I recently stepped into the SpaceNK boutique in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, just planning on browsing for a few minutes. Approaching the shelves, I spied some unfamiliar bath products; looking more closely, I let out a little shriek of delight. Toiletries named after my favorite novel, Brideshead Revisited? I could not resist. These luxury products come from a brand called Beautannia, which turns out to be one of SpaceNK's house lines. Brideshead is billed as a "quintessential English floral" with notes of "wintersweet, honeysuckle and wild bluebell."
If I had imagined a fragrance for Brideshead, the grand country estate at the heart of Evelyn Waugh's novel, during all my repeated readings (not to mention numerous viewings of the highly faithful television adaptation), what would it be? For the earlier sections of the narrative, I'd scent Charles and Sebastian's friendship with a blend of white wine, strawberries, ivy, and wisps of cigarette smoke. In a late chapter of the novel, Waugh himself evoked the smell of his fictional setting. In one scene, Charles and Julia sit and converse at the Baroque fountain in the formal garden just beyond the house. A summer shower has ended, clearing the sky in the early evening. Waugh offers this description of the moment: "...the sun had emerged; the wind had fallen to a soft breeze which gently stirred the blossom in the limes and carried its fragrance, fresh from the late rains, to merge with the sweet breath of box and the drying stone."
Beautannia's imagining of Brideshead doesn't include lime trees, boxwood, or damp stone; it's a gracious, feminine bouquet that conveys the idea of a flower garden, especially the well-cultivated sort of garden you might find on the grounds of a great English house. The Brideshead soap (above right) is a generously sized bar that produces a fine lather with a "triple-milled" effect. The matching body lotion (above left), which includes sweet almond oil, shea butter, and argan oil as well as a host of other ingredients (but no parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, silicones, etc.!), is a medium-weight formula that absorbs nicely. It's packaged in a plastic bottle with a flip-top cap; a glass bottle would have felt more luxurious, but doubtless would have been costlier and more difficult to ship from England.
In the soap and particularly in the body lotion, the Brideshead fragrance has a noticeable honeysuckle note just upon application. The rest of the scent is a mixed arrangement of spring flowers, including lilac and lily of the valley. It balances creamy and green notes; it's vibrant and lush, but still a traditional floral blend that suits Beautannia's English-heritage theme. In soap form, the Brideshead scent doesn't linger on the skin, but it does smell lovely in the shower or just sitting in a soap dish. In the body lotion, however, it lasts a considerable while. I might wear this lotion under En Passant, Annick Goutal Le Chèvrefeuille or another spring floral. If I were in the mood to wear just a light layer of fragrance, I'd apply this lotion generously and then skip perfume. (Too bad Beautannia doesn't make a matching hand cream, to take on the go!)
Lastly, the packaging for Beautannia's Brideshead line is very nicely done, with a montage of floral illustrations, bits of architectural ornament, an image of classical statuary, and a faded photo of a manor house. (I covet the matching cosmetics bag.) These items would make perfect gifts for literature- and-fragrance-loving friends. We can only imagine what Waugh, a notorious curmudgeon, would have said about this enterprise, but what he doesn't know won't hurt him, I suppose. Rule, Beautannia!
Beautannia Brideshead Soap ($18) and Body Lotion ($48) are available through the SpaceNK website. Also available: matching body oil, bath & shower gel, candle and body cream. (The Beautannia range includes two other fragrances: Bloomsbury, a blend of neroli, oud, geranium and sandalwood, and Balfour, with notes of English fern, oakmoss and vetiver.)
Note: top image is England 1 [Castle Howard, cropped], via Wikimedia Commons.