If you care about aesthetics, you might want to switch to a more attractive bar of soap.
For some time, status in the first world has not been signaled just with expensive clothes and designer handbags, but also with so-called elevated versions of everyday items: an elegant pour-over coffee kit in place of a humble Mr. Coffee machine; dinky house ferns replaced by exotic Monstera plants; and in recent infamy, paper clips from Tiffany.
Now, let us consider what has happened to soap.
Remember Softsoap? Ivory?
These plastic bottles and softening cakes were once a boring household staple, casually tossed in the supermarket cart. In many households, they still are.
But with apothecary-style packaging, natural ingredients and minimalist brand names, high-priced soap has caught on with many members of the same generation associated with avocado toast and a certain shade of pink. Many facets of one’s life can be artfully framed and filtered for hearts and comments. How many make photogenic lather and also smell nice?
“I think I might have been influenced by another influencer,” says Summer Miller, a 23-year-old freelance stylist who swears by hand soaps from brands like Aesop and Byredo. “I’ll do anything to have good packaging for the way that it looks on my shelf. It makes me so happy and makes my bathroom look fancier.”
Alexander Atkins, a 29-year-old social media specialist and menswear blogger, is also a fan of Aesop, as well as Le Labo. “It appeals to people like me, in terms of it photographing very nicely,” he says. “I think that my generation seems to be more aesthetically driven.”
A pretty package
Expensive hotels were the first to use soaps as a form of brand enhancement; now restaurants and boutique fitness studios are following.
The Gramercy Park Hotel in New York has been using amenities from Aesop, based in Australia, since 2014. Morgans Hotel in New York went local with Malin & Goetz. Around the world, the Ace Hotel chain stocks products from Seattle’s Rudy’s Barbershop, a nod to the company’s Northwest roots.
But how much will it set you back to get this stuff in your own bathroom?
Compare this with what one can buy at the local drugstore: Softsoap Liquid Hand Soap for $3 or Dove Beauty Bar for $2.
A growing group
While luxury soaps are still a small subset within the overall soap category, sales have been growing steadily, bolstered in part by renewed interest in natural and organic soap.
Aveda, the natural grooming company founded in 1978, helped usher in the concept that high-quality shampoo and soap was worth paying a premium for. Aesop, founded in 1987, added streamlined design.
Yet another wave of these premium soap brands popped up in the mid-aughts, including Sachajuan, from Stockholm, Grown Alchemist, from Australia, and Herbivore, from Seattle.
Yes, cynicism may incite immediate dismissal of the thought of spending more than $5 on soap. But the botanicals and essential oils awaken our senses, the lush suds overtake our dirty hands, and the packaging tickles the visual part of our brains. These expensive soaps make the minutiae of washing one’s hands suddenly feel like a little moment of respite.
“I think that people have done this for a long time, and each generation sort of reinvents it a little,” says Andrew Goetz, a founder of Malin & Goetz. “If you think back to your grandmother, she probably had those round soaps in paper that sat out and nobody ever used. It’s an easy way to accessorize your bathroom and also express your personality, whatever the brand may be that you like. You have to wash your hands, so why not have it look beautiful?”