Roger & Gallet is a well known brand of toiletries comprising perfumes, "fragrant water", solid and liquid soaps, body lotion, hand cream, shower and shaving gels, and scented candles. Ever since I was a child, back in the distant heyday of Bronnley lemon soap, Baededas bubble bath and Yardley talc, Roger & Gallet soaps exuded an air of luxury and were the ultimate aspirational gift. Today I would probably accord that status to small leather goods from Aspinal or a silver locket from Penhaligon's, however, I would still place Roger & Gallet solid soaps pretty high in the gift list pecking order.
Curiously, I don't feel the same about the other products in the range, least of all the perfumes. This may be due to the fact that they are extensively stocked in my local department store, which I regard as the kiss of death to all things fashionable and in good taste. To my mind, the other problem with the brand is that it has wide distribution in pharmacies, where it takes its chances alongside the depilatory creams, lip salve and dental floss.
Ah, I hear you say, but the perfumes in Boots also live cheek by jowl next to a motley assortment of corn plasters, Frizz-ease and cotton wool balls, so is the fragrance section of Boots also to be written off on account of its chemist-y contiguity? No indeed, for the perfume counter in Boots is big enough to square up to the rest of the store and its array of glamorous and not-so-glamorous medicaments and toiletry staples.
But the distribution of Roger & Gallet products through independent chemists troubles me for some reason, and undermines the credibility of its perfumes. Though not, crucially, that of the soaps...
Bois de Santal (Sandalwood) is my personal favourite. Many perfumistas are on a permanent quest to find the ultimate sandalwood fragrance. I believe I have found it in Damien Bash Lucifer No 3 - or I have until something better comes along - which I doubt it will. But for anyone still out there chasing their HGSS (Holy Grail Sandalwood Scent), there is a lot to be said for cutting your losses, aborting the quest - Damien Bash has discontinued its perfumes anyway - and sniffing this soap instead.
For Roger & Gallet is without question the ne plus ultra of sandalwood soaps - and I speak from a position of some authority, as we are a two brand sandalwood soap household, the other make being Taylor's of London. Taylor's is also round, and teasingly wrapped in that familiar ruched paper spiral, secured by a central circular label. Moreover it does smell somewhat of sandalwood - admittedly, more when it was new - for the scent seems to have faded in use.
Yes, the Roger & Gallet has the more robust sandalwood fragrance of the two. It is richer and more woody, incensey even, which makes the experience of pressing your nose to the paper almost meditative. You don't even need to take the paper off to get an uplifting lungful. And that way you can also savour the conspiratorial crackle of its wrapping. This is the Musc Khoublai Khan of the sandalwood soap scene. I almost feel like a member of a secret sect when I sniff it...
Now my special bond with this soap may be enhanced by associations with someone from my past. I don't wish to overplay this connection, because he also used another soap from the R & G range which didn't move me especially, from which I deduce that the primary appeal remains the sandalwood itself.
Mr Bonkers, meanwhile, has a much more matter of fact approach to soap, and has never to my knowledge cared for a specific soap fragrance, let alone been bowled over by its smoulder. His main requirement of a bar of soap is that it should be free of particulates (petals, lavender sprigs, poppy seeds and other "encrustacea"), not smell too "poncy" (frangipani, lily of the valley, magnolia, rose) or too "weird" (hemp, black pepper, tar, algae, olive oil, also anything dark and inherently sinister, not forgetting bile - see photo below), and most importantly that it should produce a good lather. I agree with him about the particulates, and my other two bêtes noires are strongly scented soaps of any kind, and ones that either crack, or conversely, turn to mush.
For although I may reserve the right to turn to mush emotionally when sniffing this transcendental rendition of the sandalwood note, it is imperative that the soap itself stays firm, right down to the last little sliver...Which this bar of Roger & Gallet has every chance of doing, since it has never been in contact with water, and only briefly came out of its handy plastic carrying case long enough for me to write this post.
Photo of Roger & Gallet soap from garden.co.uk, photo of a chemist from chemistanddruggist.co.uk, photo of Taylor's soap from the company's website, photo of gall soap from Wikimedia Commons.