In the early Spring of 1799, James Atkinson, an enterprising young gentleman from the wilds of Cumberland, set forth by carriage for the glorious city of London. In his suit pocket were recipes for fine scents and toiletries of his own devising. Next to him sat a sizable quantity of rose-scented bear grease balm. Next to the balm sat a growl-y bear. The growl-y bear was thoroughly devoted to James. Within mere days the utterly fantastic balm became indispensable to London's most uppity crust, who braved the bear at the door of 44 Gerrard Street ("that marvellous perfume shop with the most terrifying bear") to procure sufficient stock for the Social Season.
After a most delightful hibernation, Atkinsons and its growl-y bear have awoken from their slumber totally refreshed and revived. Drawing on 200 years of English eccentricity, style and impeccable manners, not to mention an incomparable heritage and imperishable commitment to making the highest echelons of society as fragrant and delectable as humanly possible, we are now ready to usher in a new century of perfume snobbery. How? By means of our newest collections, our boldest and most irresistible to date. "True style," as Beau Brummel once said, "never goes out of fashion. You simply cannot keep a good bear down.1
I can do without snobbery and the highest echelons of society, but I do love an animal story (whether it's true or not).
Since we're in high-summer mode, I thought I'd grab a couple of "bouquets" to review this week.
The British Bouquet
Perfumer Benoist Lapouza; listed notes of bitter orange, caviar lemon, lavender, myrtle, malt, leather
The British Bouquet goes on smelling of, no, not flowers, but medicine: rubbing alcohol, (high-end) antibacterial wipes, and an orange-flavored "pill" scent that reminds me of Bayer Children's Chewable Aspirin; these head notes quickly become watery, light and airy and are almost undetectable within a few minutes. Then, in mid-development, British Bouquet revs up and turns sweet, with none of the realistic scents of a garden bouquet, British or otherwise; all its notes are "perfume-y" and blended in such a way that I can't tell lavender from myrtle, bitter orange from lemon. I am able to detect a leather scent in the base, but only if I put nose to skin (the leather aroma disappears quickly). As it dries down, The British Bouquet becomes even blander — a too-eager-to-please, mid-market, "department store" floral fragrance; it has so-so sillage and its lasting power is average. The British Bouquet smells decidedly feminine to my nose.
The Odd Fellow's Bouquet
Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin; listed notes of heliotrope, tobacco, ginger, pepper, labdanum and benzoin
I grabbed my next "bouquet" with more hope: how to go wrong with heliotrope, tobacco, labdanum? Well, The Odd Fellow's Bouquet is not odd at all, no eccentricity or "bear in a suit" here. The Odd Fellow's Bouquet is sheer and its notes indistinct (though a rather "abstract", i.e. "artificial," heliotrope-pepper accord is the opener). There's a rough, jarring moment or two as heliotrope segues to tobacco (the bridge between these facets smells minty and then sours...ginger?...or just an unfortunate confluence?) Odd Fellow's Bouquet's tobacco is a bit floral and verges on the powdery. The Odd Fellow's Bouquet does not amplify its discordant features to make a truly "odd" scent, but presents its notes in a hushed/subdued fashion.The Odd Fellow's Bouquet has mediocre sillage and lasting power. (To me, Pellegrin did a much nicer job with tobacco in his Diptyque Volutes perfume.)
The longer you wear them, the more The British Bouquet and The Odd Fellow's Bouquet smell alike; they both wear down to sweet, banal white musk aromas. Frankly, I find the price ($175) of these two perfumes shocking; they don't smell "top notch."
After wearing these fragrances for a couple of days, my interest went back to Mr Atkinson's bear. Was the bear a he or a she? Did s/he have a name? Did the bear even exist or was it a marketing fantasy, like the claims these perfumes are bold, stylish and irresistible?
Since I've only tried two Atkinsons fragrances, I'm curious if any readers have a favorite from the line...or if one of these perfumes that left me icy cold is beloved by someone. Do comment!
Atkinsons The British Bouquet and The Odd Fellow's Bouquet are available in 100 ml Eau de Toilette, £95 or $175. For buying information, see the listing for Atkinsons under Perfume Houses.
1. Via Atkinsons 1799.