Tuesday, September 4, 2007

On the scent trail

It's a pleasant afternoon in London, which is something a tourist here should not take for granted. My dear friend Howard W. has arrived to escort me through Mayfair on our adventure. Like bloodhounds, we are on the trail of scent, but with a different task in mind than hunting foxes. Our goal: to find the most remarkable perfumeries in London's west end that still make their very own unique perfumes.

The first stop is Penhaligon's, 20A Brook Street, a perfumerie that looks like a movie set in an early Harry Potter film. In their own words "Penhaligon's is where the aristocratic luxuries of yesteryear become covetable necessities for the modern lifestyle". Their tradition of making perfume dates back to the 1870s, with the creation of one of the world's first ever citrus scents, "Blenheim Bouquet", in 1902. You can still purchase it in its original-looking glass bottle (for 55 pounds, not too much when you consider its history). Winston Churchill was one of Penhaligon's coveted customers.

From Penhaligon's, we follow our noses along to the thoroughly modern Miller Harris, situated at 21 Bruton Street. This address does little to reveal their enchanted location: just an angel's step from Berkeley Square (where the nightingale sang). Here, after spending a few moments sampling the lovely scents, we are in for a pleasant surprise. Lyn Harris, the perfumer herself (and owner) is on premises and comes up to meet us and discuss perfumes. She is a 'nose', one of the select few who have trained for years in the ancient art of composing perfumes. Of course, it's not only training, but the rare gift of talent that counts. Thoroughly modern Miller Harris does have a website, but I would strongly recommend visiting the lovely premises (and nearby Berkeley Square, of course). Lyn had never heard of our two-phase mouthwash, so Howard and I trotted down towards Picadilly to Boots (decidedly proletarian) to pick her up a bottle of Dentyl pH (her breath was pristine, in case you're wondering).
We then sat ourselves doon in Berkeley Square and had spicy corn soup procured from "Pret a manger".This was not our first choice. I would have much preferred their delicious mushroom soup, but it is only offered on certain days, and we were out of luck. The good thing about bad soup is that you do get used to it about halfway through. And we did.
In order to "zero" our palette, we then scurried over to the lovely Chocolate Society (32-34 Shepherd Market), a real chocolate shop which makes its own chocolate everything. My own favourite is their chocolate-filled (and covered) prunes, which are pricey at 1.75 pounds, but highly memorable. After hot chocolate and some lovely chocolate pastry, the soup was a distant memory.
And then back to our tour. The third, and final, call on the scent trail, is the famed aristocratic "Floris", of 89 Jermyn Street (pronounced 'German', which is ironic considering all the damage the Germans inflicted on Mayfair back in WWII). Here again we were lucky enough to meet their new perfumer, Shelagh (the Welsh form of 'Sheila'), who explained that Floris is still owned by the family that established it nine generations ago. Shelagh even let us sample some of her recent creations. By the way, as with Miller Harris, one can order one's own "bespoke perfume", just as lords and ladies did hundreds of years ago. This entails the creation of a unique perfume for an individual customer based on his/her memories, personality and preference. This process can take about half a year, and runs about 2,500 pounds. Pricey, but you do get your own distinctive perfume in the end, and don't have to fret about smelling it on others.
Soon, we will be offering all kinds of expertise on everything that smells (perfumes, deodorants, bad breath, personal care products, etc.), on our website, smellwell.com, which is now under reconstruction. So please be nosey...
Thank you Howard W. for this breathtaking visit to your fine scented city!