Marseille has been the home of the iconic natural soap, Savon de Marseille, for more than 800 years. Made from olive oil without preservatives or colorants, the real Savon de Marseille are made using traditional methods with oil from olives harvested in Provence, combined with natural ash derived from plants grown in saline environments in the Camargue. The ingredients are combined traditionally, boiled in ancient heavy cauldrons resulting in a beautifully local and pure luxe Provence product combining key natural elements from each corner of the region. Finally, enter the Mistral, the famously strong Provencal wind, which serves to dry the soaps in natural conditions.
The Savon de Marseille Label
Soap production has been a cornerstone in Marseille for hundreds of years, in part thanks to Louis XIV who decided to protect and regulate its quality production methods with an edict in 1688. The edict regulated the soap manufacturers and the ingredients, ensuring that the traditional methods were clearly followed and respected:
‘When manufacturing soap with saltwort, soda or ash, no fat, butter, or other materials may be used, but only pure olive oils, and without mixing in fat, under penalty of confiscation of goods‘.
This historical edict has recently been reinforced with a more formalized Regulatory Labeling condition passed just this June 2015, which offers certification and regulation comparable to an AOC label to producers who follow traditional practices, which up until recently, was largely lacking. Savon de Marseille has had a large resurgence in popularity worldwide since the 1980s, so it’s become crucial to develop a label that distinguishes the quality producers from the impostors, or inferior products. Lesser quality soaps claiming to be Savon de Marseille are often actually produced in other regions, or even other countries, using low quality ingredients, animal fats, and chemical additives.
So Who Are the Real Savonneries of Marseille?
As of this time of writing, there are actually only 4 true certified soapmakers who are entitled to use the official label designed by the UPSM which are: Marius Fabre, Fer à Cheval, Le Sérail and the Savonnoerie du Midi. So buyers beware, and try to steer towards those upholding its traditional quality standards and ingredients.
So what are those standards exactly? The new Label Savon de Marseille Garanti implies the following quality standards have been met:
- Made in Marseille or immediate region
- Fabricated by using ancient cauldrons with traditional methods
- Exclusively use vegetal oils
- Without perfumes, colorants or preservatives
Where to Find The Real Savon de Marseille?
For a pleasant shopping experience and simple way to find several of the brands in one place, stop into Places des Huiles in the view port of Marseille, where you can purchase only the real deal, plus discover some of the finest olive oils from the region. I had a lovely visit with the owner, Frederick, who guided me through the history and recent label change laws, along with an olive oil tasting. Compliment your soap discovery experience by tasting one of the several fine Provence olive oils including black to green and from Les Baux to the Mediterranean sea.
Learn more about the Savonneries and for a break from the heat, or rainy day family friendly activity, try a tour of their soapmaking facilities.
Created in 1900 by a young Marius Fabre whose manufacturing processes has remained in the family, virtually unchanged for four generations since the edict of Louis XIV regulated it 1688.
Tél. 04 90 53 24 77
The oldest of the Marseille savon brands, its original factories are still operation using ancient cauldrons dating back to the end of the 19th century and modern website allows you to purchase from around the globe.
66 chemin sainte Marthe
La Corvette is the Savonnerie du Midi branded soap which has been in existence since 1894 and is made of 100% vegetable oil. It is one of the last remaining soap factories in Marseille that still uses the traditional expertise of a Maître Savonnier – a Master Soap Maker. The Savonnerie has been perpetuating time-honoured methods for 120 years and continues to make genuine Marseille soaps, boiled in a cauldron, with a passion.
72, rue Augustin-Roux
A true soap factory from Marseille, created in 1949, by Vincent Boetto and then by son, Daniel, has preserved all its authenticity and uniqueness. Craft production continues in ancient cauldrons using a traditional method requiring exactly 72% olive oil. The production consists of performing almost twenty precise steps and manipulations resulting in an impeccably finished product, twenty days later.
50 bd Anatole of the forge
Places des Huiles
Shop featuring the olive oils of Provence and true Savon de Marseille in the Vieux Port.
28 Places Aux Huiles
Open Everyday 10h to 21h