No point denying it - British perfumery is having a moment. Over the past few years we’ve seen earthy, timeless, beguiling scents as well as a number of heritage perfume houses being given a much-needed revival. We’re being treated to the kind of scents you can easily imagine the Mitford sisters dabbing behind their ears before being presented to London society, but now we’re spritzing them on to complement our Stella McCartney oversized cotton shirt and Burberry tailored trousers. These types of fragrances seem to have a strange ability to conjure up a different England, at a different time but still remain stylish and relevant. They remind me of visiting my granny’s house in Winchester 25 odd years ago. Her remote rural bungalow was world away from our flat in the city suburbs. There was actually garden for one thing – throughout the year it smelled variously of hay, chopped wood, lavender, compost and other scents that seemed from a past era, as did the eerie silence of the countryside (punctuated by the occasional radiator clang and rustle of a field mouse running along the skirting boards).
Similar olfactory time-travel can be sought at Angela Flanders' East London perfumeries – whose latest scent ‘Lawn’ is a wonderful escape to the country circa 1954, for those who don't normally venture beyond Zone 2. A gorgeously green, sparkly affair, it echoes the smell of rain-soaked grass as the sun comes up, when you peer out of the window. (Or alternatively, wake up on the actual lawn the morning after a house party...) Black pepper adds a sharpness to the crisp bergamot accord, while mossy galbanum and patchouli give it a rich earthy kick, with floral whispers of jasmine and tuberose. The scent itself is the creation of Angela’s daughter Kate, marking the latter’s first foray into fragrance. The main inspiration behind ‘Lawn’, was a poem by the fragrance writer Vicci Bentley who also provided some creative direction of the fragrance itself (Vicci had previously penned a poem for Kate’s mother Angela, which resulted in the scent ‘Breath of Hope’). Very rarely as a journalist do you get sent a perfume accompanied with the words “inhaling silver, tasting green as / each liquid call in the chorus / trickles down to touch the / newness in you”. To me, it says far more than say, a campaign featuring a doe-eyed model, all long limbs and shiny skin, running through a forest, whilst clutching a perfume bottle for some bizarre reason, while a voiceover whispers something trite like "free your inhibitions" etc.
Angela herself, who sadly passed away in 2016, was still creating award-winning fragrances well into her 80s. Her pretty little shop just across the road from Liverpool Street Station is a haven for any fragrance fanatic (there is another one in Columbia Road). Tucked away in the cobbled backstreets of the East End, it's like a portal to 1950s glamour. A former costume designer, Angela opened her first shop in 1985 selling a number of bric-a-brac, but the turning point began when she decided to create and sell a range of potpourri. Demand soon increased and she channelled her talents into perfumery full time, being very hands-on and winning a number of FiFi awards (which are like ‘The Oscars’ of perfumery) in the process.
Kate created ‘Lawn’ as an homage to her mother’s love of fabrics – and inhaling it you do get a sense of sheer, gauzy material you want to wrap yourself in. It’s ‘grown up’ sexy, not the preening, pouty kind you see tumbling out of Mayfair clubs on a Friday night - but the tomboyish type you see confidently strolling down Albemarle Street in brogues and a sweater dress.
The word ‘niche’ gets banded around a lot these days, but to me, Angela Flanders sums up the term at its best, representing a family run business, continuing a rich legacy, with a handful of creative women at the helm.
‘Lawn’ is available from March 21st.
4 Artillery Passage, Spitalfields, London E1 7LJ
Tel: 020 7247 7040 / angelaflanders-perfumer.com
Open Monday-Friday 11am-6:30pm, and Saturdays 11am-5pm.