It’s important to have a roster of creature comforts—simple, cheap pleasures with the power to reset one’s equilibrium or brighten a dreary day. For me, a slice of New York-style pizza, that dietary holy grail, tops the list. Another, more recent addition is Pears Transparent Soap, which in my book, is the platonic ideal of bar soap.
Pears has been around since 1807 and is frequently mentioned in books by 20th century European authors, thanks to its British roots and broad circulation. Back in my English majoring days, I was taken with a description of a bar of Pears being eaten whole by a wild boar in Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, and eventually took initiative to purchase a bar after reading about Vladimir Nabokov’s childhood memories of its foamy lather at bath time (the Lolita author, incidentally, maintained a lifetime routine of morning soaks). Universally loved by wildlife and commodity-deprived Russians during Soviet hard times? Sounded like a soap for me.
The amber bar smells resinous and slightly medicinal. It’s no-frills and perfectly unisex—seems designed to be used by someone who’s spent a long day captaining a tugboat or sanding in a woodshop. While not marketed as seasonal, its Ricola-like qualities make it a good option for winter cleansing. Meanwhile the green variety is citrusy and herbal, like an English garden on a spring day.
Even better is Pears’ surface—bars become clear and shiny as jewels when wet, leading to moments lost in reverie under the showerhead. Try it out; just keep an eye on that water bill.
However, being a late adopter of Pears may mean you are experiencing a lesser version of the original product. In 2009, Unilever, the brand’s parent company, altered the original formula, a change that left many longtime users bereft. Complaining the beloved “mild, spicy scent' had shifted to one too heavily reminiscent of frankincense, fans united en masse on Facebook and petitioned Unilever to restore Pears to its original glory. Though Unilever has acknowledged a shift in quality, it has yet to make good on its promise to return to Pears 1.0. Surge pricing of the original formula bars on eBay attests to this supply chain hiccup.
The good news is that new Pears is still great, my allegiance is fully formed. Inexpensive, easy to find—it’s stocked in grocery stores, pharmacies, and even gas stations nationwide—Pears is the clear choice for a low-cost, high-return bar soap with a storied history.
Photographed by Ben Jurgensen.