Vignettes of old Marylebone No 13: How Green Was My Valley

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Supermarkets rarely have much  romance about them these days; now, 50 years ago, when I was taken shopping at the ‘Piggly Wiggly’ in Hamilton, Bermuda it was another matter. I’d never seen such a store at home and the ‘P.W.’ was not only embowered in mauve bougainvillia but sold unheard-of exotica like deep fried battered jumbo prawns, maple syrup and Hershey bars. 

Nowadays you have to look to the Arabic and Asian cultures to bring a little fantasy and imagination into the aisles. Both touch the everyday with  magic. There’s a glorious establishment in Leicester which is best seen at night when it’s lit up like an Edwardian toy theatre in scarlet, coral, turquoise and pink lights. These shops have wonderful names too: the Ishtar, the Baalbec and the fabulous Astarte Mart. In Tunis I have the happiest memories of the Jasmine Superstores. The Jasmine was tiny with a staff of one, but was packed with Jaffa cakes, cheap cigarettes, tangerines, perfume oils, painted pots & candles all spilling over onto the pavement in a madman’s paradise of abundance.

Now we at Les Senteurs love our local Lebanese GREEN VALLEY store at 36-37 Upper Berkley Street W1. First of all it is irresistible because it shares its name with a lost Creed floral fragrance. Here I will advise that lovers of the discontinued Green Valley Millesime may care to smell Atelier Cologne’s Trefle Pur when passing No 2 Seymour Place. This sweet pure clover fragrance has something of the same meadow-sweet mood: come by and try. 

You’ll love the smell of the Green Valley store, too: a delicate aromatic temptation of mouth-wateringly fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables that look as though just culled from the gardens of the world. Then there are tiers of potted, pickled and preserved eggplant, chillis, peppers, mushrooms and every sort of cucumber you can think of. There’s sour cherry jam, hibiscus tea, myriad coffee blends and a dozen varieties of honey. You’ll be tempted by apricot nougat done up in frills of pink lace, baklava, pistachios and turkish delight all set out on great brass and silver chargers. And what makes all this bounty irresistible is the warmth and cheer of the lovely staff, all smiles and kindness. I guess that’s another reason why the Les Senteurs personnel like the Green Valley so well: it’s home from home!

For me, the finishing charming touch is that when you come to the check-out there’s not the usual racks of horrible plastic sweets but strings of worry beads, umbrellas & sunshades, tiny packets of dried pink rosebuds. The Green Valley lifts the heart: it’s only 2 minutes’ walk from Les Senteurs so do make us both part of your essential Marylebone lifestyle routine!

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An introduction!

Ahead of our anticipated soiree on the evening of Thursday May 8th, here is a brief introduction to each of our guests to whet your appetites!

So read on, discover the creations of these masters of fragrance and join us from 17:30 at:

Les Senteurs, 2 Seymour Place, W1H 7NA

James Heeley

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Born in Yorkshire, James Heeley worked for many years as a designer – taking his inspiration from the world of nature. It was when he moved to Paris and discovered the works of legendary perfumer Annick Goutal that he fell in love with the world of fragrance. James’ contemporary style can be seen in every scent: they are innovative, imaginative but always with a hint of the long tradition of French perfumery.

James will be introducing his latest scent, Coccobello, as well as the rest of his fragrances. Always a joyful, warm fellow to talk to, this will be a rare treat!

Discover Heeley

 

Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena

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Eau d’Italie hails from the beautiful sun-drenched coast of Positano, and Le Sirenuse hotel which is wonderfully apparent in their fragrances. Marina and Sebastian, who have spoken at Les Senteurs before, are both incredibly charming and passionate – always a complete joy to talk with, one can’t help but fall in love with them and Eau d’Italie!

They will be presenting their upcoming fragrance, Graine de Joie, for the first time in the UK; a brilliant, sparkling scent with notes of red currant, pomegranate, freesia and a slightly musky drydown. Sure to be a favourite in the coming summer months!

Discover Eau d’Italie

Alberto Borri

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Nu_be are a relatively new addition to Les Senteurs, and they have been met with great enthusiasm. Contemporary, stylish and enticing: the fragrances are each inspired by Chemical elements, including Hydrogen, Carbon and Sulphur, and created by some of the best noses working today.

Alberto created the brand in order to combine the modern artistic approach to fragrance with traditional perfumery. He has a strong familial background in fragrance: his grandfather founded Morris Profumo, and has an undeniable passion in scent, which shows in the fragrances of Nu_be. Alberto will introduce Mercury and Sulphur, the two latest additions to the Nu_be range, as well as showing the short film inspired by the collection.

Discover Nu_be

If you would like to attend our evening on Thursday May 8th, please RSVP to:

pr@lessenteurs.com | 020 7183 5842

Vignettes of old Marylebone No 12: A Dream of Fair Women

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As we have seen so often in our vignettes, Marylebone has always been always noted for its lovely ladies. Emma Hamilton, one of the great beauties of her age was married to Sir William Hamilton, diplomat and antiquarian at Marylebone parish church ( St Mary ) in 1791 having been “sold to the old man for £20,000” by his nephew.

Almost ten years later – and much stouter – Emma was back at St Mary’s for the christening of Horatia, her illegitimate daughter by England’s greatest hero, Lord Nelson. To avoid outraging public decency mother and father posed as Horatia’s godparents and even in adulthood the girl refused to believe that she was the offspring of the once Divine Emma.

Despised and disliked by most of her contemporaries, Emma seems much more attractive to us: Romney’s glorious paintings show a beauty that still resonates in the 21st century – all that magnificent hair and a gorgeous mouth; attractive too is Emma’s love of food and drink – to the point of falling off her chair at table and at the cost of her figure. Extravagant, loyal, outspoken (in a broad Cheshire accent) and generous, Emma Hamilton doted on Nelson to the point of mania. She even celebrated him in her dress, devising nautical fantasies of sea blue, golden anchors and saucy sailor hats. How she would have revelled in Sel de Marin by Heeley Parfums – the sun, the sea, the salt spray…alas! Too late for her – but a unique opportunity for you. Why not pop round to Les Senteurs this afternoon?

 

And you have the chance to meet Mr. Heeley, creator of sel Marin, himself! Please join us at our Seymour Place branch on May 8th from 17:30 to meet James Heeley, as well as the creative minds behind Eau d’Italie and Nu_be.

RSVP to pr@lessenteurs.com

Image: Wikimedia commons

Vignettes of Old Marylebone: No. 10 – Marble Arch

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As children in the faraway Midlands we sang a nonsense song about the Marble Arch into which you could slot the name of any celebrity of your choice:

“Around the Marble Arch
X used to march
He tumbled into a box of eggs
All the yellow ran up his legs..”

So when I finally got to touch the beautiful if slightly foxed chunks of white Italian marble I still saw all those spattered yolks in my mind’s eye. It’s a funny old thing and tunnelled with little rooms, apparently. Marooned in the middle of the traffic since Park Lane was widened over half a century ago the Arch is now scratched by graffittists and, as the London papers keep pointing out, is on occasion used as a loo.

Even before it became a traffic island Marble Arch was a displaced wanderer. It started life in 1827 as the gateway to Buckingham Palace but was brought up in sections to Marylebone when the Palace was enlarged, to be rebuilt as the ceremonial entrance to the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in the summer of 1851. The bronze statue of George IV – that heavily-perfumed consumer of cherry brandy, opium and pork pies – originally designed to ride atop the Arch now prances in Trafalgar Square.

May 1st 1851 was the Marble Arch’s finest hour: Queen Victoria in pink satin and lace swept through in her carriage to open the Crystal Palace ( erected near to where the Albert Memorial now stands ). The great glass conservatory was filled with birds, living cedars, vast organs and choirs whose voices could scarcely be heard for the sheer size and scale of it all. Prince Albert, whose brainchild the exhibition was, stood resplendent in scarlet gazing at the tribute of the Empire; a mysterious Mandarin in blue silk and peacock feathers who was later said to be someone’s cook made the ritual kow tow.

And perfume was present. Fragrance was featured. Our Grossmith friends won medals. Eugene Rimmel’s huge baroque fountain of living scents was one of the star attractions during the six month run of the show. Perfume has always drawn the crowds: renew your own acquaintance Les Senteurs.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Vignettes of Old Marylebone 3: You know my methods, Watson

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When I leave Seymour Place of an evening, my head full of shop cares, I’m often pleased to fancy myself as a client of Mr Sherlock Holmes, hastening up to 221B Baker St to pour out my heart. How reassuring to be ushered upstairs by the vague but cosy figure of Mrs Hudson and have Dr Watson offer strong waters while the great man listens intently to your knotty problems. I’m proud to say I’ve read every one of his cases and no doubt you have too. Which is the most compelling?
Hardly coincidentally, I remember the ones featuring strong scents. The type of lady to be found at 221B is not likely to be a perfume wearer though of course Holmes’s curious habits fill his rooms with fumes of shag tobacco (kept in a Persian slipper), violin rosin and the tang of opium poppy. I remember the reek of chloroform in Lady Frances Carfax’s unusually and suspiciously large coffin (they get the pad off her face just in time). Scent is the vital clue to murder in the horrible Adventure of the Retired Colourman: he’s gassed his wife and her lover and then repainted the house to disguise the tell-tale smell. And then there’s the tragic Veiled Lodger who at Holmes’s behest surrenders her means of suicide: “I send you my temptation”. There on the mantlepiece is a vial of prussic acid: ” a pleasant almondy odour rose when I opened it”…

But my favourites are The – alas! unscented –  Speckled Band: the snake posted through the bedroom vent and down the bellpull – and poor Miss Violet Hunter’s perils in The Copper Beeches, forced to cut off her luxuriant chestnut hair and sit in the parlour window of a morning wearing a borrowed dress in a peculiar shade of electric blue…nip up to Baker St after your trip to Les Senteurs and find out why.

 

Vignettes of Old Marylebone 2: The Land of Smiles

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I went out for a little walk at lunchtime, feeling a need for air after a morning at the keyboard. I came out of Seymour Place and crossed the Edgware Road into Connaught Square which has fascinated me ever since the Blairs moved in a few years back. It feels strangely remote from all the hustle and noise only seconds away, very leafy with tall shadowy trees and an appealing air of old-fashioned leisure and calm. There was a cheerful bobby on duty on Tony and Cherie’s step, beaming and friendly like a walk-on from “Mary Poppins”. It’s a tranquil homely place. My headache lifted after one circuit and I strolled on past the Duke of Kendal pub, which prompted memories of Ehrengard Melusine, the first Duchess and domineering mistress of King George 1st. She was tall, scraggy, scrawny and grasping: irreverent Londoners called her The Maypole, appreciating the piquant contrast with her enormous rival The Elephant, otherwise known as the Countess of Darlington.

An old friend hailed me from a cafe terrace in Connaught Street which was nice (fancy her recognising me after all these years), and I walked back via West Park where I was entranced to find a Blue Plaque informing me that the Austrian tenor Richard Tauber had spent the last year of his life in Flat 297, a long way from his birthplace in Linz and the final stage of his sad exile from Hitler’s outrages. I’ve always loved Tauber, especially when he belts out “You Are My Heart’s Delight” and “Das Lied ist Aus” . At his last performance, weeks before his death, he sang full pelt on only one lung. Decades later his old Berlin co-star Marlene Dietrich would pay him tribute during her London concerts. One of his early hits was that wonderful song about the lilacs “Wenn die Weisse Flieder Wieder Bluhn”. And that reminds me: we have a delicious white lilac perfume for you at the shop – Frederic Malle’s ineffable EN PASSANT, the breath of white lilac buds on a pale green breeze.

And so back to the Edgware road and the wonderful aroma of shisha pipes billowing along the pavements in a warm perfumed cloud: strawberry, mint, rose and amber. On the corner of Seymour Place was the final treat: our local ironmongers, with a fine new window display of various rat-traps in “traditional style” . I had to smile and thought wistfully of Beatrix Potter and the terrifying Samuel Whiskers. What a wonderful refreshing walk, packed with interest, and all in under 30 minutes. Marylebone really is a village, or rather a series of them: all enchanting and pulsating with life.

 

Vignettes of Old Marylebone 1: Home thoughts from Abroad

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One of the most famous and romantic addresses in Marylebone, a few minutes brisk walk from LES SENTEURS, is 50 Wimpole Street. Here the invalid Elizabeth Barrett spent long sad years on her sofa and from here she eloped to Italy with her future husband Robert Browning: two poets who fell in love via their work. The set-up is legendary: the vague but distressing illness;  the monster Papa with the dreaded tankard of medicinal porter; the numerous doting siblings; the hysterical scenes; the devoted maid Wilson and the spaniel Flush. The whole boiling  of them piled into that grim house dominated by old Mr Barrett’s possessiveness and neuroses. Elizabeth lived behind windows sealed up against London fogs and soot, the glass panes covered in summer with trailing nasturtiums. She was almost elderly by the standards of her day (over 40 ) but with her dark mournful face, soulful eyes and luxuriant ringlets to rival her dog’s she remains a figure of high romance, a mysterious captive princess finally rescued by an adoring younger man from the fashionable but alien chasms of Marylebone. Highly political, blazingly intelligent, fascinated by spiritualism and the struggle for Italian independence Elizabeth bloomed again in the warm air of Florence and even bore a healthy son at the age of 43.

”This verbena strains the point of passionate fragrance…” she writes in Aurora Leigh, a poem saturated in sensuous imagery which some think was fired up by her chronic dependence on opium and laudanum. When you’ve found Mrs Browning’s Blue Plaque, meander back to LES SENTEURS and smell our Verveine d’Eugene by James Heeley; and those 3 flowers of late Victoriana by Grossmith Phul Nana, Hasu no Hana and Shem el Nessim. Surrender to the spell.