I could write an ode to a bar of handcrafted soap, which I rediscovered after a trip to Southern France where I fell in love with blocks, slabs of colourful, naturally scented soaps, fashioned from pure ingredients like olive oil.
These crude cubes of soap often have chipped edges, and if you run your finger over the powdery surface, you can feel the crags around the branding, which lends it that artisanal, handmade touch. But once rinsed with water, the powder on the surface dissolves into creamy, luxurious lather.
The soap, stacked together in the local market alongside fruit, vegetables, and cheeses, harks back to provincial times. And in an age when we yearn to return to agrarian, leaner and cleaner ways of living, the natural Savon de Marseille, or soap from Marseille, strikes a powerful chord. To me, a bar of soap represents that archetypal bathing ritual.
So naturally, I, along with my camera, gravitated towards the soap section at Liberty of London a mock-Tudor department store off Regent Street that almost feels like a high-end bazaar, with spools of cloth, a haberdashery, and stacks of scented candles and chocolate. Most people would buy fabric or scarves in Liberty prints on a visit to London. But while you’re there, walk into the bath store and see baskets of artisanal Italian soap – Nesti Dante – by the window. I love the silkiness of the lather, the scent, colourful paper packaging and lettering. The soap, dating back to 1945, uses natural ingredients and traditional methods. But if you don’t want to buy it, I still suggest you stand in that corner of Liberty and really take in the smell and beauty of baskets filled with vibrant, packaged bars of soap!