I am in the process of moving to the seaside. This means lots of changes - new home, new neighbours, new work, new colleagues, new favourite pub… But of course much remains by and large the same. Me, my furniture, my clothes, my fragrance collection; or not! I have long been in the habit of cultivating a “fragrance wardrobe”. For many of us, gone are the days of having that one signature scent that we are known by almost as much as we are our own names. Many consumers have embraced the habit of using fragrance as one would clothes. Different scents suit different seasons, a wedding perfume and an office cologne can be as different as the outfits we would wear to each and, like those comfortable-go-with-anything trousers, we have the favourite fragrance that is our go to stalwart when we don’t know what to wear. I carefully cosied my collection into paper packed boxes and brought them all with me, ready to resume service in my new home.
Now, I’m a town dweller. Born and raised in Hackney, early twenties in South London, thirties in and around the busy suburban towns skirting Stansted Airport. It’s always been busy, bustling and built up for me. Moving to a coastal town in Southern England is quite the departure from my usual landscape. I knew there would be one or two adjustments to make. More layers of clothing for a start. What I didn’t anticipate was that many of my most beloved fragrance choices would seem as out of place and jarring in my new environment as a bikini in Antarctica. The new ozonic, salt tang in my nostrils, weathering winds blowing in from across the sea and sweet, grassy mists rising from the Downs moves some of my most beloved bottles into a bizarre juxtaposition with my surroundings that I had not experienced in the smokier, more industrial places of my past. This realisation has set me on an olfactory journey through some of my favourite memories of the British landscape to discover the best fragrance fit for some of the most iconic scenery and experiences our islands have to offer.
I thought it appropriate to begin my virtual whistlestop whiffy tour in my new setting - beside the sea. The air is fresh and fast, even in summer, and there is a distinctive salty tang that blows away the cobwebs and wakes up the nose with a billowing blast of ozone. Thanks to a vast expanse of ocean on one side and rolling Sussex Downs on the other, there is little obstruction to the natural light of the day if you stand in just the right spot. The light can vary from a translucent grey to a shimmering pink via flashing gold.
Scents I have recently adopted to suit this changeable, less tamable atmosphere tend to be breezy, deconstructed and rooted in nature. Anything too strong or blended feels manufactured and weighty. Anything too light floats off out to sea and is lost.
Jo Malone works well here and the brand’s Wood Sage and Sea Salt is an obvious choice. Its herbal, woody notes blend with a saltiness to give that driftwood scented, beachy breath of nature that characterises the quieter corners of Brighton Beach.
If you are looking to warm things up a bit and sweeten the sharp air, Pomegranate Noir is a delicious winter choice. Its smoky, rich frankincense notes, nestle with spicy woods and are sweetened by plump, juicy fruits.
The green, seaweed, saltwater spray of a wintery wave is captured beautifully in Sel Marin by Heeley. Yes, it’s light and fresh but it is anchored by a woody, leathery tone that makes it almost piratey - if a clean and rather dandy pirate.
As a child I collected many wonderful memories in the foothills and on the summits of some of North Wales’ most beautiful terrain. The smell of grassy mountains, crystal clear, freshwater lakes, slippery, mossy rocks and a slightly animalic undertone of sheep and cows is as sharp in my nose now as it was 25 years ago. I remember sun drenched mornings, feeling like a latter day Heidi running around outside our orange and brown floral tent or rain soaked day trips to slate blue lakes seeping out of deep, damp mines.
This childhood haven is revisited whenever I wear Chanel No.5. The iconic scent is a clashing, fizzy, artificial collision of notes, so may seem like an odd choice. However the combination of powdery flowers, crisp, green vetiver and animalic civet brings the green, lush and fertile landscape to mind beautifully.
For a cleaner blast from the past I revel in Eau Dynamisante from Clarins. Its crisp and clean and perhaps it’s the herbal quality of rosemary and thyme that sets me in the Welsh mountains.
For a deeper foray into the earthy and the animalic, Miller Harris’, frankly filthy, L’air de Rein is the one to go for. Its earthy, animal quality, which mirrors the fecund, wild, rolling mountains, is tempered by sweet vanilla and green oakmoss, but dragged back down into unfettered nature with a strong musky hit.
Loch Lomond straddles The Lowlands and The Highlands of my grandfather’s country of birth. It is the heather strewn gateway to a landscape of swooping hills and valleys, fish filled lakes and misty woodlands. Often the air is heavy with drizzling mist and rain, but this simply adds a mystical element to a countryside and an ancestry so rugged and wild that the The Romans, having conquered so much of the globe, decided to back off and build a wall.
Although Loch Lomond is the inspiration, we head east to Aberdeen, my grandfather’s city, for the first sniff of my Scotland. With a bouquet of lavender, rose and rosemary, Creed’s Aberdeen Lavander combines some of the prettiest scents the region has to offer. Absinth and leather bring a very slight edge that reflects a glimpse of the wilderness.
Back to Heeley, I always think of the Beautiful Loch Lomond and Scotland in general when I smell Esprit du Tigre, because this scent is every memory of my grandfather, distilled. The fragrance has a strength and solidity that is softened by green mint and vetiver notes. I remember my grandad coming home from the leather goods wholesaler where he worked, wearing his leather jerkin and carrying in his pocket a white paper bag, twisted closed and full of cough candy. He was the personification of this unique fragrance, and with its cloves, cinnamon and slightly leathery drydown I experience a huge wave of nostalgia whenever I smell it.
Of course no trip to Scotland would be complete without a wee dram. A tot of scotch is always on the cards and this journey over the border is no exception. Aqua Alba by the late Angela Flanders, who sadly passed away earlier this year, is exactly the peaty blast of woody spice one would expect from a good single malt. It’s nod to a bygone era of wood panelled rooms, open fires and wingback armchairs is an evocative escape and a fitting goodbye to the Highlands, for now.
For centuries Fleet Street has been the major artery bringing lifeblood to the surrounding square mile and beyond. Its hustling, bustling pavements extend from the 19th century Royal Courts of Justice, at Temple Bar, the very limits of The City of London, and fittingly end at Ludgate Circus, former site of an infamous prison. Printing and publishing took a foothold on the Street in the 16th century and maintained a firm grip until News International moved the bulk of its business to Wapping in the 1980s. Until then Fleet Street was synonymous with red faced, striped shirt wearing, drunken journalists filling such City institutions as The Tipperary (built as The Boar’s Head in the 1605) and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Indeed one of these raucous dens of inebriation found itself renamed to reflect the clientele - The Crown and Sugar Loaf became The Punch Tavern in honour of the magazine of the same name, whose staff met here. Gin has flowed here alongside the river the street is named for in vast quantities. From the elaborate gin palaces to the only gin distillery in the square mile, you will have no trouble finding good conversation, hearty laughter and plentiful refreshment along this iconic street.
With a nod to the role that gin has played in the history of this area, it feels right and fitting to begin with a gin influenced scent. Sitting in the set back alcoves of the dark and secretive City of London Distillery, in the shadows of St Bride’s Church, you would be forgiven for thinking prohibition had hit London. Likewise the decadent, boozy Juniper Sling from Penhaligons creates a liberating 1930’s, speakeasy vibe. The juniper and brandy cocktail immediately throws caution to the wind and invites you in for a decadent experience of politely debauched jollity in the footsteps of some of the most influential writers, merchants and notorious characters London has hosted.
Until very recently, the vestiges of “a man’s world” have hung over Fleet Street like the clouds of pollution blowing in from the Thames. A woman making it in the newspaper industry of the 1970s and 1980s would have faced an almost daily battle. Power dressing and a penchant for masculine fragrances came into vogue for a very good reason. My next fragrance choice is a nod to the sense I get on Fleet Street, like a ghost brushing past my shoulder, of being a woman in a man’s world. Geo F Trumpers Extract of Limes is a traditional barber shop cologne that has been in production since 1880. The West Indian Limes that are at the centre of the fragrance, conjure up images of huge trading ships pulling into the docks just further East. A snapshot that freeze frames history in one spritz.
Time to move away from the exciting but cynical and sometimes dangerous heart of this fascinating city. In just a few footsteps we can disappear down a quiet side street, away from the ever jostling crowds at Ludgate Circus and into St Brides Church for some cool reflection. Widely regarded as the parish church of Journalists, there have been churches on this site for over a thousand years. Facing fire and war over centuries of tumultuous history the church has risen, phoenix like, again and again. There is a rumour that the traditional tiered wedding cake is based on St Brides’ famous steeple. Inspiration hit an apprentice name Rich, when he won the hand of his master’s daughter. Devising a baked masterpiece based on the church, this 1705 cake has given rise to the style still often used to this day. What better way to end our tour than on a romantic note of loving inspiration, as epitomised by Floris’ Wedding Bouquet. Drawing together the themes of history, decadence and romance that our trip to Fleet Street have encompassed, this traditional scent with a modern twist used lily of the valley, orange blossom and sandalwood to celebrate the marriage of the future king of England, William Windsor and his bride Catherine Middleton in 2011.
As I sign off, freshly spritzed with Aberdeen Lavander, I wonder what a trip around Europe would smell like...