Mary Celestia – 150 year old scent discovered on a ship wreck (and remade!)

A team of divers and archaeologists discovered a 19th-century fragrance in a shipwreck off the coast of Bermuda, and the scent has now been painstakingly researched and reconstructed for you to smell for yourself…

Bermuda is perhaps most associated with the infamous ‘Bermuda Triangle’ – an area in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where a surprising number of ships and aircraft have gone missing (often said to be under mysterious circumstances) over the years. In fact, Bermuda has over 300 known shipwrecks lying dormant on the sea bed, and in one of them – The Mary Celestia – whose hull was spotted by Philippe Max Rouja, the island’s custodian of historic wrecks, following a huge storm in 2011; the search team came across this rare and intriguing fragrant find…

 

 

In the news story, Atlas Obscura reported that ‘After a week of examining the wreck, a team of divers and archaeologists found a number of artifacts, including shoes, wine, and two small bottles of perfume. The items were packed together, leading the team to think they may have been gifts. Save for some mineral deposits that had formed on them, the bottles appeared to be intact. One still contained a small air bubble inside, which otherwise would have been forced out by seawater. Etched on the glass were the names “Piesse and Lubin London.”

Rouja brought the bottles to Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, the owner of a local boutique perfume store called Lili Bermuda. Ramsay-Brackstone immediately knew they were a rare find. “In the 1800s, London was a center of the perfume industry and Piesse and Lubin was the name of a prominent perfume house on Bond Street,” she says.’

 

 

Indeed, I know that name well, having recently researched and written an article about perfumer G.W. Septimus Piesse for our Music & Perfume issue of The Scented Letter magazine!

In 1857, Piesse (who was a perfumer and chemist) published a popular olfactory guide called The Art of Perfumery and the Methods of Obtaining the Odours of Plants. This guide went on to shape the history of perfumery, and if you’ve ever referred to perfumes having ‘notes’ or being ‘composed’, it’s Piesse’s ‘Gamut of Odors’ you have to thank – a comparative scale of different aromas based on a musical scale.

But what, you may wonder, did this perfume sunk for so many years smell like?

‘After carefully scraping the mineral deposits off the bottles and opening them,’ Atlas Obscura reports, Ramsay-Brackstone and fellow perfumer Jean Claude Delville from Drom, took a tentative sniff…

‘One bottle gave of a whiff of a rotten smell. Unfortunately, some seawater had seeped in and spoiled the fragrance. But the other specimen survived intact after 150 years underwater. According to the duo, it smelled of orange, bergamot, and grapefruit with a faint aroma of flowers and sandalwood. There were also some musky “animal notes,” such as civet or ambergris…’

Using gas chromatography (a process similar to unravelling DNA, where fragrant ingredients are captured and their chemical structure analysed to show the exact mixture) didn’t reveal all – Delville admits that after some detective work to discover what ingredients Piesse used in his fragrances, they also had to rely on ‘…my nose to do the reconstitution.’

 

 

It was important for them to try and achieve the perfume’s exact aroma, he continued, because ‘We didn’t want to recreate just a modern version of the fragrance. We wanted to stay true to the original scent.’ So during several months of trials and over 110 differing combinations, the pair decided to use orange flower, roses, sandalwood, and vanilla in addition to the gas chromatography findings.

Naming the final creation Mary Celestia, the initial launch was limited to 1,854 bottles (refrencing the fateful year the ship sunk), because they weren’t sure how popular a shipwrecked scent would be. But it proved to be such a success that the fragrance is now stocked again in Isabelle’s shop.

It sounds utterly beautiful, looking at the list of notes and description, so although I may have been swept away by the romance of the story, I’d certainly give it go. Would you like to wear the scent of a shipwreck…?

 

Mary Celestia $130 for 100ml eau de parfum (samples and smaller sizes also available)
lilibermuda.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Lancôme Trésor: Isabella Rossellini reveals the iconic scent’s secrets

Isabella Rossellini spoke revealingly about Lancôme Trésor – her all-time signature scent – to makeup artist Lisa Eldridge, and we were utterly gripped!

Read on to learn more and watch the wonderful interview, and find out why Isabella was much, much more than just the ‘face’ of this fragrance…

In an idyllic farmhouse ‘in the wine region’ of France, the iconic actress, model and spokesperson for Lancôme, Isabella Rossellini, spoke so movingly about her fragrant memories of another icon being launched: the magical Trésor. While showing us around the stunning building and outdoors, she holds up just-hatched chickens (yes really) while waxing lyrical about her incredible career and personal memories.

 

 

Originally launched in 1952, Trésor (meaning ‘Treasure’ in French) was completely re-worked by brilliant perfumer Sophia Grosjman (known as ‘the Picasso of perfume’ for her brilliant techniques.)

Unusually for 1990, Lancôme were keen to let their ‘face’ of the fragrance have a hands-on role. ‘No more were we “silent beauties”,’ Isabella recalls, ‘I had a voice, an opinion. And if I was going to talk about this perfume, I wanted to know everything, from the composition to how the bottle was made.’

Talking about how she was involved with the process of choosing the final version of the fragrance, Isabella reveals that she had a definite front-runner when blind-smelling the lab samples.

‘I smelled this one that was my absolute favourite, so original, so magical. It got down to the final submissions. But of course in market research you have to please a lot of people…’ Isabella explains. ‘I thought please GOD… and well, it WON!’ she exclaims. And Isabella was so thrilled she asked to meet this ‘nose.’

 

 

‘She looked like a sorceress, sitting there with this black hair…’ Isabella laughs, ‘and she said in this thick Russian accent, “you know, Bella, a few years ago I saw this film, Casablanca, and I was inspired by the romance, the adventure, the mystery, and that night I worked on a fragrance, which became Trésor.”’ And the star of that film? Isabella’s mother, actress Ingrid Bergman! Even more extraordinary when you find out this was two years before Isabella even became involved with Lancôme.

Was Fate calling Isabella to this fragrance, perhaps…? Well certainly it has become her scented calling card. ‘I spray it everywhere, in my home, in hotel rooms… my children always say they know where I am as they can follow my scent trail…’

The fragrance has been a huge success ever since it launched, truly becoming a modern classic in the hallowed halls of perfume legend. So much so, that when Chandler Burr curated his exhibition on perfumes at the Museum of Art & Design, in New York, the central installation allowed visitors to smell Trésor at different stages during its olfactory development.

To find out more, watch the interview for yourself, in full, below, and then read our review to see why you need to try Trésor at least once in your life (or once a day, if you’re still smitten as Isabella clearly is!)

 

 

For those of you haven’t yet tried Trésor (or any of its other iterations), now is a great time to discover – or to re-discover its beauty if you’d worn and loved it, then, and we also have an entire page dedicated to the history of Lancôme and their fragrances for you to explore.

Top Notes: Rose Petals, Apricot Blossoms, Peach Tree Flowers
Middle Notes: Lilly of the Valley, Vanilla, Heliotrope, Iris
Base Notes: Sandalwood, Musk

One of those scents that just seem to sing on the skin, Trésor is a love letter to seemingly effortless sophistication. The rose shimmers with light, dancing across the fuzzy velvet of soft apricot skins and succulent peach to a luminous heart of white flowers dusted with powder and a smooth, long-lasting trail of creamy musk. For those seeking even more luminescence, the Trésor eau de toilette radiates freshness atop a wonderfully milky leather base; and the La Nuit Trésor smoulders with black rose, ripe raspberry and smoky frankincense.

Each one has a delightful story to tell on the skin, but we have so loved hearing Isabella’s own story of the fragrance, first-hand…

Lancome Trésor £54.50 for 30ml eau de parfum
Try it at lancome.co.uk

Written by Suzy Nightingale

ODORBET: a growing vocabularly for your nose…

The ODORBET is a brand new, open resource for all odophiles – and they want YOUR help…

Conceived by artist and author Catherine Haley Epstein and art and olfactory historian Caro Verbeek, the ODORBET is an online place to collect (and delight in) smell descriptions, with a larger aim ‘…to re-narrate history from a sensory perspective by reconstructing and presenting historical scents and tactile poetry in museums and beyond.’

Thanks to those who have already submitted, they’ve gathered 240 words and phrases so far, from controubutors all over the world, and these are being gradually shared at random, in three-word installations.

So why does it matter? Why can’t we just make do with the same old words we normally use?

Well, as we know all too well at The Perfume Society, describing a smell is actually really challenging. There are very few commonly used words that don ‘t fall back on likening a scent to something else – saying it’s fruity, for example, or likening it to a well-known texture such as velvet. By limiting our vocabulary, we’re restricting the ways in which we can accurately communicate and share our feelings about what we’re smelling, and ultimately, how we connect to those smells emotionally and intellectually.

‘We are compiling this Odorbet to provide more springboards for broader thinking around the landscape of the nose and scent,’ they explain, because we know that ‘…how we think is deeply affected by the words we use. For example, “climate change study” has a vastly different connotation than “imminent disaster planning.” We know there is passive, neutral and aggressive ways of stating things that will inspire correlating behavior.’

What’s more, the descriptions reveal fascinating historical and cultural scent snippets you’ve perhaops never heard of, and will want to nose around finding out more about, as we certainly did!

Let’s have a peek at a few submitted so far, and think about which others we might want to add, ourselves…

Want to join in? Submit your lesser-known smell descriptors to ODORBET, and read their blog posts to find out more. We can’t wait for the next set of scent words to be released for us all to share!

By Suzy Nightingale

Mayfair perfume walk – get a whiff of history!

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

By Suzy Nightingale

Powder to the people: the many moods of iris

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Refined Iris:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Romantic Iris:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bohemian Iris:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bad-gal Iris:

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Suzy Nightingale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads: Scent and Subversion

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Publisher: The Lyons Press

At amazon.co.uk

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Suzy Nightingale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Suzy Nightingale

REEK founder Molly reveals her five favourite smells…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly interviewed by Suzy Nightingale

Cleopatra’s fragrance: finally recreated?

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

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

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

As Shakespeare put it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Suzy Nightingale