Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Revivalists

The sweet whiff of nostalgia
by Sally Blake
(websites added by Emma Blake...)

Crabtree & Evelyn
Crabtree & Evelyn - Regent Street

Crabtree & Evelyn is so emphatically Olde Worlde English that it simply has to be foreign  - and of course it is; the firm’s origins are actually American. They did give a nod to this in the 1980’s with the delightfully unusual Savannah Gardens, and Nantucket Briar, although the former did not prove popular and was discontinued.

Unlike, say, Penhaligon’s, who don’t have to work at it because they are English, even Floris which, although founded by a Spaniard [Juan Famenias Floris from Menorca], has a 200-year St.James’ head-start on C&E, making comparisons unkind. Lovely Crabtree have to be seen to be English because they are not.

But if Crabtree & Evelyn have not been around for 200 years, they like to look as if they have, hence the dear little bow-windowed shops, tiled porches, wooden shop floors, and free-standing baskets laden with dried flowers and pot-pourris; the bowls filled with lace-trimmed sachets, and the soaps and colognes with suitably old fashioned names assiduously copied from antique labels.

The bottles of course are faithful copies of the flaconnage Atkinson saw fit to discard so long ago on their flight to Milan.

And even if it is all a nostalgia trip down Memory Lane to the days of the “Farmer King” and Good King George’s Golden Days with Loveday Merridew, bonneted and be-ribboned, bobbing down cobbled streets in sprigged muslin, carrying a glowingly golden wicker basket laden with lavender through a fairytale town of houses with overhanging gables and twinkling mullioned windows which never, ever existed in reality – does it matter? Isn’t it pleasant?

Being American of course, they have combined respect for the past with a commercial awareness of the profit potential of nostalgia. Nostalgia is big business, and the proliferation of Crabtree & Evelyn shops throughout the world proves it.
'Ye Olde Civet Cat' - Kensington Church Street

200 years ago, London was filled with perfumers [it had to be – it stank to high Heaven with open ditches running with dead dogs and human waste! – EWB], the sign of the Civet Cat sprouted from a thousand shop-fronts. Now there is just one left: hanging over Barclays Bank in Kensington Church Street, the site of a former pub calling itself Ye Olde Civet Cat. Crabtree & Evelyn set up their flagship store as close to it as physically possible without actually setting up a counter within the bank’s Bureau de Change.

Such dedication deserves its success.

Jean Laporte – L’Artisan Parfumeur

A more recent addition to the select world of perfumers is young, enthusiastic and imaginative Jean Laporte, who by 1977, had opened five salons in Paris under the sign of “L’Artisan Parfumeur” with branches in New York, London, Los Angeles and Rome.

At the time of writing, every salon features a life-size effigy of a 18th Century Marchand de Parfums, a certain Monsieur de Larmessián, wearing a coat of claret velvet extravagantly frogged in gold, with breeches tied at the knee, claret coloured stockings and satin bows to his shoes, bewigged and moustached liked Charles II, Monsieur de Larmessián stands bearing a tray of his products with others pinned about his person in faithful replica of a contemporary print of the times.

The dreadful fate of poor M. Fargeon, perfumer to the courts of Louis XV and XVI, forced [like Mozart] by his illustrious clients, into bankruptcy with debts outstanding to the tune of almost a quarter of a million pounds (an astonishing sum in those days, and hardly insubstantial now either), with £20,909 owed by Louis XV alone, has obviously not deterred M. Laporte from following in his footsteps.

Bewitched and enamoured by the master perfumers of the 18th Century, he has produced a range of toilet waters, oils, essences, burning perfumes, soaps and pot-pourris in the style of le Grand Siècle, a vast range of fragrances gloriously packaged in gold topped flacons. Another range, “Les Rètros - scents of the 1930’s”, recaptures the most glamorous decade of the 20th Century.

The pièce de resistance however, has to be Le Parfum Qui Vous Métamorphose, strikingly beautiful, the flacon bears a milk glass butterfly with folded wings on a ground glass stopper[i]; the toilet water, an even grander butterfly with wings outspread.

With all presented in boxes of either claret or black with gold lettering, the fragrances include: Amber, Opoponax, Exotique, Vanilla, Iris, Lilac, Eau d’Osman, Vetyver, Rose Bigarade (wild oranges), Grapefruit, Passion Fruit, Mure et Musc, and La Haie Fleurie du Hameau – the warm heady scent of cottage gardens tangled with roses and honeysuckle nestled in sleepy villages.

Such an explosion of scents bombards the senses and sends one out of the shop on an intoxicating cloud of sensual pleasure.

Sally Blake
Date unknown

Post Script by Emma Blake

The Crown Perfumery

Founded in 1872 by William Sparks Thomson, a maker of crinolines and corsets, and catering to the high society in London and Europe, Thompson launched a collection of floral fragrances called ‘Flower Fairies’. Queen Victoria granted the Crown Perfumery her own crown's image to top the fragrance bottles. By the end of the century, Crown Perfumery was exporting nearly 50 different perfumes and accompanying products to countries all over the world. Mrs. Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, was the inspiration for the creation of 'Crown Bouquet'.

Some time during the 1980s, my mother tried her best to help the new owner, Clive Christian, to relaunch. They took on a tiny outlet on Park Lane, and began to offer their fabulous scents again. Using the old recipes, they reinvented (amongst others) Stephanotis, Heliotrope, and the famous Crown Rose. Sadly, the business foundered, and was sold on, with Clive moving on to create his own signature scents under his own name. You can still buy a few of the old favourites online – if you’re quick.

Taking up the standard since however, are:

Anglia Perfumery

From their home page: “Anglia Perfumery was founded in 2002 with the stated aim of revitalising precious treasures threatened by obsolescence, as some of the old traditional English manufacturers had started to "go with the times" and were discontinuing fragrances when demand slackened, or creating new scents lacking in the essentials of the art of English perfumery.

Anglia Perfumery has pledged to maintain the English scent tradition and commenced the range with formulae dating back to 1900: Royal Court and Imperial Lime. We revived and slightly revised some of Crown Perfumery’s discontinued fragrances and created new fragrances in the traditional English manner (Velvet Rose, Strand, Anglia, Amber, Richmond, Somerset and Patchouli, Queen’s, and Isle of Man).”

Roja Dove

The guy simply does it best. My mother’s dearest friend and ally in perfumery. With a love for the old scents and the way they were made that was to a large extent, nurtured over many’s the long night at our old kitchen table at Hanover Gate, Roja has dedicated his life to creating ‘proper’ perfume for the modern age. Perfume that offers unspeakable glamour, sophistication, and luxury. If I ever win the Lottery, I’ll be going to Roja’s Haute Parfumerie at Harrods to choose my next pong...

Emma Blake
October 2014

[i] My mother’s bottle is now in the collection of her dear friend, Roja Dove.

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