalwood. Mysore sandalwood groves were plentiful at the turn of the century, but while Europe was engulfed in the First World War, the precious wood couldn’t be exported. In 1916, the Maharaja of Mysore established a company to use up the excess sandalwood, and Mysore Sandal soap still remains the company’s trademark. It bears a proprietary Geographical Indication seal and contains natural sandalwood oil.

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Roger & Gallet Oeillet Mignardise Soap

If I had a vintage vanity table with a large mirror, I would decorate it with perfume bottles, makeup brushes and neat rows of lipstick and nail polish. I would fill the candy dishes with face powder pearls and top them with colorful Caron powder puffs. And I would be sure to keep at least one package of Roger & Gallet Oeillet Mignardise soap in the drawer for that distinctive whiff of carnation scented retro glamour. Then nothing would stop me from feeling like a Hollywood starlet, the lack of other qualifications notwithstanding.

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A girl can dream, right? While I have no space or practical use for a vanity table–my makeup application is usually a distinctly unglamorous, rushed affair conducted in the bathroom, the carnation part of my fantasy is something I insist on keeping. Oeillet Mignardise is a simple way of having it, and I usually stuff these soap bars in my linen closet and lingerie drawer, in addition to using them in the shower. If I had to use a single type of soap for the foreseeable future, Oeillet Mignardise would be it.

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