Guerlain’s honeyed history… and the origin of that iconic ‘Bee Bottle’

Honey (and bees) are at the heart of the house of Guerlain, and have been since its founding. With much of their skincare imbued with the healing properties of honey, their iconic ‘Bee Bottle’ inspired by beehives, and now, one of their best-selling fragrances, Tobacco Honey, infused with the scent; Guerlain’s history is abuzz with the scent of honey…

 

Guerlain’s Bee-autiful History:

‘The founder of the House, Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, dedicated a citrus Eau de Cologne to Empress Eugénie to celebrate her marriage to Napoleon III. Naturally, he named it “Eau de Cologne Impériale”. He then entrusted glassmakers Pochet du Courval to create a bottle adorned with his majesty’s coat of arms, the bees, and a festoon pattern, inspired by the Place Vendôme column. The Bee Bottle was born. It would become an icon.

 

 

The Empress was so impressed with this gift, that she named Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain “Supplier to the Empress” (“Fournisseur de l’Impératrice”), which helped to rapidly spread Guerlain’s renown throughout Europe’s great royal courts. A legend was born. Today, the emblematic Bee Bottle is still made in the Pochet du Courval ateliers and now lends itself to colour and personalisation. The perfume bottles can be refilled time and time again in a celebration of how luxury can meet sustainable development as guided by Bees. The “Dames de table” continue to seal and hand decorate this historic bottle, creating some exceptional versions that perpetuate tra-ditional craftsmanship, art and artisanship.’

 

 

 

With bees so central to their heritage, it was only natural for Guerlain to create a buzz for the conservation of bees, because… ‘If bees were no longer to exist,’ Guerlain explain, ‘most fruits, flowers and seeds would disappear forever, taking with them an infinite number of irreplaceable colours, flavours and smells. Across the world, intensive farming, vanishing habitats, climate change and so forth are drastically impacting the health of bees, both wild and domestic.’ Hence why they set up the Guerlain For Bees Conservation Programme.

In order to preserve a future for bees – and for fragrance – Guerlain remind us that ‘It is crucial for us to protect them, but this alone is not enough. We must also raise awareness around the importance of bee conservation for the world of today and tomorrow. This is why Guerlain is committed to teaching children about the cause of bees, thanks to its Bee School. Its programme Women for Bees, in partnership with UNESCO, also aims to train new women beekeepers at UNESCO’s biosphere reserves.’

‘Since 2021, Guerlain has made a symbol of this day initiated by the UN. Each year, the House raises no less than one million euros to donate and accelerate the actions of its “Guerlain for Bees Conservation Programme”. A very special day in which one of the House’s friends, Angelina Jolie, has participated since the beginning.’

 

 

Needing more of Guerlain’s honey-infused heritage? You can read all about the gloriously honey-rich Guerlain Honey Tobacco in our previous exploration of honey fragrances, and the differing ways honey is used to coax particular characters from other perfumery notes. There’s a whole hive of Guerlain’s history to explore in our page dedicated to the founding and development of the house, and did you know there’s even a comic book dedicated to Guerlain’s heritage?

 

 

 

Choose your own Guerlain Bee Bottle, which you my have personalised for a special occasion, or for a gift, in-store or online. You can select any fragrance, then decide on the size and style of bottle, and even choose the cord and seal for the scent – what a way to memorialise a wedding or anniversary – or simply savour your all-time favourite fragrance. And given the current buzz around that Honey Tobacco, we reckon many a bee bottle will be housing that scent for years to come…

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

The Ledger Series – Floris dip into their archive for fabulous fragrant inspiration…

Reviving nine archival scents for their thrilling new collection, The Ledger Series is a fantastic opportunity to wear some of the most truly iconic – and timeless – Floris fragrances

 

The long-distinguished history of Floris first began in the dreams of one Juan Famenias Floris, who in 1730 sailed from his native Minorca to set up in London. Marrying an English girl, he settled in business as a barber on Jermyn Street within the fashionable St. James’s area, first making hair combs and then assuaging his homesickness by blending fragrant oils he’d transported from Europe. Customers soon took to ordering bespoke blends, all recorded in leather-bound ledgers, enabling Floris to re-create them should further supplies be required in the future – and thus a fragrant dynasty was born.

Many of those original ledgers, order forms and letters of thanks are still in existence, preserved by successive generations of the Floris family, and offering a uniquely fascinating glimpse of British fragrant taste through the ages. Their books boast orders from Admirals serving under Lord NelsonFlorence NightingaleGeorge IV, through to Winston Churchill. In 1820, Floris received the first of 16 Royal Warrants, the most recent being the title: Perfumers to HM The Queen Elizabeth II and Manufacturers of Toilet Preparations to HRH The Prince of Wales. (Now, of course, King Charles!)

 

 

 

And now, Floris have returned to their archive to revive NINE stunning fragrances from their archives, as part of The Ledger Series. Floris explain: 

‘The Ledger Series stands as a testament to the passion and dedication of our perfumery team. This collection is a labour of love, bringing back nine fragrances from the Floris archive that were once discontinued. Meticulously delving into the original family formula books, our team studied and carefully revived these fragrances, ensuring they are preserving the timeless essence of Floris.
Utilising the authentic formulas and employing the finest available ingredients, our perfumery team diligently restored these classic scents within The Ledger Series. This exceptional collection includes Rose Geranium, Malmaison Encore, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Red Rose, Islay, Edwardian Bouquet, Soulle Ámbar and Stephanotis. Each scent, meticulously revived, encapsulates the essence of its historical roots, promising a sensorial journey through time and sophistication.’
You can read the full fabulous stories behind each fragrance in the links below, but for now, let’s explore the fascinating collection…

Floris Ledger Series: Rose Geranium

‘Rose Geranium was first introduced by Floris in 1890 when pink geranium was added to the existing Geranium fragrance. One of our most esteemed and loved clients was Marilyn Monroe, a star that has transcended time and captured our imaginations like no other. The characteristic notes of geranium are enhanced by the fresh citrus nuances of citronella and a hint of rose. A harmonious heart with an uplifting blend of palmarosa, the timeless beauty of rose, and the gentle touch of rosewood. A captivating heart that evokes elegance and grace leaves space to a simply woody base note accord of cedarwood. A grounded warm woody presence adds depth and sophistication to the delicate bouquet.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum

Floris Ledger Series: Sandalwood

‘Led by the legendary Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the historic Great Transglobal Expedition of 1979 embarked on a daring journey to the South Pole, meticulously tracing the Greenwich Meridian. Amidst this epic odyssey, Floris proudly supported the expedition with a suite of provisions, including our intrepid Sandalwood Eau de Parfum. Using the finest sandalwood oil from Mysore, the fragrance is enriched by a captivating blend of bergamot, rose, cardamom and black pepper in the top note, creating a harmonious and intriguing opening. Sandalwood reveals an enchanting heart with orris and star anise, infusing the scent with a mesmerizing blend of floral elegance and subtle spice. The smooth sandalwood scent is enhanced by warm musk’s and the allure of earthy notes of pachouli, creating a creamy and woody base.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum

Floris Ledger Series: Malmaison Encore

‘Malmaison was a firm favourite of Oscar Wilde who used to visit the Floris Shop to see the Floris family, proudly wearing a green dyed carnation in his lapel. Malmaison Encore opens with a spicy blend of clove, cinnamon and zesty lemon, creating a warm and inviting top note. The floral bouquet of carnation, rose, and ylang ylang, build the romantic and sensual heart of the fragrance, while the base notes of cedarwood, musk and patchouli bring depth and sophistication leaving a lingering trail of captivating allure. The final touch of vanilla together with the spicy carnation, evoke the elegance and timeless beauty of this floral oriental fragrance.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum

Floris Ledger Series: Islay

‘The unisex scent pays homage to the flora of the romantic and isolated Islay and to the wonderful whisky that has lovingly been produced on the island, it is said, since the 1300s. Inspired by the tasting notes and deep flavours of the rich amber liquor, as well as the beautiful island itself, known as “The Queen of the Hebrides”, Islay is also a celebration of the time-honoured ritual of appreciating the deep complex flavours and subtle nuances of whisky.
Earthy green top notes of galbanum bring to mind the wild, windswept gorse hedgerows of Islay complimented by bergamot, highlighting the initial citrus character found in many of Islay’s whisky blends. Orris adds a smooth and soft floral note whilst adding balance to the rich, rugged peaty and smoky accord of prickly juniper oil and patchouli. Finally, just a subtle hint of vanilla with warm comforting musk’s in the base of the fragrance imbue a reassuring outro to the scent.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum

Floris Ledger Series: Stephanotis

‘One of the original Floris fragrances created in 1816. Stephanotis draws inspiration from the Stephanotis flower, also known as the “bridal veil” flower. The fragrance uses oil from the “Madagascan Jasmine”, a flower which symbolises “happiness in marriage”, a delicate beauty and sweet fragrance that embodies love, purity and devotion. Originally created as a bridal perfume for the high society weddings that often took place at the magnificent St. James’s church, built by Christopher Wren in 1684, Stephanotis soon became an established favourite to be worn by brides.
Stephanotis opens with a vibrant freshness of orange blossom, petitgrain, and a touch of green galbanum note. The heart notes of spicy carnation, aromatic coriander, delicate stephanotis and intoxicating jasmine create a floral symphony that captivates the senses with its elegance and allure. A velvety embrace of musk, the soft powdery notes and the soothing essence of sandalwood in the base gracefully concludes this fragrance, leaving a long-lasting warmth and sophistication.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum

Floris Ledger Series: Vetiver

‘Vetiver was a firm favorite of Legendary Actor and Director Sir Laurence Olivier who used to visit the Floris Shop to see the family. Originally inspired by the exotic aromas, vibrant colours and energy of India. The vetiver plant has been revered for centuries in the mystical land of India. It captures the essence of the rich cultural heritage, spirituality and natural beauty. The earthy and aromatic roots of the vetiver plant embody strength and a connection to nature, creating a captivating and sophisticated scent experience. A twist of bergamot and lemon lifts the distinctive and tenacious notes of vetiver from the heart of lavender, and geranium.
The Vetiver fragrance entices with aromatic heart notes of cinnamon, clove and invigorating coriander blending with the earthy and smoky essence of vetiver. The warm spices contrast with the deep and long-lasting base notes of amber, soothing frankincense, rich patchouli, and comforting sweet tonka bean, creating a captivating and inviting olfactory journey.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum

Floris Ledger Series: Edwardian Bouquet

‘Edwardian Bouquet is an expression of the good life; it’s the finest of town and country. Rooms perfumed with hyacinths in springtime, delicate blooms of jasmine in the garden and weekend forest walks, the autumn air heavy with woods and rich oakmoss. Edwardian Bouquet was first introduced into the Floris range in 1901 as a celebration of the new era. The fragrance was then reintroduced in 1984 with the rediscovery of the original formula while going through the family archives.
Opening with the sparkling citrus freshness of bergamot and mandarin combined with a distinctive green accord and the delicate allure of hyacinth. The heart reveals a bouquet of flowers, jasmine, delicate rose and sensual ylang ylang intertwine their floral beauty to create a timeless and elegant olfactory experience, while the fragrance resonates with a base of warm amber, velvety musk, and rich earthy notes of oakmoss and patchouli, creating a sense of elegance and nostalgia.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum

Floris Ledger Series: Soulle Ámbar

‘Sun-filled days and languid evenings where opulent sparks of pineapple and zesty citrus drift on the breeze. Inspired by Floris founder Juan Famenias Floris’s roots on the Balearic Island of Minorca, the fragrance embodies a leisurely Mediterranean spirit. The name Soulle, translates from Spanish as ‘sunlight and eastern wind’. A spirit of adventure, a statement of freedom, Soulle Ámbar excites the senses, anticipating new discoveries just over the horizon inviting you to embrace life and take a chance.
Soulle Ámbar opens with a fresh crisp vibrant note of pineapple capturing the senses. Lentisque and galbanum create an elegant, modern green accord balanced with fresh crisp fruity note of pineapple. A burst of invigorating bergamot creates a vibrant opening to the fragrance. The heart reveals the lush of jasmine, geranium and melilot. The spicy resinous notes are complemented by the tingling pink peppercorns. As it unfolds, the delicate sweetness of vanilla, amber and musk captures the essence of sophistication and leaves a sensual base to complete the fragrance.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum

Floris Ledger Series: Red Rose

‘Worn by many well-known names over more than two centuries and particular cherished favourite of legendary Vogue Editor Grace Coddington writes in her memoirs: 1959 – “I was probably 19 or 20 when I moved to London with a friend to go to modelling school. We rented a room in Notting Hill Gate, which is an incredibly smart area now, but in those days it wasn’t like that at all. I met people in the coffee bar who signed me up for the Vogue modeling contest, which I won, and who introduced me to the photographer Norman Parkinson. My first picture was a nude for him! [With the money I made] I went to all the old arcades with all the old shops, because I loved old, traditional things—I will, always—and Floris was one of those stores. I didn’t go in with the intention of buying a perfume. I went in because I was responding to the visuals as much as a fragrance I found there called Red Rose. I just loved the idea that it was pretty much crushed rose petals and that was that.”
Red Rose opens with sparkling leafy green notes before the balanced, enigmatic rose character gradually reveals itself. The fragrance blooms with the warmth of cinnamon leaf and clove bud intertwined with the delicate embrace of palmarosa, and the essence of Rose Absolute at its heart. The base notes of vetiver, cedarwood and sandalwood create a comforting effect, while the sensuous depth of musk create a captivating and enduring fragrance.’
£220 for 100ml eau de parfum
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Folklore: Seven Scents of the Uncanny (for May Day & More!)

With a history firmly rooted in Celtic, Christian, Nordic and Germanic folklore, the many myths and legends that entwine our superstitions – and filter through to current day celebrations – also provide a host of perfumed inspiration across many cultures.

May is a month particularly ripe in these traditions in the British isles, though, with May Day and the annual Jack in the Green parades around the country providing part mirth, part whimsical terror in the form of mobile hedgerows and Morris Dancers and May Poles.

 

The Jack in the Green parade, Hastings, East Sussex.

 

With the start of this new month, now seems the perfect time to frolic in a contemporary retelling of fragrant heritage. Indeed, we’ve noticed a slowly building pattern for fragrance houses dipping into traditions, and reviving ingredients more often seen in vintage perfumery, and with ‘creepy’ scents that were only usually trundled out at Halloween being launched and revelled in all year long. But with recent issues of The Scented Letter magazine featuring articles on celestial and astrologically-inspired scents, and the current issue being all about The Rites of Spring, this surge of new-age spiritualism comes hot on the heels of a report in The Face magazine on the return of folk culture, and rave reviews for The Red King – a new Wicker Man-esque drama series.

 

The Red King [TV Drama, Alibi]

Are we collectively seeking some semblance of comfort in embracing ‘the old ways’, or has there always been an inherent fascination for folklore that’s simply bubbling to the surface as a new trend? Whatever the reason, cast aside notions of the uncanny being confined to Halloween and join us in donning floral crowns – including lily of the valley, of course – and revelling in these frolicsome fragrances…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you go down to the woods today… swathe yourself in the spirit of the forest with this so-evocative scent. There’s an otherworldly quality to the composition, to be sure, with all the mossy, mulch-y mysteries of fir needles and fallen cedar branches; but the verdant stirrings of new life, and your part of nature’s cycle, is apparent in the leafy unfurling of buds, the trilling of birdsong. Wrapped in an earthy base, warmed by saffron, it’s your scented spell of protection at any time of year.

Wales Perfumery FOREST – COEDWIG £54 for 30ml eau de parfum walesperfumery.com

 

 

 

Shay & Blue Atropa Belladonna 100ml

A slowly creeping intoxication of transparent jasmine and luminescent white narcissus work their magic beneath greedy handfuls of succulent berries snatched in woodland thickets – a sense of half-glimpsed, tulle-draped ghosts flitting between the trees. Inspired by the notorious Deadly Nightshade, by the time you reach the chocolate-y patchouli base and musky vanilla dry down, it will already have cast its spell.

Shay & Blue Atropa Belladonna £65 for 100ml eau de parfum in our shop

 

 

Socrates supposedly drank black hemlock to poison himself, but it’s used here to far greater fragrant effect – oodles of the absolute lending mysterious shadows to a dusky forest, soft, grassy whispers wafting amidst the verdant undergrowth, all set against the backdrop of a violet-streaked, vetiver rich, amber-tinged, sunset. This one captivates crowds, and could charmingly convert newcomers to your cult, should you so wish.

Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman £235 for 88ml eau de parfum
ormondejayne.com

 

 

If you need to summon up strength of heart and creativity, brilliant perfumer Lyn Harris has conjured this composition to aid your quest. Simmering with a spiced heart of cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper, swags of of roses (thorns and all) are stirred into the melting pot, along with oodles of powdery orris for an enchanted cloak of protection. What’s more, each Vyrao scent comes charged with a naturally sourced Herkimer diamond crystal for extra good vibes.

Vyrao Witchy Woo £135 for 50ml eau de parfum selfridges.com

[Or try a travel-size via the Vyrao High Five Set]

 

 

 

Dare you follow the strangely flickering light that leads to the heart of the woods? Fern fronds and bundles of lavender twist together – the brightening weather beckoning sunshine tomorrow, but if the shadows still tap at the window, you need this… One to wear for feeling emboldened, we say, when you need an extra layer of loveliness to bring you safely home (and have others demanding to know what beguiling scent you’re wearing along the way).

Maison Crivelli Absinthe Boréale £75 for 30ml eau de parfum lessenteurs

 

 

Pythia, the mythical oracle of Delphi inspires this scent – as high priestess she delivered her oracles ‘after entering a state of delirium by inhaling the vapours emitted by the sacred chasm beneath the temple.’ A crisp apple is studded with bay leaves, the juice mingling with wafts of spiritual smokiness that richly swishes leather, amber, oud and ambergris in a cloak that surrounds, comforts and beguiles in equal measure. 

Manos Gerakinis Omen £205 for 100ml eau de parfum shymimosa.co.uk

[Or, why not try this in the Manos Gerakinis Discovery Set?]

 

 

Portal is described as ‘a gateway to the ancient Caledonian forests of Scotland.’ It’s fresh, outdoorsy, gusting with herbaceous botanicals and bergamot, notes chosen to evoke verdant florals, resting on a veritable forest floor of vetiver and Scots pine. Kingdom Scotland’s description – ‘an escape to a sylvan wonderland’ – hints at its power to transport you to the shade of the tranquil forest. You’ll be welcomed by the others that dwell there, and possibly made Queen…

Kingdom Scotland Portal £132 for 50ml eau de parfum  in our shop

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Happy TENTH birthday to us! Celebrating a decade of fabulously fragrant years…

Incredibly, we are celebrating our TENTH BIRTHDAY this year! We simply cannot believe it’s been a decade of fragrant fun at The Perfume Society – how quickly it has flown by, and how much has changed in that time… But did you know our co-founders Lorna McKay and Jo Fairley chose the date of May 1st for a very particular reason?

 

For the French, May 1st traditionally represents the start of gifting bouquets of “muguet” to loved ones to signify the regard in which they’re held and as a token of prosperity for the year ahead. A tradition supposedly begun when King Charles IX was presented with a bunch of the delicate blooms, and decided to gift the ladies of his court, too. Lily of the valley has also made its way into countless bridal bouquets (including that of Kate Middleton for her wedding to Prince Willliam); and in many countries. Most of all, lily of the valley given on May 1st represents tenderness, love, faith, happiness, purity and a return of hope.

 

 

 

No wonder we chose this delightful, flower-filled date in the calendar to launch The Perfume Society when our team of helpers ran hither and thither all over London handing sprigs of lily of the valley to fragrant friends! Meanwhile, we were busy crafting what has become a multi-award-winning magazine: The Scented Letter – the first printed magazine in the world entirely dedicated to fragrance. And we must give a special mention to the amazing designer who has been with us from day one, and without whom the magazine couldn’t exist: Jenny Semple.

The Jasmine Awards for The Fragrance Foundation U.K. are the most prestigious in the perfume industry, and are considered the olfactory equivalent of the Oscars; while The Perfumed Plume Awards were for worldwide fragrance writing, so judged internationally. Of our many nominations for this most tricky of subjects to write about (literally communicating invisible smells, and with no specific words in the English language with which to describe them!) we simply couldn’t be more proud, or more deeply honoured, that we have won the following TWELVE awards

 

 

 

2015:

Judges Special Recognition AwardThe Scented Letter magazine team [entire issue]: Issue 1

2016:

Jasmine Independent Literary AwardSuzy Nightingale, The Scented Letter magazine: What Does Wednesday Smell Like?’ 

Jasmine Independent Soundbite AwardPersolaise, The Scented Letter. magazine: ‘Closer to Heaven

2018:

Jasmine Social Engagement AwardCarson Parkin-Fairley: #smellfie Campaign

2019:

Jasmine Practical Guide AwardThe Scented Letter Magazine team [entire issue]: The Alphabet Issue – A-Z of Fragrance

2020:

The Perfumed Plume [International] AwardJo Fairley, The Scented Letter magazine: Scents of Place: Venice

2021:

Jasmine Literary AwardSuzy Nightingale, The Scented Letter magazine: Note Perfect

Jasmine Short Piece AwardSuzy Nightingale, perfumesociety.org: Vellichor: Capturing the Scent Memories of Old Books

Jasmine Judges Special Recognition AwardThe Scented Letter magazine team [entire issue]: A Life in Scents

Perfumed Plume [International] AwardSuzy Nightingale, The Scented Letter magazine: Modern Florals, Heavy Petalling

2022:

Jasmine Literary AwardJo Fairley, The Scented Letter magazine: When Soap Equals Hope

2023:

Jasmine Practical Guide AwardSuzy Nightingale, The Scented Letter magazine: Time to Spray Your 5 a Day

 

 

 

 

You can sign up for your FREE digital copy of the magazine to be delivered to your inbox, or you may prefer to choose the option of the gloriously glossy print edition subscription. Whichever you plump for, it’s a year’s worth of fragrant reading beloved by industry insiders and the perfume-loving public, which we remain incredibly proud of the magazine team, (and our contributing writers) hard work on.

 

In this past perfumed decade, ever since the second year of The Perfume Society’s inception, we have been celebrating National Fragrance Day in the U.K. with our #smellfie campaign. This was an idea that sprang up during a team meeting at TPS Towers, when senior writer Suzy Nightingale came up with the idea of getting our followers on social media to take a selfie with their scent of the day, and tell us why they loved it, with the simple hashtag of #smellfie. Little did we know that fragrance fans across the world would take up the call, and we’ve had a joyous abundance – nearly 9,000 tags, and counting! – of perfumed photos, stories and videos from the likes of Katy Perry, Little Mix and Richard E Grant, no less, who’ve taken part in the fragrant fun for past years.

 

 

With sharing the love of scent at our very heart, let us not also forget that The Perfume Society Discovery Boxes were the first cross-brand curated selections of perfume samples (from luxury, designer and niche names to newly emerging indie houses) offered anywhere in the world. We’ve had so many thousands of you tell us you found your next new fragrant loves thanks to trying samples and minis in these boxes, and for being matched with your perfect perfumes to go and sniff out via our groundbreaking (way ahead of its time) Find a Fragrance Search Engine (originally developed by Lorna McKay).

 

 

 

With your help, we’ve achieved so much over these ten years. We wish we could come and give every single one of you a sprig of lily of the valley to show our heartfelt appreciation for all your support, but for now, accept this symbol of love and luck, from us to all of you

 

Magnolia: History, Scented Myths & the Science of Lust

This month, among other spring blooms that have inspired perfumers, we’re focusing on the stop-in-your-tracks beauty of magnolia. From our initial edit of some favourite magnolia-centric scents we simply can’t get enough of right now, to later features exploring the differing delicate (and sometimes surprising) aroma facets that can be coaxed from those magnificent blooms; today’s topic takes a look at some of the fascinating myths and history that surround this ancient flower…

 

Named after a renowned French botanist, Pierre Magnol, who first came up with the ingenious concept of classifying flora into ‘plant families’, the flowering of the magnolia tree has to be one of the most outrageous shows in nature – those fat fists of buds suddenly bursting and producing saucer-sized, chalice-like blooms that have so often stopped me in my tracks to gasp at their audacity.

Originating in both Asia and the Americas, there are around 200 different species, and they’re thought to be one of the most ancient flowering plants, dating back to prehistoric times: as we noted in our first magnolia feature, it’s kind of mind-blowing to realise that dinosaurs could have sniffed their blooms – though not yet been able to daub themselves in the scent, poor things.

 

 

The secret of a magnolia’s aroma is found in their thick, waxy ‘tepals’ (a primitive combination of petals and sepals), where chemical scent compounds including the citrus-y smelling linalool (a naturally occurring terpene alcohol) are exuded. As Judith Adam exclaims in the blog gardenmaking.com, ‘Creamy magnolia blossoms in the crisp spring air are the fulfilment of a gardener’s winter dream,’ and the very temperature of the air can dramatically alter the aroma of a magnolia’s blossom. ‘Consequently,’ she explains, ‘magnolias can smell like sweet candy, spicy verbena, tart lemon, citrus-honey or dusty violets.’

In ancient China, magnolias were symbolic of womanly beauty and gentleness, of nobility and dignity, and an Emperor might graciously deign to gift you a magnolia as a sign of great respect; while in the American South, bridal bouquets often contained magnolias, thought to emphasise the bride’s purity. But this innocent side of magnolia’s charm is juxtaposed by their more potently sensual charms…

The beauty of the magnolia blooms has historically been a popular image for artists to attempt to capture, and pioneer photographer Imogen Cunningham became famous (one might even say infamous) in the early 1920s for her close-up images of magnolias – her work often tut-tutted at over teatime gossip that her floral photos were overtly sexual, focusing as they did on the rather phallic arrangement of stamen and petals, and receiving the same criticism levelled at painter Geogie O’Keefe, whose exotic floral studies were thought to be rather, ahem, labial in nature.

 

Imogen Cunningham Magnolia Blossom c.1925

 

The multi-faceted magnolia is one of those white floral ingredients that perfumers (and perfume lovers) just adore, and there may be a scientific reason we’re so enraptured by their scent. And innocence has nothing to do with it.

Researchers at the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum in Germany have shown that the lining of the human nose has a specific type of receptor called VN1R1. So when we stand under a magnolia tree and inhale, methyl dihydrojasmonate [an airborne compound released by magnolia flowers] directly binds to that nasal receptor, triggering an area of the brain linked with motivation and memory.

 

 

Collaborating with a research team at the University Hospital Dresden, the scientific team also discovered magnolia activates the hypothalmus, which regulates hormone levels. According to the article ‘Sensual Scents – How Magnolias Turn on the Human Brain’ in The BioPhiles blog, ‘The effect seems specific to magnolias and jasmine,’ as further tests with other floral compounds had no effect on that receptor. ‘It seems magnolias are in fact producing the scent of romance – or at least lust,’ the piece concludes.

From evoking purity to provoking carnal lust, is it any wonder modern floral fragrances are still waxing lyrical about this creamy, dreamy scent…?

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Scenting Sargent – matching portraits to perfumes

The opening of Tate Britain’s Sargent and Fashion exhibition is more than an opportunity to view some of the most famous portraits in the world: it’s an invitation to spend time with people who began as acquaintances – faces you recognised, who played a perhaps minor moment in your life – and leave having made several roomfuls of dear friends.

There are so many connections between other art-forms and fragrance – music and literature being the most usually cited – but pairing portraiture and perfume was an emotional connection impossible to resist. It’s because (as those of us obsessed with fragrance readily understand, and which anyone can feel deep inside when a certain smell triggers an emotional response within them;) a scent can communicate with such aching, soul-baring intimacy; telling complete strangers things about ourselves that we’d never otherwise overtly express.

Partly, the intimacy one feels in Sargent and Fashion comes from seeing the paintings up close and in person. The way these people (mostly women, in this exhibition) meet your eye, often challengingly, or sometimes deliberately evading your gaze. Intimacy, too, in the way he painted them – mostly these people were very close friends within Sargent’s social circle, and this fact absolutely leaps off each canvas in the vivacious vibrancy and liveliness with which they’re depicted. There’s tenderness at times, and humour, too. A vulnerability or a twinkle in the eye that can only be achieved through decades of a deep bond between painter and sitter.

 

John Singer Sargent in his studio (Madame X in the background)

 

We, as visitors, get to feel truly included in this partnership while viewing the exhibition. And the shortcut to our deeper understanding of the people behind the paint is partly thanks to the clothing and accessories displayed alongside the portraits. Many of them are the very outfits the sitters were wearing while he painted them, and we learn from the exhibition notes and signs beside the displays, that not only did Sargent keep costumes and props in his studio, but that on numerous occasions Sargent designed many of the outfits himself – in collaboration with esteemed couture fashion houses such as Worth. It wasn’t a case of ‘come as you are’ when turning up to Sargent’s studio to be painted. It was far more ‘let’s show these people who you REALLY are.’ As the introduction to the exhibition guide states:

 

‘Sargent and his sitters thought carefully about the clothes that he would paint them in, the messages their choices would send, and how well particular outfits would translate to paint. The rapport between fashion and painting was well understood at this time: as one French critic noted, ‘there is now a class who dress after pictures, and when they buy a gown ask ‘will it paint?’’’

 

At this point I have to allow myself a rant. Not about the exhibition – which I adored, and which I shall think about for many years to come – but about some of the reviews by art critics I’ve read since attending the Press View. In their opinion, the extraordinary artefacts detracted from the portraits and were entirely unconnected to our understanding of Sargent or the sitters. They describe the clothes and accessories, variously, as ‘old rags’ and ‘glittery baubles’, or ‘belonging in Miss Havisham’s attic’. And the undercurrent of these reviews very strongly comes across as ‘these are women’s fripperies, therefore utterly bereft of meaning or importance.’

To arrive at this conclusion is – quite apart from being disgustingly misogynistic, and in the same patronising lineage as literary critics dismissing Jane Austen’s work as historic ‘chick lit’ because it dares to document the lives of women – to miss the point of the exhibition entirely. The clue was in the name, after all: Sargent and Fashion. The clothing was even capitalised in the title to help them.

Women have always been especially judged on what clothes they wear, and in this exhibition the point is made – again and again, if you care to comprehend – that the sitters and Sargent liked to subvert this power play in the colour and cut of the clothing, in the positioning of their bodies. They were judged for these choices contemporarily, too – several of the portraits causing shocking scandals and what we’d now understand as ‘being cancelled’. Most notably with the famous (and swoon-worthy) portrait of Madam X, for which, as this brilliant Varsity article on the infamous portrait explains:

‘Sargent initially depicted Gautreau in a tightly silhouetted black gown, with chained straps doing very little to conceal her pearlescent shoulders and décolletage. In fact, originally, Sargent chose to drape one strap down Gautreau’s arm; this inadvertently caused further outrage. To spectators past, it was a brazen attempt to barely veil Gautreau’s body, suggesting that if one strap can breezily slip, so can the rest.’

The clothing has nothing to do with the portraits? No importance? Tell that to Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who was lacerated by public opinion to the point where, as the Varsity article recounts:

‘Even Gautreau – a woman fiercely aware of her beauty, and inclined to weaponise it for advancement by becoming the archetypal ‘Parisienne’ – felt that it was best to anonymise her painted figure: thus Madame X was born.’

 

 

 

 

These spectacularly cloistered critics failed to appreciate the importance Sargent himself placed on the clothing – let’s reiterate the fact he DESIGNED many of the outfits himself, or carefully positioned the clothing and angles we can view them from; choosing to deliberately drape and conceal, or otherwise starkly reveal his sitters. And little wonder they missed (or elected not to place value on) the many examples of how important these clothes were – they spent very little time actually looking at the portraits or the clothes, or the numerous signs next to them explaining the significance. Instead, they gathered in tiny, tutting cabals during the exhibition, loudly discussing which other exhibitions or parties they had, or had not, been invited to.

#notallmen, but sadly, the ones I saw doing this all were. Ironically, I overheard them discussing what outifits they were going to wear to various fashion event parties that evening. But these were their clothes – men’s clothes – so presumably were of significance to them.

I shan’t link to their excoriating yet ultimately vacuous reviews because it lends them more credence than they’re due. And I needn’t couch my words, because they’ll never bother reading something so frivolous as an article matching PERFUME to portraits. Fragrance, I feel pretty confident in assuming, is something they would similarly sneer at as being bereft of cultural and emotional value, so equally pointless in examining. Those of us who feel otherwise are lucky in having our lives enriched by art in more ways than they could ever comprehend.

Let’s allow them to tut away to their heart’s content, and instead go and see the exhibition, and then imagine if we knew what fragrances the people in these portraits had also chosen to wear! Or what scent they might select, were they around now. Such consideration adds further layers which might reveal depths even Sargent never got to know. Which perhaps they never even truly realised about themselves.

Fragrance can do that. The right scent, worn at the right time, can disclose intimate secrets or conceal us in a cloak of intrigue. A perfume can be a worn as a kind of emotional X-Ray, or played with like choosing a costume from a dressing-up box.

 

 

The women in these portraits, we learn (and FEEL by smiling along with them), were not passive, wilting muses – they were accomplished artists, poets, academics, and philosophers in their own right. And they were in partnership with Sargent, with the fashion designers, and with us as we look at them and feel something that goes beyond the gaze to a complicit understanding. Just as wearing a particular fragrance can announce to the world who we are inside, or dictate how we want others to feel about us – transcending words and going straight to the soul.

When we take time to select a scent based on our emotional response to it – or gather whole wardrobes and toolboxes of them – we go beyond passive consumers to being in a relationship with the perfumer, the packaging designers, the experts and consultants that recommended them, and the people who then smell that fragrance as we waft past.

In pairing perfumes with Sargent’s portraits, then, I hope it helps you feel an even closer companionship to the people portrayed in them, and a have deeper understanding of the mood each scent can similarly evoke. And I urge you to try this for yourselves next time you’re in a museum or art gallery – or meeting friends in your own social circle. Wonder how you’d scent them, and then reflect on what this tells you about them, about the fragrance, and even what this reveals about our own levels of perception and interpretation.

Having gained a greater closeness to Sargent the man (not just the painter), and to the people (not only the portraits) during this exquisitely soul-enriching, emotional conversation of an exhibition, I feel he’d have approved. Indeed, he’d likely have had fragrances specially commissioned, worked on exacting briefs for the perfumers, and suggested precise tweaks to the perfumes’ formulae – the better to reflect the people behind the layers of paint, and further shaping our understanding of them.

Without such bespoke examples, what follows are the perfumes I felt ‘matched’ the personality of five portraits that particularly spoke to me. Indeed, there were so many other fragrance pairings inspired in my mind (and still bubbling away) by seeing this exhibition, that I’ll need to do a Part Two to stop them invading my every thought. But for now, what I really want to know is – which portraits would you decide to match, having got to know them at the exhibition; how would you scent them, and why would you pick that to evoke their character, the clothing, and the mood of the portrait itself…?

Sargent and Fashion is at Tate Britain until 7 July 2024. [Free for Tate members, and worth every penny if you’re not]

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 

Outwardly the very picture of femininity, in both the sitter and the scent there’s a strong backbone that runs through the centre. Gertrude is surrounded by a froth of delicate, transparent material, but she sits on a hard-backed chair and meets us with a direct and judging stare. In Apres L’Ondee a spring garden of rain-soaked blossoms feels encircled by a high fence. The violet in it is cool, almost frosted, but has survived the storm. You may admire the garden, but the casual passer-by will not be invited inside.

Guerlain Apres L’Ondee £108 for 75ml eau de parfum guerlain.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Ena Wertheimer 

Sargent and Ena were great friends, their rapport and her amusement vibrating through this unconventional portrait, and the stance apparently all Ena’s doing. She came to his studio, grabbed a broom and began fencing with it. Her heavy opera coat becomes a Cavalier’s uniform (or a witch’s cloak, given the subtext of the broomstick). In Moonlight Patchouli, inky black velvet is suddenly spotlit, bathed in a phosphorescent glow, dusted with iris – a focus on warm skin dominating the darkness.

Van Cleef & Arpels Moonlight Patchouli £145 for 75ml eau de parfum harrods.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Mrs Hugh Hammersley (Mary Frances Grant) 

A fashionable hostess of salons, Mary looks so happy to see you, but would like you to understand she has a lot to do. The extraordinary depth of colour and texture in her gown are discussed in this Metropolitan Museum of Art feature, but her vivacity and poised opulence are obvious. I tried not to use this scent in this piece, but it had to be hers. The striking depths of rose, raspberry and patchouli are hugely impactful, filled with beauty, power, and a presence that lasts long after you’ve left a room.

Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady from £60 for 10ml eau de parfum fredericmalle.co.uk

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Dr. Pozzi at Home

A blaze of passionate red, this man might appear a dandy, but he’s incredibly intelligent. He may look casually attired, but the drape of his dressing gown and the meticulous pleats of the white linen shirt dramatically contrast the swathe of scarlet. Habit Rouge is devilishly handsome and knows it. Dynamically woody, a hint of animalic magnetism balanced by almost soapy neroli and jasmine; rendered irresistible by the creamy warmth of spiced vanilla and moody patchouli in the base.

[P.S. I also attempted not to use Guerlain twice in my matches, but the body craves what it needs, and Pozzi’s needed this.]

Guerlain Habit Rouge £81 for 50ml eau de parfum guerlain.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) 

The largest space in the exhibition is given over to Sargent’s most famous portrait, room for captivated crowds to gather and gaze, elongating their bodies and arching upwards, echoing her position, desperate for her to turn and look back. Virginie adored this painting, as did Sargent, but her life was scandalised by it. In Santal Majuscule, we’re invited to worship the sandalwood, acres of creaminess suggesting an expanse of bare skin. A pared back elegance which nonetheless skewers with longing.

Serges Lutens Santal Majuscule £135 for 50ml eau de parfum sergeslutens.co.uk

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Wild about Wilde – Floris pay fragrant homage to one of their most famous clients

With their hearts firmly embedded in their magnificent heritage, Floris manage to make fragrances that pay homage to their history yet remain so completely contemporary and wearable. It’s a tricky balancing act to achieve, and one that many heritage houses aspire to, but somehow Floris always manage to keep their fingers on the perfumed pulse. As they explain it…

‘Keeping integrity and compassion, is an elegant dance between the then and now.’

You can read all about the extraordinary history of Floris in our page dedicated to this proudly British house, but for the latest launch, Floris takes us directly to the pages of their legendary ledger – the records book that’s been witness to the orders from their clientelle through the ages. Basically put, it’s a perfumed Who’s Who, with their customer’s name encompassing Royalty, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale and Marilyn Monroe (to name but a few!)

 

 

One of their most famous clients was Oscar Wilde, and, says Floris, this ‘elegant dance’ between the past, the present, and the future is something Oscar himself was all too aware of.

‘Wilde visited the shop in the late 1800s to discuss with the family current local affairs and general happenings around Jermyn Street. Fashioned with dandy and finely polished sophistication, Wilde fastened a single green carnation to his lapel as the final accoutrement for the perfect soigné. A Parisian trend to identify oneself as homosexual.’

 

 

‘Wilde was a creative revolutionary of individuality, freedom and self. Forward thinking with ideals of the future that others had yet thought about or embraced. His notions of love were expressed through his writing, most passionately, between himself and Sir Alfred Douglas, Star-Crossed lovers, forbidden to love. Desire yearns through corresponding letter and unveiling poetry colliding together with hope of a loving and freer life.’

And so, with Wilde the fragrance, Floris invite us to… ‘Immerse yourself in the romanticism of ‘Wilde’, our new Eau de Parfum. Take charge with reckless love, vigour and intention, to indulge an olfactory sense.’

 

Floris Wilde

‘Wilde captures sparkling bergamot and gentle citrus blossom, layered with the spicy combination of white jasmine, ginger and green carnation, an affirmation to Wilde’s love and affection to Lord Alfred Douglas. The warming base of pure sandalwood oil, olibanum and benzoin add a rich sophistication and depth. Understated but with an unmistakable presence.’

Top Notes: Bergamot, Marine, Citrus Blossom

Heart Notes: Dianthus, Ginger, White Jasmine

Base Notes: Sandalwood, Olibanum, Benzoin

£180 for 100ml eau de parfum (also available from £30 for 10ml) florislondon.com

 

 

 

In an age when love of all kinds are now thankfully celebrated, we should never forget the agonies Oscar Wilde suffered from public censure, which eventually saw him imprisoned, undergoing Hard Labour, emerging finally as a ruined man, broken forever. So, how even more important and wonderful it is to celebrate his love, now, and to wear it proudly, to waft down the street in a cloud of Wilde and allow ourselves to fall wildly in love (with whomever we want, and with ourselves) with every single spritz of this dandy-ish, delectable new scent…

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Desperately Seeking Sunshine? Try These Orange Blossom Scents!

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. And these fragrances are more welcome than ever when the season’s change means the darkness hits early, the days seem unnaturally shortened, yet somehow endlessly grey. As such, I urge you to seek out these orange blossom scents – SO right for right now!

 

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 possessses 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 his Mizensir Solar Blossom fragrance. ‘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, bejewelled 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. I promise.

 

 

Packed full of the brightest orange blossom, swathed in a cloak of earthy moss, soft musk and smooth sandalwood – the creaminess is an addictive layer of warmth. One to swish through leaves while wearing, grinning joyously.

EAU.MG Flor Funk £95 for 50ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

 

A shimmering haze of Moroccan magic, the orange blossom diffused by dusk, a languid sigh of inner contentment that resonates for hours – soothing, weaving its way around your soul and making for a blissful beam of happiness with every spritz..

Sana Jardin Berber Blonde £95 for 100ml

 

 

 

 

 

Waves of orange blossom-infused warmth giving way to fig tea sipped beneath the shade of whispering trees, the memory of laughter, and of bare feet on sun-warmed flagstones, fingers entwined, forever dancing, giddy on sunshine.

Stories No.1 £75 for 30ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

Perfumer Chris Maurice swirls delectable butterscotch and a ripple of dark chocolate through this orange blossom soaked scent. Vibrating with an amber-oudh glow in the base, it’s a scent that will surprise and delight you throughout the dullest of days.

Sarah Baker Gold Spot £145 for 50ml extrait de parfum

 

 

 

Suffused with a stillness that tingles expectantly, there’s a silvered gleam of a wooden boat gliding over a lake – the orange blossom darker here, sweetened a touch with candied peel, mellow greengage segueing to a seaweed-tinged purr of myrrh.

Prosody London Whistle Moon £57 for 30ml eau de Cologne

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Chanel’s Glorious Jasmine Fragrances: A Scented Retrospective

As we saw in our last feature, Chanel meticulously grow and harvest their jasmine in Grasse, exclusively for use in their fragrances; and so after looking in great detail at how this process is achieved, we thought it time to dig even deeper and explore just some of the glorious Chanel fragrances we’ve so loved wearing over the decades.

And what better time to re-acquaint ourselves with them than during the much-anticipated (and sure to sell out) Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto exhibition at the V&A in London, opening 16 September 2023…?

 

 

 

Chanel N°5

The legendary, almost alchemically intriguing mix of jasmine and vivacious aldehydes has ensured No5 always transcended fashion: No single flower can be easily identified in its construction – not ylang ylang, or that luminous jasmine, or rose, nor those bubbly aldehydes, nor any of the other 80 or so ingredients in its closely-guarded formula. Over a century ago, it was certainly unlike anything smelled before, and the abstract effect has kept it relevant, decade after decade.

From £71 for 35ml eau de parfum chanel.com

 

 

 

Chanel N°5 L’Eau

Sun-drenched, thirst-quenching and filled filled with freshness, this is a beautiful modern play on the classic, with a fizz of aldehydes dancing on lemon, mandarin and orange atop a honeyed shimmer of jasmine and luminescent ylang ylang. As the opening chords drift away and the floral heart warms on the skin, a thrum of warm cedar and vetiver mellow to a harmonious trail of soft white musks. Glorious.

From £71 for 35ml eau de toilette chanel.com

 

 

 

Chanel Chance

‘Allow yourself to be swept up in the whirlwind of Chance’ says Chanel. And, oh, what a sparkling wonder this is – the eau de parfum an ‘Unexpected Floral’, created by Jacques Polge, like wearing an entire constellation of scented stars. The heady absolutes of exotic jasmine and Iris are warmed by vanilla and more pronounced than the eau de toilette. White musk weaves mystery, and as it warms Chance becomes even rounder, ever more generous and entirely enveloping… like a new love (or the reigniting of an old flame).

From £71 for 35ml eau de parfum chanel.com

 

 

 

Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Intense

Perfumer Oliver Polge constructed his composition around a far higher proportion of patchouli leaves atop a richly resinous amber base, swirled through with toasty tonka bean and addictive vanilla in their absolute (strongest) form. Lovers of the original need not fear – your dose of Sicilian orange and Calabrian bergamot is still there, as are the fulsome garlands of rose and that stunning, sunny jasmine in the heart. The character is definitely even more mysterious, wavering between the freshness and a minxishly seductive trail that lingers all day.

£102 for 50ml eau de parfum chanel.com

 

 

Bleu de Chanel

The stronger parfum concentration of their bestselling Bleu de Chanel, crafted by Olivier Polge (whose father Jacques composed the original), is certainly recognisable, yet cleverly rebalances the wood and citrus notes, upping the sandalwood that follows the freshness, with gloriously undulating waves of bright jasmine, aromatic lavender and geranium notes, and the powerful cedarwood heart beating throughout. Intensely wonderful – and wonderfully intense.

£136 for 100ml parfum chanel.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reading for Holidays (& Long Weekends): Secrets of the Lavender Girls

For the Bank Holiday (or any travelling you might be doing in the next few weeks) we’d love to suggest you browse our brilliant Fragrant Reads shelf of scent-themed tomes. There’s truly something for every taste! But this weekend we’re sitting back and relaxing with a novel: Secrets of the Lavender Girls.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the fascinating fragrant backstory behind its creation (and the true story that inspired it…)

 

In the book, author Kate Thompson tells the tale of the women who worked at the Yardley factory during the war. But it turns out some of the stories she discovered during her research were even more incredible…

 

 

‘I love archives and libraries,’ Kate Thompson shares on her Facebook page. ‘Carefully untying the cream ribbon of an old file and catching the scent of 80-year-old dust motes is a thrill. More than once I’ve found hours can slip away leafing through yellowed newspaper reports and witness accounts from the Second World War in the silence of a reading room…’

Revealing her passion for research, and the extraordinary stories she found during her time writing The Secrets of the Lavender Girls, Kate says that ‘nothing beats what historians calls ‘Primary Sources’ and what I prefer instead to call ‘Magnificent Women’.’

 

 

The utterly charming novel follows the fragrant history of Yardley, and the remarkable stories of the women who worked there. Though a fictional account, Kate’s genuine fondness for the real life women she found (and who shared their tales with her) truly shines through.

Unravelling the stories of the real-life women who worked at Yardley during the war, she received ‘a beautiful handwritten letter in the post.’

‘I was a wartime lavender girl, I read about your book in a magazine,’ wrote Joan Osborne. ‘Yardley was the most wonderful years of my life. I am now 91.’

The letter was from Joan, who’d desperately wanted to work at Yardley, telling Kate: ‘It must have been the glamour. I remember travelling from Stratford to Ilford on the bus and the conductor opening the window so everyone could smell the lavender blowing from Yardley. Carpenters Road, or Stink Bomb Alley was famous for its smells. Seven different types of air flowed down there depending on which way the air was blowing. I can still smell the lavender,’

 

 

 

Kate learned Joan was sent to work in the top floor perfumery department where she was given a broom to sweep the floor. ‘I thought, “I haven’t come here to sweep floors” so they moved me to bottle-filling where I was putting the skin and caps on bottles. They were losing so many girls to the services I don’t think they wanted to lose anymore, so they kept me sweet. I earned eighteen shillings and something a week and my clocking in number was 157. I’ve still got the card.’

 

‘They were dangerous times, especially when the flying bombs started up, but being young I didn’t think that much about it. I was more upset by how cold it was in the factory, the heating was rarely on and we were always freezing. They used to give us cups of Oxo to warm us up. Least the room always smelt lovely from the lavender, freesia and April violets perfume.’

 

 

You can read more of the remarkable back-story of Joan and her fellow Yardley girls in Kate Thompson’s touching reflections on researching the book. But we cannot urge you enough to go and buy the book itself – and even better, read it while wearing one of Yardley’s classic fragrances (still proudly in production!) for an extra fragrant waft of history.

 

 

P.S: There’s a stunning FULL SIZE Yardley scent of English Rose included in our recently launched Discovery Box, The Garden of Delights. A blooming marvellous collection for only £23 / £19 for VIPs, which we know you’ll also love exploring to make the most of these last days of summer, too…

Written by Suzy Nightingale