‘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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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).
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.
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.
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.’
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…
Though rightly famed in Brazil, it’s only recently we’ve been able to get our hands on the Granado Pharmácias fabulous collection of scented products here in the U.K. And we’re rejoicing that this heritage-rich house can now become beloved by British perfumistas, too…
The Granado Pharmácias story begins in the 1800s with the enterprising José Antonio Coxito Granado started selling his own natural remedies – which were all created from the plants, herbs and flowers José found growing in his home of Teresópolis, a stunning, mountainous region of Rio. From these humble beginnings, a whole business flourished, and it wasn’t long before the very first Granado retail establishment was secured in 1870.
Set amidst one of the most bustling, successful streets in Rio de Janeiro, it wonderfully remains their flagship store to this day (we love that connection to living history – so many similar buildings have been lost to be developed into flats, or simply knocked down). In addition to the medicinal remedies they’d begun supplying, the now blooming Granado Pharmácias started importing other products from Europe, ‘adapting their formulas to the standards and needs of Brazilians.
The quality and effectiveness of their offering soon made Granado one of the official pharmaceutical suppliers to the Royal Court. Through this connection, in 1880, Dom Pedro Il granted it the title of Official Pharmacy of the Brazilian Royal Family.’ With a royal seal of approval, the Pharmácias flourished even further – expanding their range while remaining true to their heritage – doubtless helped along by the fact this treasured house remained within the original family for three generations of their growth.
From selling natural remedies in the 1800s to a whole collection of fabulous fragrances and home scents, this proudly Portuguese house, so long adored in Brazil. Now, we’re thrilled their fragrant wares are available in the U.K. too…Sissi Freeman, Marketing Director of Granado, echoed our excitement, commenting:
‘After years of success in Paris, we are excited with the opportunity to launch in the UK market. Granado is a very traditional brand founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1870. Partnering with an iconic store such as Liberty for this next step in our international expansion, is a dream come true! After a period of lockdowns, we are thrilled to offer British consumers with our fresh take on fragrance and colorful creations, inspired by our heritage, Brazilian culture and ingredients.’
You can read more about the history of Grandao Pharmácias on our page dedicated to them, where you can also click on individual fragrances and learn about their ingredients, and the mood they were created to evoke. Your only problem then, of course, is to decide which one to try first…
Floris have scented everyone from royalty, Florence Nightingale, prime ministers and even Marilyn Monroe, but now you can dip into their incredible history (and try some their more contemporary fragrances) in their beautifully curated Floris Discovery Collections…
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 Nelson, Florence Nightingale, George 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 then there was Marilyn Monroe. The scent the world’s biggest sex-symbol always made sure to stock up on? In their extraordinary archive (some of which is on display in the rear of their Jermyn Street boutique), Floris happen to have an original form detailing Marilyn’s order for their surprisingly unisex and greenly fresh Rose Geranium. Indeed, she loved it so much she requested SIX bottles at a time be delivered to her in Beverley Hills! (NB: A far more contemporary rose is their fragrance A Rose For… in The Private Collection – an intriguingly smoky gossamer embrace).
The original Floris shop still stands on Jermyn Street. (A couple of generations ago, fragrances were actually manufactured two floors below street level, in a basement known as ‘the mine’.) Now beautifully refurbished, the boutique many other intriguing artefacts to discover on display, along with a wide wardrobe of perfumes to explore. Edward Bodenham – an ancestor of Juan Famenias Floris himself – is the current Perfumery Director at Floris, with fragrance clearly in his blood.
As he explains: ‘I feel immensely proud to be part of the family business and to have the opportunity to help introduce our perfume house to a new generation. I have such fond memories of visiting the shop from a young age, and it is very nostalgic for me to be around the fragrances that I have grown up with my whole life. They really are like old friends to me.’
No matter how fascinating or notable their past, however, no perfume house could merely trade off their history. So as Edward notes – and more recent creations like sun-drenched Neroli Voyage in the Classic Collection and utterly addictive Honey Oud in Private Collection, prove – Floris are ‘always evolving. We have to be experimental and explorative when working on new fragrances – in just the same way my forefathers were in their day.’ Adding: ‘I hope that they would be proud of our creations today.’
No question about it, in our minds. And we say: here’s to the next 300 years or so, Floris!
May we admit to being rather obsessed with the idea of what the official anointing oil for the Coronation smells like?
Okay, well we know we’re among fragrant friends, so we’re not alone. and here we’ll be exploring the scents of the Coronation, both ancient and newly inspired…
A few years ago, a fascinating BBC documentary (sadly no longer available to view online) delved behind-the-scenes of the late Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953; and it held a scented secret for sharp-eyed fragrance fans… While discussing the ancient rituals of the act of anointing the monarch, our eyes were drawn to the oil itself – rather incongruously kept nestled in a battered old box and bottle of Guerlain‘s Mitsouko!
We’d definitely consider being baptised in Mitsouko, but it turned out it was just the bottle and box. Oh well. No matter, for the story of the oil’s recipe was rather deliciously revealed…
The oil was made from a secret mixture in sesame and olive oil, containing ambergris, civet, orange flowers, roses, jasmine, cinnamon, musk and benzoin– actually sounding rather Ambrée in its composition – and must surely have smelled glorious.
The anointing ritual is usually hidden from view – a private moment for the monarch to reflect on their duties and the significance of being touched by that oil – and so a canopy is held by four Knights of the Garter to shield our gaze. This time, though, while King Charles is anointed beneath the canopy; Queen Consort, Camilla, shall be anointed in full public view. Either way, quite a scent memory.
In fact, the phial containing the original oil had been destroyed in a bombing raid on the Deanery in May 1941. The firm of chemists who’d mixed the last known anointing oil had gone bust, so a new company, Savory and Moore Ltd, was asked by the Surgeon-Apothecary to mix a new supply, based on the ancient recipe, for the late Queen’s Coronation.
We’d quite like them to whip up a batch for us, too.
During the ritual, the highly scented oil is poured from Charles II’s Ampulla (the eagle-shaped vessel shown above) into a 12th-century spoon. Amidst the pomp and pageantry of it all, our minds keep returning to the mysteries of the anointing oil, and whom that bottle and raggedy box once belonged. Whomever they were, we congratulate them on their taste!
Meanwhile, our minds (and noses) turn to more recent royal evocations in fragrant form. Which of these five might you choose to wear for an occasion (or simply to feel extra special any day you fancy)…?
Composed in close collaboration with King Charles, this is a highly personal take on the scent of a beloved silver lime tree in his garden. Using headspace technology to capture the smell of that actual tree (rather than attempting to recreate it), the softly cocooning blossoms glide on a bright, citrus breeze with mimosa and cedar. Refreshing at any time, we feel.
A brilliant blending of heritage and modernity, think wooden-panelled rooms and freshly rolled cigars glinting with a verdant freshness that radiates herbaceous greenery and mellowed with a husky muskiness that exudes a new confidence. Easy to wear yet stylishly characterful, this could be a signature scent. Hurry, though – it’s a limited edition: so we say, stock up.
Fascinatingly, this was originally created in 1925 and worn by Winston Churchill; now recreated for a modern era, this timeless scent is beautifully composed, with a softness belying the effervescent opening. Velvety clary sage leaves cloak a magnificently smooth grey amber, seamlessly melded with a perfectly grounded sandalwood. Effortlessly engaging.
The very picture of perfumed elegance, this crisply pleasing rose rests on a dew-flecked, leafy base and was originally crafted for the occasion of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. When a breath of fresh air is required, along with an assuredness that never fails, this is one to bring inner strength and feels like floating on a tenderly blushed breeze.
Lovers of modern regally-inspired scents should try this, resplendent with luscious cherry enrobed in creamy heliotrope. Add the fragrant fizz of frothy citrus, the delicate luminescence of jasmine petals and a glimmer of crystal musk amidst the assuredly dry cedarwood base as it warms, and you have a scent fit for any occasion you need to feel in charge of.
Regarded as a lucky charm ever since its first introduction from Japan to Europe in the Middle Ages, lily of the valley has become synonymous with the month of May and ‘the return of happiness’. One of the reasons The Perfume Society chose lily of the valley as our symbolic flower, and why we launched on May 1st – to our astonishment, that was NINE years ago, now!
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.
In Europe, ‘bals de muguet’ were historically held – lily of the valley themed dances that offered the tantalising prospect for young singletons to meet without their parents’ permission.
An iconic (and ultra-chic) lily of valley fragrance was the original Dior Diorissimo, designed in 1956 by Edmond Roudnitska. Composed in homage to Christian Dior’s favorite flowe, the lily of the valley was to be found on his personal stationary, jacket lapels, printed on his fashion designs, and, on one occasion, inspired his entire 1954 spring collection.
A more recent icon is Penhaligon’s Lily of the Valley, which was launched in 1976 – tapping into the fashion trend for romantic nostalgia – and which is wonderfully described as ‘Lacey leaves. Dappled light. Green, clean, wholesome. Lily of the Valley is as fresh and optimistic as the morning dew, grounded by notes of bergamot and sandalwood.’
With the young gals dressed in white gowns and the dapper chaps at those historic bals wearing lily of the valley as a buttonhole, we’re sure there was many a ‘return to happiness’ on such evenings… Now the custom is tied in with France’s Labour Day public holiday, and the tradition of giving lily of the valley to loved ones during May still holds strong.
Lily of the valley has also made its way into countless bridal bouquets (including that of Kate Middleton for her wedding to Prince Willliam); in many countries, it’s linked to this day with tenderness, love, faith, happiness and purity.
So what does lily of the valley smell like?
Almost spicy, so green and sweet, with crisp hints of lemon: that’s lily of the valley. The flowers themselves are really mean with their oil, though, and synthetics are more often used to recreate lily of the valley’s magic: Lilial, Lyral and hydroxycitronellal are among them.
Far from reserving this magical note for May, or thinking that it has to be ‘old-fashioned’ smelling in a scent, we love the way perfumers use lily of the valley to ‘open up’ and freshen the other floral notes in a blend. It can smell like a woodland walk just after a rainshower (so very apropos for our weather right now, in the U.K.) or add some gentle sparkles of sunlight amid more verdant or deeper, shady phases as a scent unfurls on your skin.
No wonder we chose this delightful, flower-filled date in the calendar to launch The Perfume Society – incredibly, NINE years ago, now – running hither and thither all over London handing sprigs of lily of the valley to fragrant friends!
And my, how our friends have grown in this short time! With a readership that stretches around the globe and our Instagram followers now topping 67.8K, we have been delighted with some of the truly beautiful pictures some of our followers have been sharing there. Just feast your eyes on the stunning pictures we’ve sprinkled throughout this post…
With your help we’ve come so far. 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…
Set your alarms right now, because on Friday April 28, starting at 4pm Eastern Time in America, the 35th annual Perfume Bottles Auction will conduct its live online auction – with bidders around the world logging in to try their luck at owning some of the world’s most exceptional perfume bottles.
Here, we take a sneak peek at the fabulous catalogue ahead of the sale, to show you some of our favourites, and we’ll be catching up with how the sale went in the next issue of The Scented Letter magazine, so stay tuned…
Since 1979, organiser and founder of The Perfume Bottles Auction, Ken Leach, has been working ‘to create public and corporate awareness of the artistry to be found in vintage perfume presentation.’ His antique shop’s show-stopping merchandise ‘has served as a source of inspiration for glass companies, package designers, and celebrity perfumers, before ultimately entering the collections of perfume bottle enthusiasts around the globe.’
With unparalleled access to private collections and never before seen pieces, the yearly auction garners huge excitement in the fragrance world. Some truly rare and exquisite items will doubtless only be in the reach of serious collectors, but other pieces can be obtainable prices – it all depends how many other people are lusting after the same bottle, of course!
Each year, we look forward to our friends at the Perfume Bottles Auction their catalogue with us (which is a feast for the eyes in itself, as well as encompassing a huge amount of important history behind the bottles and fragrances); and we swear each year’s collection is even better than the last!
So, what does the 2023 Perfume Bottles Auction stash have in store for us? Let’s take a look at just some of our personal highlights…
This ‘Extraordinary 1934 Parfums de Burmann Pleine Lune sur le Nil (Full Moon on the Nile) black crystal Egyptian Revival perfume bottle’, was presented ‘in conjunction with the launching of the newly established Burmann perfume company and shop on the Champs Elysees. However, both the perfume and the bottle proved to be too expensive to produce, and this ambitious project was not pursued.’ Estimated to achieve $30,000–$40,000, and being so rare; no wonder it’s the catalogue’s cover-star.
This dazzling piece is a 1946 Salvador Dali design, produced by Baccarat (no 798) for Elsa Schiaparelli Le Roy Soleil (The Sun King), and ‘The Duchess of Windsor having been one of the first to receive one, wrote to Schiaparelli: “It is really the most beautiful bottle ever made, and the Roy Soleil is a very lasting and sweet gentleman. I cannot tell you how I appreciate your giving me such a handsome present which has displaced the Duke’s photograph on the coiffeuse!” Schiaparelli wrote in her autobiography that it was “…too expensive and too sophisticated for the general public, but…not destined to die.”‘ (Estimate $10,000–$12,000)
We’ve seen photos of this extraordinary bottle circulating online previously, those versions often in less than pristine condition, while this piece is immaculate and has so much for information to go with it. It’s a ‘1925 De Marcy L’Orange trompe l’oeil presentation, simulates a halved orange, glazed ceramic bowl holding eight orange segments in a metal frame, blown glass perfume bottles in perfect condition.’ Which of the fragrances would you have loved to smell first? Each segment held one Chypre, Ambre, Rose, Héliotrope, Jasmin, Muguet, Mimosa and Violette. (Personally, we’d have been at the Chypre and Ambre.) Estimate $800–$1,000, it’s sure to prove a-peeling [sorry!]
We’re loving the side-eye this cheeky minx is serving in the ‘1925 Favoly’s La Poupee Parisienne presentation for Chypre hand painted blown glass perfume bottle, metallic thread bow.’ Estimated $200–$400, she could be coming home to party with your perfume collection if you’re lucky. (And obvs she was a Chypre gal – with that expression, what else?)
This French ‘1920s Hetra for Elesbe Le Papillon Embaume butterfly‘ bottle was made for a presentation of Oeillet (Carnation) scent. Completely darling, and we don’t know if we’d rather display it or run around giddily playing with while whooping with joy [don’t worry Perfume Bottles Auction pals, we wouldn’t really play with it. Much.] Estimated $600–$800, enthusiasts should get their nets at the ready.
The work on this ‘Sea Weeds’ model bottle is quite breathtaking, and it’s a ‘1925 Andre Jollivet design, produced by La Verrerie de la Nesle Normandeuse for Volnay Yapana clear glass perfume bottle, deeply molded front and reverse, blue patina, inner stopper, silvered metal cap, embossed label on side. Some of the bottles truly are art pieces in their own right, and this one certainly belongs in that category. $2,000–$4,000
Well now, this is irresistible, isn’t it? A ‘1944 Elizabeth Arden music box presentation for On dit (They say) clear/ frost glass bottle and cover, with inner stopper, sealed with perfume, as two ladies, their heads touching, one whispering a secret to the other…’ And what is the gossip, we wonder?! With panels of the box showing various high society social scenes, where no doubt the cause of the chin-wagging occurred, this is a delightful, whimsical piece we could stare at for hours.
There are SO many more we love, but to show them all would be to basically reproduce the entire catalogue, so why not go and have a browse (and gasp) for yourself? If something particularly takes your fancy, you can register for the 2023 Perfume Bottles Auction online: the instructions for bidding are all there, and if you have questions you can ask those via their website, too. Now then, which one(s) would you most like to own…?
[Our feature image for this article is the ‘1924 Julien Viard design, manufactured by Depinoix Glassworks for Bonwit Teller & Co, Paris Venez avec Moi (Come with Me). Estimated $4,000–$6,000. Utterly beguiling, non?]
It was with great sadness we learned that John Bailey, former President of The British Society of Perfumers and renowned artisan perfumer of The Perfumers Guild, died on Wednesday 22nd February 2023.
John was one of the kindest and most insightful men in the entire fragrance industry. He was generous with that extensive experience and vast knowledge, too, and could always be relied on to help us with research – often throwing in scented snippets of information that made us gasp. Jo Fairley, who co-founded The Perfume Society, and counted John as a dear friend, commented:
‘John was a life force within the industry, and his passion for perfumery was unrivalled. Those of us who knew and respected him will miss him – and his scented missives! – very much.’
The British Society of Perfumers statement read:
‘As one member of the society put it: ”John was the beating heart of the British Society of Perfumers”. He joined the society in 2009 and was president from 2012 to 2014. He was only the second President to take on two years at the helm after Robert Favre in 1963.
John was the first to receive the title of Honorary Ambassador to the Society. He took on this role with gusto, giving new members a warm welcome and keeping in touch with friends of the Society. He had a passion for the history of perfumery especially in the UK and researched a number of brands. His career in perfumery included working for Stafford Allen, Naarden International and RC Treatt. This wealth of experience lead him to found his independent consultancy; The Perfume Guild in 1981.
With sorrow for his passing and joy for a life well lived.💔’
You can read our review of that brilliant book in the link, above. It’s utterly essential reading for anyone interested in perfumery, and yet represents a scented slice of his encyclopedic knowledge.
Some years ago, Jo Fairley and I had the great pleasure of spending a day with John at his home, in order to interview him for our #ShareMyStash feature for The Scented Letter Magazine. It was a joyous day of sniffing and reminiscing which we will never forget, and we can think of no better way than for us all to remember John than to share that piece with you, here…
‘Barbara Cartland had me fragrancing her bookmarks and scenting her letters’
‘It’s not about what’s in the bottle – it’s also the stories and the people behind them’
[This feature was originally published in issue 28 of The Scented Letter Magazine]
Celebrating his 90th birthday this year, John Bailey has had an unrivalled professional career – spanning an incredible seven decades of scent. As you might expect, along the way, this fragrance expert, scent historian and behind-the-scenes consultant to leading brands around the world has amassed quite a collection – which he shared with Suzy Nightingale…
Photos: Jo Fairley
There’s nobody quite like John Bailey. It isn’t just the sky blue eyes, still twinkling mischievously as he enters his 10th decade. It isn’t simply the way he lavishly perfumes the handwritten letters he still likes to send (including, regularly to The Perfume Society). And it isn’t just the length of his career which makes John unique in perfume circles, but the breadth. He began as a ‘lowly laboratory assistant’, as John puts it, apprenticed at the age of 14, and worked his way through all the key companies in the perfume world.
Later, he rose to become Dame Barbra Cartland’s ‘personal perfumer’ and found his own fragrance house, The Perfumers Guild, to create bespoke fragrances for a select clientele. More recently, he held the role of President of the British Society of Perfumers. Quite simply, if the British perfume world had a national treasure, John Bailey is it.
And when John sent us a photo of his ‘summerhouse’ (a very precisely-packed shed at the bottom of the garden, filled with his perfume stash), The Perfume Society’s co-founder Jo Fairley and decided we couldn’t wait any longer to hop on a train and see John on his home turf.
From the moment we stepped into John’s car – fragranced by one of his own beautiful blends, wafting through the air filters – we realised that perfume pervades every area of his life. Over tea and biscuits, served by his wife Sheila in an immaculate conservatory (a congratulatory diamond wedding card from Her Majesty The Queen propped on a side table), John chuckled as he reflected on the timeline of his professional life, ‘I think the way to explain it to you honestly is that my career has evolved rather than been planned.’ And evolve it most certainly did…
Humbly reflecting that he ‘wasn’t much good at anything at school… my sister was the brainy one,’ it was John’s parents who gently nudged him to become an apprentice to John Richardson & Co, an old-established firm of manufacturing chemists, druggists and distillers in his home town of Leicester. ‘They made everything, pills, potions, lotions, tinctures, veterinary preparations; lozenges…’
It all began with those humble lozenges – which he spent his days hand-making exclusively for the Brompton Hospital London. ‘The mixture was kneaded and prepared with a specific percentage of the essential oils – things like English peppermint oil – then rolled, cut out and stamped. An apprentice like me would have to re-do that again and again, weighing them exactly. If the weight wasn’t right, it meant the dosage of the essential oil wasn’t correct. Later, I discovered it’s t’s exactly the same technique when you’re weighing out ingredients for perfumes. You have to be accurate.’
Soon it became clear that John’s passion lay in the botanical/aromatics side of the business. As he explains: ‘In those days pharmacies would bulk buy fragrances which they’d pour into their own bottles to sell.’ The chemists shops frequently bought them from the same supplier they sourced lozenges and other medicinals from – and before long, John was learning how to blend perfumes.
The next step of John’s career was ‘very good fortune’, he reflects. He joined a renowned retail chemist, Cecil Jacobs, who’d set up shop beneath the Grand Hotel, Leicester. Jacobs’s subsequent takeover of an ancient apothecary allowed John to be trained in every single aspect of sales, marketing, sourcing ingredients, the merchandising and making of fine fragrances, cosmetics and toiletries. (There’s probably nobody in the entire perfume universe who’s had so rounded a training.) Perhaps his greatest stroke of good fortune was meeting a fellow employee, however – Sheila, with whom he has three daughters.
From there, it was a leap to the old-established Quaker company of Stafford Allen (SAS), growers and distillers of essential oils. ‘I spent months in every single department there before they sent me out as their technical representative. I never stopped learning. It wasn’t like today when to become a perfumer you are required to go to ISIPCA or do specialised training,’ John reflects. ‘This was learning on the job.’
Interestingly, this gives him great respect for the growing number self-taught niche perfumers around today. ‘To my mind there’s no point getting on your high horse and saying, “well these people haven’t been trained at such and such a place” – because that was often the old way, too!’
He clearly remembers the time when the role of ‘evaluator’ was devised – the individuals whose role is as a bridge between client and perfumer, to-ing and fro-ing to ensure the brief is fulfilled to their satisfaction. ‘It was much to the disgust of the perfumers, who thought “who the hell are these people coming in and telling us to tinker with our formulas?”’
From 1979-1981, he then went to work for the fragrance house RC Treatt, setting up a perfumery from scratch. To the distress of John and his team, however, out of the blue the whole venture was axed – and for the first time he found himself out of a job. ‘But it gave me the push to go independent’, John asserts. ‘I thought right, that’s it, I’m never working for anyone again. So I launched my company, The Perfumer’s Guild…’
John’s first bespoke perfume was for the Royal National Rose Society – a quintessential English rose scent, simply called Society, with the first bottle going to Penelope Keith, then to Felicity Kendal and other celebrities who’d had roses named for them.
His next client? None other than Dame Barbara Cartland – she of the pink frocks, the fluffy dogs and the Rolls Royce. (Later, also stepgrandmother to Diana, Princess of Wales, through the marriage of her daughter Rayne to Earl Spencer.) Having read a newspaper article in which the eccentric, bestselling romance authoress bemoaned the decline in standards of perfumery, John wrote her a letter offering to make a scent specially for her. It went down so well that he was retained – like a modern-day Jean-Louis Fargeon to Marie Antoinette, perhaps – to create all the fragrances in her wardrobe. The first perfume he made for Dame Barbara had the suitably Cartland-esque name of Scent of Romance – ‘an Oriental, very decadent and rich. She also had me fragrancing bookmarks and scenting her letters.’ On one occasion, he recalls, he even found himself being announced at a foreign reception at a five-star hotel by a uniformed footman as ‘Mr John Bailey, Ambassador to Dame Barbara Cartland!’
John was one of the first Western perfumers to use oudh – and shows us a magnificent gold metal chest, containing a pile of this precious Arabian wood. Never resting on his laurels, it turns out he was also involved in reviving the prestigious British perfume house Atkinsons, via his friend Michael Edwards (author of Perfume Legends and the perfume industry ‘annual’, Fragrances of the World). Michael introduced him to the new Italian owners, when they’d bought Atkinsons into their fold. ‘He said to me: “These people have lost a lot of their history and they’re not sure what to do with this treasure” – so I became the officially-appointed researcher, before the relaunched. I’m thrilled that they’re now going to open in Burlington Arcade – literally just around the corner from where this perfume house first started.’
But leaving aside his fascinating personal history, we were also here to see John’s collection. So John led us to the summerhouse in which he stores his jaw-dropping stash, glass cupboards and shelves groaning with everything from Potter & Moore Lavender to Esteé Lauder Dazzling Silver, an original Youth Dew, Army & Navy Eau de Cologne, Triple Extract Wood Violet and more. ‘I’ve no idea how many bottles I’ve got. Several hundred I guess. It’s not always about what’s in the bottle – for me the bottles themselves hold a fascination, the stories and the people behind them.’
Back in the house, Jo and I had to ask if Sheila (who fuelled us with tea, biscuits and mini mince pies throughout the interview) was equally into perfume. Her throaty chuckle and candid answer – ‘Well, to be honest with you I’m not that bothered about it, these days!’ – made us laugh, as did her affectionate assertion that John was ‘obsessed with fragrance’.
At first, John attempted to deny this. But then this gentleman and scent scholar looked around the otherwise immaculate house, with its study crammed with what must be every fragrance book ever written, its huge factices (oversized display bottles) and countless perfume flacons from every era on display. (Never mind that shed itself.)
‘Well, alright,’ he finally smiled, ‘I suppose you could say I’m obsessed…’
JOHN’S TOP 10
Or rather, 11. Because after seven decades in the perfume business, it seemed churlish to deny John Bailey an extra ‘pick’…
Atkinson’s 24 Old Bond Street ‘A wonderful relaunch and redesign – they’ve been so clever with the flask.’
Chanel ‘From the aesthetic point of view, their simplicity is absolutely brilliant. All they’ve had to do is tweak the bottle over the years – because it’s perfection.’
Coty (lots of vintage treasures) ‘We have a friend who was a flight engineer for Concorde and he found this bottle for me at a flea market in Ludlow. Very similar to the vintage Molton Brown, isn’t it?’
YSL Opium ‘The bottle designer Pierre Dinand told me many years ago, when I was working with him, that only a few of these original necklaces were produced and so I treasure this.’
Guerlain Mitsouko ‘One of the greatest fragrances ever created.’
There have been some truly bizarre moments in perfume’s history (who, I’ve always wondered, was the first person to think of adding civet to a scent, or discovering ambergris could add a magical touch to a fragrance?) For your olfactory delectation, we thought we’d pull together a selection of scented snippets, covering fragrance from the dawn of perfumery to more recent history. While seeking to demystify fragrance since we first launched The Perfume Society, it’s sometimes fun simply to look back and wonder. And you truly couldn’t make these fascinating facts up…
Egyptian priests, and their Pharoahs, were entombed with fragrances – and when those tombs were opened by archaeologists, in 1897, the perfumes were discovered to have retained their original, sweet smells. Important figures in Egyptian history were buried with scented oils, to ensure their ‘olfactory needs’ were fulfilled.
Hippocrates – ‘the father of medicine’ – was big on hygiene, prescribing fumigation and the use of perfumes to help prevent disease. The Greeks embraced aromatherapy, making it practical and scientific rather than mystical. Both men and women became obsessed with ‘the cult of the body’: women, at dressing tables in their private quarters (known as the ‘gynaeceum’), men more publicly, anointing themselves at the public baths, after exercise. (A ritual that endures in today’s gym changing rooms.)
Emperor Nero was so crazy about roses, he had silver pipes installed so that his dinner guests could be spritzed with rosewater. (According to legend, he once shelled out £100,000 for a ‘waterfall’ of rosepetals which actually smothered one guest, killing him. Quite a way to go.)
When the Crusades kicked off – in the 11th Century – among the treasures brought back to Europe by Crusaders from the Middle and Far East were aromatic materials (and perfumery techniques). The celebrated Arabian physician Avicinna is said to have been the first person to have mastered the distillery of rose petals, in the 10th Century.
There has always been a natural link between leather and perfume. As Queen Catherine de Medici’s glovemaker understood, it works brilliantly to disguise the lingering smell of the tannery. And in 1656 the Corporation of Glovemakers and Perfumers – for the ‘maître-gantiers’ – master glovemakers/perfumers) was formed in France, . (Note: at that point, glovemaking was deemed more important.)
King Louis XIV (1638-1715)took the trend for perfumery to new heights, by commissioning his perfumer to create a new scent for each day of the week. He insisted on having his shirts perfumed with something called ‘Aqua Angeli’, composed of aloes-wood, nutmeg, storax, cloves and benzoin, boiled in rosewater ‘of a quantity as may cover four fingers’. It was simmered for a day and night before jasmine and orange flower water and a few grains of musk were added. Like some kind of early fabric conditioner, it was used to rinse Louis’s shirts.
Napoleon Bonaparte had a standing order with his perfumer, Chardin, to deliver 50 bottles a month. He loved its cooling qualities and after washing, would drench his shoulders and neck with it. He particularly loved the scent of rosemary, which is a key ingredient in eau de Cologne, because it flourished along the cliffs and rocky scrubland in Corsica, where he was born.
Modern perfumery as we know and love it has its roots in the Victorian era. It was that century’s clever chemists who came up with breakthrough molecules that took perfumery to a whole new level. The new synthetics were often more reliable and stable – and sometimes enabled a perfumer to capture the smell of a flower whose own scent proves frustratingly elusive to extract naturally.
Chanel’s mother was a laundrywoman and market stall-holder, though when she died, the young Gabrielle was sent to live with Cistercian nuns at Aubazine. When it came to creating her signature scent, though, freshness was all-important. The perfumer Ernest Beaux presented a series of 10 samples to show to ‘Mademoiselle’. They were numbered one to five, and 20 to 24. She picked No. 5 – and yes, the rest is history.
Until the 50s, fragrance was something women mostly reserved for high days, holidays – and birthdays. Until one very savvy, go-getting New York beauty entrepreneur – by the name of Estée Lauder – had a brainwave. So the game-changing fragrance Youth Dew began as a bath oil (as Estée Lauder herself once told us):
‘Back then, a woman waited for her husband to give her perfume on her birthday or anniversary. No woman purchased fragrance for herself. So I decided I wouldn’t call my new launch “perfume”. I’d call it Youth Dew,’ (a name borrowed from one of her successful skin creams)…’