A Fragrant Tour of London
“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson
Over two centuries later, the inestimable Dr. Johnson’s observation still holds true. After recently spending a week in London, I was unwilling to leave the great metropolis upon realizing that once again, I had run out of time and failed to explore all that London has to afford. I did, however, expend considerable effort in sniffing out the latest and greatest at London’s top perfumeries. Being an unabashed olfactory snob, I disdain the ordinary and continually seek out the most singular and scintillating scents around the world and the perfumeries of London, I am happy to report, did not disappoint.
After spending my first morning at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where my eyes were dazzled by Alexander McQueen, I decided that it was time to calibrate the old proboscis at Penhaligon’s. One of London’s oldest perfumeries, it was founded in the 1870 by William Penhaligon, a Cornish barber whose career culminated in his appointment as court barber and perfumer to Queen Victoria.
I was eager to try the latest scent: Halfeti, which is part of Penhaligon’s exotic Trade Routes Collection. This spicy floral is named for the Turkish town of Halfeti, where rare black roses grow on the banks of the Euphrates. The blend of fruit notes, deep dark rose and wood and leather base notes is mesmerizing. Halfeti is not yet available in the U.S., so I suggest picking up a bottle (or two) on your next trip across the pond.
I also recommend two fragrances composed by master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour: Vaara, an intoxicating blend of rosewater, carrot seeds, quince and saffron, and Ostara, a brilliant spring scent that’s redolent of daffodil, hyacinth and narcissus.
The following day, after enjoying an invigorating canter on horseback down Rotten Row in Hyde Park, I proceeded to trot down (on my own two feet) to London’s oldest niche perfumery, Les Senteurs, located in the heart of Belgravia. Assisted by a highly knowledgeable and personable sales associate, I was able to leisurely peruse the various hard-to-find niche brands that lined the shelves.
My nose was blown away by the strikingly original and beautiful fragrances from the Galway-based brand Cloon and Keen Atelier:
Sybarite, as its name implies, is a scent that exudes luxury and sensuality. The head notes of incense and bergamot precede the creamy heart notes of jasmine, rose and sandalwood. This is one of the best sandalwood notes I’ve ever experienced in a perfume — don’t miss this if you love this type of scent.
Bataille de Fleurs, inspired by the legendary Festival of Flowers procession that has taken place in Nice each year since 1876. This fresh floral combines mimosa, jasmine and citrus and green notes — I could detect a hint of bergamot. Cloon and Keen’s fragrances are highly naturalistic and have an evocative quality to them that’s truly unique.
Earlier that day, during a walk through Regent’s Park celebrated rose garden, I inhaled the delicate fragrance of the roses and wondered if anyone could ever fully capture their ethereal, powdery and slightly fruity freshness in a perfume. At Les Senteurs, I discovered A La Rose by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, a scent that captures, with astonishing verisimilitude, the elusive beauty of the rose.
Avery Fine Perfumery
Further olfaction awaited me at Avery Fine Perfumery in Mayfair. Established in 2010 by Italian duo Celso Fadelli and Cristiano Seganfreddo, the space showcases avant-garde perfume alongside beautiful and rare objets d’art.
Here, I focused on citrus-oriented scents, in hopes of finding something light and summery. Some of the best in this fragrance family:
Barcelona-based perfume house Santa Eulalia’s Citric, a subtle yet bracing burst of lemon, verbena, green mandarin and cardamom.
Agonist Solaris, I was instantly smitten by this warm and vibrant citrus fragrance that seamlessly combines top notes of pink grapefruit, black currant, heart notes of peach, galbanum and ginger with base notes of amber, tonka bean and patchouli.
My olfactory exploration took me next to Bloom Perfumery, purveyor of exclusive niche fragrances from various international perfume houses. One of my happiest discoveries was the up and coming fragrance house of Paul Emilien, whose poetic and naturalistic scents are sold exclusively at Bloom.
My quest for a good spring/summer scent came to an end when I sampled Une Belle Journée by Paul Emilien. While I like fresh floral and citrus notes in a perfume (especially in hotter weather), I never tire of the pungency of leather and piquant spice notes. Une Belle Journée, a delicate verdant floral, combines these elements with translucent citrus top notes, heart notes of violet and rose underscored with base notes of leather and indolic jasmine.
Also worth sampling is the preternaturally gifted and prolific perfumer Pierre Guillaume’s Collection Croisière latest fragrance,Mojito Chypre, a playful modern take on the classic chypre. I can’t think of a better summer combination — Guillaume layers the scents of a mojito and a strawberry margarita—sparkling lime, mint and strawberry aldehyde over a traditional chypre base of patchouli, oak moss, labdanum and vanilla. This is the perfect scent for those who want a lively, fruity summer scent that’s not too sweet and cloying.