Mayfair perfume walk – get a whiff of history!

If you’re a perfume lover (and we suppose you are, since you’re here!) then we know you’re going to love an historical Perfume Walk through London’s vibrant, heritage-rich Mayfair…

On March 21st, Perfumedaze are going to be sauntering through the world of scent, taking in the sights and smells of London’s historic fragrance houses, led by the very knowledgable Olga (who we often see at out own Perfume Society events, as she’s a long-time and very enthusiastic member!) So although we’re not organising the walk, we very much wanted to flag it up for fellow fragrance addicts.

 

 

Says Olga: ‘The perfume walk is an invite to have a glimpse of London history through perfumes, their creators and people who wore them. The tour takes about three hours during which walk we will visit heritage perfume shops and find out the exciting history of old English brands like Floris, Atkinson’s, Penhaligon’s and Grossmith. We will have access to places usually closed to public, like the Museum at Floris and the Georgian Suite at Atkinsons.

 

Floris offers an opportunity for a real time travel. The shop has been occupying the same premises for 290 years and is still run by the same family. Among his clients there are royals, famous people, actors and even literary characters. The visit to Floris also gives a chance to discuss what a unisex fragrance mean.

 

Atkinsons, meanwhile, is a real phoenix of the perfume industry connected to the king of English fashion Beau Brummell as well as Russian Royal Family, Queen Victoria and Sarah Bernard. We will also be walking on the street once famous for Turkish baths where William Penhaligon created his first fragrance. And the tour will finish in the mecca of modern perfumery, Jovoy Mayfair, where we will discover secrets of main perfume ingredients and discuss pros and cons of naturals and synthetics.’

 

 

All the details you need to know are on the Eventbrite ticket page, but the basics are that the walk is March 21st, 11am–2pm, and tickets cost £20 (non-refundable).

Traversing from the oldest houses still proudly proferring perfumes in the Captial, right through to exploring some of the most modern fragrances around – think of this as a way to time travel with your nose.

By Suzy Nightingale

Powder to the people: the many moods of iris

A rather unprepossessing looking root with a heavenly, suede-like aroma, iris is one of the most costly of fragrance ingredients – adored by perfumers for generations, but shaking off the unfair ‘grandma’s talcum powder’ reputation it perhaps once was cloaked by, now being championed by ultra-cool niche brands for a new era of purple passion.

Curiosity combined with ingenuity altered the history of perfume forever. Who exactly was the first person rootling around in the earth beneath the gloriously flowering iris, discovering the fleshy, creeping rootstocks (known as rhizomes) that look for all the world like the key ingredient in a fairytale’s curse, and pondering, “what if…?” Taking those roots, putting them in a cave to age further (the older iris rhizomes get, the more pungent they become), and grinding, distilling and extracting the essence, only then does it transform into the uniquely powdery, skin-like, sometimes almost bread dough-esque scent that lingers and clings low to the skin for hours.

Lauded for centuries as a symbol of majestic power, dedicated to the goddess Juno and revered by Egyptians who placed the flowers on the brows of the Sphinx and scepters of kings – the three petals of the blossom supposedly representing faith, wisdom and valor. In both ancient Greece and Rome, orris root was already highly valued in perfumery, with fragrant unguents of iris widely used in Macedonia, Elis and Corinth, for which they became famous.

Iris fragrances can smell as sweetly innocent as freshly laundered linen, or hint at the siren call of the boudoir – lipstick, powdered skin and silken underthings that gradually take on the body scent of the wearer. This is an ingredient you’ll long to snuggle in the bosom of, and once truly appreciated you’ll never want to be without – a new religion, a way of life… Okay, I’ll go and lie on the chaise lounge for a bit (iris always makes me want to drape myself on plush furnishings, anyway).

I could wax lyrical about its myriad charms all day (and often do, to the delight of my friends), but I want you to go out and allow yourself to be enraptured by some of these suggestions. Join my iris cult  swathe yourself in one of these scents, showcasing the many moods of Iris

 

 

Refined Iris:

Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile eau de parfum – High society swanker subtly wearing amber necklace and oakmoss Chypre fur coat (with silk knickers).

Ormonde Jayne Vanille d’Iris eau de parfum – A rope of creamy pearls knotted over see-through silk blouse, delicately skin-warm from décolleté’s touch.

Prada Infusion d’Iris eau de parfum – Immaculate white shirt line-dried in Spring, crisp sheets on bare skin: the allure of clean linen waiting to be sullied.

Xerjoff Irisss eau de parfum Warm bread roll joyously ripped asunder and secretly slathered with butter; face re-powdered, pink pout re-applied.

Serge Lutens Bas de Soie – Chaste kiss from cool blonde of the Hitchcock ilk, wearing lipstick too expensive to smudge on plebs and silk stockings you’ll never see.

 

 

Romantic Iris:

4160 Tuesdays Paradox eau de parfum – Thunderously moody walk in a storm; wrapped in cashmere stole sucking violet pastilles on a comfy sofa, temper’s becalmed.

E Coudray Iris Rose eau de toilette – A silk wedding dress on a velvet hanger, lovingly stroked by thoughtful bride-to-be at a vintage fair. Loved again.

Huitieme Art Parfums Naiviris eau de parfum – Searingly hot love letters liberally dusted with rice powder, sealed with red wax, smuggled in the spicy cargo of a ship’s belly.

Penhalligon’s Iris Prima eau de parfum – Ballerina’s farewell performance, a lithe curtsey as the curtain drops, feathers scatter the stage, tears of joy mingled with makeup.

Aerin Iris Meadow eau de parfum – Expensive bouquet tied with silk ribbons, nestled in a jam-jar on a bedroom window-sill, the handwritten card beckoning smiles.

 

 

Bohemian Iris:

Atelier Cologne Silver Iris Cologne absolue – A purple velvet gypsy-style skirt’s hem dampened by dew, pale wrists loaded with bangles, reaching for blackberries on a misty morning.

L’artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha eau de parfum – Temple stones cool beneath bare feet, chai tea sipped on a verdant mountain’s terrace, distant bells deeply resonating.

Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Iris Bleu Gris eau de parfum – Freshly laundered sheets cannot hide the masculine scent of a Dandy’s midnight visit, still lingering in the sunlit room.

Sentifique Dangereuse eau de parfum – Chanteuse shuns cold weather, languidly stretching golden limbs on tropical sun-lounger, coconut ice cream drips on hot skin.

Vancleef & Arpels Bois d’Iris eau de parfum – Free spirits chasing rainbows, lovers of lemon sorbets, cashmere stoles & black tea sipped from vintage china cups.

 

 

Bad-gal Iris:

Etat Libre d’Orange Bendelirious eau de parfum – Wild child starlet swigging Champagne while chewing cherry-flavoured gum, emerging chaotically from rock gig’s dry ice.

Parfumerie Générale Private Collection Cuir d’Iris eau de parfum – Leather-bound prayer book stolen from church, smeared with face powder fingerprints. Chocolate-covered illicit kisses confessed.

Juliette Has a Gun Citizen Queen eau de parfum – Ms. Capulet rescues herself from tragedy by ignoring poison, a flirty heroine in floral basque and leather jeans.

Miller Harris Terre d’Iris eau de parfum – Hidden doorway leads to secret library, furtive fumblings among dusty tomes, her husband’s brother a better lover.

Frederic Malle Iris Poudre eau de parfum – Smiling seductress imbued with moral turpitude, impatiently tapping manicured fingernails on glass-topped cocktail cabinet.

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads we recommend – The Scent Trail: A Journey of the Senses by Celia Lyttleton

Frosty winter days call for snuggling up with a good book, and we have a whole scented bookshelf of Fragrant Reads we recommend. Today we are plunging our noses into the beautifully written and so-evocative book that follows one woman’s journey to discover the secret of scent…

Penguin say: ‘When Celia Lyttelton visited a bespoke perfumers, she realised a long-held ambition: to have a scent created solely for her. Entering this heady, exotic world of oils and essences, she was transported from a leafy London square to a place of long-forgotten memories and sensory experiences. And once drawn into this world, she felt compelled to trace the origins, history and culture of the many ingredients that made up her unique perfume…

And so began a magical journey of the senses that took Celia from Grasse, the cradle of perfume, to Morocco; from the rose-growing region of Isparta in Turkey, to the Tuscan hills where the iris grows wild. And after journeying to Sri Lanka, the home of the heavenly scented jasmine, Celia ventured to India, the Yemen and finally to the ‘Island of Bliss’, Socotra. Here she traced the rarest and most mysterious agent in perfumery, ambergris, which is found in the bellies of whales and is said to have powerful aphrodisiac qualities.

From the peasants and farmers growing their own crops, and the traders who sell to the great perfume houses, to the ‘noses’ who create the scents and the marketing kings who rule this powerful billion-dollar industry, Celia Lyttelton paints a mystical, sensual landscape of sights, sounds and aromas as she recalls the extraordinary people and places she encountered on her unique Scent Trail.’

We say: While on the quest for ‘the perfect perfume’, author Celia Lyttelton had a bespoke fragrance made by Anastasia Brozler in London, an encounter that set Lyttelton off on a tour of the world to trace the history and provenence of the ingredients used. From a collection of precious oils contained in an old wooden box to the growing, harvesting and distilling of the materials and exploring cultural responses and mythological beliefs surroung scent, this book is a must-have for anyone who wonders where, exactly their perfume originated. And what a tour to take! With new scent adventures beginning with sentences such as: ‘We arrived on a plateau of dragons’ blood trees and desert roses…’ you will doubtless be Googling far flung fragrant climes, just as we did, while reading this (and now knowing exactly what you’d do following a Lottery win!) Beautifully written, and full of the insightful, utterly fascinating pieces of fragrant history that she collected along the way, this book is a deep-dive into perfume ingredients that will have you packing your travelling bags and setting off into the scented sunset… Save a seat for us!

Celia Lyttelton The Scent Trail: A Journey of the Senses, Bantam Books amazon.co.uk

*****

Looking for a gift or just the next thing you need to get your nose in to? Have a browse of our ever-expanding selection of favourite books – some are exclusively about perfume, others are more scholarly tomes on the history and scientific advancements of smell and the senses; while others still follow a path of examining fragrant ingredients in poetic, funny or awe-inspiring ways. What are you waiting for…?

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads: Scent and Subversion

Did you know we have an ever-expanding bookshelf of Fragrant Reads here at The Perfume Society? Combining two of our favourite things (perfume and books), we’re always on the lookout for great reads to recommend you – from just-published new novels and scholarly scent explorations through to more historically inclined tomes – all with a central scented theme.

We know we’re not alone in getting ever more geeky about fragrance – our feedback from you overwhelmingly shows we’re seeking more information about the fragrances we wear – and the people who make them. Throw in some scientific facts or fascinating glimpses behind-the-scenes of ingredients, or take us by the hand to explore the faces and inspirations behind some of our favourites and we’re happy as pigs in… er, petals!

Today we’re sticking our noses into a book that lovingly recounts scents once regarded as ‘forbidden’ or even dangerous, and the incredibly glamorous people who flouted such milksop opinions and wore them anyway. We rather think you’ll fall in love with this one, just as we did…

 

Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Subversive Perfume, by Barbara Herman

Far more than merely a way to smell pleasant, those of us obsessed by fragrance know well that perfume has historically been seen as subversive – and still can be used to break the rules and unsettle cultural conventions. Highlighting the use of perfume to play with society’s gender conventions, Barbara Herman analyses vintage perfumes and perfume advertising – a theme that she began on her popular blog, Yesterday’s Perfume.

Lavishly illustrated, and lovingly detailed descriptions of vintage fragrances through the ages – and the femme fatales and mysterious stars associated with wearing them; Herman includes essays on scent appreciation, a glossary of important perfume terms and ingredients, and tips on how to begin your own foray into vintage and classic perfume – such a great way to navigate this sometimes intimidating world, and to find a new love from a back catalogue you may have missed.

I love how Herman injects wit into her descriptions, such as this from her review of Le Galion Sortilége: ‘Boozy, lush, animalic, but lady-like, this is one of those perfumes that, to an untrained nose, might be described as ‘smelling like my grandma.’ Well, maybe if your grandma was Colette or Marlene Dietrich…’ The volume is written with a mixture of humour, historical fact and useful advice, and this is a book that any perfume lover would be delighted to read.

Publisher: The Lyons Press

At amazon.co.uk

*****

Barbara’s blog is well worth re-visiting, but you may notice the last entry was updated in 2016. This is because she had a rather exciting project up here sleeve…

Barbara Herman: ‘I launched a perfume brand — Eris Parfums. Named after the Greek goddess Eris, daughter of Nyx (Night), and one of the bad girls of Mt. Olympus with a reputation as a troublemaker and subversive, Eris has thrown down her gauntlet (or thrown her Golden Apple?) in the form of three new perfumes. I think you’ll like their inspiration: vintage floral animalics.

Belle de Jour, Night Flower, and Ma Bête were each composed by perfumer Antoine Lie (Tom Ford, Givenchy, Comme des Garçons, Etat Libre d’Orange, et al) and each are a take on vintage perfume styles but with a modern twist. I really love them and I hope you do, too!’ And there’s now a fourth fragrance in the collection – Mx.

Having had the pleasure of sampling each of the fragrances, I can confirm that those of with a penchant for vintage will get a real kick out of these. My favourite has to be Ma Bête – ‘(My Beast) caresses you with the suggestiveness of perfumed fur. A collision of the floral and the animal, MA BÊTE combines a regal Tunisian Neroli with spices and a 50 percent overdose of Antoine Lie’s own animalic cocktail.’

‘Ma Bête is a fierce beast with raunchy elegance.’ – Antoine Lie

Whether reading about delightfully subversive scents or wanting to douse yourself in their forbidden essence, this season is an excellent time to slip into your most fabulous gown and exude dangerous glamour, don’t you think?

By Suzy Nightingale

1950s archive film: how perfume is made (unintentionally hilarious in parts!)

We urge you to take some time off to watch this glorious archive film from the 1950s on how perfume is made. Unintentionally hilarious in parts, it’s a fascinating watch, with many of the processes still relevant today – much of the perfume-making method not haven’t changed much in centuries.

We can only picture the male narrator of this short film smoking a pipe throughout, pointing it disapprovingly at the woman we see sitting at her dressing table applying makeup and then dabbing herself with perfume, as he launches such eyebrow-raising comments like these…

‘Throughout the ages, women the whole world over have sought to adorn themselves for the benefit of the male… And here we have a young girl preparing for an evening’s outing in what she thinks is the height of fashion. A mask of makeup and a deluge of scent. HEY, steady with that bottle!’

It’s enough to make us up-end an entire bottle of perfume over our heads this evening, just to annoy men like this narrator, but leaving that hilarity aside, do make yourself a cuppa and settle down for seriously great vintage viewing!

Another note of amusement comes toward the end (after a brusque makeup demonstration in the beauty department) when the perfumer, ‘Mr Collins’ gives a talk describing how women should only choose a perfume they really like, and that the right fragrance, the one you truly love, will bestow great confidence on the wearer. Sentiments we can certainly get behind.

But wait, because when the model is asked to choose her favourite – ‘Oh, I like this one!’ – Mr Collins snatches the bottle out of her hand as though it were on fire. ‘Well,’ he chuckles condescendingly, ‘I don’t think you’re going dancing… You should wear this light, floral one.’ Okay Mr Collins, thank you for your TED talk on confidence.

Although some of the practices, such as cruel methods of obtaining animal products for perfume, are completely outdated; sadly the practice of making condescending remarks to people about their choice of fragrance, or how much of it they should wear, can still be experienced. So to that we say: wear an extra large dose of your favourite ‘dancing’ perfume today – yes, in the daytime. Shocking! – and as you spritz, say ‘cheers!’ to Mr Collins…

By Suzy Nightingale

REEK founder Molly reveals her five favourite smells…

With an attention-grabbing name like Damn Rebel Bitches – a scented homage of blood orange, hazelnut, pink peppercorn, clary sage and malt, to the fearsome females of the Jacobite uprisings who were given this nickname – it’s obvious that REEK Perfume were bursting with passion to portray inspiring women in fragrant form. A proudly Scottish niche fragrance house, Molly Sheridan describes starting the brand so she could ‘…memorialise heroic, unapologetic women through scent. We want to celebrate our heroines.’ Damn right, and here at The Perfume Society, so do we!

Following hot on the fragrant heels of the Bitch, the equally flagrant Damn Rebel Witches celebrated those women who dared to be different, and were punished for it. You can read a full review in our guide to bewitching Halloween scents, but truly this is a fragrance suitable for any time of year, and whenver you feel like asserting your strangeness.

Molly says wearing REEK scents should be ‘…an everyday rebellion, a reminder of female achievement, much of which has been forgotten.’

Using unconventionally honest images (completely un-photoshopped images of women that celebrate beauty in all forms, including some of Molly herself) and deliberately provocative names to make people think a little more deeply about how women have been classified  – often by their scent and the things a ‘virtuous women’ is supposed to smell of – throughout the centuries, we were already intrigued by their Instagram account, and so were thrilled to meet up with Molly and get to know her by asking for her five favourite smells…

1 – Chanel No 5: ‘The reason I’m picking this is because at every stage of my life, a lady of significance to me has worn it. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have an older relative, or teacher, for example, who hasn’t worn it! It’s one of those absolute staples, a smell that everyone knows. It’s a classic – I wouldn’t wear it myself, but I love the smell of it on other people. Especially when they wear too much – I love that!’

2 – Elnett Hairspray: ‘It always reminds you of somebody or a particular time in your life when you used it. One whiff and you’re straight back there! And it’s just got this really distinctive smell – something that I can’t quite put my finger on or even describe – but it’s so evocative…’

3 – Petrol: ‘I love the smell of petrol, and I find that a lot of perfumes I like to wear has something like that in the scent for a split second – I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but something that reminds me of it and draws me to it. I want to keep smelling it to get more, more to get the petrol smell back. Weirdly I find that with both fragrances and food – the things I like most have something that reminds me of petrol.’

4 – 4160 Tuesdays Maxed Out: ‘Ohhh… it smells like chocolate limes to me. For ages this was the only perfume I wore, and I wouldn’t wear it during the day, but for some reason I like wearing it at night. Even if I’m just staying in.

5 – Bread: ‘It’s one of those smells that’s the same everywhere in the world. You can be in India or Paris and it all smells the same. Bread is one of those habitual smells that’s so comforting, and makes you hungry to smell it, even if you’re weren’t beforehand. I really like the fact that bread has such a social history, too – it’s a staple of life, we talking about “breaking bread” with people or say something’s “the best thing since sliced bread”. I went to Italy with my little sister and asked her what her favourite thing about the holiday and she said ‘The bread and butter!’ which just about sums it up for me.

Can I just say, I think these are absolutely brilliant questions to throw at someone! It’s so psychological… and I really like not having time to ruminate on the answers, otherwise you’d come up with some perfectly balanced list of things you’re supposed to say. Not like me – petrol and Elnett, haha!’

Molly interviewed by Suzy Nightingale

Cleopatra’s fragrance: finally recreated?

Imagine being able to smell Cleopatra’s actual perfume – time travelling through the sense of smell. Well, thanks to the work of historians, now perhaps you can…

If the art of ancient perfumery was to have a ‘face’, a fragrant figurehead, it would surely be Cleopatra.  As legend tells it, she had the the sails of her boat coated with fragrant oils before setting to sea:  ‘The perfumes diffused themselves to the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes.’  Her idea was that Mark Antony would get a waft of her arrival even before he caught sight of her.  Suffice to say: she wasn’t shy about scent.

Cleopatra reportedly used fragrance to seduce Mark Antony, with even the floor of her boudoir strewn with roses – some say ankle deep in them – leading a scented trail to her bed. Clearly a believer in ‘more is more’.

As Shakespeare put it:

‘The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burn’d on the water;  the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them…
… From the barge, a strange invisible perfume hits the sense…’  (Which neatly explains the name of a niche Californian fragrance brand, Strange Invisible Perfumes, NB.)

Robert Littman and Jay Silverstein of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa have been investigating the perfumes of the ancient world for years, with the focus of their research the scent that Cleopatra herself might have worn. The fragrant journey began with the discovery of an ancient Egyprian perfume ‘factory’, at the Tell Timai excavation project at the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thmuis, founded in 4,500 B.C.

Subsequent excavation at the site revealed kilns dating from the third century B.C. used to produce perfume bottles during both the pre-Roman period and the Roman occupation period. They also uncovered original amphorae with residual evidence of the ingredients used to make the perfumes _ the first time they have been uncovered in over 2,000 years. And although the ingredients no longer retained their smell, chemical analysis revealed exactly what they were…

Myrrh, olive oil, cinnamon, and cardamom formed the basis of the scent, and it would have been worn as a thick, resinious oil. Although it was first discoevered in 2015, it’s not until now the fragrance has been recreated, leading one of the di’s leaders, Robert Littman from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa, Littman to comment: ‘What a thrill it is to smell a perfume that no one has smelled for 2,000 years and one which Cleopatra might have worn.’

Littman also, rather tellingly, claimed the scent found at the factory would have been ‘the Chanel No.5 of ancient Egypt.’ And we must wonder if, in fact, the Queen of Egypt would have worn a fragrance produced en-masse in a factory. Indeed, perfumer Mandy Aftel, who has researched the subject significantly, claims that ‘Cleopatra made perfume herself in a personal workshop,’ said Aftel, going on to explain that ‘People have tried to recreate her perfume, but I don’t think anybody knows for sure what she used.’

Well, although we wont get to know exactly what Cleopatra’s favourite fragrance was, but it’s perhaps likely members of her inner circle and the royal court wore the recreated scent; and at least we know the materials they favoured. Until then, we suggest you create your own scented trail. And if not exactly covering your bedroom floor in rose petals and scenting ship’s sails – maybe adding a few extra spritzes, just to be sure…

The perfume based on finding from the Tell-El Timai dig is on display at the Queens of Egypt exhibition by the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC until September 15.

By Suzy Nightingale

Greece is the word: Diptyque’s mythologically inspired Eau de Minthé

Diptyque were inspired by an ancient Greek myth on the concept of metamorphosis for Eau de Minthé – a perfect starting point for this fragrant collaboration of the house’s director of marketing and product creation Myriam Badault alongside perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin, and a completely new twist on mint and the Fougère family.

Diptyque say the scent ‘…reinvents an emblematic perfumery accord, fougère, by drawing on the scent of mint. At the very heart of the composition, its aromatic freshness enhances the lively floral notes of geranium while the patchouli confers profound depth.’

In fact, completely forget everything you think you know about mint – we get the name from a Greek myth’s nymph – who Badault was inspired by, because ‘I like to tell stories and share my discoveries, mythology and ancient times are among our strong inspirations, and we found this very nice story about the nymph Minthé and her love affair with Hadès.’

Diptyque are known for their fabulously evocative visual style, often collaborating with artists to bring their fragrances alive, and for Eau de Minthé, Badult knew exactly who to choose. ‘I have a whole collection of comics based on myths,’ she explained, ‘the young author is Clotilde Bruneau. We asked her to write the storyboard of the film. It was a very enriching experience.’

Having watched the beautifully illustrated movie (above), we urge you to seek out this surprisingly complex take on mint, that we feel can be enjoyed whatever the weather. Herbaceously creamy swirls are stirred into the dappled shade of a traditional fougère structure and infused with a genderless, contemporary edge of thorny rose oxide. Cool as a long cold drink on a hot day, crisp as the first touch of frost on green leaves, the verdant notes swoon to skin-warmed whispers of soft muskiness that delight the whole day through.

Diptyque Eau de Minthé £120 for 75ml eau de parfum diptyqueparis.com

By Suzy Nightingale

 

 

Orange blossom: how to bottle sunshine

Did you ever sleep in a field of orange-trees in bloom? The air which one inhales deliciously is a quintessence of perfumes. This powerful and sweet smell, as savoury as a sweetmeat, seems to penetrate one, to impregnate, to intoxicate, to induce languor, to bring about a dreamy and somnolent torpor. It is like opium prepared by fairy hands and not by chemists.’ ― Guy de Maupassant, 88 Short Stories

Orange blossom is beloved by perfumers in light-filled ‘solar’ scents – a newly emerging category, and a word I’ve found increasingly used for fragrances which aren’t merely fresh, but attempt the alchemy of bottling sunshine.

It’s the bitter orange tree we have to thank for these heady white blossoms – one of the most benificent trees in the world, for it also gives us neroli, orange flower water and petitgrain – all utterly unique in smell, from verdant to va-va-voom depending how they are distilled and the quantity used in a fragrance.

Originating from Asia, the bitter orange was introduced to North Africa by crusaders of the VIIth century, and now it’s just six villages in the Nabeul region of Tunisia that provide the majority of the world’s crop. Women do most of the harvesting, the pickers swathed in headscarves climbing treacherously high-looking ladders to reach the very tops of the trees, typically working eight hours a day and gathering around 20,000 (approximately 10kg) of flowers.

 

 

When the blossoms are hydro-distilled – soaked in water before being heated, with volatile materials carried away in the steam to condense and separate – the extracted oil is neroli, the by-product being orange flower water, while petitgrain is the essential oil steam distilled from the leaves and green twigs.

Long steeped in bridal mythology, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, she chose orange blossom to decorate her dress, carried sprigs in her bouquet and even wore a circlet of the blossoms fashioned from gold leaves, white porcelain flowers and green enamelled oranges in her hair. It firmly planted the fashion for ‘blushing brides’ being associated with orange blossom – but this pretty flower can hide a naughty secret beneath its pristine petals…

 

 

While the primly perfect buds might visually convey a sign of innocence, their heady scent can, conversely, bring a lover to their knees with longing. In his novel The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa chronicles crossing an orange grove in full flower, describing ‘…the nuptial scent of the blossoms absorbed the rest as a full moon does a landscape… that Islamic perfume evoking houris [beautiful young women] and fleshly joys beyond the grave.’

It’s the kind of floral that might signify sunshine and gauzy gowns or veritably snarl with sensuality. Similar to the narcotic addictiveness of jasmine, with something of tuberose’s potency; orange blossom posesses none of that cold, grandiose standoffishness of some white florals: it pulsates, warmly, all the way.

 

Perfumer Alberto Morillas associates the scent of orange blossom with his birthplace: ‘I’m from Seville, when I’m creating a fragrance, all my emotion goes back to my home,’ Alberto told me, talking about his inspiration for Solar Blossom (below). ‘You have the sun, the light and water – always a fountain in the middle of the square – and “solar” means your soul is being lifted upwards.’

Oh, how we need that bottled sunshine when summer fades; an almost imperceptible shifting of the light that harkens misty mornings, bejwelled spiderwebs and sudden shivers…

Why not swathe yourself in these light-filled fragrances to huddle against the Stygian gloom? I love wearing them year-round, to remind me sunny days will return, that things will be brighter, presently.

 

Mizensir Solar Blossom Luminescent, life-affirming, a shady Sevillian courtyard with eyes and hearts lifted to the glorious sun, ripples of laughter and birdsong.
£175 for 100ml eau de parfum harveynichols.com

Sana Jardin Berber Blonde A shimmering haze of Moroccan magic, orange blossom diffused by dusk, a languid sigh of inner contentment.
£95 for 100ml sanajardin.com

Stories By Eliza Grace No.1 Waves of warmth giving way to fig tea sipped beneath the shade of whispering trees, bare feet on sun-warmed flagstones, fingers entwined, forever dancing.
£50 for 15ml eau de parfum elizagrace.com

Shalimar Soffle d’Oranger A flurry of white petals in the Taj Mahal’s gardens, the creamy warmth of sandalwood swathed skin an embrace you’ll want to prolong throughout the seasons.
£79 for 100ml eau de parfum selfridges.com

Maison Francis Kurkdjian APOM Femme A golden halo of comfort, sunshine diffused through honeycombs, your lover’s neck nuzzled, licked, bitten.
£150 for 70ml eau de parfum johnlewis.com

Serges Lutens Fleur d’Oranger Softly soapy at first, then sultry, writhing with unabashed decadence: a pure heart gone wonderfully awry.
£110 for 100ml eau de parfum libertylondon.com

L’Artisan Parfumeur Séville à l’Aube The molten wax of church candles delicately dripped on to eager skin as virtue meets vixen.
£115 for 100ml eau de parfum artisanparfumeur.com

By Suzy Nightingale

Penhaligon’s fascinating fragrant history

Penhaligon’s are one of the most famous fragrance houses in the world, a proudly British brand with the most fascinating fragrant history…

Hot towels and steamily scented delights were the order of the day for customers flocking to the famous Piccadilly Turkish Baths on Jermyn Street and it was here that William Penhaligon started working as a hairdresser in the 1860s. Originally from Penzance, Cornwall, his shrewd eye for business led to him opening a rival salon just down the street a few years later. There, Penhaligon began creating his very own fragrances, lotions and potions for a most discerning clientele to enjoy.

1891 saw what was then ‘Penhaligon’s & Jeavons’ move to the even more prestigious premises of 33 St James Street and 66 Jermyn Street, with the two stores linked together at the rear. They announced to the press that not only were they the sole suppliers for the original Penhaligon’s ‘hit’ fragrance of Hammam Bouquet, but that both shops boasted a new- fangled invention of… electric lighting – still a novelty at this point in retail!

Clearly a whizz with the scissors and the scents, Penhaligon was appointed Royal Barber and Perfumer to the Royal Court during Queen Victoria’s reign and by 1903 his business was granted its first Royal Warrant from Queen Alexandra. Nearly a century and a half later, Penhaligon’s has added Royal Warrants from The Prince of Wales (granted in 1988) and the Duke of Edinburgh (granted in 1956) to their regal roll call.

140+ years old they may be, but that doesn’t mean the techniques they use are stuck in a time-warp. Penhaligon’s consistently make the most of the newest fragrance technology – from CO2 extraction to Nature Print Technology and beyond – promising that ‘each bottle contains a blend of the very old and very new.’ Those distinctive bottles tap into their history, too; clear glass and brightly coloured bow-ties adorning the stoppers are a direct echo of William’s original design.

Still made and produced in England, many of the original fragrances can still be found in the current collection, including Hamman Bouquet. Lately, however, Penhaligon’s have collaborated with some of the greats noses of modern times – including Bertrand Duchaufour, Olivia Giacobetti, Olivier Cresp and Alberto Morrillas.

Lately, a whole ‘family’ has been added to their already impressive stable of fragrances, the Penhaligon’s Portraits. Displaying more than a dash of exquisite eccentricity, we’re invited to get to know the characters, like The Ruthless Countess Dorothea, who is ‘A most ferocious matriarch, known for her sharp mind, even sharper wit and a secret fondness for the company of young men and scones.’ While described in mischievously historical tones, it’s a tingling, ginger-infused shot of oppulence on a cosy, slightly boozy base. And all the Portraits fragrances have their fingers on the button of contemporary fashions – much like the house of Penhaligon’s itself.

Penhaligon’s is a treasure trove of scents to discover – rich in both heritage and modern mischieviousness – and how many perfumeries still standing (and thriving) since the 1800’s can you think of? We love the way each boutique has its own distinct personality, too, with lavishly appointed interiors uniquely themed to suit each location.

Have you been to visit the newly re-vamped Penhaligon’s Wellington Street store in Covent Garden? We rather swooned over the decor (while sniffing out all the latest scents). Whichever boutique you visit, we’re sure you’ll love getting to know the entire ‘family’ of fragrances…

By Suzy Nightingale