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)…’
Taking inspiration from their unique heritage, Clive Christian recently celebrated their beautiful Matsukita fragrance in artful style at an exhibition in Mayfair’s Jovoy perfumery. We were honoured to catch up with the world-famous artist Yukako Sakakura and talk to her about creating the most stunning multi-layered painting directly inspired by smelling the scent…
Matsukita was inspired ‘by a fabled Japanese princess who awed the Victorian royal court with her elegance and grace’ and first launched in 1892 by Crown Perfumery, advertised with lavish, hand painted illustrations. Clive Christian have dipped back into this intriguing heritage to recreate some iconic fragrances with a distinctly modern feel – the meeting place of historic references and scents that have a certain classic style, but are thoroughly contemporary in character when you wear them.
With this juxtaposition in mind, today Matsukita ‘has been reimagined to capture this illusive elegance.’ A deliciously woody chypre, there’s an invigorating freshness wafting around the top notes to keep this breezy and simply beautiful. Green bergamot, pink pepper and flecks of nutmeg swoop to the floral, woody heart of Chinese imperial jasmine infused with refined notes of black tea. The smoke dispersing to reveal an amber-rich base swathed in whisper-soft musk add further to the ‘sense of mystery and grace’ they hoped to capture of the original.
Further expressing their heritage in modern ways, Clive Christian has long heralded contemporary artists, and they were delighted to partner with artist Yukako for a sensory collaboration around the scent of Matsukita, the experience of smelling which formed the inspiration for her extraordinary painting, ‘You Close Your Eyes to See Our Spring.’ Yukako explains: ‘I’ve always liked painting natural elements, because flowers link with emotions. In Japan we use these natural elements in art a lot, so it therefore feels quite natural for me to use these symbols to express feelings.’
‘I love to use layers within my work, so many I sometimes lose count! It’s usually 50 plus layers, anyway. I finish my flowers first and paint over the whole surface, then I change the shape of the flowers with further layers. If I didn’t have the layers, everything looks too flat to me, it’s not wavy enough! I want to make sure all the flowers are kind of singing the same song, it’s a way of breathing life into the landscape; so, I just paint over and over again until it feels like all the flowers are breathing with the same rhythm. To gauge when it’s finished, I must sit in front of the painting for ages, sometimes five hours (with a cup of coffee), looking closely and making sure everything is doing the right thing.’
‘I smelled the fragrance first, and then wore it as I painted, it helped feed my imagination and it’s as though I felt the energy of the scent go down my arm into the paintbrush. I know that might sound strange to some, but I started learning calligraphy at the age of three, and that’s all about imagination, getting to know what kind of brush marks you can make…’
‘In calligraphy, you learn that before you make a single mark on the page you have to spend time imagining it all in your head, and then you join those energies of thought and process. For my Matsukita painting, it was all about smelling the fragrance and connecting to the emotions it gave me, then translating these into images, and they flow from my brain to the brush. You know, I did all my studying about art in U.K. I’ve not done any art studies in Japan, and I find that when I’m in the mood for 100% concentration, I speak English, even in my head.’
‘I find I talk to colours [Yukako giggles] and I have changing relationships with them. For instance, I used to hate yellow years ago, and it would creep into my paintings sometimes and I’d get angry with it for spoiling them and tell it to go away, but now I absolutely love yellow! I knew I wanted yellow in this as soon as I smelled Matsukita. I must explain that I don’t talk to the colours out loud. It’s all in my head – it’s part of the way I communicate with the world and translate my feelings to the canvas. Again, while smelling the scent I knew the roses must dance first in the painting. I don’t let anyone in my studio when I’m painting because it’s disrupting to my conversation with the painting itself! My family all think I’m very weird, but it’s the way I work…’
What an incredible privilege it was to meet this visionary artist and see her work in the flesh – for seeing pictures of the paintings really cannot convey their extraordinary depth of feeling and movement. You really can sense the ‘sway’ and ‘dance’ of the flowers and petals in the breeze, standing in front of the picture itself. And isn’t that the way of fragrance itself, too? Talking about individual notes can only bring you so far – to really know a fragrance and feel its emotional connection, you must wear it on your skin. And we urge you try Matsukita this way, to truly feel the character of the scent yourself…
Roses are having such a fragrant resurgence: but why right now? Read on for our take on this rise (and rise) of rose perfumes we’ve seen launched lately – and our guide of which roses to wear right now…
There’s been a serious blooming of rose in perfumery the last couple of years – and we aren’t talking ‘chorus line’ rose notes, but fragrances which put rose front and centre in the scented spotlight, in an utterly modern style. Never have we seen so many new overtly rose-centric scents released in such a flurry, with Tom Ford and Jo Malone London launching whole collections of rose-themed perfumes, persuading us this is more than a passing fragrant fancy, and leading us to confidently declare: this is the Year of the Rose. Indeed, according to Google, rose is the most-searched fragrance ingredient in the past year, with over 50,000 searches each month.
There is, of course, an incredibly long tradition of using rose in perfumery – we’re talking millennia, not mere centuries. In his book Smell and the Ancient Senses (Ed. Mark Bradley, 2015), David Potter, the Collegiate Professor of Greek and Roman History at the University of Michigan, reminds us that by 116BC, ‘Roman aristocrats… were already treating roses as a cash crop.’ And you can read even more on the quite extraordinary history Romans had with the rose in our fragrant history section.
But meanwhile: why now this renewed desire for ultra-modern rose-powered perfumes?
Roses today in perfumery are a glorious quantum leap from those which gathered dust on dressing tables of old. In 2022, there is a rose fragrance for everyone, whether your leanings are towards easy-to-wear sun-filled scents or the more velvety, smoulderingly smoochy essences we’re reaching for now autumn’s here. And gender doesn’t come into it, either: many, many of the ‘new roses’ are gloriously shareable (we’re very glad to say!) and we urge all ages, all genders to dive into these particular rose perfumes with a fragrant abandon…
Molton Brown Rose Dunes EDP – Sultry desert air. £120 for 100ml eau de parfumMolton Brown
Atelier Materi Rose Ardoise – Urban petrichor pavements. £195 for 100ml eau de parfumHarvey Nichols
Manos Gerakinis Rose Poétique – Mysterious Sapphic jubilation. £165 for 100ml eau de parfumShy Mimosa
Parfums de Marly Delina La Rosée – Aristocratically powdered passion. £200 for 75ml eau de parfumSelfridges
Sana Jardin Incense Water – Soothingly meditative meanderings. £95 for 50ml eau de parfumSana Jardin
INITIO Atomic Rose – Rambunctiously robust eruptions. £215 for 90ml eau de parfumFenwick
Narciso Rodriguez Musc Noir Rose for Her – Intimately addictive sensuality. £55 for 30ml eau de parfumThe Perfume Shop
Electimuss Rhodanthe – Vibrantly voluptuous intoxication. £175 for 100ml extrait de parfumElectimuss
Parle Moi de Parfum Une Tonne de Roses / 8 – Frivolous olfactory festival. £98 for 50ml eau de parfumLes Senteurs
Coach Wild Rose – Daringly delicate gracefulness. £37 for 30ml eau de parfumEscentual
Obvious Une Rose – Sunshine-bathed captivation. £95 for 100ml eau de parfumFlannels
Moschino Toy Boy – Spicy leather shenanigans. £45 for 30ml eau de parfum Fragrance Direct
Following a fragrant trail, we present for your delectation a selection of the choicest scented snippets from history. You don’t have to be a history buff (or anorak – though we proudly claim that title at Perfume Society Towers!) to be bewitched by the history of fragrance. We know it’s been used to communicate with the Gods, to seduce, as a display of wealth – or for pure pleasure – for thousands of years. (And perhaps much longer, even if archaeologists can’t yet find the tangible proof through their excavations.)
Perfume’s fascinating trail leads us from Ancient Egypt to Ancient Greece, to Rome – where rosewater played in fountains – and up to France, where Louis XIV’s court was known as ‘la cour parfumée‘, with the king demanding a different fragrance for every single day…
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.
Many of those ingredients are still prized in perfumery today. Jasmine, hand-picked in the morning. Frankincense resin, still gathered from the Boswellia shrub, with entire forests cloaking areas of Oman, Yemen, Ethiopia. (Egyptian Queen Hatsheput was apparently crazy for frankincense: wall paintings on her temple, showing a large-scale expedition to collect frankincense from the ancient land of Punt.) They used Nile lotus, myrrh, madonna lilies, honey…
If the art of ancient perfumery was to have a ‘face’, a figurehead, it would surely be Cleopatra. As legend tells it, she had the the sails of her boat coated with fragrant oils before setting to sea: ‘The perfumes diffused themselves to the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes.’ Her idea was that Mark Antony would get a waft of her arrival even before he caught sight of her. As Shakespeare put it:
‘The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burn’d on the water; the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them…
… From the barge, a strange invisible perfume hits the sense…’
(Which neatly explains the name of a niche Californian fragrance brand, Strange Invisible Perfumes, NB.)
Public baths were The Big Thing in Ancient Rome, with the affluent classes devoted to body care. Think: balms, oils, perfumes for skin, hair – and living spaces. (Food had to appeal to the nose as well as the palate, too, through spicy aromas.) Even public spaces might be scented: 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.)
Marco Polo brought exotic aromatics and scented goods back to his home city of Venice. The great explorer returned laden with fragrant treasures from the new civilisations he’d discovered, on his voyage. This major trading hub flourished for a while as the centre of the perfume world. Almost everything was perfumed: shoes, stockings, gloves, shirts, even coins. Glamorous women carried or wore a silver version of the pomander, wafting trails of scent through the little perforations, as they moved, helping to block out the fetid smells of the streets and canals. Meanwhile, doctors wore long robes and bird-like masks stuffed with aromatic herbs to shield themselves against epidemics (including deadly plague).
Queen Elizabeth I beckoned Venetian traders to Southampton to offer their scented wares: it became fashionable to wear musk- and rose-scented pomanders and sachets, in particular. But soon, the epicentre of perfumery moved from Italy to France – thanks to the influence of Queen Catherine de Medici (above), who married King Henri II in 1533. Until then, French enjoyment of the scent world was mostly in the form of little scented sachets (called ‘coussines’) or moulded clay bottles (known as ‘oilselets de chypre’). But Catherine brought with her from her native Tuscany scented gloves, the perfume used to mask the unpleasant aroma of poorly-tanned leather. At the same time, her personal perfumer set up shop in Paris, where he was besieged by orders.
Incredibly, the iconic fragrance Chanel N°22 celebrates its 100th birthday this year – born one year after the legendary N°5 and creating its own enthused cult of olfactory aficionados (of which our Co-Founder, Lorna McKay is a firm member!) Sparkling with way ahead-of-its-time modernity, it seems only fitting to re-explore, and fully appreciate this so-prescient perfume once again…
The story of Chanel herself has become legend. After growing up in an orphanage, Gabrielle Chanel – born 19th August 1883, in Saumur – went on to open her first Paris boutique, selling hats, at 21 Rue Cambon in 1910. She made her name selling clothes that were not just beautiful and stylish, but comfortable, freeing women from tight corsetry through her innovative use of tweed and jersey, tailored with a nod to men’s clothing – including trousers. She’s also widely credited as first to introduce that essential in a woman’s wardrobe: ‘The Little Black Dress’.
Always an innovator, Chanel also designed costumes for plays (Cocteau’s ‘Antigone’, in 1923), and movies, including Renoir’s ‘La Règle de Jeu’. The clothes – and the fragrances – have been loved and worn by stars all over the world, and the silky effervesence of Chanel N°22 remains effortless, timelessly contemporary.
Chanel says: ‘Gabrielle Chanel believed in signs from the universe, symbols, and numbers. This year, 2022, CHANEL is pleased to present you with another major number: N°22, a fragrance created by Ernest Beaux and launched in 1922, one year after the legendary N°5. Though the two fragrances share the same olfactory characteristics, each one is unique in its own right.
An uncanny mirror effect that Olivier Polge, CHANEL’s In-House Perfumer-Creator, has interpreted as such: N°22 is like the surprising alter ego of N°5, so similar and yet so different at the same time. With its accord of tuberose, rose and orange blossom, N°22 is a sensual, seductive fragrance. A caressing trail, like an absolute of femininity. The singular history and craftsmanship behind the fragrance will make 2022 a year as exceptional as the last.’
Chanel N°22 £169 for 75ml eau de parfum / £300 for 200ml chanel.com
Read more of Chanel’s remarkable history in our page dedicated to the house, here; in the meantime, we suggest those of you who already adore N°22 treat yourselves to a birthday gift in honour of the anniversary, and that those of you yet to fall in love with this legendary fragrance acquaint yourselves immediately…
Without bees, we’d have no future fragrances to look forward to (or, you know, food, or a planet with vital resources we rely on daily), so with this very much in mind, Guerlain is running a major international campaign for bee protection from 20th May (World Bee Day) to 22nd May (International Day for Biological Diversity) ‘to protect and conserve the bee, the sentinel of the House.’
‘If bees were no longer to exist,’ Guerlain explain, ‘most fruits, flowers and seeds would disappear forever, taking with them an infinite number of irreplaceable colours, flavours and smells. Acrosstheworld,intensivefarming,vanishinghabitats, climate change and so forth are drastically impacting the health of bees, both wild and domestic.’
So, for the second year running, Guerlain is raising funds for the Guerlain For Bees Conservation Programme, donating 20% of sales to the programme. To celebrate this, Guerlain has collaborated with artist Tomáš Libertíny to create a never-before-seen creation: the iconic Guerlain Bee Bottle transformed into a work of art – entirely made by bees!
The aim, says Guerlain, is: ‘to gather €1 million within three days to strengthen its “Guerlain for Bees Conservation Programme”. So many natural treasures and resources depend on the skilful handiwork of bees. For the House of Guerlain, making a commitment towards their protection means endeavouring to pass on the wonders of Nature to future generations, while safeguarding their future.’
Guerlain’s Bee-autiful History:
‘The founder of the House, Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, dedicated a citrus Eau de Cologne to Empress Eugénie to celebrate her marriage to Napoleon III. Naturally, he named it “Eau de Cologne Impériale”. He then entrusted glassmakers Pochet du Courval to create a bottle adorned with his majesty’s coat of arms, the bees, and a festoon pattern, inspired by the Place Vendôme column. The Bee Bottle was born. It would become an icon.The Empress was so impressed with this gift, that she named Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain “Supplier to the Empress” (“Fournisseur de l’Impératrice”), which helped to rapidly spread Guerlain’s renown throughout Europe’s great royal courts. A legend was born. Today, the emblematic Bee Bottle is still made in the Pochet du Courval ateliers and now lends itself to colour and personalisation. The perfume bottles can be refilled time and time again in a celebration of how luxury can meet sustainable development as guided by Bees. The “Dames de table” continue to seal and hand decorate this historic bottle, creating some exceptional versions that perpetuate tra-ditional craftsmanship, art and artisanship.’
In order to preserve a future for bees – and for fragrance – Guerlain remind us that ‘It is crucial for us to protect them, but this alone is not enough. We must also raise awareness around the importance of bee conservation for the world of today and tomorrow. This is why Guerlain is committed to teaching children about the cause of bees, thanks to its Bee School. Its programme Women for Bees, in partnership with UNESCO, also aims to train new women beekeepers at UNESCO’s biosphere reserves.’