Scents of History: Notes from a presentation at the Chelsea Physic Garden

31st December, 2010

The following is the notes from a presentation which was given at the Chelsea Physic Garden by artisan perfumer and founder of The Perfumer's Guild, John Bailey and P&G Prestige fragrance scientist and evaluator, Will Andrews. Where possible we have included images from the slide show alongside the relevant notes. Sadly, we are unable to reproduce the experience fully as we can't yet give out scented strips via the internet...

John Bailey: It's an honour and privilege to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Sir Hans Sloane with Will Andrews, a talented young Olfactory Scientist, with our interactive presentation – Scents of History exploring the fascinating story of plants to perfumes within the historic ambience of the Chelsea Physic Garden

Will and I want to share our passion for scents and aromas engaging you all on an aromatic journey through the years - especially during and since the era of Sir Hans Sloane

My long and fascinating career started as an apprentice in the laboratories of a manufacturing chemist, druggist and distiller learning the science of formulating pills. potions and perfumes

I trained also trained as a dispenser in a very old fashioned pharmacy – the pictures fully illustrate times of old – which as you will see shortly are a complete contrast to Will’s world as an olfactory scientist, fragrance evaluator and designer involved with a wonderful portfolio of famous brands

The most wonderful kick start to progressing my apprenticeship came with the opportunity to join the UK’s oldest and most renowned company who were growers of aromatic plants and essential oil distillers – a unique experience and credential proving time and again of the benefits of working with talented research scientists – perfumers and flavourists development and application chemists are the building blocks in a fascinating aroma trade industry

[Outline of Quaker ethics – a serious problem and one which retarded the progress of both pharmacy and perfumery was the adulteration of vegetable drugs and distilled essential oils] – the company I joined was founded in England in 1830 between Stafford Allen & Charles May – Allen was the nephew of William Allen FRS, the first President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain

Stafford Allen & Son Ltd became world renowned for the quality of its products – galenicals – spices – essences – essential oils

Perfumes have a compelling – intangible attraction – throughout history human beings have shared an instinctive pleasure in them – there have always been perfume makers willing to crush berries , boil petals and seal their essences in bottles.

It was most certainly in the early years of Sloane’s life (1370) of the birth of the first named perfume Hungary Water.

Hungary Water was named after Queen Elizabeth of Hungary - it was based upon oil of rosemary with added oil of lavender – legend has it that the creator who presented the fragrance to the queen assured her that it would preserve her great beauty unimpaired until her death – it was perhaps true for at the age of 72 Queen Elizabeth she was courted for marriage by the King of Poland!

[Smelling strips to audience – Rosemary & Lavender]

I now want to share your sense of smell by giving you a smelling blotter and a little quiz – [distribute scent strips – inform how to use. Ask one member of the audience for a description before showing lemon image on the screen ]

Aqua Mirabilis – translated from Latin Miracle Water - Late 16th century (1695) Cure-All remedy – [ask a member of the audience who has a particular ache or pain to come forward to demonstrate the benefits of this refreshing therapeutic cologne]

[Smelling blotter – Neroli (key ingredient)]

Aqua Mirabilis inspired one of the world’s most enduring perfumes: 4711 Eau de Cologne – 1792

[Continue with brief history] – named after street number in Cologne, Germany… after a number of takeovers including Will’s company P&G the company is once more German owned.

Will Andrews: Sir William Henry Perkin was the youngest of seven children, whose father was a carpenter, living in the East End of London. Perkin showed a talent for science at an early age and he was encouraged to enter the Royal College of Chemistry (now part of Imperial) at age 15 in 1853, studying under the renowned Hofmann. Perkin’s early work led by chance to the discovery of an important synthetic dye – Mauvine. This discovery and the work on other synthetic dye stuffs, often overshadows the fact that in 1868, he also discovered a process to synthesise Coumarin, which is one of the earliest synthetic odour molecules.

[Will then invited the audience to smell Coumarin]

Coumarin achieved fame in perfumery due to its covert inclusion in the formula of Fougere Royale (1882), by Paul Parquet, chemist-perfumer at Houbigant; Parquet respected the work of the organic chemists at a time when his peers in perfumery simply viewed their work as scientific curiosity. Fougere Royale layed-down the basic structure and character of a Fougere type fragrance for years to come.

[Will then went on to share the Lacoste Essential fragrance, which is a great contemporary counterpoint to the historical citrus type fragrances to which John had been referring. The audience were invited to smell the top note accord – a combination of Cassis, Bergamot and Mandarin, which showed the lineage of the citrus cologne type, but were then invited to smell an additional ingredient, which drives the green character of Lacoste Essential. Will revealed that this was a Headspace Capture reconstitution of Tomato Leaf – highly realistic and recognisable – which cannot be extracted from nature to the same likeness, so would therefore have been unavailable to the perfumers of the early 20th century.]

Headspace Capture: where the odour is captured at source by a small vapour trap, analysis is carried-out via Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS), and then the complex odour is reconstituted as a perfume oil for perfumers to use.

Many of the fruit notes in modern perfumery – particularly the soft fruits – are all acquired via synthesis, since there is no existing process to effectively extract an oil from soft fruit. It is these fruit notes which have pushed the boundaries of perfumery in the last decade and it is therefore the emergence of new technology and techniques, which has broken the boundaries of perfumery, taking perfumes to an exciting new place which was simply inaccessible to perfumers of the past. [To illustrate this point, Will shared a very modern, overdosed, fruit driven fragrance which is loved particularly in the US – Escada summer edition ‘Sunset Heat’.]

The perfumer’s inspiration is very much a modern image, and yet, we are sure that all perfumers over the years could relate to the feelings it evokes and scented imagery it conveys:

“My inspiration began with the image of a refreshing and exotic cocktail; something sensual and sparkling that would capture the essence of a perfect vacation; something to reveal all of the dreams, freedom and happiness of summer…” .

  • Share this

Advertisement — comments are below


    • CX827 | 1st January 2011 04:09

      Interesting presentation. It makes me wonder how many perfumes were used by the Headspace Capture reconstitution to begin with.

    • meta | 3rd January 2011 12:56

      Loved this. Thanks very much.

    • the_good_life | 3rd January 2011 13:19

      Too bad the presentation repeats ahistorical myths - both the story of Hungary Water and Elizabeth (a composite character drawn from a variety of historical figures woven into a fiction) and 4711 (a complete fabrication, as 4711 was merely a cheap imitation of the genuine Eau de Cologne created by Johann Maria Farina in the early 18th century. 4711 was sold until the 1880s - when the company lost a landmark trademark court case - under a pseudo-Farina name, like dozens of other forgeries.