Floris Bespoke Fragrance Customisation

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If you – like us – experience perfume as the open sesame to a world of magic, you need to know about Floris Bespoke fragrance service. Jo recently took a group of Perfume Society members to Floris’s Flagship Shop in London’s Jermyn Street – that’s the original one, dating back to 1730 – who reveled in it. Then Sarah was invited to a two-hour appointment with Bespoke Fragrance Manager Penny Ellis, one of Floris’s two in house perfumers, and adored every minute. Here’s her report...

‘Floris has been a name on my radar since I was a small girl and the mecca of bathtime treats was a capful of my mother’s Stephanotis Bath Essence. Even when I smell it now, many decades later, it transports me back to the house where I grew up.

That’s the thing about scents; there’s a superhighway between your olfactory system (how you smell) and your brain. Neurones actually dangle down into the cavity. Thus the intimate connection between anything you smell and memories. It’s one of the subjects that came up as I spent one of the happiest two hours this year with Penny Ellis. (Loved the lavender streaks in her chic grey crop, BTW.)

The sessions take place in a real inner sanctum at the Georgian shop in the West End. Through corridors painted in Floris signature dark rich blue, picked out in ivory, to a room lined with glass-fronted cabinets full of original recipes and dark amber glass bottles of oils, some single note, some accords. Ledgers dating back centuries record fragrances created for devotees. The page I saw fell open at Cecil Beaton’s. (I’m blind as a bat without specs so couldn't decipher the details.)

For the next hour and a half Penny wafted spills in front of me to identify the potential building blocks of my fragrance, from white florals to orientals, on to woods with diversions along the way, just because Penny absolutely had to see what I thought of this one… and the next…!  For a perfume junkie, it was pure joy. I had been a bit worried that I might expose myself as hugely ignorant but firstly it wouldn't have mattered and secondly as I relaxed and my olfactory sense adjusted I really could distinguish different notes.

People popped into say hello including Perfumery Director Edward Bodenham, ninth generation of the family that started Floris and a formidable ‘nose’, according to Penny. Edward’s ancestor was Juan Famenias Floris who lived above the shop with his wife Elizabeth and created perfumes down in the sub-basement for the fashionable clientele of Georgian London.

Then came the most exciting moment as Penny began to create my formula, writing it down by hand in a ledger then mixing it on the desk between us. This is where spills give way to skin to test the concept for real. It belongs in the family of Chypre, French for Cyprus, which goes back to François Coty – who created a perfume of that name in 1917 – and even beyond (Guerlain has a Chypre in its archive which pre-dates Coty's famous version). Chypres are characterised by the contrast between a sparkling fresh citrus accord and a woody oak moss base.

The first iteration was, well, nice and charming but somewhat bland. A few more drops of Java wood, one more of the original base, drip drop drip of cassis – and yes, it began to sparkle. But… not yet quite right. 

Gathering up my confidence, I asked if it would be heresy to add some more neroli? There was a smidgeon in there already but my instinct (certainly not knowledge or experience) made me guess that a touch or three more might produce the warmth and zing my nose was questing for. So 15 more drops of neroli went into the measuring glass…

Abracadabra! This was it. We both beamed, delighted with the result. What was I going call it?, asked Penny. Well, my much-loved goddaughter always calls me Sassafras, a long version of my nickname (Sass) so Sassafras it is. I took the elegant smoked glass bottle home in its own box, knowing that the formula for my own little slice of fragrance history will be recorded forever in one of those handwritten ledgers. 

There is something ineffably special about having your own scent created for you. This is an investment but, as I said, if you love fragrance it is worth saving for.  As Penny says, ‘perfume is alchemy’ – a seemingly magical process of creation…

Floris Bespoke Fragrance Customisation/£450 For details: florislondon.com

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