Savons de Marseille (Marseille Soaps) are big blocks of olive oil soaps crafted in France’s oldest city since the Middle Ages. A law decreed in 1688, stipulated strict methods had to be employed before the soap could be classed as Savon de Marseille. The soap gained much popularity in France over the years becoming a simple but trusted multipurpose household icon.
However, no patent or protection measures were set up, which means that anyone can make Savon de Marseille anywhere in the world.
Soap factories in France’s second-largest city used to number in the hundreds. Today, only a few soap manufacturers in Marseille craft the genuine product following the traditional strict methods. Yet there are so many knock-offs on the market these days that these last four remaining manufactures of Savon de Marseille now have to defend their product.
The genuine green Savon de Marseille made by Le Sérail, one traditional Marseille Soap firm, contains at least 72 percent olive oil, is made in a cauldron, respects a five-stage manufacturing process lasting at least 10 days and has no additives.
This is not the case for imitations. Fake soaps with the Savon de Marseille mark now include perfumes, come in different colors and are not manufactured in the Marseille area. Soaps with the Savon de Marseille stamp are even being made in Asia, and they are often not even made with olive oil at all but with animal fats, or “tallow.” These soaps are neither hypo-allergenic nor biodegradable as the genuine Savon de Marseille has always been.
Aiming to protect their product, the Marseille manufacturers have argued that the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), the European official recognition of origin and quality, should apply to Savon de Marseille as it does with food products.
Michel Bianconi, soapmaster at Le Fer a Cheval, one of the four genuine manufacturers, said it is important to continue making the genuine authentic soap despite the costs and seemingly long manufacturing process.
The four manufacturers have formed a union to protect their businesses and fight the counterfeiters. L’union des Professionnels du Savon de Marseille will fight to safeguard the composition, method of manufacture and the geographic origin of authentic Savon de Marseille.