Love Fades, People Change, Black Soap Endures

Even when it’s a symbol for love lost—as in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall—there’s no more manly sink statement than a hunk of black soap.

As readers of the Guide know well, the grooming geek in me really rears his head when it comes to the silver screen. Whether it’s [the Dude settling in for a candle-lit bath, Steve Carrell getting his chest waxed, or Rushmore’s young Max apprenticing at his father’s barbershop after getting expelled, I love these movie moments because they ennoble the often-overlooked minutiae of man’s quest for cleanliness.

In the pantheon of American movie grooming moments, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall is at the top of the heap.

Here’s the quick back story for the uninitiated: Following his breakup with Annie (Diane Keaton), Alvy (Woody Allen) strikes up a (somewhat surreal) series of conversations with people on the street, asking everyone from an old lady to a mounted police officer about the meaning of love and relationships. He takes out a bar of black soap, a souvenir of his life with Annie who used to “wash her face eight hundred times a day,” and laments his lost love.

The black soap represents Alvy’s confusion. It’s such an unusual thing, this black soap. It makes no sense. And neither do relationships—why do they fail, why do they succeed? I could go on, but before too long I’d just start to sound like the pseudo intellectual Alvy calls out for misreading Marshall McCluban. So let me just make clear why black soap makes all the sense in the world:

Sure, “love fades,” as an elderly woman warns Woody’s character. But a solid bar of black soap won’t. It’ll disappear eventually like any other soap bar. But unlike a white, green, pink, or blue hand or body bar soap, which bears the scars and small grime bubbles of age and recent use, black soap reveals nothing of its dirty past. It’s great for the same reason that black jeans are great: it doesn’t show wear. It just sits there, getting slowly smaller, but just as polished and flawless and jet black as the day you bought it. For any man, single or hitched, there no more reliable reminder of the sturdiness and permanence of our quest for cleanliness than a bar of black soap.

By the way, I’m very excited to report that we have our first black soap bar in the men’s shop: a rugged pine-scented matte midnight square bar packed with exfoliating oatmeal.

Photo: MGM

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