For those of you who have been following along on my creative path for over 12 years now, you will be familiar with the intaglio cases we have made over the course of time.
In most recent years, the two tone intaglios, inspired by the famous Cobbe museum’s collections of colourful ‘medallion wafers’. When hardstone cameos and intaglios produced during the Italian Renaissance period, were so rare and expensive they were reserved for only the richest collectors. The more modest ‘grand tourers’ sought out reproductions in glass and plaster or red or white sulphur during the C18th and C19th.
We worked out how to take casts in two parts from moulds made from my own small collection of antique plaster intaglios, in Jesmonite. We picked out the intaglio reliefs in a milky cream while the body of the intaglios come in a selection of pastel colours taken from the earliest examples of Wedgwood jasper ware.
I'm not sure why I was surprised by the comments that were made and are STILL made about them. 'Is that candy?' 'They look good enough to eat!' "Can you make them into chocolates!?" I know they were throw away but, if I'm honest made me quite annoyed. I'd put so much work and time into developing these as objects to remain purely in the realm of the decorative world, couldn't they just be enjoyed for what they were and not turned into flipping candy?
The Cobbe Museum's 'medallion wafers'
And then one day Ben said something like, 'why don't you make them into soaps?' and for some reason that didn't seem like the worst and most unreasonable idea in the world. It held the promise of getting to learn about the world of soap, of figuring out a new way of working with soap and to come up with some beautiful packaging.
My imagination set off in all directions.
This was the first idea I came up with. It was more about the box than it's contents. I imagined a book type box filled with intaglio soaps, pretty much exactly as you'd find part of a real collection of Grand Tour Intaglios in the library of a grand country house.
I abandoned that idea for a while as a flash of inspiration lead me to believe there couldn't be any reason why I couldn't work out how to pick out the white reliefs of the intaglios in soap as I had done in plaster. These very first batches I tried it with a standard white soap that I could colour.
They looked nice but weren't brilliant to wash with and very soft, so they became sludge quickly.
I passed these out to friends with the request that they're used promptly and provide feedback.
The feedback was pretty crazy, at times brutal and gave me a surprising new insight into how a lot of my friends empathise with the Princess and the pea story.
'It doesn't lather quickly enough',OK. 'I think it should be made from donkey's milk', OK?. 'I want it to smell like a hedgerow' Oooooookkkk??? 'make it like soap on a rope, but soap on a ribbon', didn't see that coming. 'I hate soap, but they look lovey' d'oh!
I soon stopped asking for feedback and suggestions.
The donkey milk thing did get me thinking. I didn't have to work with a plain soap and started trying out all kinds of different types, landing finally on a honey based soap, which is so beautiful to wash with and held colour and scent in a way I could never imagine.
So after ALOT of trialing and refining to finally get to a place I was happy, it was time to go back to a more realistic packaging idea. One that didn't cost the earth and even though it can be very beautiful, I'm not a fan of the type of packaging that is useless but too lovely to throw away and covered in all sorts making it impossible to recycle.
I started with a plain matchbox prototype. What was I going to put in them?
Diana, Hercules, Aset and the small Grand Tour gang became the top picks and my brilliant graphic designer Connie Barton cooked up this first stab at branding. I loved it but i didn't LOVE it. I spent months mulling over these, why didn't I love them, what was missing?
In my years of learning as I go, the answer is nearly always right in front of you. And it was. We print the boxes using the stone and wood faux finishes, I commissioned decorative artist Ian Harper to paint for me years ago. And label them in the same style as my beloved scented candles that were inspired by the spine of the 'Treatise of Design' by Batty Langley that Ben had designed for me over a decade ago.
This was the moment a box of perfectly turned out soaps had been delivered to my studio, straight from my workshop. The production team had perfected the technique, so careful and so complicated. I can't believe we did it! Samples were sent out to my guinea pig princess and the peas again and the main feedback was 'oh, they're too beautiful to use, it's a soap for lookin!, Look at it here in a lovely silver dish that no one can ever touch' Hopeless, but happy.
Of course being handmade, they'll never be perfect perfect, looking forward to being constantly reminded of that!
The colours were perfected.
In workshop and factory life, the shavings and splatters and off-cuts of production lines are called 'End of day confetti' this is essentially the main reason I set up a workshop. One day we'll make a huge crystal clear bar of soap and fill it with this, making our own 'end of day confetti' soap.
I feel like I spent all of last Autumn making mock up soap boxes, I've always been a whizz with a pritt stick and a scalpel but this was ridiculous. I had the idea that in order to economise with labels and boxes, we could use the same boxes and labels across the collection and differentiate each scent and colour with their own colour coded stickers, designs taken from C19th intaglio engravings, a collection I also already had. It was sitting all around me waiting to be spotted all along.
Connie did such a wonderful job on these.
A marble soap dish seemed like a good idea so I found a beautiful red and white reconstituted marble that we've had made to size for both the intaglio soaps and a rectangle dish for the original caesar soaps. The polish will wear away and mellow with use.
Over the months the labels arrived and after a few weeks being lost, the stickers arrived and months after that, the boxes arrived. All the while, the amazing production team have been patiently working on batches, perfecting and refining. Everything was here. It felt overwhelming.
And here they are. Styled and captured so beautifully by Amy Merrick and ready for the world.
I know we'll still have a lot to learn with these, this is still very much the beginning, there are bound to be hard lessons, teething problems and headaches along the way, but if you don't try, you'll never know.
A big project destined for big things I feel.
It's as if everything has started again.
The Intaglio Soaps are now available to buy at Pentreath & Hall Ltd. and will be available for wholesale, selectively, over the coming months.