So here we proudly present the classic men’s grooming houses that have created so many wonderful fragrances over the last 200 plus years.
Floris, aside from having one of the most enviably beautiful shopfronts in the world on Jermyn Street, is one of the oldest fragrance houses, established in 1730 – well before the French and American revolutions began to make powdered and puffed socially elite Londoners feel uneasy about themselves.
Although it could easily have done so, Floris has not sold out and become a manufacturer of generic fragrance at unattainable luxury price points. Floris is one of the few places in London where you can get a bespoke fragrance crafted to your specification by Floris’ perfumer, with your initials engraved on the bottle.
At £4,500 it is extraordinarily expensive, but then it does take 6 months, 3 consultations and you get 5 repeats of 100ml at eau de parfum strength. As well as a scent that no one else has – and no one else can buy.
A little closer to being affordable, ‘Limes’, one of the oldest fragrances they continue to produce (created before Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1832), is, unsurprisingly, citrus-focused.
With a musk base, middle notes of the somewhat feminine lily of the valley, fresh lime blossom and the elegant neroli and rounding off with lemon and petitgrain, it has that ‘gentleman’s toilette’ freshness and cleanness so common in older fragrances.
You’ll feel like you’ve just stepped out of a hot shower all day long. The simplicity of this kind of fragrance is its elegance; it doesn’t try and do too many things. Best paired with a clean white shirt, grey flannel suit and a sunny afternoon, this is an everyday, everyman James Bond of a scent.
Like any 19th barber worth his salt, George Trumper splashed his willing clients with scents of his own creation after they had availed themselves of a shave.
The original store is on Curzon Street in Mayfair, not a million miles from Floris, although a branch has been established on Duke of York Street, between Jermyn and St James’s Square.
Late Victorian colognes like ‘Astor’, ‘Curzon’, ‘Marlborough’ and ‘Wellington’ have similar constructions.
With the likes of fresh bergamot, lemon and rosemary forming the basis of clean, simple and pure fragrances which – like Floris’ limes – they recall the traditional atmosphere which pervades the entire neighbourhood of St James’s.
‘Eucris’ stands out with a complex base of musk, oakmoss and sandalwood, graceful jasmine and lily of the valley in the middle with a spicy box of tricks at the top of blackcurrant, caraway and coriander.
Created in 1912, it possesses that post-Victorian, Art Nouveau hothouse exoticism which is even represented in the opaque black bottle with a floral design that could have been inspired by William Morris.
Unlike Trumper’s more straight-laced concoctions named for military heroes or wealthy patrons, there’s something more degenerate about Eucris.
It’s like a purple velvet chaise longue, an exuberant buttonhole or a caddish man-about-town treating dancing showgirls to buckets of champagne. Ideal for a debauched evening in black tie.
Truefitt & Hill
From Jermyn Street, we take a jaunt down St James Street, past the venerable clubs of Brook’s and Boodle’s, to another barber, Truefitt & Hill. Founded in 1805, when Beau Brummell was holding court in London’s elite clubs, persuading members out of frock coats and stockings into riding tailcoats and trousers.
Truefitt opened in a new age of male cleanliness and hygiene. Their first fragrance – suitably named 1805 – is floral and herbal, although has been significantly rehashed since inception.
‘Spanish Leather’ is the second oldest fragrance made by Truefitt & Hill, created in 1814 it also ranks as one of the more complex.
With a heavy base that includes powerhouse ingredients like incense, cedar, sandalwood and tonka bean, it rises through hints of rose, iris and patchouli with top notes of orange and bergamot.
It is less ‘leathery’ than its name implies, so don’t go expecting an antique armchair – for this, seek out Trumper’s own (also called ‘Spanish Leather’, it has more of the ‘old church pew’ scent to it).
Truefitt & Hill’s version is a wild beast barely tamed; a swarthy but literate buccaneer who is the terror of the ladies and who makes boorish whooping noises in the coaching inns – a kind of Regency Ernest Hemingway. This scent could down even the least coquettish date at fifty paces.
From the bottom of St James’s Street, we must ascend to the Burlington Arcade off Piccadilly, and the house of William Penhaligon, another barber, who originally established his shop in the mid-19th century, next to a hammam on Jermyn Street.
Unlike Truefitt, Trumper and Floris, Penhaligon’s has ‘gone global’ – with stores in New York, Paris Hong Kong and Singapore. However, it still qualifies as a St James’s establishment having held sites in Jermyn, St James’s Street itself and Bury Street, until moving to Covent Garden in the 1970s.
The standout heritage fragrance from Penhaligon’s is the mighty Blenheim Bouquet, created for the Duke of Marlborough – owner of the stupendous Bleinheim Palace – in 1902.
Though more well-known than the other fragrances recommended, it is nevertheless an assuredly old-fashioned and elegant scent; unmistakably aristocratic and possessing the clean-cut finesse of a bone-dry gin martini.
Famously worn by Winston Churchill, it powers in with pine, limes and lemon, leaving subtle black pepper and lavender to develop later.
While at the start someone may comment that you smell like a citronella candle, the anti-mosquito effect wears off and breaks out into a formal Oxfordshire garden, just after the rain has stopped and the sun broken through the clouds. This is the scent to wear on your spring wedding day. ML