My Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of soap: how to make it, how to use it, what goes into it. And they are also full of Soap. The type of soap made by crafters who have elevated their craft into an art, pushing the boundaries of their medium as far as possible through skill and imagination.
These soaps are beautiful and inspiring to look at, and I can spend hours doing this and trying to figure out how they are made. But the makers often comment that people don’t actually use these soaps, they are too pretty, and that’s a shame. Soap, by its nature, is not something that is supposed to last forever, and must exist fully in the ‘form follows function’ camp. Maybe it is exactly this that makes these beautiful soap bars so very lovely to look at: one basin full of hot water and that’s it.
I have tried my hand at ‘fancy’ soaps, incorporating little swirls and complicated designs – probably not that fancy by any standards, but I accept that I am just a beginner. They are fun and challenging to make, but the rule has always been that the soap must pay for itself, and I’ve found that these soaps just don’t sell well enough. What sells, for me, is the simple soap, with a clear, even colour and a gorgeous scent. I don’t doubt that people have different experiences with their own sales, but here it is the garden that people like.
The rose is popular; I remember a woman holding a sample up to her face, her eyes closed and smiling, asking if there was a hint of lemon in there? I imagined her picturing a summers day, a bouquet of roses and a lemon tree in a pot on the veranda.
The lavender and camomile soap is too. “I don’t usually like lavender,” is what people say. It’s the camomile that does it here, adding a fresh, herby note to the sweet, green floral scent of lavender and lifting it, like a hand lifted to brush over the heads of purple on a lavender bush, warm from the sun.
The best seller, though, is grandly called ‘Lady of the Isles’, because of course all island ladies are grand, although maybe more Boadicea than Queen Liz. This has surprised me because Lady of the Isles is fragranced with a patchouli essential oil blend, and patchouli seems to be the marmite of the essential oil world. For this soap it is blended with ylang-ylang and orange and becomes something altogether lovely; the sweet, rich and earthy scent made delicate by the softly floral, slightly spicy ylang-ylang and fresh citrus burst of orange.
John Steinbeck wrote that “A man may have lived all his life in the gray. . . and then – the glory – so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose.” Our sense of smell is intimately connected to our memory and imagination, more so than any other of our senses. Using essential oils brings the essence of the garden right into these soaps, and you take that with you wherever you go, as a memory, as a dream, as a promise of the glory of gardens to come. And that is its own art.