As we discussed in our last post, what would become Crabtree & Evelyn was incubated in a small retail outlet known as ‘The Soap Box’, in a corner of a theatre in Massachusetts, USA. The brain child of film buff Cyrus Harvey, the store became an eclectic collection of soaps & suds gathered from his travels, all sold under the brand name “Truc”. The exact story behind this name may now be lost, but it could very well refer to the French word ‘truc’ meaning ‘things’.
Cyrus was a great admirer of artisanal soaps, natural fragrances and time honoured traditions. This was 1968, long before ingredients were labelled
‘organic’ and all things natural were ‘trendy’. It was more about reinvigorating traditional methods of soap-making, choosing the best ingredients from nature and using recipes handed down from generation to generation. Our travelling entrepreneur visited Switzerland, France and his much beloved England to gather inspiration and source suppliers.
The Soap Box’s ‘Khus-Khus Soap’.
Finally in 1972, Cyrus launched ‘Crabtree & Evelyn’, presenting his unusual products in a thoroughly British atmosphere. The brand name was inspired by the Crab Apple Tree, native to Britain and the ancestor of all cultivated apple trees, and John Evelyn a 17th Century naturalist and conservationist. We’ll explore those inspirations in a future blog post.
During the brand’s formative years, the fruits of Cyrus Harvey’s research and travels were showcased in the breadth its soap collection, the variety of fragrances, the originality of his ingredients and the quality of the individual products. At one point there were over 90 different soaps in the C&E universe!
Some of the early examples of the C&E soap collection – including the wooden ‘English Soap Collection’ drum featuring William Shakespeare.
The soap collection was divided into three main sections, drawing from the traditions of French, Swiss and English soap-makers.
French Triple-milled Soaps: dating back to the 18th century, this traditional French method involved milling the ingredients 3 times. This produces a soap with fewer impurities and air bubbles, ensuring a smooth texture and a rich lather. It also means the fragrance and beneficial ingredients are more evenly distributed. The soap will retain its form, colour, fragrance and benefits to the very last slither, without finishing life as an ignominious blob. The early collections were made by the Parfumerie Monpelas in France.
‘Lettuce Juice’ and ‘Gardenia’ soaps from Parfumerie Monpelas.
Swiss Glycerine Soaps: the glycerine soaps were hand-crafted in Switzerland the traditional way. Employing time-honoured methods, generations of the Mettler family have blended coconut, palm and castor oils with glycerine and fine botanical extracts to create a collection of jewel-coloured, beautifully fragrant bars. These soaps offer gentle cleansing for delicate skin, without leaving any residue. The collection include alpine flowers, fruits and herbs – raspberry and gentian being just two examples.
The distinctive colours of the glycerine soap collection.
English Soaps: quaintly called ‘Tudor Country Soaps’ and ‘Orchard Soaps’, these collections drew heavily on the traditions of the Victorian ‘still room’, relying on the bounties of the English garden – fern, violet, rose, cherry and birch. The most English of blooms were presented alongside the more mundane harvests of the vegetable patch – lettuce, carrot and cucumber – and classics such as Old Brown Windsor soap.
The Classics – English Lavender and Cox’s Orange Pippin Apple Soaps.
From these three main collections came many declinations – from the exotic soaps inspired by the South Pacific islands (Tiare, Pikake and Plumeria), to the fine woods of the Indian sub-continent and Asia (Sandalwood, Cinommon and Vetiver) and even a bespoke collection for the Royal Opera House. There was of course Beatrix Potter’s enchanted menagerie of characters – Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle Duck – and the Alice in Wonderland collection.
Ceylon Cinnamon Soap. Alice in Wonderland Soap Collection.
Today’s post is intended to give just a small overview of the exceptional heritage and the quirky product offering that has endeared generations of Crabtree fans to this brand. We will explore other aspects of our soap story in the months to come – from unique fragrances, to unusual packaging and artistic collaborations.
Thank you for following our blog.
#20yearsinSA #naturallycurious #enhancetheeveryday #C&ESAblog