Scent is deeply personal, with the power to unlock hidden passageways in one’s consciousness. It conjures memories, instantly transporting one to a different place and time.
The 19th-century perfumer Eugène Rimmel once said, “The history of perfume is, in some manner, the history of civilization.” The earliest known perfumer was a woman named Tapputi of Mesopotamia, who lived around 1200 B.C. In ancient Egypt, fragrance was used in religious ceremonies and to ward off evil. Legend has it that Cleopatra rubbed fragrant oils on the sails of her boat so Mark Antony would catch her scent before she arrived for a rendezvous.
Fragrance has been a thing of luxury throughout the ages, associated with nobility and royalty. Many of today’s most celebrated perfumers have a history intertwined with that of royal families. Some of the most well-known perfumers that have been favoured by royalty include Trudon, Creed, and Guerlain. Here we highlight several other brands, whose aristocratic roots may be less well-known.
Clive Christian is one of the UK’s most exclusive fragrance houses, with some of the most expensive perfumes in the world. Its fragrance 1872 is a tribute to its royal heritage, named for the year the company was founded as Britain’s Crown Perfumery. Queen Victoria gave the perfumery permission to use the symbol of her crown as the shape of its bottle stoppers.
In 1999, when Clive Christian took over Crown Perfumery, he dipped into the archives, looking through scents from the company’s genesis to inspire the new fragrance, 1872.
The men’s version is a fresh and spicy chypre, featuring the sacred herb clary sage, which Emperor Nero is said to have sprinkled over his troops before they went into battle, for its invigorating effects. The women’s version opens with a fresh, floral citrus bouquet. Its star ingredient is the rare rose de mai. To make each drop of perfume, Clive Christian uses 170 of these rose buds.
Top notes: Citrusy notes (grapefruit, lime, and bergamot), galbanum, pineapple, peach, aromatic lavender, rosemary, black pepper, nutmeg
Heart notes: Cyclamen, freesia, tagete oil, jasmine, clary sage
Base notes: Cedarwood, sandalwood, patchouli, green resins
Top notes: Citrus (bergamot, tangerine, and lemon), pineapple, blueberry, rosemary.
Heart notes: Intense, distilled absolutes of rose de mai, lily of the valley, osmanthus, jasmine, purple violet, freesia, orchid
Base notes: Sandalwood, cedarwood, guaiac wood, patchouli, erogen musk, oak moss
Marie Antoinette, queen of France and wife of Louis XVI, had a personal perfumer named Jean Louis Fargeon. In 1786, Fargeon created a perfume exclusively for her; it was an opulent fragrance stored in a mysterious black jade flask. Fargeon’s 12-year-old apprentice, Pierre-François Lubin, was responsible for delivering the perfume to the palace.
The king and queen were executed during the French Revolution, and their sole surviving daughter was Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, duchess of Angoulême. She sought out Lubin, who by that time had opened his own shop, and asked him to recreate her mother’s perfume. Lubin was the only person in the world who had the formula after Fargeon’s passing.
The duchess became Lubin’s loyal customer, and appointed him Perfumer to the Duke of Angoulême. His fame spread among European nobility, including the princess of Monaco Grace Kelly, and Lubin came to be regarded by many as the father of modern perfume.
Today, Lubin’s Black Jade remains a tribute to the perfumer’s royal beginnings. It’s a luxurious, richly floral composition inspired by Marie Antoinette’s rose garden, with a heart of warm spices and exotic incense.
Top notes: Galbanum, bergamot, cardamom
Heart notes: Rose, jasmine, incense, cinnamon
Base notes: Indian sandalwood, patchouli, vanilla, amber
In 1730, Juan Famenias Floris and his wife, Elizabeth, founded Floris as a perfume and toiletries shop in London’s elegant St. James’s quarter. It has remained a family business for eight generations. In 1820, it was first awarded a Royal Warrant, an official recognition for companies that provide goods and services to royal personages. King George IV particularly liked the skillfully made combs that were one of Floris’s specialties at the time.
Floris has remained a supplier of perfume and toiletries to the British Royal Family, and it has stayed in the same location on Jermyn Street since it first opened. Its clients have included Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe.
In the early 19th century, Floris created the fragrance White Rose. It’s an elegant, contrasting mix of rose, cool iris, and earthy musk inspired by London’s vibrant Mayfair district. It was a fragrance favoured by Florence Nightingale.
Top notes: Aldehydic, carnation, green
Heart notes: Iris, rose, jasmine, violet
Base notes: Amber, musk, powdery notes
In 1870, Cornish barber William Penhaligon opened up shop on London’s famous Jermyn Street, alongside some of the city’s finest tailors and gentlemen’s shops. He had come to London to seek his fortune, and he found it. Queen Victoria appointed him Barber and Perfumer to the Royal Court. He even trimmed the Shah of Persia’s beard.
He expanded into fragrances in 1874. Inspired by the scent from neighbouring Turkish baths, he created his first fragrance, Hammam Bouquet. Queen Alexandra granted him a Royal Warrant in 1903, and his company has continued in royal favour ever since.
All of the brand’s fragrances are produced exclusively in the UK, made with the highest quality pure oils and essences. Paying tribute to the historic Kensington district, Penhaligon’s Kensington Amber fragrance captures the warm, hypnotic character of London and its colourful past. It’s spiced with bergamot and cinnamon, and sweetened with comforting vanilla and tonka bean notes.
Top notes: Bergamot
Heart notes: Cinnamon
Base notes: Tonka bean, cedarwood, vanilla, benzoin, labdanum
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Acqua di S.M.Novella
In 1221, Dominican friars built a monastery outside the gates of Florence, Italy. They established a garden of medicinal herbs to make healing balms and ointments for the monastery’s infirmary, which served the local community as well as the monks themselves.
Their apothecarial talents grew in fame over the centuries, and in 1612, the Grand Duke of Tuscany granted them the honourable title of His Royal Highness’s Firm.
The 16th-century Italian noblewoman and queen of France Catherine de Medici commissioned the friars to prepare a fragrance just for her. They called it Acqua della Regina, or Water of the Queen, and it quickly gained fame in her social circle.
Known today as Acqua di S. M. Novella, or Water of Santa Maria Novella, the fragrance is still produced by Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in its original building in Florence. It’s a verdant blend of citrus and herbaceous notes.
Top notes: Orange blossom oil, lemon, lemon tangerine
Heart notes: Lavender, bitter orange leaf, rosemary, clove
Base notes: Benzoin, balsam
Kyukyodo was founded in 1663, and began making incense following ancestral methods. Among its ancient scents still made today is Black, based on a formula from the Haien period (794–1185).
It’s a distinctive, intense scent — a combination of agarwood, frankincense, and white sandalwood. It comes in a tablet-shaped form, not to be burned directly, but rather to be heated in a censer. Once dried, it can be lightly moistened with water or it can be ground down and mixed in honey to make a new tablet.
Kyukyodo makes calligraphy supplies and special paper and paper handicrafts, and it was the official stationer to the Imperial House of Japan from 1891 to 1945. It is still run by the Kumagai family that founded it.