Let Margot Tenenbaum Be Your Guide to a Much-Needed Bathtub Unwind

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Set against the canon of always-on-repeat holiday movies, it seems like an oversight that we’ve somehow left The Royal Tenenbaums out of the usual rotation. It’s true, there are few overt cues to the season in the Wes Anderson classic, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The surname, of course, bears a passing resemblance to the traditional carol. The plot centers around a dysfunctional family (a genre staple), and the primly stylized tableaux feel like presents themselves, all wrapped up in Scalamandre wallpaper and silk upholstery. A keen ear will even pick out the plaintive strains of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” when a beat-up car marked “Gypsy Cab Co.” comes to ferry Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) back to her mother’s house. “But why is this necessary?” her neurologist husband (Bill Murray) asks, as he trails her to the sidewalk. “Because I’m in a rut and I need a change,” she answers. 

It’s a relatable sentiment, given how the latest turn in the pandemic has upended a precarious sense of order. One solution—for those convalescing or just nursing the blues—is to take a page from Margot’s playbook and settle in for a long, escapist bath. (If nearby electronics are involved, take the usual precautions; the character’s shoebox-size television, perched at tub’s edge, is at least tied to the radiator.) 

A winter soak is more than the liquid equivalent of Margot’s vintage fur coat. “I am sure there are things that can’t be cured by a good bath, but I can’t think of one,” Sylvia Plath wrote in The Bell Jar. The medical literature, too, suggests a swath of benefits, with past research showing improved mood states associated with depression, tension, and stress; immersion bathing (as opposed to showers) is also linked to increased blood flow. Paltrow herself has evolved from a fictional bath devotee into a real-life one. “Between work, general anxiety, two teenagers, and making sure everyone gets fed, making time for self-care can feel gratuitous. It’s not,” she told British Vogue last spring, in the early phase of lockdown. The Goop founder tries to slot in a nightly 20-minute bath. “Often with a heavy pour of Japanese whiskey,” she added.

I’ll be honest, I’m drinking some myself right now—my holiday plans having washed away this week, with new ones beginning to take shape. In the meantime, this edit of bathing essentials is inspiration to slip into the tub. There are high-vibes additions, like the groovy Mind and Body soap by San Francisco–based Bathing Culture. Binu Binu’s seoye ink incense feels like the right stand-in for the clandestine cigarettes that Margot, a lapsed playwright, stashes in the cotton-swab box. A striped bathrobe by Dusen Dusen has an Andersonian flair, while black eyeliner delivers the requisite sultry angst. But there’s also the equivalent of that clear-headedness a bath might bring: a crisp checkerboard Baina bathmat, Nécessaire’s scalp-focused shampoo and conditioner, a Goop soak geared toward recovery. Here’s hoping it does the trick.

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