THE CLASSIC: Neiman Marcus Classic French-milled soaps, set of 6, $20-28. (NorthPark Center. 214-363-8311. 1618 Main St. 214-741-6911.) 


Soap Stars
Hard-milled soaps, which date back 1,000 years in southern France, are the ancient talismans of our generation. How can a pump dispenser possibly compete?

When I was growing up in the 1960s, I coveted the pink and perfumed soap in my best friend’s bathroom. My father was no-nonsense, and insisted we use only Safeguard, a blocky beige bar that had no scent and certainly no sex appeal. Ivory soap at least provided something more sensual. "So pure it floats" was not just an ad slogan for me; its chasteness promised everlasting virginal beauty. Irish Spring, with its green and white veining, looked good enough to eat. But those sweet smelling soaps at Beth’s house, which read "Neiman Marcus," like the labels in her closet full of dresses, were what I wanted. For some well-to-do Dallas families, Neiman Marcus soaps were staples, bought in bulk and stored under the cabinet along with the two-ply Charmin. In my young mind, you were truly rich if you could take small luxuries like this for granted. Beth’s oval bar of tuberose looked better in the soap dish than my clunky Safeguard. But finely made bar soap is more than just looks.

Hold a beautiful bar of soap. Feel its weight. Notice that it lays satisfyingly in your cupped hand, like a river rock. Good soaps are dense and their heft comes from the number of times they’ve been milled. French-milled soaps are milled at least twice; the best are milled three times. Soaps made in the ancient Marseille method, considered the best soaps in the world, use a vegetable oil base (minimum 72 percent). They are boiled in huge caldrons by master savonniers who stir them constantly, even tasting the mixture to determine the right consistency before adding skin-nourishing ingredients such as shea butter and olive oil, and lavender, vanilla and ambergris scents. It takes about two weeks to mill soap three times.

I have since learned that the pretty Neiman Marcus soaps I yearned for are French-milled - though not Marseille made - and are still sold by the boxful. A few more colors and fragrances have been added, like Earl Grey, but they remain essentially the same. After researching this story, I went home and threw out every bar of soap I had. I took out a thick, rectangular bar I’d stuck away in a drawer, a gift from a friend who’d raved about how moisturizing it was. It was beige, not pink, and so it never was of interest. I peeled away the cellophane, and there it was, stamped across the front - Marseille.

 

GENTLEMAN’S BAR: (FROM TOP TO BOTTOM) Umbrian clay treatment bar by Fresh, $34 at Aqua Spa (6405 Hillcrest Ave. 214-443-0100.); Acqua di Parma’s Iris Nobile perfumed soaps, $28 each at Neiman Marcus (NorthPark Center. 214-363-8311. 1618 Main St. 214-741-6911.); Magno glycerined coconut soap, $4 at Stanley Korshak (500 Crescent Court, Suite 100. 214-871-3631.); Men’s Wood Soap, French-milled, set of 3, $24 at L’Occitane (NorthPark Center. 214-750-0475.); Pride Provence triple milled vegetable oil soap, $6 at Stanley Korshak

 GOOD THERAPY: (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT) Stack of three Bonne Mere French-milled soaps in honeysuckle, milk, and natural, $5 each at L’Occitane (NorthPark Center. 214-750-0475.); Stack of two Fresh Sugar Bath Collection, in lychee and lily, $11 each at Aqua Spa (6405 Hillcrest Ave. 214-443-0100.); Olive Harvest French-milled soap with leaves, $7 at L’Occitane; Stack of two Patyka’s Essential Oils soaps, $9 each at Forty Five Ten (4510 McKinney Ave. 214-559-4510.)

SIMPLE & PURE: (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT) Crem  Grasse savon de beaut Ranc soap, set of six, $58 at Stanley Korshak (500 Crescent Court, Suite 100. 214-871-3631.); 24, Faubourg French-milled soap, $30 at Hermès (21 Highland Park Village. 214-528-0197.); Stack of two round Diptyque French-milled soaps $15 each at Forty Five Ten (4510 McKinney Ave. 214-559-4510.); Oval-shaped Eau du Soir by Sisley, $31 at Neiman Marcus (NorthPark Center. 214-363-8311. 1618 Main St. 214-741-6911.); Laura Mercier luxury soap in Mimosa, $18 at Neiman Marcus; Stack of two Annick Goutal soaps, $18 each at Neiman Marcus

TRUE BEAUTY: (CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT) Savon de Luxe soap, $8-13 at Neiman Marcus (NorthPark Center. 214-363-8311. 1618 Main St. 214-741-6911.); Mor’s fig and olive soap, $8 at Stanley Korshak (500 Crescent Court, Suite 100. 214-871-3631.); Set of two, Mor’s lemongrass and grapefruit soaps, $7 at Stanley Korshak; Rivale’s shea butter grapefruit and fig soap, $8.50-$15.50 at Nuvo (3900 Cedar Springs Rd. 214-522 6886.)