Thursday…with Floris and Scent

April 21, 2016

Filed Under : Arrangements - Art - collaborations - colour - London - My Garden - My St James - Spring - synaesthesia - trips

Photo 19-04-2016, 13 56 31So last week as part of the #mystjames project I’m working on, I had an appointment at Floris in Jermyn St in St James’s…

I was expecting a perfume shop with an old fashioned interior, and maybe some old fashioned perfumes…what I wasn’t expecting was an appointment with their bespoke perfumer and how incredibly affected I would be by their scents; how massive memories came flooding into my head at the mere whiff of Iris and Lily of the Valley and how I felt like I was almost time travelling via my olfactory system…

I am acutely aware of my senses and how important they are having synaesthesia and have been painting my interpretations of sound, taste and smell for a number of years, creating abstract representations of how I see smell in terms of colour, texture and shape ( you can see a post about a recent fragrance project here and some of my flower scent paintings here ) and  have realised what a meditation it is to really focus on what a smell is, but when I’m painting I’m focusing on what it all looks like, not how it makes me feel.

And so the reason that my visit to Floris was such an incredible experience was in part due to the fact that for the first time in ages, I was smelling and feeling, rather than just concentrating on what it was, and I really hadn’t anticipated what an emotional experience that would be…Photo 19-04-2016, 14 38 53

When I arrived I was introduced to Carim who gave me a tour of the shop, whose mahogany fixtures and fittings are all original from the Great Exhibition in 1851, as well as their fragrances… which totally took me by surprise.

One of their classic fragrances is No.127 which was the first bespoke scent ever blended for the Russion Emperor in 1890 ( and which later became a favourite of Winston Churchill and Eva Peron ). Smelling it was like suddenly experiencing time travel; I was smelling what someone had smelt like in 1890 and I found it extroidinary and quite emotional. We can all look at antique clothes, objects and buildings and imagine what life was like in a different age, but to actually smell what part of life was like in Victorian London, felt so alive; almost like smelling a ghost…It was truly wonderful, and since my visit it’s the one scent I can’t stop thinking about and suddenly smelling out of nowhere.

‘Lily of the Valley’ also made me well up…they were my late father’s favourite flowers and just having a smell of this scent made his memory suddenly so present and close by.

Carim also showed me the back of the shop where there is a collection of Floris’s history. Floris was established in 1730 by it’s founder Juan Famenias Floris and his wife Elizabeth and they began selling perfume, combs and shaving products at 89 Jermyn Street where the shop remains today and which is still the heart of the business and run by their descendants with Edward Bodenham being 9th generation and the ‘nose’ of Floris.

There’s a wonderful display of old perfume bottles, hair combs ( for which they received their first Royal Warrant in 1820 ) photographs and letters from customers including one from Florence Nightingale in 1863.
Photo 19-04-2016, 12 34 11 Photo 19-04-2016, 12 32 27 Photo 19-04-2016, 12 30 53 Photo 19-04-2016, 12 32 59 Photo 19-04-2016, 14 07 56Photo 19-04-2016, 12 31 28 Photo 12-04-2016, 17 23 34 Photo 12-04-2016, 17 17 10After my tour around the shop I was taken to the back room where appointments for bespoke fragrances take place where I met perfumer Penny Ellis…

Apart from the sheer magic of the room, I was completely fascinated by the chemistry of the whole process. I loved the combination of musical and visual language which goes into describing smells; base notes and accords. Smell often comes and goes, and I really like the fact that somehow it’s like music in the air, something you have to just be with and quietly acknowledge, but something you can’t hold or touch or see in front of you.

Penny let me smell some of the base notes and I was so surprised at the delicacy of musk and the sweetness of amber. I hadn’t realised that the accords were the complimentary smells which go into blending, what seems to me to be a work of art..I think a bespoke perfumer is really a scent artist, something I hadn’t ever considered before, but something which has really inspired me artistically and something I want to focus on in my painting.

I chatted to Penny about smell and memory; about how when I was 13, I had had a life changing and wonderful experience working at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon for a year, and when the play, ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream ) finished I kept some of the make up we had used and used to go and smell it occasionally to make my happy memory real again which was always a bitter sweet moment. She told me she had a scent, a note,  she thought I’d like; Iris…and this was the one which really made me cry: I was suddenly back in 1986 in a dressing room overlooking the River Avon with an overwhelmingly lovely feeling of such an exciting, innocent and fun time, and then almost in the same moment it was too much to bear. Those beautiful moments in my life were suddenly there and yet not there, all at once…it was chemistry, memory and magic all at once, and although it made me cry it was also something I felt comforted by, knowing that I can in fact go back in time, even if it’s just for a tiny moment…

So I can totally understand why bespoke perfumery exists..it is the most wonderful sensory experience ever…
Photo 12-04-2016, 17 18 20Photo 12-04-2016, 17 13 16…and these are the Floris ledgers, full of fragrance orders from John Profumo to Lady Olivier.Photo 12-04-2016, 17 16 00Photo 12-04-2016, 17 15 29Photo 12-04-2016, 17 21 56So this week I went back to Floris, as I really wanted to photograph some of the bottles  with flowers from my garden as well as extra Lilly of the Valley and sweet peas…
Photo 19-04-2016, 12 36 14Photo 19-04-2016, 12 38 14 Photo 20-04-2016, 17 51 56I used one of their earliest fragrances ‘Limes’, first blended in the 1700’s and used by Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War ( who also wore ‘White Rose’ along with Admiral Nelson ).

‘Lily of the Valley’ was also first blended in the 1700’s and ‘Rose Geranium’  in 1890 ( famously worn by Marylin Monroe and Isabella Blow ). ‘Edwardian Bouquet’ is a Floris classic and was blended in 1901 and ‘Fleur’ is one of their more modern fragrances.

They have a little table at the back of the shop which I used to create the images below…Photo 19-04-2016, 12 46 08Photo 19-04-2016, 12 51 11 (1) Photo 19-04-2016, 12 59 31 (1) Photo 19-04-2016, 13 05 50 Photo 19-04-2016, 13 16 04 Photo 19-04-2016, 13 24 25 Photo 19-04-2016, 13 33 56 Photo 19-04-2016, 13 44 29 Photo 19-04-2016, 14 01 25 Photo 19-04-2016, 14 03 23 Photo 19-04-2016, 14 11 31As I mentioned before, I feel really artistically inspired by this visit which genuinely caught me by surprise as I had been focused on just taking photographs…sometimes it takes something out of the blue to reconnect things in your brain, and this experience certainly did that…
Photo 12-04-2016, 17 34 23 Floris doesn’t just feel like a shop, it feels more like an immersive experience and the staff are also brilliant and so committed to what a gem of a place they work in…Photo 19-04-2016, 14 38 30 …and I certainly have a new art project in mind and many hours smelling ahead!Photo 19-04-2016, 09 29 14You can see the Steller Story version here