Saturday, May 29, 2010

Of Bygone Days and Soap

A story during the week that Kylie Minogue has foregone Botox in favour of Ponds Cold Cream –
a non-fancy product that has been around since Noah was a lad, brought back memories of similar products from my own younger days, such as Blue Stratos and Old Spice after shave. And soap.

Back when I was a youngster, there were two soaps in our family home: sugar soap, an industrial strength soap which my mother used to wash my father’s painter’s overalls, and Sunlight Soap for everything else. Sunlight Soap was on a level not far below sugar soap but it multi tasked, from using it for showers to scrubbing stains. If you had a splinter that wouldn’t budge, you mixed Sunlight Soap with sugar to make a poultice to act as a drawing agent.

This was in the days when chemists closed at 5.00pm weekdays and at midday Saturdays so that home remedies were common (and effective): the old laundry blue bags for stings; Dettol and/or black ointment for cuts, abrasions and infections; Vicks Vaporub for chest colds and flu; Aspro for everything else. Kids went barefoot for the most part those days. Couple that with making cubbyhouses and billycarts and you had kids frequently stepping on nails. Asked whether the nail was rusty, you soon learnt to say no to avoid a trip to the doc for a tetanus injection. Ordinary nail = black ointment dressing. Rusty nail = black ointment dressing + tetanus injection.

Sunlight soap came in double blocks, two blocks to a pack. You had to break it in half to make a usable size block. There may have been softer or more elegant soaps on the market in those days but, if so, I don’t recall them. Our house was soaped only by Sunlight.

Unlike my family, which had Mum, Dad and three sons, my wife grew up in a family that had Mum, Dad and four daughters. Nonetheless the two families had the ubiquitous Sunlight Soap in common. Kate tells me that her dad also used Sunlight Soap for any purpose or activity where soap was needed. He maintained that if he could wash his hair with it, he could see no reason why his daughters couldn’t do the same. Their complaints left him unmoved and Sunlight Soap remained the soap, if not of choice then of dictate, within the Wicks household.

These days I am a sucker for smooth, lathery, sweet smelling soap, unable to pass the homemade soap stall at markets without sniffing them and buying. I put this down to a reaction against my Sunlight Soap childhood abuse. 

The lady who used to be at the Balmain markets used to make and sell a wonderful mandarin scented soap but she no longer has a stall ther.
When we ran out of soap a short time ago I asked my son Tom to pick up some soap. He purchased Cussons Imperial Leather, a good choice and a nice creamy soap.

There are some things you may already know about Cussons Imperial Leather – the red packaging and the label on the soap – but there are also interesting facts and trivia that are less well known.

Here are some:

- The metallic label on the soap, known as the Everlasting Label, comes indented into the soap. However, as the soap reduces in size with use, the indent becomes a raised area.  As the soap bar shrinks, the label size remains constant, so that it becomes more and more prominent as the soap is used.

- There has been debate as to whether the label is meant to remain face up as a means of continuing marketing, or whether the label on the raised portion acts as a stand to let the soap dry. There is no hard and fast rule so go with what you want.

- Cussons Imperial Leather is sold in Britain, Australia, Denmark, Germany, India, Pakistan and Dubai. It is not sold in the USA or Canada.

- Some Cussons history:
1768: Bayleys, a London perfumier created a perfume called 'Eau de Cologne Imperiale Russe'.
1921: Cussons & Co acquired Bayleys.
1938: Cussons used the original perfume and created Cussons Imperial Leather soap and other toiletries. The name of the soap was 'Imperiale Russian Leather', but was soon renamed to Imperial Leather.
1975: Cussons Group was acquired by Paterson Zochonis, recently renamed to PZ Cussons.

And don't get me started on 1,001 uses of Dettol.


  1. I always loved Imperial Leather soap - the aroma was wonderful. However, recently I have noticed that it no longer has that wonderful smell - what happened???

    1. They now Manufacture it in Indonesia, not in Australia. My mum has Asthma attcks from the new smell and is desperately trying to find more of the old ones. She has very sensitive skin and only uses Imperial Leather. :(

    2. Look for the sensitive bar.