Harrods Perfume Diaries : An evening of British Perfumery

27th September, 2010

Last week as part of their excellent Perfume Diaries exhibition Harrods hosted an evening of British Perfumery, presented by Roja Dove. Dove began by calling The Perfume Diaries the most important exhibition about perfume in the world. He explained that in his opinion British perfumery had as long and as important a history as French perfumery and that the evening was a celebration of that heritage and a chance to find out what the next innovations from the houses represented would be.

We were to hear from six houses in total: Roja’s own, Ormonde Jayne, Floris, Grossmith, Penhaligon’s and Clive Christian.

Roja Dove began by telling us some background about himself; how he’d come to work for the French perfume house Guerlain as Professor de Parfums and then with Harrods to create his Haute Parfumerie and how that had led him to create three Roja Dove scents. If you have read his book or interviews with Dove you will know much of this already but he is an engaging speaker who provides lots of fascinating anecdotes for the aficionado and the novice alike.

One of his most recent undertakings has been with the Victoria and Albert Museum to create a scent called Diaghilev to accompany their forthcoming exhibition about the Ballet Russes. Diaghilev was himself supposedly a great scent lover, especially of Mitsouko which perfume legend tells us he sprayed on his curtains. Dove’s Diaghilev is a warm chypre and a very fitting olfactory tribute to the man, the ballet and in some ways to Mitsouko.

Having shared his thoughts and his new scent with us Roja went on to introduce Linda Pilkington of Ormonde Jayne. Linda gave a very warm, personal talk about her journey to owning a Perfume house. She explained that her interest was sparked by her Mother’s gift to her of a bottle of Madame Rochas and that she began collecting empty bottles from then onwards. She also spoke very touchingly and passionately about having been encouraged to make and craft things as child and how this ultimately led to her career; a chance meeting with an old friend having resulted in a commission to make a candle for Chanel. She explained that making candles was a skill learned as an industrious child and her business grew from there. Linda went on to explain that Ormonde Jayne’s latest products are a scented twenty- four carat gold dusting power and décolleté cream; she seems to keen to innovate within her range rather than to constantly bring out new scents.

Following on from Linda Pilkington we heard from Shelagh Foyle, head perfumer at Floris. Sheila obviously loves her job as all the speakers do. She did her very best to condense Floris’ fascinating history into fifteen minutes for us. They have been based in the same space on Jermyn Street since the late 1700s and they have an enviable archive of documents including letters, bottles, formulas and ledgers of products supplied to famous clients, including the Queen, some of which are on display at the exhibition. Shelagh explained that the scent she has been working on most recently is inspired by a book called ‘The Madonna of the Almonds’. We were able to smell the perfume which is a delightful and obviously quite Italianate blend of bergamot, lemon, almond blossom, jasmine and almond kernel. Sheila then confided then next scent from Floris will be called Amaryllis.

From the heritage of Floris we moved on to the reborn Grossmith and listened to Simon Brook explaining the fantastic story that led him to discover his family owned a historically renowned perfume house - which everyone was rather jealous of. Simon and his family are obviously extremely passionate about preserving Grossmith and making sure the house has a future. Simon shared some fascinating anecdotes about his journey to find old Grossmith products including finding Phul- Nana dental floss!

Following on from Grossmith we heard from Sarah Rotherham of Penhaligon’s- another historic British house that is flourishing today. After explaining William Penhaligon’s background as a barber in the late Victoria period Sarah focused on the ongoing launches of the Anthology scents which she described as not scents for scents sakes but as restoring Penhaligon’s heritage in interesting ways. We were also introduced to the new Sartorial scent which you can read about elsewhere on Basenotes. Finally she gave us the very exciting news that the next Penhaligon’s scent is a collaboration with a gin manufacturer to make a gin inspired scent. Olivier Cresp will be the perfumer tasked with making this intriguing design brief work.

The final talk of the evening was from the house of Clive Christian, who are of course the makers of the world’s most expensive scent. Victoria Christian, Clive’s daughter, explained to us that the house is descended from the ‘Crown Perfumery’ so named as a result of Queen Victoria’s patronage. According to Christian, the scents are not expensive to be grand or flashy but to create fragrances without the constraints most perfumers have of needing to deliver a financially marketable scent. From their launch in 1999 Clive Christian have only had 6 scents, 3 matched pairs of his and hers fragrances. This year sees the first launch of new scents- again his and hers- which are named ‘C’. We were treated to a performance of a piano piece written for Clive Christians’ anniversary last year and scent was fanned around the room while we were encouraged to close our eyes. It was a very fitting and grand way to end a sumptuous evening.

Harrods are holding a final event next Thursday. It is open to the public and you can arrive without booking a place but the British Perfumery talk was extremely busy, so arrive early if you can.

[HR][/HR]About the author

Kim Deadman is a London based writer who is particularly interested in perfume and the arts. You can follow her on twitter and read her blog, A Rose Beyond the Thames.

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