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Message in a Bottle: Grossmith, Lancôme, and Valentino


ingredients: bergamot neroli, iris (orris), jasmine, rose, patchouli, sandalwood

Long experience has taught perfume lovers to regard revivals of ancient fragrance houses with the deepest suspicion. Sometimes the house never existed in the first place (Rancé), sometimes a name has gone through so many hands that any pretense of continuity is a sad joke (Houbigant). Occasionally (Crown Perfumery) an honest effort is made, but the perfume composition firms usually devote so little time to small brands that the fragrances are hasty lash-ups or old dregs in drums rescued from a warehouse and sold to the naïve client as painstaking recreations. Which is why Grossmith deserves to do very well: these guys, astonishingly, appear to be the real thing. The firm demonstrably existed since 1835, and was successful in its day. It is now in the hands of a descendant of the founder. The revived Grossmith — was there ever a brand name less evocative of fragrant refinement? — began by re-issuing three classics from the early years of the 20th century. Reassuringly, they smell exactly as they should, i.e. solid, voluptuous, expensive and terribly old-fashioned. But you could say that of a Rubens and it wouldn’t make it any less desirable. The best one, in my view, is arguably also the least original,Shem-el-Nessim. Named after an Egyptian Spring festival, literally smell-the-breeze, it is none other than an enthusiastic copy of François Coty’s magnificent 1905 L’Origan, which begat L’Heure Bleue and countless others. Grossmith did not waste time and released Shem-el-Nessim in 1906. They are touchingly candid about this, which makes me like them even more. Bear in mind that the real L’Origan is long gone, and that the reptiles at Coty make money with fragrances named after minor celebs instead of their classic masterpieces. Given that, Grossmith becomes Plan A, particularly since everything from fragrance to bottle to packaging is of exquisite, painstaking quality. Well done.

l’origan redivius



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