Portugal soap maker still cleaning up 122 years on

Fri Feb 20, 2009 11:11am EST
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By Shrikesh Laxmidas

FAJOZES, Portugal (Reuters Life!) - When Ferdinand Claus and Georges Schweder opened a soap factory in Portugal in 1887, they couldn't have dreamed their products would today be used by stars like Oprah Winfrey, Nicolas Cage and Kate Moss.

The German duo left Portugal due to the First World War, but when Achilles de Brito bought the company in 1918 and renamed it Ach Brito, he kept the Claus Porto label for the luxury soaps that have been a calling card throughout the company's history.

The role of history is visible at the factory in northern Portugal. Workers wrap soaps in colourful Art Deco packaging designed decades ago at the company, after each bar has been made through traditional, manual milling and drying processes.

The results are rich, fragrant and creamy soaps that fetch up to 15 euros ($18.86) a bar at luxury retail outfits such as Harrods, SAKS Fifth Avenue and Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

From the very start, the soaps became popular among European elites, with fashion houses like Chanel requesting custom-crested versions, a private label tradition that continues today with clients including Spain's Paradores historic hotels.

Oprah Winfrey called the soaps "a labor of love" which appeal to the senses and make great gifts.

"From our production methods to our graphics portfolio, we take inspiration from everything that has been done here, so that there is continuity," said Ach Brito's CEO Jose Fernandes.

Last month, the Ach Brito story took another turn when the company acquired Confianca, its main Iberian rival which, at the respectable age of 115, is a contemporary of its new owner.   Continued...