Soaps have always been intimately linked to the history and culture of Provence.
Perhaps because of its simplicity and its purity or because of its ability to create sensorial, experiential pleasures out of the routine of washing, or because tourist gift shops have done a good job selling brick after brick of soaps, Provence soaps are becoming increasingly famous around the world. While these soaps can come in all sorts of shapes, colors, and forms, we wanted to talk with Daniel, our savonnier (master soap maker), on why our Bastide soaps are what they are – and what they are not.
In Villeneuve, near Manosque, we meet Daniel in the soap factory he has operated for almost 15 years. Daniel, destined to the world of cosmetics early on, cut his teeth at multinational beauty companies for years before shifting gears to focus his life and craft single-mindedly on manufacturing handcrafted soaps.
For Daniel, as he shared (and we couldn’t help but nod in overwhelming agreement), it is easy to understand why Provence is an ideal area for making natural soaps - plenty of olive oil? Check. Dreamy perfumes and beautiful colors? Check. Ancestral knowledge and generations of know-how passed down? Check. Now that is practically all of the ingredients needed to make the best soaps. But of course, how could we talk to a savonnier without some science? "Paradoxically, soap is oil," he explains with excitement. We are eager to geek out together over some science. "This oil is heated with sodium hydroxide at high temperatures, causing saponification – that is the name of the chemical reaction that turns the oil into soap. The soap is then ground into flakes, and from there, one can choose to add color, fragrance, or mold the soap into any shape. It is a blank canvas that allows us to unleash our creativity.”
Our conversations with our Beautisans always tend to deviate away from just products and into our dreams and admirations.
With Bastide, Daniel has created three handmade soaps with subtle fragrances: Amber Soir, Miel de Lavande, and Figue d’Ete. These fragrances are reminiscent of our candles and lotions; they are our love notes for beloved Provence. Daniel immediately understood our desire to recreate soaps that take “clean” to a new meaning – to be cleansing and good for the body (any body) and to be kind and respectful to nature. With his guidance, we chose to leave out coloring or dyes in our soaps, so you’ll unwrap each bar to find its natural state – made of Provence olive oil and extracts of rosemary and sunflowers. We think it looks like a lovely shade of honey. The bigger bars (200 grams) are cut simply into bricks – no complicated molds, because we love the sophistication in simplicity. Our smaller bars (50 grams) are ‘fun sized’ – our kids love to claim them as their own, and adults love to travel with them on trips. We call them the “7 day soap,” because they tend to be the perfect size for a week away.
Daniel is eager to share his wisdom beyond soaps with us - "I'm very lucky,” he says with great sincerity. “The territory of Provence is beautiful. The people here have good values. We have the mountains, and we’re very close here to the sea. The light is so blue and clear, and oh, bouillabaisse…" his voice trails off dreamily, but not before we got the name of his favorite bouillabaisse in Marseille.
A man of many talents, from soaps to cuisine, and a true partner for Bastide.
We adore our Beautisans!