In Salon de Provence, the Marius Fabre soap company has devoted a space in its factory to the history of soap-making. It makes for an eye-opening stop, well-stocked in archives, explanatory panels, tools, stamps and old soaps. “The idea behind opening this space was, of course, to show the public the demands of our manufacturing process and the endurance of our know-how but also to give fresh impetus to the spirit of tradition that inspires us,” justifies Marie-Hélène Fabre, the hostess here, “for tourists as much as for the people of Salon themselves who don't all know about the industrial heritage of their city.”
At the Fabre company, you would think they were born soap-makers! Inheriting a business that had never left the family since its creation in 1900, Marie-Hélène Fabre manages it with her husband Robert Bousquet. “What's important for us is to perpetuate traditional manufacturing methods and to maintain the purity of our products. So, we choose with exacting care our raw materials and take the time to make the soap according to traditional practices”. Familiarity with the ingredients and the manufacturing stages is not enough. Only the secret of know-how, passed from generation to generation, can guarantee a quality soap.
Following the already familiar difficulties and upsets, the activity saw a renewal thanks to the ecological wave. “Our philosophy and our products correspond perfectly to the expectations of those consumers seeking for what's natural and authentic.” The opening of foreign markets also represents a major part of the turnover.
In addition to the company's Marseille soap in all its forms – olive and coconut oil-based soaps, black soap, cubes, gels and flakes, soap bars perfumed with essential oils - Marius Fabre has diversified its product range with fragrant candles, household linens, eau de toilette. The shop adjoining the factory is, by the way, enchanting.
With all this going for them, Marius' great granddaughters, Marie and Julie Bousquet, have picked up the torch and are continuing the family adventure.
Entrance to the museum and giant bars of Marseille soap
Old posters about Marseille soap
Old advertisement for Marseille soap
The traditional making of soap
Range Marius Fabre products
The Marius Fabre shop
The recipe for the true soap of Marseille has barely changed over the decades, nor has the process. Composed of 72% olive oil, lye and water, it heats in cauldrons for several days and it is in this cooking that the master soap-makers' secret lies. The important step before the soap can be poured into the moulds is the salting-out, or the rinsing with salt water to remove the lye. To be sure that none remains, they taste the soap!
At present, Marius Fabre is the only producer of liquid soap by means of saponification of olive cake oil, which gives this natural characteristic colour. This liquid soap produced in cauldrons, follows the rules of «à la marseillaise» production ; it is known as Marseilles liquid soap.
On the contrary, the other liquid soaps on sale, called "olive oil soap", only contain a very low percentage of olive oil, added at a later stage
Using ashes of a plant from the salty lands of the Camargue, marine saltwort, we produce the sodium carbonate.
In 1791, Nicolas Leblanc perfected a process for creating artificial soda from sea salt, and revolutionized the soap-making industry.
The sodium carbonate produces the saponifying chemical reaction in the vegetable oils boiling in the cauldron, which permits us to obtain the soap.
The potash also allows for saponification in the cauldron, but contrary to the sodium carbonate, or soda ash, the vegetable oils saponified by the potash produce a soap that remains soft (soft black soap) even liquid (liquid Marseille soap and liquid black soap).
Savonnerie Marius Fabre - 148, avenue Paul Bourret - 13300 Salon de Provence
+ 33(0)4 90 53 24 77http://www.marius-fabre.com