This month on my way to Paris, I decided to stopover in London for a couple of days of visit friends and explore some of London’s famous perfumed shopping haunts. While England may not hold the same reputation for perfume as its neighbor France, the English still maintain a rich history in scent. A history that is told in the silage of cologne and aftershave that follow the city’s well-groomed men: lavender and moss, citrus and woods. With limited time and an ambitious agenda, my day began with a walk through Hyde Park. Following the running path down to Knightsbridge and on to Sloane Street I found a small café in the back streets to have breakfast and map out the day ahead.
My first destination was Harvey Nichols. The flagship was opened in the 1880s and today offers a well-rounded range of wares from designers such as Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen, Lanvin and Balenciaga. The perfume section hosts all of the main industry players as well as a small range of niche perfumes such as Diptyque and Miller Harris. The Tom Ford counter is heavily promoting the newly launched Santal Blush and Jasmin Rouge. The first is a gourmand sandalwood. Rich and dolce, it shares some common themes with Serge Lutens’ Santal de Mysore. The red bottle with its sexy sharp lines is, as are most things Tom Ford, very attractive. Ford’s jasmine is also a success that will surely attract white floral fans. Both perfumes help connect Ford’s female clientele to the full range of newly launched Tom Ford makeup.
109-125 Knightsbridge, London
Shoppers should not resist the need to visit Harrods for their perfume fix. Taste may be questioned as you scale the glowing escalators adorned with Egyptian hieroglyphics and Sphinx. You may wonder if you are on an adult Disney ride or in a Vegas casino but it is all part of the fun of visiting Harrods. The perfume floor is a sea of people and spritzers who entice you with the day’s scented offering. Chanel’s new No 19 (poudre) is wonderful. Givenchy has the complete range of Les Parfums Mythiques and I cross off a vetiver I have been longing to sample, the relaunched Givenchy Vetyver. At the Cartier counter I find Les Heures de Parfum. In June I read an article in an Air France magazine about the growing number of luxury brands entering the perfume market at the top end. The article mentioned Cartier’s appointment of Mathilde Laurent as the jewel and watchmaker’s in-house perfumer. Les Heures de Parfum is the perfumer’s impression of eight olfactory moments and is available in the maison’s flagships and a select number of department stores around the world. Each fragrance is marked by an hour using the corresponding Roman numeral, the same numerals used on the face of the brand’s iconic timepieces. Each of the eight perfumes is executed with the precision one would expect from the luxury watchmaker and is presented in Cartier packaging, like fine jewels with a protective leather case. The first hour, L’Heure Promise is pure indulgence. The new Chanel No 19 may have bewitched me as I had iris on my mind. Cartier’s iris was like Chanel’s but extends on from a powdery iris into a milky wood with musk. What I guess is today called a skin scent, L’Heure Promise is a subtle and delicious iris. A secret only the wearer will enjoy. Laced with petigrain and underlined with white musk and sandalwood. Laurent calls her creation, “the perfume of angels”. It is true the price tag reflects the price of the packaging as well as the juice, but who ever bought luxury that was handed to them in a plastic bag
Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie is on the fifth level of the Harrods building. Access is gained via Urban Retreat or through a small door in the café. This entrance makes you question whether you are entering the staff kitchen area instead of a perfumery. A couple of sliding doors later you walk into what feels like the Aladdin’s cave of perfumeries. Roja Dove’s love for perfume is evident in his own creations, which are either deliberate or coincidental but very respectful tributes to the world’s great perfumes through the eyes of Roja. Flashes of Molinard’s Habanita, Guerlain’s Mitsouko and even a classic YSL fougere for men come over me as I explore the Roja Dove collection. The names are camper than a Joan Collins entrance down a marble staircase. Scandal, Unspoken and Enslaved make up the first trilogy of scents. Along side this collection is a treasure trove of perfumes from around the world. An object of interest was the line of Parfums MDCI fragrances. Directed by Claude Marchal and authored by Pierre Bourdon, Stephanie Bakouche and Francis Kurkdjian, the bottles are adorned with unique bisque stoppers making them look like miniature exhibits from the Louvre. Kurkdjian’s creation, Rose de Siwa was of particular interest to me. A delicate floral aldehyde and musk scent that is reminiscent of Kurkdjian’s wonderful Aqua Universalis with the addition of rose. Another new discovery was Pierre de Velay whose clean graphic lines inspire an art deco feel.
The house of Grossmith was revived with assistance from Roja Dove. Founded by Englishman, John Grossmith in 1835, the range was rebuilt by the founder’s great great grandson using the original formulas, rescued from the family premises in Newgate Street, London in 1940. Three archival fragrances have been remastered, a process that was documented in the recent BBC documentary on perfume. The relaunch of Hobigant’s Fougere Royale is another Roja Dove project. The Professor of Perfumes helped Givaudan perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux reformulate the 1882 classic that is accepted by historians as the first modern men’s perfume as it was the first to use the synthetic molecule, Coumarin. Coined from the perfume’s title, the fougere style has gone on to be one of the largest categories in men’s fragrance. This 2010 version is an excellent example of a modern fougere. I couldn’t help myself and left with a bottle that had ladies commenting for the rest of this trip. Fougere Royale (2010) has all the qualities women seem to like in a men’s fragrance. If your time in London only allows one visit to look at perfume, I highly recommend a visit to Harrods. Roja Dove’s Haute Perfumerie is sure to surprise even the most arduous of collectors. Even if you have previous experience with every brand in the collection, Roja’s personal collection of vintage bottles displayed amongst the sellable items is a sensory trip through the history of perfume.
87-135 Brompton Street, London
Space NK, for Australian readers, has an uncanny resemblance to Mecca Cosmetica. The brand first opened its doors in London’s Covent Garden in 1993. Space NK sources bath and beauty products from around the world that are selected for their innovation, design aesthetic and quality. The perfume section of their stores houses a well-edited range of modern scent: Serge Lutens, Miller Harris, Diptyque and Francis Kurkdjian.
27 Duke of York Square, London
Should you be looking for a good coffee or feel like doing some people watching, the café scene near Sloane Square is a nice place to visit. London’s chic, both young and not so young gather here to stretch their loafers and top up on caffeine. The surrounding real estate is one of the more exclusive postcodes in London; dotted with beautiful terrace houses, mosaic garden tiles and well-manicured flowerbeds. I loved the contrast of the burly tradesmen climbing residential scaffolding in their scruffy overalls working along side the well-to-do residents, ladies with their Birkin bag on elbow crease and designer pooches, taking a leisurely stroll along the neighborhood pavements.
In this area of London you will find a small cluster of other perfume stores. The English sensation, Jo Malone has one of a handful of boutiques on Sloane Street. By Sloane Square is English/Italian collaboration, Ortigia.
Les Senteurs is a short distance from the square on Elizabeth Street. Founded in 1984 by Betty and Michael Hawksley, the perfumery has for decades, supplied London’s perfume connoisseurs with an interesting offering of classics, half forgotten classics and modern scents. I had high hopes for Les Senteurs, having read about the boutique but never being able to afford them a visit. The range is fantastic and contains a number of lines that are hard to find in London such as Parfumerie Generale and Huitieme Art. I ventured solo through the boutique’s range, free to spray, sniff and discover for myself. A woman entered with a need for Lorenzo Villoresi’s Teint De Neige breaking the awkward silence. Her frantic request was heightened when she discovered her object of desire was out of stock and will take time to be delivered. I use this moment to excuse myself taking away with me a scented memory of Andy Tauer’s new range of Pentachords and a realization that I may need a bottle of Serge Luten’s recently released Vitrol d’Oeillet.
71 Elizabeth Street, London
Down on Jermyn Street you find another breed of Englishman. Tailored plaid shirts, tweed and classic pin striped suits, the epitome of traditional English style for men. Amongst the made to measure shirt and suiting tailors sits one of England’s older perfume houses, Floris. Founded in London, Floris have been making colognes and toiletries for over 200 years. Juan Famenias Floris and his wife Elizabeth created the business in 1730. Their store in Jermyn Street continues today as the heart of the family business. The quaint boutique is filled with antique perfume paraphernalia. For a small fee visitors can have a perfume consultation and the ‘in-house nose’ is able to customize an existing scent or for a more substantial sum a bespoke perfume can be created. Perhaps less innovative than other offerings on the London menu, if traditional English cologne is your thing, Floris could be the one to personalize your very own version. I sample the house’s latest offering Mahon Leather, which is part of Floris’ Private Collection.
89 Jermyn Street, London
Neighboring Miller Harris’ Convent Garden boutique and a number of excellent espresso bars, Murdock of London provides the English male with grooming products from all over the world. The small boutique, which was opened in 2010 four years after the brand was created by Brendan Murdock, has a barber like quality. When I entered a gentleman was getting his wet shave and others were browsing the store that supplies bathroom amenities such as badger brushes, razors, skincare and a small amount of apparel. Murdock carries brands such as Hierbas de Ibiza, Acqua di Parma and there own line of colognes. If you are a tweed lover, this could be the opportunity you are looking for to network with other tweed lovers. Very Sherlock Holmes!
18 Monmouth Street
Miller Harris offers an understated yet refined line of fragrances. The English perfumer has been on my radar for a number of years so this visit to London was my opportunity to find out more about the brand. I met with the brand’s PR manager for tea at the house’s tearoom in Bruton Street. A detailed account of this visit can be read by clicking on this link.
21 Bruton Street, London
Like Miller Harris, Ormonde Jayne is another small London perfume house. On Old Bond Street, the house is relatively new, founded in 2002 by Linda Pilkington, the brand’s creator and nose. Her perfumes focus on the use of naturals, often of exotic origin and not commonly seen in use by other perfumers. Ormonde Woman is one creation that is developing a devout following. The scent of crushed spices; cardamom and coriander is blended with black hemlock, amber and wood. I take away with me a sample of Orris Noir. A scent of iris that has been blended with notes of incense, woods, bay leaves and pimento berries.
28 Old Bond Street, London
Just off Regent Street sits Liberty department store. Once considered dowdy and infamous for it’s stench of ‘stale perfume’, Liberty department store has undergone a refurbishment that has restored the faith in London’s most discerning shopper. For perfume shoppers it is definitely well worth a visit, particularly if you are transiting through London and do not have time to head to Harrods or Selfridges, even though the later is relatively close by. One of Liberty’s most striking features is the building façade that was constructed in 1925 from the hulls of two ships, the HMS Hindustan and HMS Impregnable. The mock Tudor frontage feels like a Shakespearean stage set. The company that was founded in 1875 and is most famous for its quality an original patterned fabrics. Today the department store boasts an impressive range of designer fashion, accessories, cosmetics and perfume. Inside towards the back of the ground level you will find the likes of Frederic Malle, Comme des Garçons, Diptyque, Creed, Annick Goutal and Hermes. Here I discovered a new range by Giovanni Castelli and Antonio Zuddas called Blood Concept. Each of the four fragrances represents a blood type. Devoid of floral notes, a play on metallic accords, the eau de parfums are presented in metal containers that could be a new type of Bon Temps bar cocktail. It is a fun range but comes with a more adult price tag. Aimed at a niche audience I am not sure how thing one will fare.
Liberty & Co
210-220 Regent Street, London
London is not short of places to go perfume shopping. If you feel like a break from retail therapy try walking through one of the city’s gardens and parks that are often filled with fragrant flowers. The crisp climate paired with fragrant roses is a morning walker’s treat.