Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Grossmith relaunched, part 1: the history

There's no other piece of news which brings a greater frisson of excitement through a true perfume-lover's veins than the relaunch of an old, historical house. Grossmith, an English perfume house originally established in 1835 in the coterie of influential perfumeries such as Penhaligon's, Guerlain, Floris and Creed (who were following the footsteps of Houbigant and Lubin), has been relaunched by the great-grandson of the original founder working in collaboration with Roja Dove. If you have clicked on Les Senteurs or read one of our Christmas Gifts Ideas post very recently you have seen their wares and marvelled at their elegant bottles of Baccarat crystal and the exotic sounding names... In fact the maison Baccarat has given specific license for the relaunched Grossmith to use the original moulds from 1919 for the range and only minor details have been modernised. But let's get first things first, tracing the Grossmith history together in Part 1 of our exploration of the brand.

J.Gorssmith & son Ltd. was founded in the City (London's business centre) in 1835 by John Grossmith, but it was his son, John Lipscomb Grossmith who developed the firm into a brand with commercial cachet involved not only in parfumerie alcoholique, but also in soaps, powders, toilet preparations and a hundred other scented products (much like Guerlain). Their tour de force? The Grasse-imported essences and the beautiful Baccarat crystal flacons employed. John Liscomb was trained in Grasse and his prolific imagination is reputedly responsible for at least 300 formulae, 96 of which are for fragrances, zealously kept in the company's archives.

A prize medal for perfumery wasn't far behind: The 1851 Great Exhibition saw Grossmith the only British company to land one. Royal warrants followed suit: Queen Alexandra (consort of Kind Edward VII) as well as members of the Royal Courts of Greece and of Spain awarded Grossmith with this mark of recognition (The seal requires at least 5 years of supplying goods or services). The gesture of offering a custom-made fragrance for the wedding of Princess May of Teck and Printe George of Wales (they're best known as King George V and Queen Mary, grandparents of Elizabeth II) is aptly fit for romantic daydreaming. But they also made less expensive, more accessible scents like White Fire (Bouquet), a parfum in red with a pointed top, on of their trademarks from 1954 which lasted all the way through 1980.

But not everything was ~literally and metaphorically~ strewn with roses! Grossmith was family run for three generations (until 1924) but by 1970 it changed hands and trading came to a sudden halt in 1980. Like so many other old houses the modern needs and the ascent of the designer scent had hit hard the more traditional firms in the sector. The brand seemed completely doomed. But thanks to luck, the rising awareness of perfume history instigated by the Internet (and these very pages I should hope) and the business acument of the great great grandson of the founder, Simon Brooke, the idea to relaunch the house suddenly sounded great.

Now, I know several brands which had some "refreshing facework" and were ready for modern tastes and honestly they didn't even come close to resemble anything historical. And I admit I was sceptical myself before testing the scents. However mr.Brooke didn't cut any corners and seems to have invested money into a sound business model: true luxury with consulting by the best and prime materials from the experts in the field. Namely the Grasse-based house of Robertet, who is specializing in natural materials, took care of reproducing the formulae with high quality standards and Roja Dove, a well-known fragrance authority, has overseen the re-creation of the fragrances with attention to detail and featuring them in his Haute Parfumerie boutique at Harrods. Like Roja says:

"Grossmith played a significant part in the development of modern perfumery and occupied an important place as a fine English perfumery house at a time when English perfumery rivalled that of France. It has languished for many years and its revival is a welcome addition to the perfumery canon as their scents have a wonderful complexity and quality which I believe is totally in tune with the current trend for authenticity, legitimacy and indviduality".

The bottles and packaging, inspired by the original flacons, were designed by Holmes & Marchant, uniform for the three scents in elegant ribbed designs.

The limited edition Baccarat flacons, individually numbered and etched in pure gold, are available to order for serious collectors and they're truly as sight to behold: pure decadence!

And behold, three of the classic fragrances are relaunched: Hasu-No Hana (1888), Phul-Nana (1891) and Shem-el-Nessim (1906). Phul-Nana ~ “Hindi for ‘lovely flower’ is a fresh, sweet floral composition with aromatic fougère overtones on a soft, warm, woody base. Shem-el-Nessim ~ “Arabic for ’smelling the breeze’. from 1906, is a rich floriental take on Florentine iris. Hasu-no-Hana ~ “The scent of the Japanese Lotus Lily"~from 1888 is a bright, radiant floral composition with pronounced chypré and oriental facets on a woody, dry, very sensual base. I won't spoil it for you, as I will return shortly with seperate reviews on them, but it's enough to say they're completely gorgeous and choke-full of natural materials singing beautifully on the skin. So beautifully in fact that I fear for their IFRA-positioning later on! But let's not reveal too much right now, we will return with Part 2.

In the meantime, please watch the interesting videos on Grossmith on London Tonight. (clip makes pauses, it's not a glitch from what I can see)

Grossmith fragrances are now available through Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie, Fortnum & Mason (who also carried the classic line!) and at Les Senteurs(Belgravia, London), all in the UK. Plans for expanding abroad are carefully being considered for the future. Grossmith Phul-Nana, Shem-el-Nessim and Hasu-no-Hana are available in 50 or 100 ml Eau de Parfum (£95-185 respectively, with the option of a coffret of all three in 50 ml for £310), also in 10ml or 100 ml Parfum (£110-425 respectively, a coffret of all 3 scents in 10 ml is £365), or in the 85 ml Parfum in the limited edition Baccarat bottle etched in pure gold for £5750.

Click on the pics to enlarge them.


  1. Mysticknot07:28

    At a time of reformulation uncertainities and saying good bye to so many well loved scents in their older form, due to the IFRA restrictions ,it is great to see the revivial of Grossmith !
    The bottles - both kinds - are lovely .

  2. Fiordiligi10:32

    I'm so glad to see you writing about these perfumes, dear E! As you know, I have a bottle of the Shem-el-Nessim and will shortly be getting the other two. They are simply beautiful and a reminder of how perfumery used to be.

    It's often forgotten how many good English perfumers there were at one time!

  3. Truly beautiful bottles. Thanks for posting a picture - it's lovely to see them.

  4. MK,

    I am of your way of thinking: Since the butchering of the old scents is more or less a predetermined crime with no going back (it's a fait accompli, so protesting won't change anything worse luck), let's focus on what can be done re: reviving worthy causes. The bottles are really lovely, but it's the scents which are even lovier!

  5. D,

    and you managed to see the entry without the direct link too!! :-)

    Shem-el-Nessim: isn't it smashing?? Loved it, it's truly beautiful! Enjoy!!! The other two are also delicious.

    You know, what with the cheapening of Penhaligon's and Floris and the somewhat "public relations" pushing of French perfumery one tends to forget that other nations also had a venerable tradition. ;-)

  6. SS,

    you're most welcome, glad you enjoyed them! The aesthetic part of the presentation is important in a luxury line, isn't it.

  7. I have never heard of this brand Helg and I adore their new ribbed bottles - now that is an elegant bottle IMO.

  8. M,

    it's certrainly my idea of elegance as well :-)
    Thanks for stopping by!!

  9. Ohhh, those special-edition bottles are gorgeous! I'm so glad I don't have a real strong lemming for beautiful bottles! I'd have a problem.

  10. Fiordiligi, I'm green with envy. I seem to have started loving iris.

    I however don't really like the ribbed bottles. Not fair, the beautiful stuff is reserved for the damn filthy rich only:D I wouldn't need gold etching, even.

  11. Rappleyea22:54

    I fell in love with these bottles when you posted the pix previously, and the scents themselves sound gorgeous. I certainly hope they decide to export! I unfortunately fell in love with Roja Dove's Unspoken, which is impossible to find here. Can't wait for the "real" reviews.

  12. How lovely- they look and sound stunning. I must get me to Fortnums (it's so charming they stocked them the first time). Delicious. A new obsession is born

  13. Very beautiful. Part of me is balking at the prices, but I suppose it's no more than I'm paying for Caron in the UK right now, and it'll be worth it to get something made to be beautiful as much as profitable.

  14. Prosetry,

    I think you have a very solid point there!! :-)

  15. L,

    ah...iris. And it's quite difficult to find the "real" ones (Isn't the perfumery industry starting to remind you of detective stories?)

    You don't especially like the ribbed ones? Hmm...The others are more luxe, definitely, but I could very well see on the "simple" plain ones on my dresser myself (Shem-el-Nessim you're calling my name!!)As to gold, yeah...I agree, it's not even necessary! ;-)

  16. D,

    the "real" reviews have been uploaded on this link, so you might get a kick out of them. Suffice to say, the scents are gorgeous! We haven't smelled things like that for a long, long time.

    As to RJ's, I think a phone order to Harrod's might yield some suggestions? Or perhaps an extra-gracious friend travelling?

  17. K,

    get thee to Fortnum's and yes, how lovely they do stock them again. That's a nice touch.
    I bet you'll be thrilled as I was.

  18. Mim,

    the smaller bottles are the way to experience them, and perhaps in time they might do a smaller gift set or sample pack which would be smashing: these deserve to be known wider.
    As with Caron you know you're paying quality. ;-)


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