If you are not familiar with Grosmith, let me introduce you. Grossmith perfume house was founded in 1835 in London and with a line-up consisting of pure bottled orientalism managed to sore at the highest status of the perfume industry. With perfumes inspired by Japan, India, the Arab world they became famous for bottling magic for the privileged upper class and the royal courts of the Victorian era. The laurels of the 19th century however started to fail the company after WWII and the Grossmith family finally sold the house. The demise was devastating and by 1970 the perfumer to the British court was selling soap. Fast forward to the 21st century and Simon Brooke, the last descendent of the Grossmith family, a semi-retired and ,apparently bored, chartered surveyor. Upon rediscovering the almost forgotten reigns of his great-great grandfathers in the world of perfumery, he decided to revive the house. He bought back the rights to the name and was ready to reconstruct the initial formulas based on photochromatographic analysis of vintage Grossmith bottles he found on eBay. Luckily however one of his cousins remembered that he had inherited some old ledgers which apparently contained the original formulas.
Whether one buys into this resurrection of Victorian splendor myth or not is absolutely irrelevant. The remastered Grossmiths are out there together with completely new releases, for everyone to evaluate and draw their own conclusions. My first encounter with Grossmith was Hasu-no-Hana, a beautiful architectural construction that rather rises like a Victorian than develops like a perfume. The original formula was supposed to be inspired by the Japanese lotus flower but our visions of Japanese exoticism have shifted so much since the 19th century that if you are expecting pale watercolour hues from this, you will be surprised. It is a perfume that defies categorisation (it is supposed to be an oriental chypre) and carries you with it for hours of development, like a book. The unexpected nature of this composition and the fact that it smells classical and completely new at the same time, is what sold me the Grossmith resurrection saga.
Golden Chypre is one the all new compositions released in 2012 and if tradition is a living, palpable thing, the easiest way to explain this to someone is by giving them a smell of it. Nearly 200 years after the first Grossmith releases, perfumer Trevor Nicholl of Robertet managed to create a scent that feels like coming out of a time capsule and at the same time manages to intrigue and remain relevant. The name says it all: a clear-cut chypre composition that manages to sparkle and glisten like gold dust. As much as this may sound as waxing lyrical gibberish, it is the simple truth. If Mitsouko is the quintessential old school chypre, Golden Chypre references it directly with its base notes. The opening however is an optimistic cloud of geranium and bergamot that lacks the intimidation impact of the classic Guerlain. A few minutes into the development spices, heliotrope and oak moss leave the most authentic Victorian mark on the skin. The dusty, woody spirit of Mitsouko, what to my nose smells like old flour that starts to turn and what I love most about Mitsouko, materialises in the air. Golden Chypre however has spared me of all the agonising drama that I perceive in Mitsouko’s development. Just rays of sunshine sliding through Victorian dust in the Grossmith family attic.
What amazes me in Golden Chypre is that although it is a 2012 composition I cannot detect any of the aroma chemical clichés that pop up their annoying little heads even in some of the nichest-of-the-niche perfume releases. In fact it reconstructs the base of Mitsouko although oak moss is not listed as an official note. It proves that a classic chypre is possible today and the only reason we don’t see more of those is because there is no market for them. Perfume buyers do not like the oak moss texture nowadays. So next time you hear a perfume afficionado lament over the ever stricter IFRA regulations and how they strangle classic perfumery, please take a moment to shove a sample of Golden Chypre to their faces and point out to them that what strangles classic perfumery is the new and improved version of it. The one that jumps at the opportunity of using the same-old, all-new aroma chemicals that have just been released and are mixed with enthusiasm in every product, from fabric softener to parfum d’auteur. If a company has the vision and conviction to build on tradition, no regulation can stop it.
Notes from Grossmith: cardamom, nutmeg, citrus, rose, geranium, heliotrope, patchouli, vetiver, woody notes, amber, musk
Notes from my nose: geranium, bergamot, heliotrope, patchouli, nutmeg, cardamom, oak moss, musk