Britain’s Jermyn Gentlemen

01st April, 2009

Sometimes the most interesting journeys are very short ones. A wander down Jermyn Street behind Piccadilly, London is no exception. Trumpers, Floris and Czech & Speake all have shop fronts there; much of the quintessential British perfume tradition is available in the space of a few yards.

Floris have some wonderful fragrances notably their No.89, a beautifully subtle concoction. It begins cologne-like with bergamot and lavender and develops through a gentle rose heart to a base of sandalwood and vetiver. Its most attractive quality is the perfect radiance – not loud or attention grabbing but a persistent pleasant presence. They also have many very ordinary ones; their signature JF is a boring Cool Water clone. The best thing about the shop however, is the bespoke perfumery. Not because I would like to spend the absurd amount it would cost to have one made but because they have there a shelving unit of little bottles of oils, essences and aroma chemicals which one can sniff. Nosing through these, I found a small jar of calone, which clearly forms a significant part of the formula for JF (if you have ever smelled Blue Stratos aftershave - it’s that chemical. I sometimes wonder at the little “a” which makes the difference between “calone” and “clone”). There is also some Iso E Super - the woody pre-mixed base whose gently intense cedary chemical-smell lives in almost every contemporary masculine marketed fragrance. It lasts forever and diffuses constantly, lying underneath but somehow shining through everything else in the fragrance. For me, this substance has little appeal, it is a complex accord but at the bottom of it is a harsh chemical smell with which I have no desire to be associated. It is highly commendable that Floris openly display these synthetics along with the bottles of more natural named materials and acknowledge their use. Less reputable firms may claim “precious woods” or “oceanic essence”.

Over the road just a few steps away is a bathroom shop and perfumer Czech&Speake. This house lacks the long history of the others nearby, but has established itself over thirty years with sheer quality. They make some wonderful fragrances; their signature No.88, neighbor to the Floris No.89, is quite different and bolder but also wonderfully complicated with a good sandalwood and vetiver base, some quality geranium/rose in the heart, bergamot and many other aromatic notes. The Cuba is a cologne-like fragrance with mint, rum and tobacco, very complex, well composed and unique.

Neroli Cologne smells like sunshine, light and vibrant. These are the recent formulations, the older ones made in Italy were even better. Particularly the Frankincense & Myrrh; it was much deeper, richer, fatter. This was seemingly all achieved with a good deal of high quality natural and complex smelling ingredients particularly in the floral bases. The current Frankincense and Myrrh smells strikingly good at first, oozing with top quality resins. It sings with a beautiful clear, uplifting voice and makes an excellent alternative to citrus for summer refreshment. The thickness from the old formula is much diminished but it still smells very good. It dries down to a persistent cedar wood accord. This achieves its purpose of hanging on to the top and middle notes well but took me back across the road to Floris and their little bottle of Iso E Super. It isn’t loaded up with it, but I’m pretty sure it’s there.

They recently re-launched three florals: Dark Rose, Rose and Mimosa. The Rose Cologne is a geranium-green light hearted affair, very soft with ylang ylang quite prominent and a little firm patchouli underneath. Mostly aimed at women, I can imagine it worn by a confident man after shaving with Trumpers Rose cream. Dark Rose begins with a striking “boudoir” accord of saffron, citrus and rose, a little reminiscent of Montale’s Aoud Lime but quickly dries to a restrained mixture of rose, amber and spiky agar wood. The Mimosa has a lovely jasmine note in its mixed floral accord. In a well judged and all too rare promotion, they recently sent out free samples to those registering on their website. I am not sure if they have changed the formulations of the extant fragrances again but I think some may have been improved. The Iso E Super level seems lower in the recent sample of Frankincense & Myrrh in any case which pulls it back toward the wearable for me.

The Trumper shop has a different ambience entirely. As a working barber shop offering traditional wet shaving and grooming the space for displaying their large range of colognes, aftershaves, shampoos and sundries is more limited giving the impression of a treasure trove in the corner. The overall feel, like the nature of the fragrances, strikes me as less contrived and more related to the practical necessities of trying to fend off the more unpleasant aspects of being an human animal. Beneath every gentlemanly façade is a man who was once a babe in nappies. I am very fond of many of their offerings, particularly Eucris, Sandalwood, Extract of West Indian Limes, Spanish Leather, and their wonderful Rose shaving cream, not to mention the finest Bay Rum on this side of the pond.

  • Share this

About the author: Walker Minton

Walker Minton is a Jasmine award winning freelance writer and jazz musician with a lifelong interest in scent. He lives in North London with his partner and two sons.


Advertisement — comments are below