Since the coronavirus pandemic began, we’ve all been doing a lot of hand washing. But this task that we have to perform many times a day doesn’t have to be a chore. France has always been renowned for soap-making, a tradition that dates back to the 17th century and originates from the Provence region, particularly the port city of Marseille. So bring a little luxury to your hand washing routine with some of these lovely artisanal French soap brands. But first, what is the famous savon de Marseille?
For a soap to be classified as savon de Marseille, or Marseille soap, it must be 100% natural and contain 72% vegetable oil, particularly olive oil. It must not contain any animal products or additives such as artificial fragrances, coloring, or preservatives. “72%” is often stamped on the soap along with the words “savon de Marseille” so you can recognize it as authentic. You can also tell by the amount of ingredients. Marseille soap should only contain four ingredients: vegetable oils, water, salt, and soda.
Marseille soap is traditionally made using the “Marseille method,” a five-step saponification process. The ancient manufacturing technique involves boiling the soap in cauldrons, and was undertaken by a master soap maker or maître savonnier. There are currently only four soap makers left in Marseille and Salon-de-Provence that continue to use this method: Savonnerie Fer à Cheval, Savonnerie du Midi, Savonnerie du Sérail, and Savonnerie Marius Fabre.
Savonnerie Fer à Cheval
Located in what was originally a candle-making factory, Savonnerie Fer à Cheval opened in 1856, making it the oldest soap factory in Marseille. Fer à Cheval continues to follow the soap-making recipe certified by the Edict of Colbert in 1688 and supported by the decree of Napoléon Bonaparte of 1812. Their Marseille soap comes in cube, bar, liquid, and flake form. They also make scented soaps, hand cream, and body lotion.
Savonnerie du Midi
Founded in 1894, Savonnerie du Midi is one of the last traditional savonneries in Marseille, along with Fer à Cheval and Marius Fabre. Under the brand name La Corvette, they make Marseille soap, as well as certified organic soaps, scented soaps, body wash, shampoo, hand cream, body lotion, and face moisturizer.
Savonnerie Marius Fabre
Savonnerie Marius Fabre has been making soap in Marseille since 1900. In addition to cube, bar, flake, and liquid forms, and you can also get their Marseille soap wall mounted. Marius Fabre also makes Aleppo soap, the first ever solid soap and ancestor of Marseille soap. It was first created over 3,000 years ago in Aleppo in the north of Syria.
Compagnie de Provence
Founded in 1990 two friends from Marseille, Compagnie de Provence revisits the tradition of Marseille soap. While recognizing the importance of this iconic soap in the cultural heritage of Provence, they have re-interpreted it with a modern twist. They make cube and liquid soap, triple milled bar soaps, and hand cream. You can get their liquid soap in glass bottles as opposed to plastic, and re-fills are available.
Entrepreneur Eugène Fuchs founded Parfumerie Fragonard in 1926. He named his company after the famous Grasse-born painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) as a tribute to the town of Grasse, which is renowned for its perfume-making tradition. Fuchs’ choice of name reflected his desire to continue this tradition. But not only does Fragonard make perfume, they also make soap. Their soap is not classified as Marseille soap, but they do make vegetable oil soaps, as well as pebble, botanical, and transparent soaps, and shower gels featuring their famous scents.
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