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!

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. 8 – River of No Return.

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The spell of running water exercises a peculiar fascination on the mind only equalled by that of perfume. The idea of subterranean lakes and streams only compounds the magic and conjures up the exotic fantasies of Gaston Leroux, H. Rider Haggard and Coleridge. Think of the souls of the dead being ferried across the Styx upon payment of an obol; the barque of the extinguished sun sailing through the night. Or, more merrily, drifting in mad King Ludwig’s cockleshell though gaslit pink and blue opaline crystal caverns “measureless to man” and as magical as Selfridge’s Lower Sales Floors or the shelves at Les Senteurs. Who would think that at least one of London 13’s lost and buried – but still rushing – rivers flows below the bustling busy streets of Portman Village?

No wonder London is so humid in summer; it is built over endless marshes. Westminster Abbey once stood on an island; the Thames has lost at least half its width since the Roman city was sacked by Boudicca’s hordes. The City was divided by the Fleet River rushing down from Farringdon until less than 300 years ago – that’s just three long lifetimes. The Tyburn was once better known as the name of a tributary of the Thames than as a synonym for the grim gallows at Marble Arch.

Once green and glorious and gushing down from Hampstead, the Tyburn was one of the bountiful sources of safe drinking water that made early London such a prime spot for settlement. But as the city enlarged and corrupted, the Tyburn like its sister rivers became stinking sewers of offal, by and by built over: sinking out of sight, smell and common knowledge. Londoners quenched their thirst with beer and spent their short lives half drunk in consequence. However, down there the rivers still flow, occasionally heard gurgling or glimpsed contained in drains in underground stations. The Tyburn pours down beneath Regents Park, Marylebone Lane, through Mayfair, Green Park and under Buckingham Palace and the Abbey to the Embankment at Whitehall. Wonderful to think of! Seymour Place now exotic with rare perfumes drifting through the door of Les Senteurs must once have stood in water meadows fragrant with wild flowers. The scent is only a spray away.

Image: The Fleet River under London from undercity.org

Vignettes of Old Marylebone: No 6. A Taste of India

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When I hobble up to Sainsbury’s for a Simply Ham sandwich on sliced white, I am entranced by the leisurely Arab diners on the terrasses of the glorious restaurants of the Edgware Road. They look so effortlessly graceful and elegant on their cushioned benches and basket chairs, with all the time in the world for good food, ruminative chat and an inhalation of perfumed narghil smoke. Some of these establishments have the charming addition of caged exotic birds beside the tables, chirping, singing and chatting along with the clientele: another therapeutic aid to relaxation.

Portman Village has always been a pioneering centre of exotic dining ever since the Romans marched down Watling Street to where Marble Arch now stands, with their barrels of oysters and pots of garam. Around 1810, as England was consolidating her Indian Empire, the Hindoostanee Coffee House opened just north of Les Senteurs at 34 George Street: it’s now renumbered as 102 if you want to make a little pilgrimage. The owner was the enterprising Sake Din Mahomet newly arrived from Patna ( famous for its fine rice), and for a couple of years he kicked up a great stir with his provision of hookahs, sumptuous seating arrangements and native delicacies. English adventures in India had led to a curry mania at home during the Napoleonic period: remember Becky Sharp choking half to death on a chili at Joss Sedley’s over-spiced dinner in “Vanity Fair”?

On the corner of Duke Street, in the now vanished Edward Street, was Parmentier’s: this was not the Parmentier who pushed the potato as health for all, but a namesake who sounds as though he kept the most magical confectionery in the world for the beau monde and Royal Family. Preserves and conserves both “wet and dry”, ice creams and superior macaroons (just like Laduree) all piled on the health problems which Mr Din Mahomet then alleviated while wearing his other professional hat of “shampooing and vapour surgeon” to two Kings and the Quality.

I suppose we at LES SENTEURS might also consider ourselves as vapour surgeons of a sort – and our collection of gourmand perfumes are second to none. Come by and sample the Indian Raj tea party as interpeted in Parfum d’Empire’s “Fougere Bengale”: truly in Portman Village there is nothing new under the sun!

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 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.