Can someone please tell me how we came to be living in a world where brown pump-bottles of soap are the biggest signifiers of interior design savvy?
Those overpriced soap dispensers that cost more than a good bottle of wine and contain more herbs, citrus fruits and grains than a muffin from a vegan bakery. You can’t click on a design blog or open the pages of a property magazine without peeking inside someone’s bathroom and finding an altar to Aesop.
Aesop is of course the company benefiting from this trend. They have been around for nearly 30 years, but it is only in the last few that their $40 bottles of brown hand wash have become the must-have item for any designer bathroom worthy of photographing.
Whatever happened to old signifiers of style we used to look for? The chair shaped like a pyramid and designed by a bike mechanic from Barcelona, the Italian icon the amputato couch, made from plastic and with only three legs or the uncomplicated Japanese Carpenters’ block, which was simply an expensive piece of maple placed in the centre of the room.
Perhaps this is all just another symptom of afluenza. I cannot say that I am immune.
Having become a homeowner in the last year, I’ve often found myself looking around my bathroom and wondering what it says about me. The soap scum encrusted stainless steel tapware seems to speak to our laid back, free-spirited approach to the national employment rate of cleaners. Sure, the tiles look like they were purchased from the tiling equivalent of those baskets in the supermarket with marked down food that is about to go off, but that just means that look cannot be replicated. I do know that I can’t practice my Michael Jordan ‘Wings’ pose in the mirror because my hands will hit the walls, but then the compact space means we have more room for things outside like storing linen. And who doesn’t want ample linen storage? Ask any real estate agent what the homes of all high net worth individuals have in common and they’ll tell you- amazing space for the keeping of linen!
So why is it that I cannot justify committing to improving my bathroom and possibly my very self, by spending $40 on a bottle of soap? Often I’ll be in the restrooms of nice restaurants when the thought of pinching their Aesop bottles enters my mind. If it weren’t for the fact that I no longer carry a male carry-all (read: handbag) to social occasions, then I probably would have acted upon my thieving instincts. There was this one time a lesser brand was offering a similar product for the supermarket shelf friendly price of $12. Sure it was three times more than my usual monthly soap budget, but I didn’t see a price or the poorly designed packaging label, just a path to a cheap ubiquitous designer brown bottle to call my own.
I patiently waited over the course of a few weeks, wringing my hands in participation and citrus scented hand wash with almond extract and exfoliation beads. Soon enough the bottle was empty and I considered leaving it that way, if I truly wanted it to reflect me.
Finally, within my own bathing space, was a brown, pump-action soap bottle. Now I was living! I stood back to admire it, but the space felt no different and neither did I.
Then I remembered that most people don’t actually buy these things, but simply come across them as birthday gifts, housewarming presents or by putting them down the front of their pants at 5-star restaurants. The trick was to always refill them with cheaper soaps, that way maintaining the impression that on the outside things were of some quality, whilst inwardly you were just the sum of some cheap common suds.
That’s when I realized this wasn’t about hand wash or interior design. The bottles in those blogs and magazines look good because of where they are, not what they are! Inside they are all probably just the remnants of a Palmolive ‘Ocean Breeze’ refill pack and some top-up water.
And that is how I learned to stop resenting Ryan Gosling