Remember when Imperial Leather soap – “Luxury you can afford every day” – was as high-end as taking your creative director to NYC on Concord for lunch at the Four Seasons Grill? Not a comparison that has aged well. More recently, bars of soap have gone the way of cash or Christianity: something that you only find in hotel top drawers or down the back of your mother-in-law’s sofa covered in hair and lint. Nowadays, men are more likely to coo over Aesop Coriander Seed Body Cleanser or Molton Brown’s “Re-Charge” Black Pepper Body Wash. Such lotions – iridescent and luminous – have made our bathrooms feel like one of Ian Schrager’s hotel rooms: sumptuous, luxe, expensive. They also made our bodies and hands feel pampered, loved and well fed. Lovers leaned in close and breathed in deep. The fresh and fragrant scent of these liquid potions worked their subtle magic on us (and them) again and again.
Yet solid soap can be sexy too, you know. Ten years ago Tom Ford (who else?) showed us how with his Cleansing Bar. First of all, it was embossed with the Tom Ford logo. This meant you were able to, quite literally, rub Tom Ford all over your body. Not only that but the tightly bound black rope attached to the terracotta bar made it wonderfully fetishistic. Dirty, but still clean. For all these reasons it looked great hung up on your shower and left you feeling moisturised, manly and clean to the point of squeakiness.
Come 2020 and bars of soap are having something of a comeback for the fashion gang. Erno Laszlo’s Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar is the same black bar that Annie Hall uses in the 1977 film. Drunk Elephant’s Juju Bar is a three-in-one cleanser that exfoliates without leaving your skin dry. While all the trad Jermyn Street grooming brands – Geo F Trumper, Floris Of London, Creed and DR Harris & Co – offer a soap version of their fragrances. Even Tom Ford is back in the soap game – his “Oud Wood” Soap Bar is available in both gunmetal grey and a slightly discombobulating midnight black.
So, if you're looking to lose the dispenser and lather up with something slightly more solid, shop GQ's edit of the best soap bars you can buy right now...
L'Objet Bois Sauvage
The embossing on this soap bar alone is enough to make you feel cleaner. Not wholly surprising given that Elad Yifrach's L'Objet is all about designing quality products that are also functional works of art. Beautifully minimalist and extremely nourishing, it's packed with walnut and Moroccan argan oil that make for a luxurious lather. £22 for 125g. At Selfridges. selfridges.com
Floris Cefiro Luxury
Floris soaps are known for their rich, creamy lather, which makes them a very luxurious addition to your shower or sinkside. Enriched with moisturising shea butter, Cerifo (the Spanish word for zephyr, meaning gentle breeze) is composed of crisp citrusy notes warmed by cardamom, nutmeg, jasmine and musk. £23 for 3 x 100g. At John Lewis. johnlewis.com
You may well already be familiar with Byredo's signature suede scent in hand soap or hand cream form. It's one of the fragrance house's most iconic odours, with top notes of bergamot, aldehydes and pear, a heart of lily of the valley and violet and a base of crisp amber, musk and velvet plum. Available in Byredo's minimalist packaging, in solid form it'll outlast the liquid soap dispenser. £40 for 150g. At Nordstrom. shop.nordstrom.com
Erno Laszlo Sea Mud
Reap the benefits of a therapeutic mud bath from your own home, care of Erno Laszlo's Sea Mud deep-cleansing bar, enriched with 26 minerals that work together to detoxify, protect and restore the skin. Key to its formula is glycerin (to moisturise), palm kernel oils (to stimulate cell regeneration and balance complexion) and charcoal (to decongest clogged skin). £35 for 100g. Atlookfantastic.com
Drunk Elephant JuJu
One of the most effective bar soaps you can buy to cleanse without drying the skin, there's more to this Drunk Elephant bar than just good juju. It combines bamboo powder with thermal mud in order to remove dead skin cells and rid any excess oil at the same time, leaving pores unclogged and skin brighter. £24 for 120g. At Space NK. spacenk.com
Sisley Eau De Campagne
Repurposing Sisley's signature Eau De Campagne scent, this bar is as fresh as its bright green colouring would suggest. It perfectly captures the essence of the French art of living; grassy and citrusy, blending basil, wild herbs and lemon with more unique odours such as green tomato leaf. Work it into a creamy lather and feel it invigorate. £21.60 for 100g. At John Lewis. johnlewis.com
Haeckels Exfoliating Seaweed Block
If you haven't already, you really ought to take a look at what Haeckels has to offer. The brand is based in Margate and all its products are naturally sourced and extremely good for your body. Case in point, its Exfoliating Seaweed Block is vegan, free of synthetic fragrances and will exfoliate your skin, thanks to the inclusion of raw, crushed botanicals of coriander seeds and peppercorns, while a blend of seaweed, aloe vera and tea tree actively hydrates and repairs the skin. £18 for 320g. haeckels.co.uk
Creed has solidified its signature scent here, with a bar that's scented to match the ever-popular Aventus cologne. That means those same enticing notes of blackcurrant and Italian bergamot, calville blanc apples and sparkling pineapple. It's a combination that works as well spritzed on your wrists and neck as it does lathered into your hands and body. Perfection. £35 for 100g.creedfragrances.co.uk
Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet
Vegetable-based and triple milled (soaps are generally put through a roller, getting rid of the excess water and air, making the soap longer-lasting and the lather very rich), a Penhaligon's soap adds a touch of luxury to any morning shower. £30 for 3 x 100g. penhaligons.com
Dior Eau Sauvage
Fragranced with notes of one of our favourite scents in the Dior family, Eau Sauvage, this soap will leave you feeling and smelling your best. The timeless men's scent's top notes of citrus revive, with its woody heart of pure vetiver and spicy, oriental base makes for a bar that'll fast transform your signature scent. £20 for 150g. dior.com
Bulldog Skincare Sensitive Bar Soap
Fragrance-free to help minimise the risk of irritation, this soap is suitable for all skin types, even those with the most sensitive of skin. Crafted using willow herb, baobab and oat, this natural soap is particularly useful for a post-shave wash. £5 for 200g. At lookfantastic.com
Exuding the vibrant notes of orange, the lightness of rose and the elegance of patchouli, this will add a seriously luxury touch (what else would you expect of Chanel?) to any bath or shower. Perfect for use before slumber for a wind-down like no other. £21 for 150g. chanel.com
Acqua Di Parma Powder Soap
This powder soap by Italian brand Acqua Di Parma takes on the scent of the jewel in its fragrance crown, Colonia Pura, and comes in the iconic ADP canary-yellow packaging. Perfect as a gift or for use yourself. £28 for 70g.acquadiparma.com
Not only does this flower-adorned soap bar look pretty great in a soap dish on the edge of your bath, it also smells damn good. Crafted using the scent of Creed Acqua Fiorentina, it leaves your body smelling like a blend of sweet plums, bergamot, lemony blooms, lively apple, renaissance roses, greengage plums and Virginia cedar. Being hand-milled, it lathers wonderfully, too. £35 for 150g.creedfragrances.co.uk