“Today, we are proud to carry on the tradition started here in 1900 by our great grand-father, Marius Fabre.” – Marie et Julie Bousquet-Fabre
Essentially tidy, naturally tinted, organic in form, earthy in scent, salty/sour in flavour (yes, flavour) – Marius Fabre’s olive oil-based soap is among France’s most coveted and long respected products – including their patented savon noir recipe formulated into a cleaning spray and concentrate, a ready-to-use detergent, and the traditional soap bars, available as a classic oval, and as raw cut slices.
The fabrication of traditional Marseille soap was developed through centuries of testing, practice, observation and human sensibility. Soap makers were born as “fire masters”, engaging a fabrication process close to that of alchemy. In 1688, Louis XIV established the rules which institutionalized the craft of Marseille soap, requiring production to take place in cauldrons, using only vegetable-based oils. In order to protect the specific characteristics of Savon de Marseille, additives are restricted and the nature and reaction of the raw materials are closely monitored. The purity of the product renders it beneficial for the skin and equally sensitive to the environment.
Traditional Savon de Marseille Saponification Process
Phase 1: Making the paste
Vegetable fat and soda are placed in a steel or stainless steel vessel known as a ‘chaudron’ (cauldron) in the trade. The soap paste is cooked for a number of hours at a high temperature. The cooking time depends on the reaction kinetics of the saponification and the nature of the oils. It may be up to 24 hours. Saponification is an exothermic reaction (one which releases heat) and must therefore be performed gradually. The maximum temperature is 105°C at atmospheric pressure, and 130°C in an autoclave (pressure between 2 bars and 3 bars)
Phase 2: Salting out
This step consists in adding salt to the soap paste in order to cause the glycerol lyes to separate in the bottom of the vessel in what is called a ‘relargage’ or release. The quantity of salt depends on the lye limit point and the graining point relative to the mixture of fats used.
Phase 3: Cooking
Cooking consists in completing the saponification reaction by transforming the remaining fat into soap. In this phase, the maximum temperature is 105°C at atmospheric pressure, and 130°C in an autoclave (pressure between 2 bars and 3 bars)
Phase 4: Washing
The washing step is intended to remove the glycerol and the impurities present in the soap paste with the aid of a sodium chloride solution
Phase 5: Liquidation
Liquidation is the transition phase of the crystalline structure of the soap into its smooth phase. This step is achieved by adding water.
Phase 6: Drying
Drying is what will make it possible to give the soap its final fatty acid concentration (minimum 68 %). Drying is either done poured in settings, or using a vacuum atomiser.
Source: Association des Fabricants de Savon de Marseille (Marseille Soap Manufacturers’ Association – AFSM)
A Brief History of Marius Fabre
At the turn of the 20th Century, Salon-de-Provence was an extremely prosperous city. The abundance of raw materials – olive oil in the Alpilles, soda and salt in the Camargue and oils (coconut and palm) emerging from the colonies via the port of Marseilles, initiated the soap-making industry.
In year 1900, Marius Fabre, a mere 22 years of age founded his soap company and began making Savon de Marseille out of his garden shed, outfitted with two cauldrons and a few moulds. His first soaps were sold under compelling names, such as The Book, The Knife, The Planet, and The Concord.
When Marius was called to war in 1914, his wife, Marie, carried on the production and sales for the following four years.
In 1927 the company moved to its present premises – much larger and with space for the enourmous caudrons needed for soap making.
In 1938, Marius and Marie’s eldest son, Fernand Fabre took over the company.
During the 1960’s, the purchase of a famous brand name La Sainte Famille (The Holy Family) from the Roux company in Marseilles, gave new life to the Marius Fabre company.
In 1973, Henri Fabre (the youngest son) took over the factory, but faced new competition from petroleum-based products during his leadership.
In 1987, Henri then passed the company to Marie-Hélène, who had been working with him for several years, and to his son-in-law, Robert Bousquet. Together, they decided to maintain the tradition of one of the oldest southern soap companies.
2010, the Marius Fabre soap company celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Today, Marius’ great grand daughters, Marie and Julie Bousquet-Fabre have passionately carried the company forward with help of twenty five employees.