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Wednesday, August 12

Floris and the scents of times past

Love the old-fashioned smell of scented tuberose? Or lavender, which was used to soothe and calm people? If you like the thought of wearing fragrances made over 270 years ago, Floris of London still sells scents whose chemical mixtures were created for historic individuals like Beau Brummel. The Regency dandy used to discuss his fragrances at length with Mr. Floris, among other things.

Last year in February I walked along Jermyn Street in London and stopped inside Floris, which has been in business since the 1730's. Established by Juan Famenias Floris from Menorca, this store has occupied these premises in London's St. James's district since before Jane Austen's day. Juan initially set up business as a barber and comb-maker, but he soon began blending oils, essences and fixatives. Floris created toilet waters of jasmine, orange blossom, and 'Lavender', the fragrance that made him famous and which I purchased as a room fragrance last year and gave to my blogging partner, Laurel Ann. Some of the products that are still sold in this venerable store, like Lilly of the Valley and Lavender, date back to the mid-18th century.

Floris Tradition: Floris is so steeped in history that staff continue to use many unique practices without a second thought. One of the most endearing of these stems back to the late 19th century when Floris began to accept cash payments as well as account customers. It was considered extremely ill-form to give customers dirty or crumpled change, so all coins were taken downstairs and scrubbed clean and notes were pressed flat. - The Floris Story
The store is the official perfumer of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the supplier of toiletries to the Prince of Wales. The first Royal Warrant was granted in 1820, which is still on display at the store. When Floris was founded, Jermyn Street, which is situated closely to Pall Mall and the Gentlemen's clubs, was a hub for upper class London gentlemen.

Floris perfumes have a grand history. "Special 127" was a fragrance created for Russia's Grand Duke Orloff in 1890. Following his death, the perfume was named from the page number of the special formulas book on which it was written.
Floris fragrances quickly became the talk of fashionable London society, the barber`s shop gave way to become the elegant setting for fragrances and accessories: Beautiful handmade hair combs were imported from Menorca, while shaving brushes, hatpins, toothbrushes, fine-tooth combs and razor-straps were made on the premises. - Scent-sational: Regency Perfumers
Emma, Lady Hamilton was also a famous customer, as was her lover, Lord Nelson. He was such a good customer that he ordered perfume and other luxury goods for Lady Hamilton even in the midst of battle.
As stated previously, money was always treated as a special commodity in Floris. A customer's change would be produced clean and sparkling on a velvet covered mahogany change-pad - thus ensuring that neither staff nor customer would suffer the embarrassment of their hands touching the currency or that ladies would dirty their gloves. Today, the velvet mahogany change-pads remain and customers are still handed their change in this manner. - Jermyn Grooming, Lifestyle Suite
In Jane Austen's time, fragrance was important to mask unwashed bodies and street smells, and she mentioned lavender-water in Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.

She was seated in her mother's lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar-plums by the other. The Narrator, Sense and Sensibility, Ch 21
Elinor advised her to lie down again, and for a moment she did so; but no attitude could give her ease; and in restless pain of mind and body she moved from one posture to another, till growing more and more hysterical, her sister could with difficulty keep her on the bed at all, and for some time was fearful of being constrained to call for assistance. Some lavender drops, however, which she was at length persuaded to take, were of use; and from that time till Mrs. Jennings returned, she continued on the bed quiet and motionless. The Narrator, Sense and Sensibility, Ch 29

"In one respect, there certainly is a difference. In marriage, the man is supposed to provide for the support of the woman, the woman to make the home agreeable to the man; he is to purvey, and she is to smile. But in dancing, their duties are exactly changed; the agreeableness, the compliance are expected from him, while she furnishes the fan and the lavender water. That, I suppose, was the difference of duties which struck you, as rendering the conditions incapable of comparison.” Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, Ch 10.

"Eleanor, and only Eleanor, stood there. Catherine’s spirits, however, were tranquillized but for an instant, for Eleanor’s cheeks were pale, and her manner greatly agitated. Though evidently intending to come in, it seemed an effort to enter the room, and a still greater to speak when there. Catherine, supposing some uneasiness on Captain Tilney’s account, could only express her concern by silent attention, obliged her to be seated, rubbed her temples with lavender–water, and hung over her with affectionate solicitude. “My dear Catherine, you must not — you must not indeed — “ were Eleanor’s first connected words. “I am quite well. This kindness distracts me — I cannot bear it — I come to you on such an errand!” Sense and Sensibility, The Narrator, Ch 28

Beau Brummell's statue stands proudly at the entrance of Picadilly Arcade on Jermyn Street, as seen in the photograph below, forever linked with Jermyn Street and the perfumer's shop he haunted.

Floris remains a force in perfumes today. In 1999, the establishment created a new range of products for the home in five fragrances, including the room spray fragrance I purchased. This is nothing new. In a price list of 1853 one can find products for "The perfuming of Apartments".

As soon as you cross the store's threshold, you can smells the beautiful fragrances. Rich mahogany counters gleam from centuries of polish. Along the walls, display cases hold antique brushes and perfume bottles. Crystal chandeliers overhead add a touch of restrained class. Better yet, none of the sales staff pressure you to make a purchase.

For visitors to London, a trip to Floris is well worth their time.

  • Floris History
  • Floris: Jane Austen Centre
  • Floris sales this summer
  • Floris, London
  • Floris, lavender
  • Jermyn St and Savile Row

  • Post by Vic and Laurel Ann


    nigel said...

    I think I will pass on this one!
    Still a nice treat for one's sweetheart or as a Valentine's day surprise gift? Nahhhh!

    Barbara said...

    I would love to visit this shop - it looks so beautiful :)

    ChaChaneen said...

    Wow what beautiful pics, I feel like I am there. Im going to have to find that perfume it sounds lovely and very feminine! Great post .... As usual!

    Lynn said...

    I just loved all the history in this post and the fact that you have actually visited the shop. Thanks !

    Here in America, at some fine hotels, they still wash and press the money too. Makes sense to me, money carries all kinds of icky things. Nice tradition !

    "Eleanor and only Eleanor, stood there." from Northanger Abby, a little typo ( you referenced Sense & Sensibility for the quote )