Have you ever seen the episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy gets a job in a candy factory? The candy rolls off the assembly line so fast she can't package it. She ends up covered in chocolate and out of a job. These days, trying to stay on top of perfume launches is like working at Lucy's candy factory. As is also true at the factory, so many of the fragrances are the same. This candy tester is happy to report the new Grossmith line stands apart. They're different not so much because they're wildly compelling, but because they smell of a different time.
Grossmith, an English perfume house, first opened its doors in 1835 and closed sometime in the early 20th century. The great grandson of its founder revived the house this year with the help of Roja Dove from Harrod's Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie. Grossmith has released three of its original fragrances. Despite the perfume house's name, which sounds like it could front canned peas, each fragrance's name is exotic: Phul-Nana, Shel-el-Nessim, and Hasu-no-Hana.
Phul-Nana, which Grossmith's website says is Hindi for ‘lovely flower’, has notes of bergamot, orange, neroli, geranium, tuberose, ylang ylang, patchouli, benzoin, cedar, sandalwood, opoponax, tonka bean, and vanilla. Grossmith says Phul-Nana, created in 1891, "paved the way for 'oriental' fragrances to follow." To me it smells like an earthy, ambery fougère. Most of the rest of the notes are lost on me. It's fresh and heavy at the same time. Although Grossmith lists it as a feminine fragrance, men could wear it easily.
Shem-el-Nessim, created in 1906, is Arabic for "smelling the breeze," and has notes of bergamot, neroli, geranium, jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, orris, musk, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, heliotrope, and vanilla. Grossmith makes a big deal about the expensive Florentine orris in Shem-el-Nessim, and it is sweet and creamy here rather than vegetal. Shem-el-Nessim, to me, starts out smelling like the stems of wet spring flowers — flowers from old Flemish paintings, then transitions into sandalwood mixed with the vanilla-like smell of heliotrope.
Hasu-no-Hana, "the scent of the Japanese Lotus Lily," was created in 1888. It has notes of bergamot, bitter orange, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, iris, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, cedar, sandalwood, and tonka bean. Hasu-no-Hana smells to me like a spicy floral with a hint of cedar, and I'm surprised not to see carnation or clove listed among its notes. Of the three scents, this one is the warmest. It's also the one that smells most to me like something you might mix up at your local bath shop.
Grossmith says that each of the fragrances was recreated with as much fidelity as possible, given current fragrance regulations and the availability of materials. It tells. These perfumes smell old fashioned: dense and contracted, rather than expansive and bright. They smell expensive, but almost as if someone were playing with rare essential oils rather than with the magic chemicals perfumers use now.
For a visual comparison, the Grossmith fragrances each smell like an oil painting darkened by age. If you rub its surface with a soft cloth you see that one of them is a springtime landscape, and another is of a lady's boudoir, but at a distance they are similar. Modern perfumes, on the other hand, can feel as distinct as an Ansel Adams photograph or an Andy Warhol portrait.
All of the Grossmith fragrances have moderate to low sillage, and they last for a solid eight hours. According to Grossmith's press release, Phul-Nana, Shem-el-Nessim and Hasu-no-Hana are available in 50 or 100 ml Eau de Parfum (£95-185, a coffret of all three in 50 ml is £310) or in 10 or 100 ml Parfum ( £110-425, a coffret of all 3 in 10 ml is £365), or in 85 ml Parfum in a limited edition Baccarat bottle etched with pure gold. For buying information, see the listing for Grossmith under Perfume Houses.