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Treasure: jay design soaps

August 18, 2010

The Need for the Perfect Soap

For the first couple of months of Little Friend’s life, I found myself giving in frequently to the uncontrollable urge to bury my nose in her neck and inhale.  Mmmm.  Sweet baby scent.  I felt like some mommy bear instinctively memorizing my baby cub’s smell.  Intoxicating.  One of the first major indications of Little Friend’s growth from baby to toddler was not the pile of discarded shoes that I could swear fit perfectly yesterday, or her ability to wield her own spoon somewhat dexterously, or even the heel-banging, back-arching, monster-shrieking spells that happened when I dared take her away from the playground.  No, one of the most profound changes from babe to todd(ler) was the day her scent changed.  Overnight it seemed the warm, milky, clean baby smell disappeared and in its place arrived something more reminiscent of masticated graham crackers.  I mourned.

Good news.  For the past two days, I’ve been burying my nose in the folds of Little Friend’s skin and inhaling.  Deeply.  (She’s old enough now to give me odd looks and push me away impatiently.  Ah, motherhood.)  Thanks to a luxurious bar of Crème Fraiche soap from Jay Design Soaps, I have solved the major problems in my baby bathing life: how to recapture that intoxicating clean baby smell.  That’s right, my baby’s back!

The Soaps

Jay Design Soap in Lawrenceville (Pittsburgh)

I couldn’t be more thrilled to discover the exquisitely hand-crafted, ecologically-sensitive soaps from a precious little store in Pittsburgh.  Not only has the soap given me my baby smell back, Jay Design has also given me peace of mind (and that’s an accomplishment in any mom’s life!)  After searching high and low for an organic, all-natural, no nasty paraben or phthalate ingredient-filled baby wash for Little Friend, turns out the best answer for baby (and my whole family) is just down the road in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.

Jay Design soap is hand made in small batches according to pioneer techniques.  (In fact, when starting his soap-making operation, Jay apprenticed under the artisan of Old Economy Village down the road in Ambridge to learn exactly how soap was made when our planet was a whole lot less polluted by industrialized products.)  As a result, vegans and vegetarians will wish to shop elsewhere, because Jay’s soaps are the real deal: lye and fat based.  And all that glycerin that soap companies gladly extract to make our overpriced (and probably toxic) body washes?  That glycerin stays in Jay Design soaps, and the resulting product is down right bubbly-luscious.

Savon d'Amour Almond Oatmeal Soap

Even if Jay Design soaps weren’t some of the most high-quality bars I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying, I’d be tempted to buy a bar just for the wrapping.  Sure.  Kind of like buying a book for its cover.  While Jay (mastermind behind Jay Design soaps) sadly passed away not too long ago, his brilliant legacy lives on in the unique and eye-catching designs of his soap wrappers.  A talented graphic artist in addition to being an entrepreneur and soap guru, Jay knew how to market soap so that my sticky little fingers just itch to snag one of each bar on my way through the store.  The Barrister’s Bar is tied with a black satin ribbon and boasts an actual wax seal.   The Lavender Rosemary features a rustic American motif and is sweetly tied with flax twine.   The Savon D’Amour series of three bars offers the hand written love letters of Lord Byron, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Tsarina Alexandra to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.  If you can buy a bar of Jay Design soaps and actually throw away such a wrapper, you’re a stronger person than me.

Jay Design soap has garnered a bit of a cult following.  The store ships product all over the world, with some customers from California (or was it Colorado?) ordering six or more bars at a time.  If I hadn’t tried the soap myself, I would probably think such excess presaged a problem.  Now I just know it’s hard to get enough of a good thing.  Long-time eczema suffers and allergy-prone customers swear by the magic of Jay Design soaps and won’t let distance stand in their way between a carefully, safely crafted solution to skin problems.  However, as convenient as it is to order from the Jay Design website, if you’re close enough to swing by the retail store in Lawrenceville, you’ll find a tiny slice of whimsy, poise, and warmth that will turn a soap purchase into a soap experience.

The Store

Jay Design...Which is better, the store or the soap?

To be honest, I’m not sure which I like better, the store or the soap.  Both are equally intoxicating.  So here’s the store experience: A silver-haired, youthful-skinned woman races the resident cat, Larry, to the door as I usher Little Friend inside accompanied by the tinkling melody of shop bells.  As I stand in awe of the soap paradise, my mouth hanging unattractively agape, the shopkeeper, Helene, launches into a cheery, carefully tailored explanation of how the soap and store came to be.  The soaps, still molded in the shape of sardine cans, Jay’s trademark from the days of making and selling soap illegally out of his South Side apartment, create visual displays that beckon for my attention from all sides.  My eyes do a frenetic dance around the quaintly cluttered room.

These soaps just beg for a smell

Little Friend seems just as awed.  First she darts in the direction of a display featuring soaps in the clever disguise of dog bones.  Then she’s off to feathered birds nesting on soap eggs.  Then she zings in the opposite direction to twirl a rack of clever greeting cards.  She zags toward a table holding baby blankets, mom-soaps, and baby shower gifts.  Larry the cat finally distracts her long enough for me to snag her and haul her toward the back of the store where trays of unwrapped soaps are available to sniff (and sniff and sniff) and purchase.  (But really, who can resist the packaged options?)

Helene provides attentive, informative service.  Indeed, she manages to make me feel like I’ve stopped by her living room for a chat and a cup of tea.  She does not, however, make my soap decision process easier because each scent that she points out (I’ve asked for something nice and manly for Big Friend) seems just as good (or maybe better?  maybe not?) than the scent before it.   I ask Little Friend which one she likes better.  After two or three long sniffs (she’s just learned the mechanics of sniffing), she points to the Bayberry Bath Bar.  I take the Fritzie Zivic bar to the check out.  What can I say?  I like it better.  Or maybe I just like the wrapping better.  (A manly welterweight fighter graces the bars resting on a pair of well-aged leather boxing gloves.  I’m sold.)

My Turn Next.

Fritzie Zivic soap

So now both Little Friend and Big Friend are proud (and clean) owners of a genuine bar of Jay Design soap.  I’m next.  But goodness, how will I ever narrow my scent (and wrapper) selection to just one?  I’d make my decision quickly, if my indecision didn’t give me such a great excuse to keep popping in the store for another gaze and sniff.   Since I can’t purchase the whole experience to take home with me, I’ll just have to settle for burying my nose in Little Friend’s neck and i-n-h-a-l-i-n-g, nice and slow.

Jay Design soaps can be ordered online or purchased in person at the retail store located at 4603 Butler St Lawrenceville/Pittsburgh, 15201 | 1-888-529-6772.  According to the store’s website, “We husband our resources and create useful products from everyday ingredients; we make good use of animal, vegetable and minerals frequently wasted or discarded.  Made from natural ingredients, [the soap] is rich with glycerin, and contains no artificial colorings, filler additives or preservatives.”  To experience the full Jay Design experience, grab a delicious French pastry from La Gourmandine bakery next door before heading over to peruse the displays at Jay’s.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2010 11:38 pm

    Oh what a find–I can’t wait to come and shop there. I’m sold!

  2. Dana Henry permalink
    August 19, 2010 7:17 am

    You are a fabulous writer…. with the BEST descriptions! I just want to follow you around and do what you do, because you make everything sound so beautiful, Beth!

  3. Dee permalink
    September 5, 2010 9:00 pm

    This was wonderful reading. I’m prejudice however as Bill is my brother. I am so glad that he is carrying on Jay’s dream and his. I know there are probably times when he’d like to “chuck” it all, but he persists. Thank you for calling attention to the shop.


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