31 marzo 2011
The Grossmith saga
Between the last years of the XIX century and the first ones of the twentieth, Europe fell in love with the concept of “Far East”: Europeans travelled the seven seas onboard steamboats and enjoyed reporting their experiences; also perfumery got “oriental” ("The Queen of Egypt","El Ghali, "the Scent of Mecca" were a few names), and Grossmith started to produce perfumes with unpronounceable names, like "Tsang-Ihang” and "Phul-Nana” whose subtitles "The sweet perfume of Tibet" and "Indian Bouquet” clearly hinted at the Country inspiring the scent.
I’d give something to be able to live one day during early ‘900...
Grossmith remained a successful company until the period between the two wars, and was awarded a number of Royal Warrants (a recognition for companies serving the Royal Family for at least 5 years), even from Greek and Spanish Kingdoms. During the Great Depression, when raw materials were scarcely available, Grossmith produced perfumes with what he could find on the market and even if quality was undoubtedly less than excellent, it seems that their "White Fire" was a real success, especially in Germany.
Subsequently, the company changed management and lost most of its success, in the 50’s the only scent still in production was "Phul- Nana". In 1970 the company changed also ownership, and in 1980 it closed down.
Mr. and Mrs. Brooke, whom I met at Campomarzio70 (Rome) are an extremely polite English couple near retirement age with two daughters (one of which did backing vocals at Lou Reed concerts, an unrelated fact I was glad to tell you all the same), and none in the family had ever shown particular attention towards perfumery. They had no idea their ancestors created historical scents of great renown (I found them listed and photographed in at least two of my reference books), also because the "scented" branch was on the other side of the family tree, and indeed their surname is Brooke, not Grossmith.
They found out the whole thing simply because they did a search on the web to reconstruct their family tree... so not only a family history of great charm jumped out, but also a cousin, showing them a lot of interesting things:
- Medals won by J. Grossmith at various Exhibitions,
- Royal Warrants,
- 400 formulas for perfumes, soaps and other toiletry goods
- The list of suppliers
- Samples and whole bottles still sealed and with their original packaging.
At that point there were completely inside it and didn’t want to let go, so finally in 2007 they bough the name again. Then they showed Roja Dove their formulas and asked him if they could do something with those. He suggested them to apply to Robertet to have their scents analyzed with GC and then reassemble formulas (Robertet is a Grasse-based company specialising in raw materials for perfumery, with a strong focus on naturals). But the first tests didn’t work, they were significantly different from the originals. Roja advised them to ask Robertet for the best quality and most expensive of each ingredient in the formula "It wasn’t about money at all, it was family pride, you see" they told me, and I understood them perfectly.
In any case, Mr. Brooke didn’t own enough resources to estabilish a significant production: formulas are simply too expensive and at the beginning they were at loss.
Moreover, he discovered that Baccarat was the supplier of some of the most refined old bottles so he insisted on using their old molds to have a new stock (thus, the limited edition in the picture above is numbered and engraved in gold).
Grossmith scents were launched in London in 2009, the three they decided to produce are: the chypre “Hasu-No-Hana" (The scent of Japanese lotus), the floral "Phul-Nana" (Delicious Flower in Hindi) and the superb orris "Shem- El-Nessim” (Sniffing the breeze). I smelled them all and I must say one perfectly gets the historical period they are from, the raw materials are precious to the limit of indecency, and formulas are extremely refined. I found them beautiful, rich, more exciting than the majority of scents around, and if you decide to visit Esxence exhibition in Milan I highly recommend you not to miss them because they really deserve to be known.
One in particular is the perfect marriage between Coty’s “L’Origan” and “L'Heure Bleue” by Guerlain (same period and the same kind of raw materials), and unfortunately the strange names confused me a bit, but I’ll smell them again and then report to you with details.
They’re a little costly but I think they’re worth every penny. But I’ll return to this point shortly.
Grossmith website here
Picture from Psfk