Scent of a na­tion A new crop of home fra­grances are bring­ing Bri­tain’s blooms back into the spot­light

Bri­tain’s wild­flow­ers and herbs are at the heart of our fra­grance tra­di­tion, and a new crop of home scents from high-end brands is bring­ing them back into the spot­light

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - News - Words AMY BRAD­FORD Il­lus­tra­tions MAR­I­ANA RODRIGUES


James Craven, fra­grance ar­chiv­ist at Lon­don bou­tique Les Sen­teurs, is pon­der­ing what the con­cept of a ‘Bri­tish scent’ might mean. ‘Bri­tain doesn’t re­ally scream per­fume,’ he re­flects, ‘ be­cause many peo­ple as­so­ciate scent with the ex­otic. It makes more sense for home fra­grance, I think. The smell of the sea. Moors and moun­tains. Mead­ows, cricket pitches…’ Our tra­di­tion­ally cool, rainy cli­mate, he adds, means that we have rel­a­tively few crops suit­able for use in fra­grance; the yield of oil is too small and too un­re­li­able. What we do have, ar­gues Sarah Rotheram, CEO of Bri­tish per­fumer Miller Har­ris, is a wealth of wild plants that dif­fuse scent in a nat­u­ral way. ‘Hon­ey­suckle, privet and cow pars­ley all have scents that carry on the air,’ she says. ‘There are also evoca­tive smells, such as woodsmoke and black­cur­rant bushes, in our gar­dens. That’s why Miller Har­ris home fra­grances are all about the idea of open­ing your win­dows and bring­ing aro­mas in­doors.’

Wild scents, rather than fine per­fumes à la Française, have long de­fined Bri­tain’s ol­fac­tory land­scape. Con­sider Shake­speare’s end­less ref­er­ences to coun­try blooms – ‘daisies pied and vi­o­lets blue’, ‘ lus­cious wood­bine’ and ‘pale prim­roses’ – or Wil­liam Mor­ris’s cel­e­bra­tion of marigold, mead­owsweet and hon­ey­suckle. Fa­mil­iar from our na­tional art and po­etry, such plants are en­shrined in our col­lec­tive mem­ory, some­thing that’s hugely im­por­tant in our ex­pe­ri­ence of scent. ‘For cen­turies, many Bri­tish homes would have had a “still room” where the fam­ily made medicines, can­dles and per­fumed wa­ters,’ notes Craven. ‘All would be made from oils dis­tilled from the gar­den or found in the fields, such as sage, rose­mary, thyme and va­le­rian.’ Thanks to the glut of in­dus­tri­ally made, ar­ti­fi­cially scented goods on sale to­day, we’ve lost touch with th­ese old-world in­gre­di­ents. ➤


New Bri­tish per­fume la­bel Parterre aims to change that with its botan­i­cal gar­den at Keyne­ston Mill, Dorset, where gar­den­ers are re­viv­ing his­toric va­ri­eties of herbs, such as camomile and yarrow. Vis­i­tors are en­tranced, says co-founder Ju­lia Bridger. ‘Peo­ple are ea­ger to learn how the plants are grown and dis­tilled; we en­cour­age touch­ing and sniff­ing.’

An in­ter­est in nat­u­ral, lo­cally sourced botanicals like th­ese is grow­ing – as per­fumer Roja Dove says, they are ‘the olfactive equiv­a­lent of the farm-to-ta­ble move­ment’. And though many raw ma­te­ri­als con­tinue to be sourced abroad, the num­ber of Bri­tish-in­spired scents is also on the rise. Dove has just re­launched his col­lec­tion of sin­gle-note scented can­dles to re­flect the prove­nance of each in­gre­di­ent; ‘Blue­bell of Eng­land’ (£95; ro­ is a nos­tal­gic trib­ute to the blue­bell woods near his grand­par­ents’ home. Else­where, Jo Malone Lon­don has un­veiled the ‘Hon­ey­suckle & Da­vana’ can­dle (£45; jo­ma­ ‘Hon­ey­suckle is a quintessen­tially English flower, but it doesn’t ex­ist nat­u­rally in per­fumery,’ says Ce­line Roux, the brand’s head of fra­grance de­vel­op­ment. To recre­ate its aroma in the most au­then­tic way pos­si­ble, per­fumer Anne Flipo used headspace tech­nol­ogy, a process that cap­tures smells in the air around a plant. It was the flower’s wild­ness that ap­pealed most – ‘It’s a happy scent that sur­prises you as you’re out walk­ing,’ says Roux.

Even the hum­blest of Bri­tish flow­ers can be cap­ti­vat­ing. Per­fumer H’s ‘Dan­de­lion’ can­dle (£110; per­ is a best­seller. ‘Peo­ple from all over the world buy it be­cause it re­minds them of ➤

wet green mead­ows and wild­flow­ers in spring,’ says founder Lyn Har­ris, whose brand re­flects her own love of the rugged Bri­tish coun­try­side and the chang­ing sea­sons. Other notes in Per­fumer H’s col­lec­tion in­clude ivy, sweet pea, moss, pine and oak.

Wild­flow­ers are heav­enly in the sum­mer months, but in cooler weather, we in­stinc­tively turn to­wards green, woody scents – those of the ‘moors and moun­tains’ de­scribed by James Craven. For the com­ing au­tumn, Miller Har­ris has launched the new ‘Moss­ket’ room dif­fuser (£85; miller­har­, which Rotheram says ‘evokes the scent of a for­est floor’; it’s the re­sult of an 18-month for­ag­ing project. Mean­while, Lon­don can­dle­maker Charles Far­ris has in­tro­duced the ‘Bri­tish Ex­pe­di­tion’ and ‘Pine­tum’ can­dles (£34 each; charles­far­, which fea­ture mint tea and pine nee­dle notes. The for­mer is in­spired by Vic­to­rian Lon­don, says per­fumer Tim Dug­ganRees, but con­jures the ‘ad­ven­tur­ous spirit’ of the Em­pire era.

It’s in­ter­est­ing that green, mossy aro­mas also ap­peal to brands be­yond our shores – no­tably in France, where they were dubbed fougère (fern) scents in the 19th cen­tury. Parisian can­dle­maker Cire Trudon ex­plores the genre in its ‘Balmoral’ can­dle (£70;, which evokes the damp ferns that grow in the Royal Fam­ily’s Aberdeen­shire es­tate, while phar­macy Buly 1803 of­fers lo­tions per­fumed with Scot­tish lichen and moss (from £46; If French haute par­fumeries are re­dis­cov­er­ing our na­tion’s per­fume her­itage, surely we should be do­ing the same.

‘Moss­ket’ room dif­fuser, £85, Miller Har­ris (miller­har­

‘Dan­de­lion’ can­dle, £110, Per­fumer H ( per­

‘Pine­tum’ can­dle, £34, Charles Far­ris (charles­far­

‘Root Of All Good­ness’ eau de par­fum, £95, Parterre ( parter­reat keyne­ston­

‘Balmoral’ can­dle, £70, Cire Trudon (

‘Hon­ey­suckle & Da­vana’ can­dle,£45, Jo Malone Lon­don ( jo­ma­

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