In Praise Of The Forgotten Hero Of The Bathroom: Soap

There’s something so comfortingly solid and familiar in soap's tactile chunkiness. It's both humble and luxurious.
Publish date:
March 12, 2013
soap, Orla Kiely, liberty, bathroom essentials

Let’s put complicated beauty products aside for a moment – forget “inspired by DNA” nano-technology serums and primers and micro-exfoliants and all that gubbins. Today I feel like writing about soap.

I think the bar of soap is the most underrated item in the bathroom. It just sits there, growing increasingly dry and/or sticky by the side of the sink, doing its best to keep hands clean. Often a liquid soap dispenser replaces it altogether. It’s time to give this hardworking item a little more love.

I went to the Museum of Brands at the weekend (livin’ on the edge as usual) and was fascinated to see how little soap and its packaging has changed. It's nice to know that today’s bar doesn’t look dramatically different to its great-grandparent. That continuity is reassuring in an age where it’s difficult for anyone – even a beauty editor – to keep up with every new technological advance in the beauty industry.

Today’s soaps have a ‘back to basics’ approach which means they are multi-functional items, just like in ye olde days when they were used to wash faces, hands, hair, floors and clothes. Orla Kiely’s new geranium soap bar contains coconut oil (which gives good lather) plus eucalyptus and lavender to clean and scent the skin, so you can use it instead of shower gel, plus it's free from parabens, sulphates and petrochemicals.

Soap makes everyday life that little bit more pleasurable and is therefore an ideal gift. Just like a fancy scented candle that you might never justify buying for yourself (and even cheaper!), a beautifully scented bar of soap from a posh shop, wrapped up in pretty paper, makes a simple, elegant present. My favourite place for this is Liberty:

Who wouldn't want this rose-scented bar perched prettily on a vintage saucer (indulge me) in their bathroom? It's made in Devon with fragrance ingredients from the legendary Grasse region in France and the Liberty print wrapping is 'Isobel' - a contemporary reworking of a 1975 design.

Dani has written about her love affair with Lush and the all-natural brand's most famous product is their soap, which is cut off the block in big creamy chunks like fudge (mmm, fudge...) Just look. at. this.

The origami paper wrapping around Compagnie de Provence's pleasingly geometric soap is such an amazing bit of design, you can actually make it into little birds and things if you're so inclined...

I've been using Magno's black glycerin soap bar since I was a kid. I have no idea if it's better for your complexion (I seem to remember Annie Hall having a black soap which she claimed was good for her skin) but it smells amazing - like a classic, fresh Spanish cologne - and there's just something a bit cool about having a gothy black bar sitting by your sink.

There’s something so comfortingly solid and familiar in soap's tactile chunkiness. It's both humble and luxurious. Feeling that weight in the palm of your hand and inhaling the fragrant, uplifting scent of your choice is a simple moment of pure pleasure.

Am I being a total grandma by celebrating soap while the rest of the world washes its hands with strange, modern unguents, or are you with me on this one? Share!