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
BRITISH PLANTS ARE ENSHRINED IN OUR COLLECTIVE MEMORY, SOMETHING THAT’S HUGELY IMPORTANT IN OUR EXPERIENCE OF SCENT
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. ➤
‘LOCALLY SOURCED BOTANICALS ARE THE OLFACTIVE EQUIVALENT OF THE FARM-TO-TABLE MOVEMENT’
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; rojadove.com) is a nostalgic tribute to the bluebell woods near his grandparents’ home. Elsewhere, Jo Malone London has unveiled the ‘Honeysuckle & Davana’ candle (£45; jomalone.co.uk). ‘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; perfumerh.com) 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; millerharris.com), 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; charlesfarris.com), 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; trudon.com), 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; buly1803.com). If French haute parfumeries are rediscovering our nation’s perfume heritage, surely we should be doing the same.
‘Mossket’ room diffuser, £85, Miller Harris (millerharris.com)
‘Dandelion’ candle, £110, Perfumer H ( perfumerh.com)
‘Pinetum’ candle, £34, Charles Farris (charlesfarris.com)
‘Root Of All Goodness’ eau de parfum, £95, Parterre ( parterreat keynestonmill.com)
‘Balmoral’ candle, £70, Cire Trudon (trudon.com)
‘Honeysuckle & Davana’ candle,£45, Jo Malone London ( jomalone.co.uk)