March 20, 2010

English Spring Perfume

I have an ingrained mental connection between the feel and scent of the first Spring days and a personal idealized version of England, and its iconic scents and perfumes. My immersion into English literature over time, and the influence of English fashion and music in the sixties and beyond, has linked the idea of the beginnings, of Spring, with what it seems like Spring is "supposed" to be. In my and many other minds true Spring is Spring in England. I’m thinking of those fields of bluebells and tangled English gardens and paintings of streams flowing through woods with maidens floating surrounded by tiny fallen leaves on deep blue clear spring waters. There’s that appealing Celtic love of wildness combined with an equally strong love of coziness and cups of fragrant tea and sprigged muslin and subtle scents of youth and cleanliness. There is the reverence for careful polish and grooming and tailoring and formality, branching out into the rituals of men riding to the hunt in the rain. These qualities are well expressed in English perfumes.

It seems like the English prefer a traditional style of fragrance that grows out of a love and nostalgia for the countryside. I see a strong preference for woods and fields over the city life, and innocence and purity over sophistication and artfulness. I see a love of lyrical simplicity that doesn’t care much for ornamentation and artifice. English perfumes can often seem to reflect and express a certain moral character, of identifying wholesomeness, honesty, directness and health as beauty. Perhaps they link many English ladies to childhood memories and scents of the English garden or country home or the woods and fields, which are practically national symbols of happiness.

Established English “houses” such as Creed, Penhaligon's, Floris and now more recently Ormonde Jayne and Boadicea produce fragrances that connect to nature through subtle recreations of ferns, flowers, and herbs for ladies, or sometimes memories of a colonial past in India with sandalwood and references to leather and fine whiskey and tobacco as signifiers of gentlemanly masculinity. They seem to forswear the developmental idea of perfume and mostly start out as they mean to go on. Their public often shows a preference for the scent to remain the same from start to finish.

English men are arguably more famous for their fashion sense than the women, and the English Leather and men’s classic old formula cologne link in to a huge range of literary and visual and sensory references, embedded deeply even in American culture. After all, the early days of this country were so entwined with the British in every way.

I love many of the oldest formula Creed scents. Their clarity is uplifting and energizing. Many are like personal links to certain famous people of the past. They are like material embodiments of single discrete aspects of personality and fashion rather than a combination of many moods, as might be said of the French tradition in perfume. There is indeed something very nice about knowing that Cary Grant liked to wear Green Irish Tweed, and then wearing it yourself, and that the Empress Eugenie had a commissioned Creed fragrance that is still in production today, still accessible. There is that British respect for aristocracy and heritage that makes for part of the enjoyment of the perfume in their knowing it has held the Royal endorsement seal for ages.

Penhaglion’s odes to wildflowers and classics have a certain modernity too in that they are simple and clean and keep alive that Regency-ethos link to a swinging sixties London and the modern capital of eccentric and creative fashion that London has become today.

I tried three of the Boadicea The Victorious scents in sample form from Luckyscent, and find them as clarifying and bracing and focused as the scents of traditional houses of Creed and Penhaligon's and Floris, except the conceptual focus is on heroic personal qualities instead of named natural materials. I have Vibrant, Invigorating and Complex. I see this as part of the English tradition of striving for personal development into a lady or gentleman in the best sense of those words, thereby attaining beauty, power and attraction as a natural consequence. There is more of a developmental unfolding and a noticeable base, but they keep throughout that bracing air of the deep woods in Spring, the sap rising from the wet earth. There are notes of tobacco and vanilla in the base that connect to the wider world of scent references. I like that there are so many in the line and I aim to try several more soon. They are eminently wearable daytime fragrances, making a luxurious accompaniment to the ideal active, varied life.

In Ormonde Jayne I find more focus on the luxury and exoticism of travel to former colonial outposts such as India and the Middle East, and the Richard Burton explorer experience of letting your hair down for awhile with the encouragement of another culture that did not directly experience the influence of Victoria. Still it's filtered through the gentleness of a confident security and contemplative atmosphere in a cozy home base of careful English domesticity. Obviously I am being personally opinionated here, and perhaps this says more about me than about these perfumes, but I find that much weight is in the psychological and historical aspects of the English style of perfumery. These qualities affect and direct the creation of perfumes as much as the materials chosen to the taste of the particular culture. There's a lot to explore in English fragrance these days, and it seems to be moving into a renaissance that converges with a renewal of English fashion and culture.

1 comment:

chayaruchama said...

How evocative !

Idealized, to be sure, and charming in the extreme ...

I love soapy English Fern, Blenheim Bouquet,Buebell, etc.

Re: English beauties-
I find Miller Harris also captures a certain aesthetic; I'm mad beyond reason, for their Fleur de Bois, Geranium Bourbon,Fleur de Matin, and even their much-maligned Coeur de Fleur [ladylike sweet pea, pure garden bouquet]...

Each evokes a distinct image pertinent to your musings [ her myriad 'other' scents I adore, but don't fall into an "English mode"].

Yu want I should decant some for your delectation, when we get to'press flesh' soon ?