Pré de Provence – Cashmere Woods

“Kashmir Words”

I picked up this soap, attracted to its deep, clay-like, red-brown color, and I'm always a fan of the Pré de Provence soap—I can't figure out if they're becoming more ubiquitous or more scarce as time goes on—I guess that's part of the inscrutability of the French. I've never known Pré de Provence to have a website at all (maybe it was exclusive to the French Internet?), but now I see one!— and there are about 37 varieties of bar soap pictured—is that too many?—or should they just go for it? I'm seeing for the first time: White Gardenia, Ocean Air, and Angel's Trumpet. I want to try those! With this one, even more than the color, the name intrigued me: “Cashmere Woods”—what? I'd never heard of that place, or that term, or those two words used together. It turns out that “Cashmere Wood” is a general fragrance—usually a woodsy, earthy scent with sandalwood, amber, musk, vanilla, etc. (according to the briefest search)—and I'm not sure if this French soap company adds an “s” to wood to make it stand out, or imply a place, or because they just don't give a fuck (about English—they're French!)

I like the idea that it's a mythical place, like maybe in The Lord of the Rings or the English Countryside, or the South of France, or a wee faerie place in The Song Remains the Same (1976). Searching a little further, I see that there is an air freshener called “Cashmere Woods” and it has a little circled “R” next to it—so what's that mean? It's made by Glade, the air freshener company—I was shocked they still exist—I thought they went out of business after the Fifties. I looked at their website (which made me want to drink gasoline) and it said “Cashmere Woods smells like coziness.” I'm guessing the Glade version smells like that stuff they sprinkled on vomit in grade school, but it seems they want to make the name their own. If this is the thing that leads to a war between the USA and France, can I suggest that we limit battle to swords, daggers, and battle axes?

Anyway, I loved this soap immediately—sometimes you're in the mood for one of these earthy, manly smelling soaps. The first thing that comes to mind is a guy in a huge, baggy sweater, that is if he doesn't smell like BO and a wet dog. Maybe a fictional version of a guy in a hole-ridden sweater, plaid shirt, and work boots who can fix anything, and also happens to be interested in poetry, which he recites while fixing things—rather than carrying on with some racist or woman-hating bullshit. If he smokes, it's those French cigarettes, held between the third and fourth finger with the hand held upright at the mouth, as in an expression of wonder or terror. And the “outdoors” is more of a concept, one for the pages of a longish novel, and the flesh and blood version is—not necessary reviled and feared—but kept at a respectful distance. And maybe there is some “making love”—either on the horizon, or in a rosy past we all agree was both better and worse, but for the most part non-traumatic.

Soap Review No. 56

Al Wazir – Soap-on-a-Rope

“Hangin' 'Round”

The only English on the box (I believe the rest is Arabic) is the “AlWazir” logo, then inside “AL Wazir 100%,” an oval that says “High Quality, Natural, and 100%,” “Recommended by Dermatologists” and “Recommended for Hajj and Umrah” and “This product is free of fragrances.” It's an earthy green colored soap with a loop of twine emerging from one end—soap-on-a-rope! It's the first soap-on-a-rope I've had since I can remember, possibly as a little kid. That's something we'd get for birthdays or Christmas once in awhile, but I have absolutely no memory of what kind of soap that was, except that it usually smelled like a used car salesman's cologne. This soap has no fragrance whatsoever—it does have a mild, pleasant smell, and I'm guessing that it's the olive oil soap smell, but since there are no ingredients in English, I'm just guessing. There is a drawing of a plant on the package, with what looks like olives, so maybe that's it. The internet tells me that Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (that Muslims might do once in a lifetime) while Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that may be any time of year. I am assuming, then, that this soap and its ingredients are deemed okay with Muslims—is a Halal soap. There is also a website address on the package in English (tiny print), but I can't reach it. Anyway, I love the box—it's got a little jagged oval window cut in it so you can see the soap. I'm going to keep this box. After looking for an hour, I just cannot find this soap on the internet, so I'm giving up. I found other Al Wazir soap, which is from Lebanon, so I'm going to guess that's where this if from, though I may be wrong. And even though I'm a fan of fragrance, generally, I did like this soap a lot. It lasted a long time, too, though partly that's because I had it hanging from my shower head, and I mostly take baths. I wish I could remember where I bought it—some small store in Milwaukee. I'm going to buy this soap again if I can find it.

Soap Review No. 55

Pacha – Pipe Tobacco & Coffee

“Early Shift”

I saw this Pacha soap, Pipe Tobacco & Coffee, at Whole Foods and probably did a theatrical double-take, unable, for a moment, to believe someone would make a soap called Pipe Tobacco & Coffee—well, if it was indeed scented as pipe tobacco, then, why not—it's not like it's cigar and Scotch soap (which... I could see considering that one, actually) or like 7-Eleven Coffee & Merit Menthol soap. I love pipe tobacco, and I smoked a pipe since I was a youth (though have totally given it up now). My friend Peter and I had the idea that we would smoke pipes (occasionally), but only in autumn, which seemed like a good rule. But the last time I tried it, several years back now, it gave me a migraine, so I've totally given it up. Now I'm down to going to the tobacco shop and smelling the tobacco. Milwaukee has a great old smoke shop, downtown, called Uhle's—which you'd better appreciate now because they may be gone soon, like the drug store lunch counter. So I love the smell of pipe tobacco, anyway—I'll follow an old guy smoking a pipe down the street until it gets uncomfortable. This soap does capture the smell of tobacco—which is kind of amazing.

My initial reaction: it has an immediate deep, strong smell, kind of sharp, and also sweet. I'm attracted to it, but I can imagine a lot of people wouldn't be. But a lot of people are just really sensitive about scents—and I guess I'm lucky that I enjoy such a wide variety, and unusual things. Then I think: why not a catchy name, like “Bus Station Ashtray”—though actually, it really does remind me of a public restroom, men's room, where the urinal doesn't flush properly and dudes are always dropping their cigarette butts in (which will be there until some poor bastard, whose job it is, fishes them out). It's that smell exactly—well, not exactly—but it reminds me of that—which sounds really unpleasant, I know, but to me there is a nostalgia thing there. Also, it's got a granular quality, and leaves a lot of residue where it's sitting, so it's like coffee grounds, maybe actual coffee grounds. I wonder if there is real tobacco in it? The Pacha website says: “with exfoliating coffee grounds and swirls of activated charcoal.” Which I can totally see, but sounds a little dangerous—but it's probably safe, right? If I don't totally trust the FDA, I do trust Pacha.

I got a second bar of this because I liked it so much, I guess! Something compelled me to. I quite enjoy this one. Thinking about the smell some more—you know how sometimes, when you're making good coffee, you smell chocolate in there, and it reminds you of tobacco, too—or at least pipe tobacco. There's pipe tobacco that reminds you of coffee, and chocolate, and other things—but overall there is this elusive smell that is so attractive, I guess, because you can't totally put your finger on it. This soap has that quality. And it's big and bold, too, not subtle. Sometimes I appreciate subtle things, but other times I really like things to be forceful, in your face, and undeniable, and this soap is that.

Soap Review No. 54

Hemani – Black Seed Soap Bar

“Magic Paving Stone”

This is a very severe looking bar of black soap (not to be confused with African black soap) with sharp ridges, defined edges—the front of it very sculptural like it could be some kind of building brick. There is the name: Hemani, in relief, and a couple of stylized leaves—kind of both retro and modern in design. The initial fragrance is a bit harsh, kind of like an inexpensive cologne or incense—but once you get it wet and start using it, the smell becomes very mild. The lather is pretty black. There is artificial “colour” in the ingredients, so it's hard to tell how much the black color is the black seeds and how much is some kind of dye. It has a very soft and substantial lather that is also kind of black in color. Once you get it going the scent is very subtle, more or less pleasing. I could spend all day trying to get a straight answer on the internet about what actually black seed (or blackseed) is, and is for, and actually does... but you either already know that or can make your own assessment. Supposedly good for everything from skin lesions to parasites—hey, it is said that King Tut took it with him in his tomb (not this brand, presumably). This one is from Pakistan, and it's very inexpensive, and it's got a great box that looks like it's from the Sixties. I found the soap to be pleasant, non-irritating, and sure, I'd buy it again.

Soap Review No. 53

Cinthol – Original


This is an Indian soap—it's from Godrej, a big Indian company, I think, judging by their website, and how many soaps I see with their logo on them. It seems there are a lot of different varieties of Cinthol—it's hard to tell exactly how many—I saw a website ranking ten of them. This is the Original “Deodorant and complexion soap.” It's in a bright red package, but the soap is a dark green color. It's not very pleasant—kind of chemical-y, and medicinal and harsh. It reminds me of another one—can't remember offhand—another Indian medicinal soap. The dark green bar of soap has the name “CINTHOL” indented in it. One odd thing is that there is a darker green line running around the circumference of the rectangular bar, toward one edge, so it kind of looks like there were two pieces fused together. I've seen this before in soap, but I don't really understand what it means. Anyway, my overall impression is that it's just kind of medicinal and industrial, like a cleaner or something. I can't get over the doctor's office vibe it gives me—maybe the dark green color reminds me of the color of the pHisoHex soap bottle (at least how I remember it)—does anyone remember that? My mom used to always have it—this doctor's office, hardcore, heavy-duty anti-bacterial soap. That's how it was spelled, kind of creepy. It had a unique smell, which I totally remember. This soap doesn't smell like that, yet I thought of it—though maybe it's the color—the old pHisoHex bottle was a serious dark green. Well, this soap promises to kill germs, but it doesn't do much for me otherwise.

Soap Review No. 52

Barr-Co. Soap Shop – Willow

“Summer Vacation”

This soap comes in a simple green paper package with white printing—it's a square, white bar with an engraved logo, very old fashioned, kind of “Old West.” It's from St. Louis (so says the package) which I guess is where the West starts. It's got a really pleasant floral smell, that also reminds me of Ivory a little. Once I got into using it, though, the smell smoothed out and became just really lovely and floral and lush, not too subtle, but not at all artificial. I don't think I'd be able to, blindfolded, tell the soap from the flowers it gets its scent from. The suds are also very lush and soft—it's a great bath soap, and it's gentle, too.

Much later: this soap has grown on me more and more, day by day, so it's one of the things I'm looking forward to each day. The smell has just an intoxicating floral-ness. I wish I was able to identify the flower that it smells like. Maybe it's a combination. The name of the soap is “Willow,” after all, so maybe it's from that plant, or tree, but it's, more than anything, giving me the sensation of blossoms in spring. At this moment in time, the writing of this, it is my favorite soap. I'm looking at the package again, and it says it's made with olive oil and shea butter, and the scent is “a fresh floral, grassy blend of aloe and gardenia hinted with notes of black pepper.” I don't know about the pepper notes, but sometime its those hints that complete the complexity. Maybe it's the gardenia that I'm smelling most, though—what does gardenia smell like? I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I'm around some actual gardenias.

Much later now: almost done with this one—I've been keeping it around way too long, but it possesses my favorite floral scent of any soap, and I hate to see it go. I'm looking at the packaging again for more clues, and looking online. The package says “97% natural”—so what's the other 3%? Some heinous chemical-y bullshit? Though maybe in the soap world that's a good ratio. There is no actual address or contact info for where this soap comes from, no website, nowhere to write a paper letter, email, or call on the phone. That has me suspicious. The only place I see it online is for sale through other online stores, and the “Willow” variety is very hard to find. There's a bar of it on eBay for $14! So it's kind of baffling to me, because I would like to buy it again sometime. I have just really loved this soap—for the fragrance, anyway—I'd put it in the top 2%, maybe top 1%—and it might, I mean if I felt like I could count on it—and it wasn't some kind of a phantom or something—I might even put it in my actual top ten.

Soap Review No. 51

Parrot Botanicals – Green

“Tank Top”

I didn't like this Parrot soap nearly as much as the yellow wrapper, jasmine variety, which as I recall, I was pretty crazy about. This soap is solid, though, pleasant, and also inexpensive. But maybe not one of my favorites. Again, Parrot Botanicals is from Thailand, and there are other varieties (or at least colors of packaging) which I haven't yet tried. There's a lot of writing on the packaging that I assume is Thai. I can't read it, and I wish I could, to try to get another reference for the fragrance. Besides the green parrots and the red and blue flowers on the wrapper, there is also an isolated white flower with two words that seem to be a kind of fusion of English and Thai writing—I don't know—it may as well be a secret code. I'm not going to reproduce it here, since some of the letters are not recognizable. So we'll just have to let its mystery reign, for now.

As far as the scent, it's hard to nail down, but it strikes me as very masculine. The scent is a little angular, though not so much as the jasmine variety, and it reminds me a bit of men's aftershave, or cologne—you know the classic man scent. It's like that businessman of the past, used car salesman, slightly sleazy aftershave scent. Though sometimes that is really strong—you know when that man walks into the room—and this is much more subtle, more pleasant. I'm still going to associate it with a man, though, maybe a locker room, maybe a laborer, maybe—if we want to be really romantic—a spy or secret agent. But it could just be a lover, and it could even be a woman, but masculinity is the first thing that this soap evokes.

Soap Review No. 50

Goat Milk Soap – Pistachio Scented

“Pretty Picture”

I was really excited about this soap, initially because of the packaging, which is a lovely light green box with a matte finish—it's the kind of finish that was popular for awhile in publishing, I think, and other products, maybe, that was meant to say: classic, and quality. I think that was the intention. Essentially the opposite of glossy. You'd think you came upon an eighty-year-old box here, but no, it's all image. It does look nice, with old-time fonts and a really cute line drawing of a goat. It's impossible to figure out what the name of this soap is, even with Internet's help—it says on the box, “Savon, Lait de Chevre, Goat Milk Soap,” and then on the side “Pistachio Scented”—giving you the impression that it's French, which it is not. It's made by CST, an American soap-making behemoth. The ingredients do show “Goat Milk”—so that's good, but along with a lot of other chemical-y sounding mystery substances. So, I was excited, yes, but the mildest research has revealed that this soap it not what it seems—I mean, if you're expecting French and old. But maybe there's nothing wrong with that.

The bar itself is also an elegant light green, with “Savon” and some squiggly lines indented, and it's huge, 9 ounces. It's got a very subtle pistachio scent, so it started out well. Then a weird thing happened: as I was using it, I found the scent to be increasingly unpleasant—oddly sweet and cloying. I have no idea why. Maybe just because it is the pistachio nut flavor? Some flavors are good when eating, but not so much on your skin. Or maybe it's because it's an artificial scent? I don't know, and it wasn't that bad—I kept using it, happily, but it just wasn't something that gave me bath-time inspiration like so many soaps do. Eventually I switched it over to a full-time hand-soap, for the remainder of its tenure. I can't say I'll rush out and buy another one anytime soon. I'm keeping the box, though—they did a really good job there.

Soap Review No. 49

Nubian Heritage – African Black Soap


This soap has an evocative, haunting smell that reminds me of something—really strongly!—but I can't place what it is. It's driving me crazy! Or I should say it nearly drove me crazy, but I retreated in time. But first, I'll describe it. This is a very prominent beauty product—you'll see it in a lot of stores. It comes in a box that says: “Detoxifying & Balancing” and there're a lot of ingredients listed, including “African black soap base” and Shea Butter, Colloidal Oatmeal, Aloe, Vitamin E, Glycerin, and then a lot of chemical-y stuff I don't know what it is. Also fragrance and color. Obviously this is a commercial product, and it kind of seems like they threw in everything including the kitchen sink. It was very pleasant to use, though, and, I think, good on my skin. The way I judge soap is: does it make me get a rash, or not—and this didn't, so I used it daily in comfort. The color and texture is a lot of fun. It's got this kind of smoother part, that is very dark black—I'm not sure where the color comes from, but it washes away in very dark suds. But then there is this kind of spiny-ness underneath that emerges—the the soap has rough edges—almost like it's an animal and you're washing away the flesh, exposing the skeleton. That makes it sound more gross than it is; it's actually very pleasing and satisfying—the progression of use—a kind of soap decay, which is probably one of the more ignored properties of soap—how do you feel about it as the bar gets smaller and smaller? In this case, as it became increasingly spiny, I'd have to say: very good.

The oddest thing about this soap, though, is the fragrance, which is just totally familiar to me, yet I can't place it. I keep going back, trying to get a bead on what this smell reminds me of. I just can't figure it out. I had a flash of insight one day while using it, though, and what came to mind was: 1982. 1982! Which I'm sure means nothing to you—and only to me if I think of where I was in 1982, which was in Columbus, Ohio, living in a house with several people, exploring the town, new cuisine, restaurants, music—not sure about soap. I don't remember soap from that time, but maybe it's the spirt of exploration—memories of going to dark bars in the hot afternoon, out-of-the-way diners, and Asian food stores hidden in odd neighborhoods that no one seemed to know about. It was a time in my life when everything seemed new. And for some reason, this soap just reminded me of that year.

Soap Review No. 48

Disney Resorts H2O+ Beauty – Sea Salt Facial Soap

“Somewhat Alluring”

This little white bar of soap comes in a mildly Miami blue-green box with the “Disney Resorts” logo on top—though it's H20+ Beauty soap (a company whose website is as exciting as those selling wholesale event supplies). So the soap itself is made in “Indonesia”—distributed by H20 PLUS, San Francisco—and used at Disney Resorts (perhaps worldwide, but this one comes from Florida)—“Not For Individual Resale”—misappropriated and redistributed to Soap Exotica for review. I've already worked up a sweat, and so I'm happy to simply say that this soap was as lovely as the box says: “Gently cleanses face with an oceanside scent” (the fresh scent of the sea, not the rotting fish one, I might add). It makes me want to travel around the world, picking up hotel soaps as I go—would there be some really odd ones?

The immediate fragrance, somewhat pronounced, made me think of a “throw-back”—so maybe there's a nostalgia factor there? I'm thinking of an old soap from childhood, maybe, but I don't know. Later, the sharpness of the scent reminded me of one of those Chanel fragrances (I used to have several little bottles of)—I think it's Chanel Allure, one I wasn't crazy about, but I used it all, and now I do have a fond memory of it. Anyway, this soap could be a dead ringer for that, but without any to compare it to directly, I don't know for sure. But I did think about this again while walking into the place I've been eating lunch lately, during work. It's this mezzanine level area of the US Bank complex in downtown Milwaukee. This is an aside, but I thought for sure this space was called the “Galleria” (interesting to me because I once had a job in Cleveland in a building anchored by “The Galleria.”)—but when I tried to look up that name on the internet, I couldn't find it being used—so did I imagine it? Even weirder, I see a web page listing for “U.S. Bank Center – Amenities”—and clicking on it takes me to: “This site can't be reached.” Kind of sinister and disturbing! Is someone trying to make this place disappear? There is a Colectivo Coffee there, which seems to be on the up and up. And the place I eat lunch every day is called DK (though their logo looks oddly like “ck”—and their website repeatedly points out how they can accommodate “420” guests—like, is that a joke, or an invitation? And most strangely, there is a little store called “Stein Ltd.” that I have not been able to figure out—I really can't go into it—I've already digressed too much—but this store (and maybe mentioning the “mezzanine” level) made me think of novelist Nicholson Baker, and now I'm off on that tangent—all of this because when I walked into that public space yesterday (where all of the above co-inhabit, seemingly, peacefully), I noticed a strong, almost overwhelming, fragrance which I immediately identified as Chanel Allure. That made me think of this Disney Resorts soap, the last sliver recently having slipped down the drain, and my next soap review, which you possibly may still be reading with either delight or impatience. But that's the power of fragrance, and of the sixth sense, smell—I mean the sense behind the sense of smell—and that's why I do this, write about soap.

Soap Review No. 47

Pre de Provence – Almond (Horseshoe)

“Lotsa Luck”

I've liked Pre de Provence soap for a long time, going back several decades, when I realized, yes, it was more expensive than a bar of Ivory, but it lasted a long time—kind of a ridiculously long time, by comparison—so it was actually cheaper than cheap soap, if you worked that in. At some point they seemed to go nuts and start making more and more scents—alright with me. I bought this smallish, almond scented soap because it was the only time I saw their soap in anything other than rectangular bar shape (though I've since seen some square, round, and heart-shaped)—it's molded with a horse head profile relief inside of a horseshoe frame. It's kind of overly cute and classic looking at once. I suppose they intended it as a gift—or maybe a prototype, experiment—I don't know. I have no idea why you would associate almond with horses. Anyway, as small as it was, it lasted a good long time—no surprise there. The almond scent was very subtle and pleasing. I potentially have a problem with almond scent—anything reminding me of Cherry Coke or toilet bowl cleaner—that overpowering, artificial almond smell—that's nasty. This soap, however, was lovely. Just a pleasure from beginning to end. Did it bring me good luck? I don't really believe in that stuff, but why not.

Soap Review No. 46

Good Soap – Cucumber

“Cuke Box Saturday Night”

I guess I'm kind of surprised about how much I loved this soap. It's dirt cheap at Whole Foods—and it's only sold at Whole Foods—I guess it's the Alaffia brand—and I like their stuff. This Good Soap—they have 16 flavors—sixteen!—like “Sixteen Reasons”—the Connie Stevens song. This is the soap they have big displays of, and it's not wrapped, so you at least feel good about not putting packaging in the landfill—plus sometimes it's on sale so it's practically free. I never expect much—I've gotten a few in the distant past that were fine, but kind of boring—though the strawberry seemed really strawberry-ish—with seeds? Is that right? Maybe I imagined that—but I did remember it kind of being like bathing with a strawberry ice cream soda—a little weird of an image, but it works for me. Anyway, this cucumber one is very, very pleasant—the cucumber scent is kind of sweet but still manages to be very fresh, not cloying, not at all gross—but definitely cucumber! Anyway, I really didn't expect too much from this cucumber scent, or really know why I bought it—it was spur-of-the-moment—but it ended up being just the loveliest summer soap—very surprisingly fresh and compelling—and a really attractive pale green color.

Soap Review No. 45

Denara Bali – Coconut

“Mild Soiree”

This is a very simple, rectangular bar of soap, without much scent, but it has a subtle soap smell which is pleasant. It came with a wooden soap-dish, kind of elegant, which is pretty nice, though won't really let water drain, so I can't actually use it as a soap dish. It's weird to me that stores sell soap dishes where, if you put a wet bar of soap in it, the water puddles in the bottom and then the soap gets all soft. What's with that? Soap dishes like that should come with a warning sticker: “Not for actual use.” I suppose some people have so many bathrooms they have some that never get used. Anyway, the only packaging is some string, and a little tag printed on brown paper, folded, with the description and ingredients in English, and the company name and address (Bali, Indonesia). Also a stamped-on “batch number” and expiration date. This stuff seems to be pretty good quality, to me. It has a very soft feeling to it—very lush, good lather. The ingredients put coconut oil first, and then a few other oils, and other stuff, but not a lot of chemically bullshit. It does say fragrance, but it's nothing too strong. The smell of the soap is very subtle. I guess if you're someone who wants a non-fragrant soap—and sometimes that is exactly what I'm in the mood for—this is your soap. Pretty much no smell. Though, also, I suppose if you take a trip halfway around the world you kind of want “a party of the senses,” and what is the most evocative, heightened, and emotional of the six or seven senses we're possessed with? That's right: smell.

Soap Review No. 44

Grandma's – Lye Soap


This is just a really good solid bar of soap. A rough-hewn rectangle with sharp edges—and it's not a uniform color—partly discolored because I've had it sitting around awhile before using it. I bought it at the hardware store!—which seems appropriate, somehow. Like a working-person's, no-nonsense soap. When you get it out of the packaging it's pretty rustic, but it gets soft (I mean usable, pleasant) really fast, and it's nicely lathery and heavy duty—a good, solid, hearty soap. It has virtually no fragrance—definitely no added fragrance—so what you're getting is purely the smell of the very few ingredients: food grade lard, water, sodium hydroxide (lye), with retained glycerin. There is a smell from this mixture, but it's pretty subtle, and actually I like it a lot. Evocative yet basic.

But not so fast... what is lye? It's a chemical compound, aka NaOH—that's its name—and doesn't mean “Non-alcoholic Ohio.” You've heard of lye—it's what Mickey Rourke put in the godfather's espresso in the unlikely ending of The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984). It's some serious poison, more caustic than the rich and powerful, and used to clean drains. Mixed lovingly with other stuff, it can end up as gentle, loving soap. I guess that's why they call it alchemy. But what is lard? As you know, it's fat from a pig. In order to get the lard from a pig, you have to kill it, whether or not the pig did anything wrong, and compared to humans, pigs are pretty innocent. Also, smart. Depending on how you feel about killing and/or eating pigs, you may not want to wash with them either. Okay, you thought Grandma's was going to be simple, but it's ended up being as convoluted as that movie Fight Club (1999). Isn't everything in life like that?

Soap Review No. 43

Bee & Flower – Ginseng Soap

“Chinese Church”

This inexpensive Chinese soap is very similar to Bee & Flower Jasmine soap—in fact, I can't say for sure that it smells any different—probably, a little, but I would buy these kind of interchangeably—I guess I should do a head to head comparison sometime, but now is not the time, since I'm trying a new soap every couple of weeks. But this is one I'll always come back to, from time to time, just because it's so cheap and I love the fragrance so much. It's hard to nail down the smell—maybe it's a combination of things—sandalwood is an ingredient, but it doesn't smell like sandalwood, but maybe subtly? I think it's just whatever perfume is used—it's not subtle, and I like that. It reminds me of a very old, very rich woman, maybe from an imaginary country. It's kind of great that this soap is so exotic smelling since it's among the cheapest you can buy. It first came from Shanghai in the 1920s, so says the packaging. I'm guessing most people reading this are familiar with this soap—or have at least seen it in stores, since it's very common—but if you haven't, you'll be pleasantly surprised when you do see it. Each bar is wrapped with orange-brown and yellow print paper with this great flower and bee print. Then each is wrapped by a band with the name, and another bee and flower design, and the info sheet is a separate piece of paper, and there's even a gold seal. I am guessing that more than a few people save this packaging to use in making art!

Soap Review No. 42

Nature's Blend – Manuka Honey & Argan


I picked this up somewhere—fairly inexpensive compared to prices I see online—it's the first Nature's Blend soap I've used, I think. I can't find a website—but it's kind of surprising how many soaps do not have websites. It's from New Zealand, which is about the farthest away on Earth you can go from here, where I live, that's not totally covered in ice. I'd be interested in considering moving to New Zealand, if someone could assure me that everyone there isn't a redneck (though I guess the world is comprised of about 90% rednecks, so good luck). Did this big, heavy, massive bar—8.8 ounces (250g)—a straight rectangular brick with sharp edges with no indentations or engraved logos—come all the way from New Zealand? It could sink a ship. It immediately has a soft lather, and it smells like honey. Very nice. Apparently Manuka honey is from Australia and New Zealand, made by bees that have a relationship with the Manuka bush, and has been used for medicinal and restorative purposes since ancient times. It also is known to have anti-bacterial properties, though that wasn't known until at least after bacteria was discovered. As far as the Argan oil, it's extracted from the fruit of the argan tree, from Morocco. It's good for your skin, and good to eat (the oil—don't eat this soap!) and in fact goats like it so much they climb the trees for the fruit. Though, with goats— I don't know—if Big Macs were hanging from trees, I'm not sure goats wouldn't climb the trees to get those, too. Anyway, this is a lovely, long lasting, honey-smelling soap. Did it improve my skin? It sure didn't make it worse!

Soap Review No. 41

Astrolabe Soap from Ono Kine Grindz

“Danger Will Robinson”

I bought this soap from the Ono Kine Grindz store in Wauwatosa, pretty excited in that it looked to me like some homemade soap that was then being sold through the store (I'm just guessing here, didn't ask)—using kind of weird molds for their soap, some with creepy images, like sea creatures, or this one, which looks like a really old gravestone or something... I'm not really sure! Anyway, once I got it home, since it's only wrapped in a mesh bag, it threatened to permeate my entire abode with its considerable dominating fragrance—so I wrapped it in several layers of plastic and put it in a cardboard box, waiting to be used. Now the time has come, but I have a bit of anxiety about this soap. Pretty much everything about it is a little scary—from the image of the mold, to the color—a kind of otherworldly blue that would be beautiful for something, but not soap—it's the same color of my dental floss container, and also, certain ghosts. But most of all—the smell—which is very familiar, but not pleasing. Very much like an older woman's perfume, but not high-end—maybe more like department store perfume from just before or after WWII—I'm not sure how the war might have affected perfume availability and evolution, if it all—something to look into. Anyway, you might have had the experience where you encounter a very elderly woman whose perfume smells like it was applied with no degree of subtlety—you have to love her, it's kind of touching—and if you have love in your heart, you'll feel that way—but you may also have a kind of survival skill instinct to get away, to escape! The fragrance is overwhelming, coming at you like creeping vines via time-lapse fast-motion. And it might not just be that the fragrance of this soap is too heavy, too much—it might be that it would be repulsive no matter how little there was.

Another thing it reminds me of is the Norma Desmond character (played by Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Blvd. (1950) and the part where Joe Gillis describes her, or her house, as smelling like tuberose. He says: “...which is not my favorite perfume, not by a long shot.” I'm not exactly sure how tuberose smells, but you think of Norma Desmond and you get the picture. So maybe that's what this scent is—maybe that's it—the core scent, here. It's a very cloying, suffocating floral scent—what you might associate with church, or funerals, or anywhere with an overwhelming amount of flowers. I think there is a deep-seated instinctual thing in humans where we know that once we lose our dominance on Earth (a time coming maybe sooner than we think) the plants will take it back, slowly but surely, and it'll only be a matter of time before there is no trace of man left.

I'm making this sound kind of dreadful, but the weird thing is that the soap grew on me (no pun intended). I actually got to like it more as time went on. I realized it reminded me a little of Tide laundry detergent, which has a certain nostalgic appeal—to the extent that once I had to mop the floor of a restaurant kitchen with a big mop pail, and we used Tide laundry soap in it—and I actually found that quite pleasing! Same thing as when you're walking around and smell someone's laundry room. I mean, that can also be a dreadful smell, it just depends. Same as this soap. It will be lovely one time and repulsive the next. Maybe it's a “she loves me, she loves me not,” kind of deal, a two sides of the same coin kind of thing, love and hate, darkness and light—they need each other. It's messed up, but if it wasn't for that, the world would stop spinning and we'd all die of boredom. On the other hand, it's just soap.

Soap Review No. 40

Argane – Savon Pur Vegetal

“French Exit”

This soap came in a little box, printed on all six sides (it just occurred to me that a box has six sides, like a die, even if it's not a cube, which seems weird). The name, “Argane Savon” is printed on all sides. On the front it also says: “Savon Pur Vegetal – a l'huile d'ARGANE,” and on the back there is an entire paragraph in French, but I'm neither going to translate it nor reproduce it here. Savon, of course, means soap, and I'm guessing the Argane part is referring to argan oil, because there are some crude pictures of leaves and little yellow-green fruits on the front that look like the argan fruit. So I'm guessing this is a French argan oil soap. The bar of soap is crudely formed, but a particular shape, as if it's made in a very old soap mold (or however soap is made). It's shaped kind of like a little pillow, actually, with sharp edges, like a crease around the edge. The logo, the name “Argane” is imprinted in one side, or stamped in. The color is beige or light tan. The smell is mildly perfume-y, but I can't make it out. It's pleasant, but very subtle. After washing my hands with it, it leaves them with a very good smell. Right off the bat, I like this soap, like, a lot. Sometimes there is just nothing like a fragrance that is subtle. Maybe if it was more pronounced it would be unpleasant, but as it is, it's really evocative of something. It's kind of giving me an old-fashioned feeling, like it's an outdated fragrance, maybe something you'd smell in the presence of a very classy, very beautiful, rich, older, French woman. Of course, I could be wrong—it could just be a men's room or coin laundry—but I'm going to keep the illusion alive, and for the duration of this small but long-lasting soap, I do.

Soap Review No. 39

Pacha – Watermelon Mint

“Inside-Out Watermelon”

Another Pacha seasonal soap (summer) I bought at Whole Foods and enjoyed for summer use! One reason I liked this soap so much is because I've been a fan of watermelon all my life—I just love it. At one time I collected watermelon memorabilia—pictures, ceramics, etc.—and people would give me watermelon stuff—but it got to be too much—I needed to rent a McMansion just to house it all—so I had to put an end to that. But I still love watermelon. I tried making watermelon pie once, but that didn't work out too well (as you can imagine). One thing about watermelon is, you want to eat it cold! There was one of those many summer festivals near where I grew up—most of them agricultural in theme, of course—the Milan Melon Festival in Milan, Ohio was my favorite. It was about all melon (personally, I think you could have a separate festival for each melon!) but anyway, I loved that one—they'd always have various melon foods—the best, of course—being watermelon ice cream. Another thing I just thought of, when I was young, living with my parents, we always seemed to have a jar of candied watermelon rind—which always kind of seemed weird to me—but I loved it—of course it was very sweet. I haven't had any of that in awhile—do they still make it?

This bar soap is the usual Pacha rectangular shape with one rough end, and it's one fourth dark green (mint) and three fourths dark pink (watermelon) with little black dots (seeds!) that appeared after I started using it! It's good, wholesome, doesn't causes rash. It does smell like watermelon! One weird thing is that when was using it in the shower it took on a kind of an unpleasant smell—this is an odd phenomenon with some soap that I don't really understand, but soap does have a different fragrance, sometimes, when you're using it as hand soap or bath soap. Very strange. I think that's true, but it could just be me—at the time—having different reactions to it. But based on this experience, I'm going to maintain that I liked this one better as a hand soap than as a bath soap. After using it for awhile, the green mint end (it's about one fourth or fifth of the length, on one end) has gotten much smaller so it looks like the green part is inside of the red watermelon part! It's very odd! This company makes some really weird soap! Even right down to the end, it still maintained its red with black watermelon seed look—though I'm not sure what the little black nubs representing the seeds were?—nothing weird or harmful, I'm sure—I trust them! And right up to the bitter end (it has occurred to me that soap reviewing is about learning to say good-bye) the little green nub was still protruding, like some kind of alien fruit.

Soap Review No. 38

Fresh Thyme – Orange Patchouli


A “Fresh Thyme Farmers Market” grocery store recently opened near enough my neighborhood to walk a half hour extra for grocery shopping because they have so much my close-by store (which is a shithole) doesn't have. One thing that bugs me, though, is how, in keeping with their logo, Fresh Thyme's soap bag says: “Organic Handcrafted Fresh Thyme Farmers Market Bar Soap”—really? Modest research shows that the Fresh Thyme store is (relatively) new, small—but still a chain grocery store, ultimately owned by a very large company, so big, even, that they hesitate to reveal themselves, wanting to keep the image of a little mom & pop store, or, as in their name, a “farmers market.” Now, we all know what a farmers' market is, and this is not a farmers' market. I suppose there's nothing terribly wrong with them using that in the title of the store, with the understanding that they're not really trying to fool anyone, and the farmers' market thing is in spirit only. But if you transfer that logic to the soap, does that mean that this soap isn't literally “hand made”—but is factory made, but it somehow retains the spirit of handmade soap? There were hands involved somewhere in the process—say, the hands on the computer keyboard that arranged for the manufacture of the soap at the soap factory, and the shipping and payment of the soap, so it could reach your local Fresh Thyme. I don't know, really, but once someone lies to you, no matter what the spirit is that's involved, it makes it tough to have faith that they're ever telling the truth. So “handcrafted”—meaning, in the spirit of handcrafted, and “organic”—not actually, but in the spirit of organic? Can I believe, literally, any part of this packaging?

Anyway, the soap itself is fairly delicious—the fragrance subtle yet undeniably there—orange, and patchouli—and the feel of the soap very soft and clean. It takes on a beautiful, pale orange color which gives it even more of a feeling of something you can eat. There are little nubs of plant matter that reveal themselves increasingly as the soap wears away—larger as it goes along. I guess these are orange peel particles of some kind—I'm not sure. I don't think they are patchouli particles—I don't know what patchouli comes in, but not big nubs, right? It's only subtly patchouli-y—I suppose to be pleasant to the average person, but I'm always wanting a little more. I wonder what the most patchouli-y soap out there is? I can imagine a very Speenish one—maybe called Speen-chouli, or something, that just kind of melts your socks. But all-in-all, it's an extremely pleasant soap. It goes kind of fast, but that's okay—most hippie soap is not long for this world—unless it's owned by actual hippies, who don't bathe—and, hey, that's cool.

Soap Review No. 37