Britain’s fragrance industry has come a long way since the late 18th century when James Atkinson was charming London’s high society with rose-scented hair pomade made from bear grease. It would take some time for France to recover from the French Revolution, and eventually it did, but during this time, Britain led the world’s production of luxury goods. For the next 200 years, Britain’s success stories came from names such as Atkinsons, Floris, Grossmith, Penhaligon’s and Yardley. Into the 21st century, the popularity of niche fragrance grew rapidly and a new generation of industry leaders emerged, which included Jo Malone, Ormonde Jayne and Miller Harris. Amongst these British brands, tradition has often been a common value and men’s fragrances might contain visual and olfactory references to Britain’s tradition of producing fine grooming products and its excellence in tailoring.
Czech & Speake is another brand that encapsulates what it is to be British and well groomed. Founded in 1978 by British product and interior designer Frank Sawkins, Czech & Speake is an understated lifestyle brand, which specialises in men’s grooming products and accessories. The brand is also known for its luxurious bathroom fittings. Czech & Speake’s flagship store is cleverly positioned in Belgravia, one of London’s most expensive residential areas. From Cubist-inspired bathroom fixtures to Edwardian-inspired vanity units, the shop floor is an interior designer’s dream filled with polished chrome and mahogany wood. The current tally of Czech & Speake’s fragrances is eleven and a full range of grooming products is offered as well as grooming equipment from shaving hardware to manicure travel sets. The Belgravia store is not far from Czech & Speake’s initial address in Jermyn Street, London’s historic home of men’s style. The store was originally across the road from Sawkin’s design studio at no. 88. The studio address became the name of Czech & Speake’s first and most well known cologne, which launched in 1981.
No. 88 is a classic British cologne through and through and it echoes the surrounds in which it was created. Like Savile Row, Jermyn Street is famous for its bespoke men’s tailoring. The street and its surrounding area have been home to some of London’s most trusted grooming brands for men; Geo. F. Trumper, Floris and Czech & Speake all have histories here. No. 88 smells like a barbershop cologne worn by the impeccably dressed Englishmen who walk these streets through London’s aristocratic West End.
No 88 is a tried and tested structure that moves progressively from light citrus to spicy floral before finishing with woods. It’s simple. It’s balanced. The top note is bergamot, which is sparkling and crisp. Frangipani and rose are warmed with spicy cinnamon notes and geranium leaves connect the top with the bottom to create barbershop-fresh harmonies. British brands have a particular sensibility when it comes to rose notes in fragrance. It’s a far less sensual expression compared to the popular rose notes of today. Rose notes in English fragrances are typically inspired by tea roses, which smell dewy, fresh and probably a bit like nanna’s talc-covered vanity drawers. This aspect of the flower is well hidden in No. 88 but its presence does bring about a poetic sense of timelessness and charm. Vetiver opens the base before No 88’s sandalwood accord becomes dominant. The sandalwood note is indicative of the era in which it was created. It’s powerful, it beats its chest, it’s an exotic woody character that takes you out of the West End, whisking you away to a distant postcard location.
No. 88 was created before niche fragrance became a trend and it bypasses all of the ego that often comes with being niche. There is no convoluted story; it’s simply a fragrance designed to make men smell good. No. 88 pairs well with men who have an affinity for the refined world of Czech & Speake. The peaking hipster trend would have also increased No. 88’s fan base. Whether your daily attire is a three-piece Savile Row suit and Oxfords or Japanese selvedge denim and an organic white cotton tee, No. 88 inspires thoughts of a quieter world, before the internet and mobile phones, when a peaceful visit to the barber for a wet shave and reading the morning paper was a weekly routine, not a luxury or an exercise in mindfulness.
Creative Direction: Frank Sawkins
Release Date: 1981
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woods
Australian stockist: Men’s Biz