Scented unmentionables: the racy history of boudoir & lingerie perfumes

The practice of perfuming your underwear is centuries old – a trend we’ve recently seen re-emerging from the boudoir with a come-hither glance, and fragrance houses urging us to spritz our scanties with perfume specifically made for lingerie, or being directly inspired by the materials they’re made from.

In our hot-off-the-press on-line magazine, The Scented Letter – which is a perk of being a Perfume Society V.I.P. Club Member (find out more here) – we take a closer look beneath the perfumed petticoats of history, but here we wanted to take a look at some of the more eyebrow-raising stories of how women have variously tantalised, beguiled and terrified men with the fragrant wafts from dressing rooms and, indeed, beneath their dresses…

Silk, lace, velvet and satin are materials often likened to smells – texturally sensual, they bring to mind opulent scents, and of course many perfumes past and present have taken inspiration from their names as well as the more esoteric sensations they bring when worn close to the skin, or used to swathe the moody surroundings of a boudoir. [NB ‘Boudoir’ is from the French ‘bouder‘, meaning to sulk or pout, so boudoir literally means a ‘sulking room’!]

Vivienne Westwood – ever one for slipping a sly wink to the naughtier end of fashion – released an unashamedly vampish fragrance in 1998, seeking to conjure that private pouting place reserved for women flouncing about in silky garments. And the name? Of course it had to be, Boudoir. A spicy chypre-floral laden with velvety roses, narcotic orange blossom, powdery carnation and a milky, tobacco-musk base, it smells illicit – the unmistakable waft of warm flesh beneath lacey undergarments.

Vivienne Westwood Boudoir £56 for 50ml eau de parfum
viviennewestwood.com

Describing the scene of a lover stealing into his lady’s dressing chamber to have a sneaky peek at what women get up to in their boudoirs, in The Lady’s Dressing Room 18th C. satirical poet Jonathan Swift documents the scales falling from the eyes (and nose) of Strephon, who first spies ‘petticoats in [a] frowzy heap’, and then, to his growing disgust, the smell emanating from the room. Swift’s language reveals the extreme distaste poor, deluded men feel when realising that women are not born as delicately scented, perfect flowers of femininity.

‘To stinking smoke it turns the flame
Pois’ning the flesh from whence it came,
And up exhales a greasy stench,
For which you curse the careless wench;
So things, which must not be expressed,
When plumped into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from whence they fell.
The petticoats and gown perfume,
Which waft a stink round every room.
Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away…’

Poor Stephron, we weep for him I’m sure. Men snooping around in ladies private retiring rooms, and being horrified by what they find (and smell) there is a frequent literary device. In Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth-Braddon describes ‘the elegant disorder of Lady Audley’s dressing-room,’ and how George Talboys (one of the male intruders) feels so out of place among the ‘womanly luxuries.’

‘The atmosphere of the room was almost oppressive for the rich odors of perfumes in bottles whose gold stoppers had not been replaced. A bunch of hot-house flowers was withering upon a tiny writing-table. Two or three handsome dresses lay in a heap upon the ground, and the open doors of a wardrobe revealed the treasures within.’

Women have been known to use fragrance as a weapon within their private dressing quarters, too, with devastating effect. In A History of Fragrances, Brian Moeran describes Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine, as being ‘fond of heavy, animal scents’, and recounts how ‘When summarily dismissed, in an act of olfactory revenge she drenched the walls of her dressing room with so much musk, civet, vanilla and ambergris (smells that the Emperor disliked) that their combined fragrance still hung in the air of the château de Malmaison seventy years later.’ Now, we’re wondering if the ‘seventy years later’ is stretching it a bit, but clearly this scent bomb in her boudoir was a message that hit its mark!

In the longer feature – Frills and Spills – within The Scented Letter magazine, I recommend a number of contemporary perfumes that whisper of boudoirs and lacey undergarments, including the beautiful trio of Ideo Parfumeurs Lingerie Perfumes, available at Roullier White. From the overtly wanton 4160 Tuesdays Tart’s Knicker Drawer to Sarah Baker‘s sophisticated allure of Lace, there’s something to tempt every taste (so long as its racy). VIP Club members, log-in to have a read now, International Online Subscription also available, or purchase a print version for full-on glossy seduction…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Floris, fashion & fragrance with Alex Schulman & Amber Butchart

For the launch earlier this year of their so-sophisticated 1927 fragrance, Floris gathered together a curated group of guests to 89 Jermyn Street to celebrate the inspiration for the latest in their Fragrance Journal series, with two very special women discussing the rich and intertwined histories of fashion and fragrance… and we were thrilled to be present!

Scroll down to watch part of their fascinating conversation, and read our review of this stunning scent…

Dissecting nearly 100 years of social history in London, fashion historian, TV presenter and author Amber Butchart, former Vogue editor, author and journalist Alexandra Shulman, Floris Perfumery Director Edward Bodenham and Head of Marketing Alex Oprey explored how to bottle a moment in time. And now, Floris have released a video so you can watch along.

As part of their Fragrance Journals series, Floris created a very special time capsule, but exlained they wanted to make sure it smelled current and totally wearable for today – these are no museum pieces, but living homages to eras that have changed our world forever. The end of the 1920’s marked revolutionary new fashion movements, especially for women – cutting their hair short, smoking, dancing, partying all night and wearing loose-fitting, calf-length or shorter dresses that flirted with scandal.

Floris say: ‘The Fragrance Journals are a series of unique Eau de Parfums, capturing the heart and soul of London throughout the decades of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and most recently the 1920s.

Each fragrance weaves and knits its way through the fabric of a key moment, district, and culture of the time, bringing out a true reflection of a city which has the ability to both adapt to change, yet remain rooted in its identity. A love letter to London, its social fabric and its people.’

Read on for our fragrant review…

Floris 1927
1927 kicks off with a swing as aldehydes burst like champagne bubbles into bergamot, and we can almost hear the giggles as cocktails are carried to the drawing room. Bright Young Things in barely-there bias-cut silks swing their pearls, violet, ylang ylang, narcissus and mimosa sashay their way to dancing on the tables – and an oakmoss-like, vanilla-musk base adds to sophisticated high-jinks.
£140 for 100ml eau de parfum
florislondon.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Spotlight on: Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent was a ground-breaking designer who delighted in shaking up the mainstream, always in his  stylish and undeniably sexy way, with this ethos effortlessly transferring from fashion to fine fragrance.

Producing several of the best-selling perfumes of all time, with stunning bottles that have become collectors items in their own right; not many fragrance houses can claim to have a founder who dared pose naked for his own fragrance advertising campaign, because ‘perfume is worn on the skin, so why hide the body…?’

It all began at the tender age of seven years old, when Yves Saint Laurent began designing clothes for his sister’s dolls, expressing a natural talent and indulging a dream of a career in the glamorous world of fashion design. A deacde later, and he’d enrolled on a graduate fashion course at college, winning both 1st and 3rd prize in the prestigious International Wool Design competition at only 18 years old. His talent was showcased to the world and a young Saint Laurent was offered the role of haute couture designer for the House of Dior. A dazzling debut, interrupted by a brief period of national service in the army, led Saint Laurent to opening his very own couture house, still aged just 21, and enabling him to truly express his fashion expertise.

1962 saw the dawn of the Yves Saint Laurent brand and his masterful couture creations for the rich and famous. But clothing was never the only way Yves Saint Laurent wanted to dress women – in 1964 he created his first fragrance, Y, a collaboration with perfumer Jean Amic. It was an olfactory expression of the elegance and luxury of his couture fashion – a fragrance tailored for the beautiful women he dressed. In its original packaging, the green chypre juice was housed in a bottle cut to reflect the silhouette of a woman’s head and shoulders. The letter ‘Y’ cleverly placed to represent the neckline on her dress.

In 1971 Yves Saint Laurent continued to shock when he launched his first fragrance for men, Pour Homme – posing nude for the visual, in stark representation of the values of the Yves Saint Laurent House, comfort and sophistication coupled with modernity and audacity. In the same year, he created a fragrance for the independent, free-spirited woman who shopped at his new boutique: Rive Gauche. At a time when fragrances were presented in classically feminine bottles, best stored on the dressing table at home, it was the first fragrance to be launched packaged in a tin can!

 

In 1977 Yves Saint Laurent wanted to glorify another facet of YSL femininity; sensuality and seductiveness – and women the world over were seduced by YSL’s Opium . An opulent swathe of oriental ambers and vanilla by perfumers Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac, this audaciously-named fragrance sparked immediate controversy. As the scandal and the hype grew so did demand. Global press took straight to the newsstands to criticise Yves Saint Laurent’s determination to shock, but scandal only served to fuel desire; testers were stolen, posters were ripped down and stores sold out of stock in a matter of hours on the launch date.

Fast-forward to  2014, when the latest reinvention of the YSL woman was launched in the form of Black Opium, composed by four master perfumers (Marie Salamagne, Nathalie Lorson, Olivier Cresp and Honorine Blanc), with an overdose of black coffee accord to instantly invigorate the senses, contrasting with voluptuous white floral heart notes and a gourmand vanilla base.

The following year, Black Opium scooped Best New Fragrance for Women in the UK’s prestigious Fragrance Foundation Awards – and since then, the fragrance has acquired countless ‘collectors’, thrilled by limited editions and new ‘spins’ on this smouldering scent.

There are few people who’ve not owned and loved an Yves Saint Laurent fragrance, or who don’t have one of these – classics and modern must-haves alike – in their collection. We’d be hard-pushed to pick a favourite… so, we wonder, what would yours be? And while you’re pondering which perfume to choose, you can read all about their history in more detail on our page dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent

Givaudan’s Eden Project scent sculpture

Have you ever wanted to smell history? Well, now you can, for deep within the Biomes of Cornwall’s Eden Project, the fragrance development house of Givaudan have collaborated with Studio Swine (‘Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers’), aka: Japanese architect Azusa Murakami and British artist Alexander Groves, to create a monumental new scented artwork.

Standing at nearly nine metres and firing out rings of fragranced vapour, the structure is thought to be the world’s largest ceramic sculpture.

The sculpture has been named ∞ Blue (Infinity Blue) and it’s an immersive, 20-tonne installation created as the centrepiece of the newly opened Invisible Worlds, a major new (and permanent) exhibition homage to cyanobacteria, one of the world’s smallest living beings.

32 cannons fire out scented vapour rings into the exhibition space, which the Eden Project say ‘…reveals the untold and unseen stories of our planet beyond our senses: too big, too small, too fast, too slow and too far away in space and time.’

Watch a short video of the sculpture in action – it’s completely mesmerising!

And the scent of the vapour? Apparently it ‘tells a layered, 4.5 billion-year history of the atmosphere… using the aromas of primordial worlds as a starting point for new sensual experiences.’

So we’re imagining it might be… green, earthy, with heart notes of mineralic haze and a base of swamp?

Studio Swine explain: ‘Around three billion years ago, cyanobacteria first developed oxygenic photosynthesis. In doing so, they changed the nature of our planet. In the same way that artists of the past would depict the sacred, our sculpture ∞ Blue gives physicality to the invisible elements our existence depends on; our breathable atmosphere, microbial life and deep time.’

Accompanying the sculpture, a film directed by Studio Swine – who like to use this medium to enhance their artworks – in collaboration with Petr Krejčí, fascinatingly charts the sculpture’s very beginnings in the sea off the Cornish coast, using ‘otherworldly, sci-fi-inspired cinematography.’

We can’t wait to visit and sniff the ‘primordial scent’ for ourselves, and definitely something to consider for the summer holidays! Pretty much nothing is going to be more impressive for kids (and adults, alike) to write in their What I Did On Holiday journal than, ‘Dear Diary, today we smelled the scent of microbial life, and deep time itself…’

Visit the Eden Project’s website for more information.

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Van Cleef & Arpels love story

A love story expressed in exquisite jewels (and now, fine fragrance) the Van Cleef & Arpels tale truly began when a Dutch craftsman, Alfred Van Cleef – an expert in cutting precious stones – fell in love Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a dealer in those stones. He was 24. She was just 19, and it turned out they were a match made in heaven in more ways than one…

Sharing much more than youthful enthusiasm, a passion for jewellery and a taste for taking on a challenge: they enjoyed constant family support, and in 1906, opened their doors to Paris’s elite in the Place Vendôme.


Times change – but the so-creative Van Cleef & Arpels spirit remains, expressing itself through five themes which have become synonymous with the brand: nature, couture, Art Deco, ‘Transformation’ – and, adding a touch of feminine whimsy, the world of fairies and ballerinas. Over the past century, roses, palm leaves, butterflies and lyre birds have been incorporated into Van Cleef & Arpels’ jewellery – often through the technologically innovative, invisible ‘Mystery setting’.

Though Van Cleef & Arpels never shares the identities of its private clientele, many legendary beauties have been photographed in the jewels:  from Audrey Hepburn to Scarlett Johanssen, Grace Kelly to Julia Roberts, Elizabeth Taylor to Sharon Stone

When Jean-Claude Ellena was commissioned to create First for the perfume house (see featured image) – back in 1976 – it was literally the first ‘jewellery fragrance’ in the world. As Pierre Arpels (part of the VC&A dynasty) commented, ‘I dreamed of a perfume in the image of our jewels: discreet but precious, fleeting but very present.’ Arpels also mused on the relationship between a jewel and a perfume, at the time VC&A unveiled the ground-breaking First. ‘They are the two adornments of women,’ he commented. ‘A dress is a part of a woman’s wardrobe… Her shoes and handbag are accessories. But you could never call a jewel an accessory. Nor a perfume. To me, perfume is the final adornment…’

VC&F’s extravagant floral aldehydic masterpiece First was indeed a real fragrance landmark. With its perfect balance of flowery, warm, aldehydic and spicy notes, First became timeless and sublime. As perfume critic Barbara Herman describes it, ‘First just smells expensive. It’s the perfume equivalent of those floral arrangements seen in the lobbies of expensive hotels.’

Since then, Van Cleef & Arpels continues to work with many of the world’s greatest noses, including Nathalie Lorson (for the gourmand So First), and Antoine Maisondeau, who worked on Féerie, with its unique ‘fairy-topped’ faceted bottle. But what’s also excited the perfume world is the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire – inspired by the beauty of nature, capturing specific flowers in perfumes like Gardénia Pétale, Muguet Blanc (a sophisticated play on lily of the valley), spiced Lys Carmin and Precious Oud, expressing the delicate side of this so-popular exotic wood.

More recently, the Collection Extraordinaire has featured Rêve de Cashmere (2017) – a fluffy cloud of vanilla, cashmere, jasmine, leather and musk – and Néroli Amara (2018) – a succulent floral green scent encompassing bergamot, Italian lemon, orange and pink pepper, with a deliciously more-ish drydown of black pepper, orange blossom, neroli and musk. We’ve sniffed the soon-to-be-launched future iterations, too, and you’ll definitely want to get your nose around these. Proof positive that sheer class and exquisite attention to detail will always stand the test of time – First, last and always…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Follow E. Coudray’s fragrant reign

There are few fragrance houses still as relevant after almost 200 years as the wonderful Paris-based house of E. Coudray – which can trace its roots back to the reign of Louis XVIII, no less, and the year 1822.

The Paris-born founder was a doctor-chemist, Edmond Coudray (the ‘E’ in E. Coudray), who went on to enjoy a spectacular career, creating eaux de Cologne, pomades, creams and soaps for the crowned heads of France, Italy and England – including Queen Victoria, for whom the perfume ‘Reine Victoria’ was made.

Others gloried in names like ‘Gants Poudrés’ (powdered gloves), and ‘Rêve de Reine’ (the Queen’s dream). And in 1829 he also wrote a book, charmingly titled L’Art d’Être Belle (‘The Art of Being Beautiful’).

You can read more about their fascinating history in our page dedicated to E. Coudray and their regal begininnings, but for now let’s get our noses into why, exactly, they remain so popular today…

 

‘A creamy and refined oriental fragrance, the scent of Ambre et Vanille was created in 1935 and has remained one of the most beloved and enduring of E. Coudray’s compositions. Moving from an opening of complex citrus aromas into a gorgeous floral bouquet with delicate spice notes, the eponymous amber and vanilla subtly colour the fragrance throughout, adding an enticing gourmand quality to the scent.’

E. Coudray Amber et Vanille £65 for 100ml eau de toilette

‘A gorgeous floral fragrance originally released in 1950 to great acclaim, Givrine has been updated for modern tastes by the highly regarded nose, Evelyne Boulanger. After a delicate citrus opening, complex floral accords shine through for a cosy, inviting aroma. Light and ephemeral, the scent is an image of grace and poise.’

E. Coudray Givrine £65 for 100ml eau de toilette

‘Created by perfumer Randa Hammami, Iris Rose is a rich composition redolent of the classic floral scents that have for so long typified our expectations of elegance. Building from a sumptuous base of vanilla, patchouli and white musk, the fragrance opens up into a beautiful patina of subtle rose aromas, the top notes serving to lightly floriate the base notes rather than overpower them. The cumulative effect is light and breezy, yet firmly grounded, an ideal fragrance for a spring day or summer evening.’

E. Coudray Iris Rose £65 for 100ml eau de toilette

‘Created by prolific nose Christophe Raynaud, Musc et Freesia is a sparkling and bubbly floral composition with surprising hints of fruity green accords. With delicate raspberry leaf in the top notes, and a sumptuous bouquet of peony, cyclamen, lily and freesia in the heart, Musc et Freesia is a luxurious and delicately balanced scent that brings out the best qualities of its constituent components.’

E. Coudray Musc et Freesia £65 for 100ml eau de toilette

‘Launched in 1983, Jacinthe et Rose is one of the modern icons within the current E. Coudray range. Developed by Evelyne Boulanger, Jacinthe et Rose is a floral composition of exquisite nuance. The lush aroma of peach gives the scent a full-bodied quality, while sparkling top notes of vodka and bitter orange serve as an intriguing counterbalance to the sumptuous scent.’

E. Coudray Jacinthe et Rose £65 for 100ml eau de toilette

Buy them at Roullier White

There several more to tempt your fancy, including the fabulously opulent (and very boudoir-esque) body oils and sumptuously rich bocy creams – all in beautiful packaging that just begs to be displayed. And with their characterful yet never overwhelming scents, E. Coudray offer the most charming selection of fragrant offerings that are perfect to wear in our currently sweltering climate…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

 

Eight & Bob’s Robert F. Kennedy edition reveals all

Ever wondered how the world’s most powerful (and glamorous) people actually smell? Well settle down for a tale that involves a president, his brother, a sarcastic socialite, a butler and a beautifully presented (we think very sharable) sensational scent…

The Story: ‘One night during the summer of 1937 in the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur), Albert Fouquet, a young socialite and perfume connoisseur, met an American student who was touring France: John F. Kennedy. Within minutes of being introduced, the vain JFK was captivated by the essence that Albert wore. John’s charm and congeniality persuaded Albert to leave him a sample of his cologne with a note at his hotel the following morning:

In this bottle, you will find the dash of French glamour that your American personality lacks.’

(The shade of it all! Rather daring to address one of the Kennedy’s in such a manner, but we guess if you were a particular kind of socialite, such cutting remarks were part of your stock in trade…)

Eight & Bob continue the story by describing how, on returning from vacation, ‘Albert received a letter from JFK thanking him for the fragrance and informing him of its success amongst his friends. He requested that Albert send him eight samples, “and if your production allows, another one for Bob”.

 

The order wasn’t fulfilled until Philippe, the family butler, found beautiful glass bottles in a Parisian pharmacy for the cologne to be housed in. Albert ordered several boxes with the same pattern as the pinstripe shirt that JFK was wearing when they met, and then labeled the bottles and boxes with John’s request: “EIGHT & BOB”.

A few months later, Albert began receiving letters from America with requests from various Hollywood directors, producers, and actors such as Cary Grant and James Stewart. Everyone wanted their very own piece of “EIGHT & BOB”.

In the spring of 1939, Albert died in a car accident near Biarritz (France). Philippe, the only person who could create and handle the orders, continued Albert’s legacy and in his final shipments hid the bottles inside books to prevent the Nazis from seizing the cologne.

The Fragrance: Decades later, thanks to the family of Philippe, the formula for “EIGHT & BOB” has been completely recovered, along with its carefully crafted production process. Once again, it has become one of the most exclusive colognes, worn and desired by the world’s most elegant men and women…’

Top notes: pink pepper, cardamom, lemon

Heart notes: violet leaf, labdanum, dry woods

Base notes: sandalwood, amber, vetiver

The Review: A warm tingle of pink pepper ripples through breezy lemon infused with the cool, aromatic cardamom. A whisper of green violet leaf cuts through the resinous sensuality of the heart, leading to a musky, woody trail that’s devastatingly suave. Think sneakers worn with an impeccable suit, tanned skin and crisp white shirts worn with minimal accessories and a dazzling, heartbreaking smile.

The Special Edition: To mark the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s death, Eight & Bob have partnered with the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, ‘a prestigious and internationally recognised organisation managed by Kerry Kennedy, daughter of RFK.’ What’s more, they will donate a percentage of the revenue received from this special edition fragrance to the foundation, ‘as a tribute to RFK’s dream of a more fair and peaceful world.’

Eight & Bob RFK Special Edition £110 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at harveynichols.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

Contemporary fragrance houses flying the flag

Who can lay claim to being ‘the birthplace of perfumery’? France and Italy regularly duke it out for the title, but British scents have been going strong since 1730 – with whispers of Yardley London‘s heritage in fact going all the way back to the reign of King Charles I, supplying royalty with lavender-scented soaps. Sadly, these records were lost in 1666’s Great Fire of London, but many British houses have archives bursting not only with records of their fragrant wares, but the customers who bought them – including royalty, film stars and prime ministers along with the many millions who flocked to their historic doors.
We chose to dedicate the latest issue of our award-winning online magazine, The Scented Letter, to these Best of British. (It’s available digitally to V.I.P. Club Members as a membership benefit as well as in print form.)
The emphasis is on heritage houses who have made our name and are still some of our favourites to this very day, with a selection of newer houses mentioned – including Miller Harris, Angela Flanders, Ormonde Jayne and Floral Street – all of whom have their own boutiques, where you can visit to stock-up on their perfumes, both historic and ground-breakingly new. The streets of London may not be paved in gold, but they’re filled with delicious perfumes…
To be frank, the feature was practically an entire book’s worth of material, and we still didn’t have room for every single one we’d have like to mention – which goes to show how many we have to be proud of. Also, we are thrilled that so many contemporary houses are continuing to fly that fragrant flag, being sold online and stocked in independent perfumeries that stretch the entire globe.
What better time, then, to continue our celebration of the diversity, ingenuity and creativity British fragrance houses display, and share with you a list of some contemporary houses your nose should definitely get to know…?

Ruth Mastenbroek

Born in England, graduating with a Chemistry degree from Oxford University, Ruth trained and worked as a perfumer in the 70s – both in the UK and Netherlands with Naarden International (which later became Quest and is now Givaudan – one of the largest perfume suppliers in the world…) Ruth then went to work in Japan and the perfume capital Grasse before returning to England to work for a small company, where she created fragrances for up-and-coming brands like Kenneth Turner and Jo Malone – including her Grapefruit candle. Setting up her own perfumery company, Fragosmic Ltd., in 2003 – the year she became president of The British Society of Perfumers, it was in 2010 that Ruth launched a capsule collection of scented products featuring her signature fragrance – RM – the first to use advanced micro-encapsulation technology in a scented bathrobe…!

Still creating bespoke fragrances for brands, Ruth’s own fragrances allow her to bottle memories, she says, ‘…of childhood in England and America – chocolate cookies, fresh earth, blackberries… Of Holland – lilies, narcissus, hyacinth and salty sea air… Of France – orchids, roses and wild herbs… Of Japan – cherry blossom, lotus and green tea…’ Believing that fragrance can uniquely move us, and with a wealth of knowledge at her fingertips; Ruth distills olfactory flash-backs into perfumes that everyone can enjoy and form their own, highly personal connections with. And with her latest, the sulty, smoking rose of Firedance, shortlisted for Global Pure Beauty and Fragrance Foundation Awards this year, we suggest you allow yourself the pleasure of connecting with them, too…

Quintessential scents Just launched, you can now indulge in a newly-chic box of emotionally uplifting scents. From the sparkling secret-garden fruitiness of Signature, through the romantic, rolling landscape of Umbria captured in Amorosa. A furtively-smoked Sobranie with notes of jasmine and cashmere evoke the dreaming spires of Oxford, while a classic rose is transformed with hot leather in Firedance, to become quite swaggeringly swoon-worthy. Have a chaise-lounge at the ready…
Ruth Mastenbroek Discovery Set £17.95 for 4 x 2ml eaux de parfum
Available now in our shop

4160 Tuesdays

If we live till we’re 80, we have 4,160 tuesdays to fill, and so the philosophy of copywriter-turned-perfumer Sarah McCartney is: better make the most of every single one of them. Having spent years writing copy for other people’s products, and writing for LUSH for 14 years, Sarah wrote a novel about imagined perfumes that make people happy, with such evocative descriptions that readers began asking her to make them. Ever the type to roll up her sleeves and take on a new challenge, Sarah explains she’d ‘…tried to find perfumes that matched what I was describing, and they still weren’t right, so I set off on my quest to make them myself. I became a perfumer!’
Proudly extolling British eccentricity, the ever-increasing fragrances include Sunshine & Pancakes, which Sarah made to evoke a typical 1970s British seaside family vacation, opening with a burst of sunny citrus, with jasmine to represent sun-warmed skin – alongside honey and vanilla (the pancakes element). The Dark Heart of Old Havana is based on a 1998 trip to Cuba: brown sugar, tobacco, rich coffee, fruit, warm bodies, ‘alcohol, exuberance and recklessness,’ as she puts it. Maxed Out and Midnight in the Palace Garden were both shortlisted for the coveted Fragrance Foundation Awards 2016 in the ‘Best Indie Scent’ category, and an army of devotees now relish every day, scented suitably eccentrically.
Quintessential scent  Named for a comment made by a Tatler beauty editor who smelled it, a dash of bergamot, a soft hint of creamy vanilla, velvety smooth woods, musk and ambergris make for a dreamily decadent ‘your skin but oh, so much better’ affair. Like wearing a magical potion made of lemon meringue pie and fancy pants, if they don’t fall at your feet after a whiff of this, they aren’t worth knowing.
4160 Tuesdays The Sexiest Scent on the Planet Ever (IMHO) £40 for 30ml
Buy it at 4160tuesdays.com
Pssst! Breaking news: Fans of 4160 Tuesdays are a passionate lot, and kept asking Sarah when her next crowd-funded fragrance would be available, and so she’s teamed up with James Skinner, founder and designer at Dalliance & Noble, to make a matching scarf and perfume.
The fragrance is a soft, rich, lavish blend of iris, hay, honey, apricot, tobacco, vanilla, lily, almond, sandalwood and bergamot, and as we love scenting our scarves with perfume, we cannot wait to try this one!
They met in 2017 at the artisan trade show Best of Britannia in Brick Lane, then regrouped in Sarah’s 4160Tuesday’s West London studio to choose natural and synthetic materials. The result was a collection of aromas which Sarah took as inspiration for the fragrance, and she named it Truth Beauty Freedom Love, the rallying cry of the 19th Century Bohemian movement or artists, writers and free thinkers.
James illustrated the plants which the natural essential oils came from, and the wildlife they support. In the corners of the scarf he’s placed the aroma molecules which cast a perfumer’s spell on the blend to transform it from just a mixture of materials into an elegant, wearable fragrance. He designed the scarf in two colourways, and named it Eden’s Garden – a haven for fruit, flowers and wildlife.
Crowdfunding prices:
100ml eau de parfum and silk scarf £175 (will be £300)
100ml eau de parfum £75 (will be £150)
30ml eau de parfum £40 (will be £75)
Get in on the action here – but hurry, there’s only twenty days left to secure these special prices!

Nancy Meiland Parfums

Nancy’s background as a bespoke perfumer began with her apprenticeship to one of the UK’s experts in custom perfumery, creating signature scents for those coveting ‘something highly individual and special…’ Before launching Nancy Meiland Parfums, her decade-long journey through fragrance had already included co-running the former School of Perfumery, acting as a consultant for independent perfume houses, working on collaborations with Miller Harris, and speaking on the subject of fragrance at events nationwide.
Now dividing her time between town and country (Nancy’s based in East Sussex), she explains that ‘the creative process of gathering sensory impressions and honing them into a formula is a vital one. Once a blank canvas, the formula sheet acts as a metaphor – and gradually emerges essentially as a kind of poem, with body, light and shade and a life of its own.’ It amuses Nancy, looking back, that she often had school essays returned to her emblazoned in red pen for being “too flowery”. ‘It figures!,’ she says. Thank goodness, say her extensive base of fragrance fans, in love with these portrayals of often traditional ingredients, composed with elegant modernity and beautiful harmony.
Quintessential scent  Definitely not your grandma’s drawer-liner, this is a rose in all its glory, with the entire plant evoked – pink pepper, for the thorns, stalky green galbanum for the leaves; geranium, jasmine, white pear and violet delicately sketching the tender bud. As Nancy observes: ‘I wanted to depict both the light and the dark shades of it, as opposed to this pretty, twee and girly rose that’s become slightly old-fashioned.” Rambling roses entwined with brambles, if this scent surrounded Sleeping Beauty, she’d never forgive that meddlesome prince for cutting it down…

Nancy Meiland Parfums Rosier £62.50 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at nancymeiland.com

Marina Barcenilla Parfums

A rising star of perfumery, Marina Barcenilla is one of the talented ‘noses’ driving the strong trend towards natural perfumery. As the name may suggest, her birthplace may not have been in the UK – in fact she was born in Spain – but it’s where Marina chose to make her home, and to set up her now thriving perfume business. Marina recalls being intrigued by the aromatic notes in the Herbíssimo fragrances and in her grandmother’s lavender water.
Having always been fascinated and inspired by scent – when the chance came to branch out from her aromatherapy roots into the world of perfume, Marina rose beautifully to the challenge. In 2016 Marina won the coveted Fragrance Foundation (FiFi) Award for Best New Independent Fragrance with India. Against incredibly stiff competition, judged blind by Jasmine Award-winning journalists and bloggers, this prompted her to take the next step on her journey; her company – formerly known as The Perfume Garden – became Marina Barcenilla Parfums. But although the name had changed, the ethos remained the same – ‘to create the finest fragrances, using what nature has to offer.’ More awards followed, including a Beauty Shortlist Award for Patchouli Clouds, an International Natural Beauty Award, and the Eluxe Award for Best Natural Perfume Brand.
In 2017, for the second consecutive year, Marina won Best New Independent Fragrance for the opulent Black Osmanthus – which truly put her on the radar of journalists and perfumistas. From sourcing rare and precious aromatic essences from around the world to blending fragrances by hand in her own perfume studio, after years of study, Marina’s long-awaited olfactory journey to ‘rediscover the soul of perfume’ is off to a rousing start – and all from the suitably mystical base of Glastonbury. More than simply reaching for the stars, parallel to her perfumery career she’s also studying to become a Planetary Scientist and Astrobiologist, at the University of London; recently combining her twin passions by creating AromAtom – creating the imagined scents of space as a way to make space science more engaging for children – which Marina regularly tours through schools. What else can we say for this exciting house, but ‘up, up and away…!?’
Quintessential scent  Silky-smooth sandalwood is enticingly laced with flecks of fragrant cardamom, dotted with coriander, huge armfulls of rose and woven with incense for an all-natural scent that’s soothingly spiced, earthily grounding and yet erotically tempting; so you’ll be wanting to dance barefoot (perhaps comletely bare) and wrap yourself around a Maypole, have no doubt…
Marina Barcenilla Parfums India £130 for 30ml eau de parfum
Buy it at mbparfums.com

St Giles

Rarely do founders of fragrance houses come with such experience, passion and dedication to the industry as Michael Donovan. With a career thus far helping stock the shelves of such cult fragrance-shopping destinations as Roullier White, running his own PR company, representing such luminaries as Fréderic Malle – every time we’ve met Michael, he’s been bubbling with enthusiasm about a perfume we ‘…absolutely must smell!’ or a nose who’s ‘a complete genius!’ And you know what? He’s always been right.
He’d been badgered for years by fragrance experts and enthusiasts alike to launch his own range, but the idea had tickled his brain for some decades before being fully explored as a reality. As Michael explains, the concept he just couldn’t let go of was to have a collection that truly represented ‘scents as complex as you are.’ And so, the St Giles fragrances have ‘…been created to stimulate and amplify the many different aspects of our character. This wardrobe of fragrances celebrates the parts that make us who we are, fusing the reality and the fantasy.’
And the nose he sought out to compose them just happens to be one of the greatest of our time. ‘The perfumes are made in collaboration with Master Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, whose vision I have long admired and whose friendship I cherish.’ Having spent many years working alongside Bertrand, but always in regard to his work for other houses, Michael admits he was ‘…extremely nervous’ about approaching him, but it turns out Bertrand was more than enthusiastic in his acceptance. The only question you need ask, now, is which fragrant character you want to embody, today…
Quintessential scent  Rosemary absolute – now proven to stimulate memory performance – adds an aromatic, drily green note while fresh ginger warmly fizzes alongside Champagne-like aldehydes, herbaceous clary sage and the uplifting, fruity zing of rhubarb. There’s a sigh of soft leather and frankincense at the heart, slowly sinking to the inky-tinged base of castoreum absolute, sandalwood, Atlas cedarwood and a salty tang of driftwood. Absolutely unique, you’ll want to cover yourself in it while seeking your muse, perhaps while enjoying a sip or three of something refreshing, wearing nothing else but a velvet smoking jacket and an enigmatic smile…
St Giles The Writer £130 for 100ml eau de parfum
Buy it at stgilesfragrance.com

 

Tom Daxon

Recalling his childhood and growing up ‘in fragrant surroundings,’ Tom Daxon rather understates how perfume practically ran in his blood. Lucky enough to have a mother who was creative director at Molton Brown for over 30 years, and therefore ‘would often give me new shower gels to try, fragrances to sniff’ his scented destiny was sealed by frequently accompanying his mother on her business trips to Grasse.
There he met the father-daughter duo of Jacques and Carla Chabert, who’d variously worked for Chanel, Guerlain and L’Oréal, with Jacques the nose behind Molton Brown’s ground-breaking Black Pepper and Carla creating the hit follow-up, Pink Peppercorn. Having esteemed perfumers in his life from such an early age was a connection that would bravely – still in his twenties – lead Tom to launch a brand new British fragrance house. Clearly a chap who doesn’t like to hang around when he’s got a bee in his bonnet, by the end of that same year, he was already being stocked in Liberty.
Not a bad start, all things considered, and describing the impetus behind him starting his own line of fragrances, Tom says ‘I wouldn’t have bothered if I thought I couldn’t offer something a bit different.’ Uniquely intriguing, the entire range celebrates a luxurious kind of British modernity in their pared back, clean lines, the oils being macerated and matured in England for at least six weeks before they’re bottled here. Harnessing Tom’s Grasse connections but remaining resolutely British in their spirit, it’s just the beginning for this exciting house.
Quintessential scent Lushly narcotic, it’s a hyper-realistic big-hitter – like sticking your entire face in a buxom bouquet, the better to get another dose of its lascivious charms. Using traditional, headily feminine notes like lily of the valley, carnation, rose and oakmoss might have become ‘vintage’ or even a bit old-fashioned smelling in the wrong hands, but the Chaberts and Tom vividly evoke just-bruised, silky petals with a futuristic drama that never fails to shake you out of the doldrums.

Tom Daxon Crushing Bloom £105 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at tomdaxon.com
With a strong heritage behind us, and many of those houses still not only surviving but thriving, it seems British perfumery is once again blooming with a fresh crop of forward-thinking (and often self-taught) perfumers shaking up the scent scene. No fuddy-duddy fragrances, these, they’re flying the flag not only for British niche perfumery, but for the art of fragrance itself. Hoist the bunting!

For further reading, we suggest getting your hands on a copy of British Perfumery: A Fragrant History by The British Society of Perfumers/£30 including UK delivery.
Written by Suzy Nightingale

7 of the women to thank for your favourite fragrances

There are reportedly more women now joining the famous French perfumery school, ISIPCA, than men – an about-face for the time women in the perfume industry were either not employed at all, or remained somewhat faceless behind-the-scenes as their male peers were lauded as genius perfumers in gleaming white lab coats, then the respectable (and respected) face of fragrance.

The perfume world – and all fragrance fans – have many pioneering women to thank for the centuries they spent, tirelessly working their way to the top. So, for International Women’s Day, here are just a few we’d like to put our hands together for, and whom we should all celebrate, not just today, but every single time we spritz…


Germaine Cellier was a pioneering nose from the 1940s who created scandalously daring scents such as Balmain‘s Vent Vert – overdosed with galbanum and considered the first “green” perfume of its kind – and Robert Piguet‘s Fracas, a bombastic, room-filling, man-slaying tuberose. Cellier believed in doing her own thing, and as such it’s often reported her male colleagues found her ‘difficult to work with.’ For ‘difficult’ read ‘opinionated’ and just wonder if those male colleagues were similarly chastised for daring to disagree. Here’s to ‘difficult women’ everywhere.

Had she been male, or growing up in an age of equality, Patricia de Nicolai might have become the next generation of the Guerlain family’s master perfumers (the title traditionally being passed from father to son). Undefeated, de Nicolaï has gone on to found an eponymous fragrance brand – Parfums de Nicolai – is a member of the technical committee of the French Society of Perfumers and now president of the prestigious Osmothèque scent archive. Having won the International prize for Young Perfumers (Prix International du jeune Parfumeur Créateur – Société Française des Parfumeurs) in 1988, her fragrance Number One garnered her the position of their first female laureate. Top that? She did. In 2008 going on to be decorated as a knight of the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. It’s fair to say de Nicolai is one of the all-time (if mainly still unsung) great perfumers.

Josephine Catapano is considered a mentor by many female perfumers working today, and when you read her list of accolades, it’s not hard to see why. In 1980 Capatano was granted the Cosmetic Career Women’s Award followed by a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Perfumers in 1993. Working during an era when perfumers were kept firmly within their labs, no names emblazoned on bottles, and most especially if they were female; creating the all-time classic Youth Dew for Estée Lauder, the original Shiseido Zen and Fidji for Guy Laroche; it is only now truly Catapano’s name has even begun to be truly acknowledged.

There are certainly more historical female pioneers we should hoist the bunting for, but we’d also like to pay tribute to just a few of the contemporary noses who’ve risen in the ranks to become distinguished perfumers we follow the careers of with fascination, and much respect.

Sophie Labbé spent her childhood between Paris and the Charente-Maritime area of France, encountering contrasting smells: the odours of a capital city, against the scents of the countryside, living to the rhythm of grape-picking and harvesting, swept with a salty breeze… She studied at IPSICA, and at the Givaudan Perfumery School in Geneva for six months. In 1992 she joined IFF as a junior perfumer, and since then Sophie has worked on fragrances including Bulgari Jasmin Noir and Mon Jasmin Noir, Calvin Klein Beauty, Estée Lauder Pure White Linen, Salvatore Ferragamo Signorina and Signorina Eleganza. We asked whom she’d most loved to have created for. Her answer? ‘Cleopatra – a powerful female figure whose legendary status is drenched in perfume!’ And which, we wondered, was her favourite bottle of all the perfumes she’s composed? ‘Givenchy Organza, with its beautiful feminine, goddess like curves.’

Ruth Mastenbroek was born in England, spent some of her childhood in America, and graduated with a Chemistry degree from Oxford University. Having been classically trained in Grasse, she’d studied alongside brilliant perfumers such as Olivier Cresp, who created Angel, and Jacques Cavallier who created the Jean Paul Gaultier ‘Classique’ fragrance. In the late she 70s worked as a perfumer in the UK and Netherlands with Naarden International (which later became Quest and is now Givaudan – one of the largest perfume suppliers in the world…)Ruth worked in Japan and in the perfume capital Grasse before returning to England to work for a small company, where she created fragrances for up-and-coming brands like Kenneth Turner and Jo Malone – including her Grapefruit candle. Ruth set up her own perfumery company, Fragosmic Ltd., in 2003 – the year she became president of The British Society of Perfumers. In 2010 Ruth launched a capsule collection of scented products featuring her signature fragrance – RM – and also became the first perfumer to use advanced micro-encapsulation technology… in a scented bathrobe! Inspired by her travels, ingredients she grew up with and most of all by her seemingly tireless zest for life, Ruth’s perfumes are shamelessly romantic, but still with a contemporary edge, and we’re always thrilled (and proud!) to wear them.

‘I didn’t want to make perfume as a child; I wanted to be a witch,’ says Sarah McCartney, founder and perfumer of the gloriously unconventional 4160 Tuesdays. ‘I started to blend my own essential oil combinations after I joined Lush as a writer in 1996; I’d been dabbling from 1999 and started seriously making fragrances when I left in 2009.’ The ‘dabbling’ as a hobby combined with her marketing experience, bag loads of energy (and bravery!) led to Sarah becoming an entirely self-taught perfumer with boundless imagination. Having written a novel about perfumes, readers asked if she could create the scents she’d invented, ‘This turned out to be impossible – and pretty expensive – because no one was making exactly what I wanted, so I started another quest to see of I could make them instead.’ And so she rolled up her sleeves and did just that. Her guilty pleasures include ‘playing on the swings at the park [in fact, she’s installed a swing at 4160 Tuesdays HQ, and invites visitors to have a go – did we mention unconventional?], red lipstick, watching Nashville, and drinking champagne…’ Now winning acclaim the world over, Sarah still delights in having fun with fragrance, and in making scents that work the way she wants them to. Bravo.

From the first time she met a ‘nose’, that’s what Christine Nagel knew she wanted to be. So she trained as a research chemist and market analyst, and in Paris, in 1997, was launched on a seriously distinguished career that’s included creations like the blockbuster Narciso Rodriguez for Her (with Francis Kurkdjian), Jimmy Choo Flash and Guerlain’s Les Elixirs Charnels collection. After several years at Jo Malone London, Christine joined Hermès, to work alongside the incredible perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena. Strongly believing that fragrance should be genderless, she asserts that ‘In reality, anyone can wear whatever he or she likes – even if the fragrance is supposedly “masculine” or “feminine”. There’s no right or wrong…’ Her desire to ‘pare down’ fragrances chimes perfectly with Jean-Claude’s, and she describes her scent style as ‘characterised by simplicity, which mirrors their philosophy’. ‘Favourite’ notes go in cycles: ‘I’ve phases when I’m deeply into a single type: woody, oriental, green facets. It can turn almost into an obsession, until I have the feeling I’ve found what I’m looking for, and then I move on.’ And move on she certainly did, for in 2016 it was announced that Nagel would now succeed the much-beloved Ellena. With enviable shoes to fill, she began not at a trot but full gallop – Galop (a stunning blend of leather and rose) proving a huge hit and ensuring the perfume world is on tenterhooks, and our noses are primed, for whatever she next creates…

For more female pioneers of perfume, read a selection of our exclusive ‘working nose‘ interviews by searching for that term, above, or browse our perfumer interview archive – that just happens to be bursting with talented women, and which we’re constantly adding others to.

And how shall we give thanks? Seek out some of the perfumes created by these women, or treat yourself to a new one by an up-and-coming star. Now there’s an on-going reason to celebrate. Yaaas, sister! *fist-bump*

Written by Suzy Nightingale

The scented secrets of the Queen’s coronation anointing oil…

The fascinating recent BBC documentary delving behind-the-scenes of the Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953, held a scented secret for sharp-eyed fragrance fans… did you spot it?

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!

May we admit experiencing a momentary thrill that the BBC had uncovered our Queen as a secret perfumista, who’d insisted on being anointed with a fabulous Chypre? 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 Oriental in its composition – and must surely have smelled glorious.

The anointing ritual is always 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 was held over the Queen by four Knights of the Garter, and the televison cameras turned respectfully away, as the Archbishop anointed her with the fragrant holy oil on her hands, breast and head.

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 Coronation. We’d quite like them to whip up a batch for us, too.

During the ritual, the highly scented oil was poured from Charles II’s Ampulla (the eagle-shaped vessel shown above) into a 12th-century spoon. One imagines the Archbishop’s hands must have shook just a little during this procedure – thank goodness for that canopy. Meanwhile, the choir sang one of the most thrillingly dramatic songs in history: “Zadok the Priest”. The words are taken from the first Book of Kings, and have been sung at every coronation since King Edgar’s in 973, but the anointment ritual is even older, going back to King Solomon supposedly being anointed by Zadok himself in the 10th century BC.

Of course the rest of the Coronation was an extraordinary display of magnificent jewels and robes and the peculiarities of historical traditions played out ‘like a ballet’, as the programme described, but our minds kept returning to the mysteries of the anointing oil, what the Queen must have thought as she smelled it (was it the first time she’d smelled the oil?) and how it’s still, charmingly, kept in that tatty old bottle and box of Mitsouko.

Now then, to whom did that bottle once belong? For whomever they were, we congratulate them on their taste…

Those of you who missed the documentary can watch it while it’s still on BBC iPlayer.

Written by Suzy Nightingale