Friday, 20 July 2012

Persolaise Review: Celtic Fire + Quince, Mint & Moss + Holy Thistle + Gothic Bluebell from Union + Diamond Jubilee Bouquet from Grossmith (2012)

It's always tricky going for a unifying theme when creating a fragrance range. Some ideas seem more forced than others: the 'Indian history' approach of Neela Vermeire Creations generally attracted praise whereas the highfalutin', pseudo-evolutionary 'biology project' behind Blood Concept mostly raised chortles of derision. The founders of Union (apparently all we can be told about them is that they're four "successful businessmen") decided that their Big Idea would be that all of the natural ingredients in their perfumes would have to be grown, sourced and/or produced on the British Isles. If any of the required materials weren't already available, they'd have to be manufactured somehow.

As far as Unique Selling Points go, this one certainly isn't anywhere near as dubious as some to which we've been treated over the years (remember the 'fabric' collection from Boss?). After all, the discipline of imposing certain restrictions on an artistic process often yields commendable results. Speak to Anastasia Brozler, the creator of these new scents, and she'll tell you several impassioned stories about donning white gloves to pick bluebells (only the English variety, not the more-commonly seen Spanish; no more than two flowers from each stem, otherwise you'd break the protection order on the species) and searching for fields of suitable thistles in Scotland (apparently, gardeners were more than happy to be relieved of what they normally consider to be a weed). This is all well and good, but one wonders whether it amounts to more than a fraction of what's in the juice. Does the use of home-grown materials automatically imbue the scents with 'Britishness'? If the inclusion of certain synthetics causes the perfumes to display decidedly non-British notes, such as vetivert or incense, then isn't the entire raison d'être of the project undermined? And isn't the cultural and aesthetic resonance of a fragrance more than a question of the provenance of its ingredients? 

If I'm being overly intellectual about Union's overarching concept, then that's because I'm confident the perfumes can take the scrutiny: all four are pretty impressive in their own ways. Celtic Fire is probably the most predictable of the quartet, although even it makes room in its familiar, leathery structure for an unmistakably beer-scented, malted facet as well as a peat-like, yeasty note achieved by... wait for it... a specially-made tincture of Marmite! Brawny and muscular, it lives up to its name and is suitably incendiary. One wonders if this was the sort of smell going through Tolkien's mind when he was writing about the forging of the One Ring.

Quince, Mint & Moss is the range's bid for elegance. It does feature a slight suggestion of the jammy, peachy, pear-like sweetness peculiar to quinces, and it unquestionably contains an aromatic mint note (with an effervescent ginger twist), but instead of mossiness, I detect a prominent grapefruit facet. In combination with the more herbal elements, it produces an understated effect not unlike that created by Terre D'Hermès, which is no bad thing.

Holy Thistle is a soapy curiosity. It starts off green (fig leaf; not grass) before opening itself up to pollen and apple notes, both of which lend a convincing outdoorsy wildness to proceedings. It's all very Timotei, very 'flaxen-haired waif staring into the sun'. But it also presents a subtle incense-like pine note (is this the holiness alluded to in the name?) which stops the whole from becoming too pastoral.

Finally, Gothic Bluebell scores high marks for originality. The shrill, green, almost plasticky, glue-like smell of the eponymous flower isn't necessarily a strong candidate for inclusion at the heart of a perfume, but here, its furniture-polish aspect is allied with a dry wood note to conjure an intriguing, appropriately gothic impression of gleaming pews in an empty church. Jane Austen would've enjoyed this whilst working on Northanger Abbey.

None of the scents could really be called exciting - and the Union Jack motif on the bottles is bound to cause a few lips to curl in distaste - but all four are extremely well put-together and are superior to most of the stuff churned out by high-profile firms. And at the very least, the brand deserves kudos for not going down the twee English lavender route. Thumbs up for Blighty!

In brief... To mark the Queen's 60th year on the throne, Grossmith have produced 500 bottles of Diamond Jubilee Bouquet (available only in the UK), a characteristically lush composition of rose and iris with a base of strong synthetic musks. It isn't particularly original or distinctive, but it remains pleasant and likeable throughout its development.

[Reviews of Union scents based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Union in 2012; review of Diamond Jubilee Bouquet based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Grossmith in 2012.]



  1. Nicely written. Have you sampled the Gunpowder Rose blend? This one intrigues, but I wonder if the sulfur/flint note hinders the beauty of real rose oil?

    1. Ona, thanks very much indeed. No, I haven't tried the new one. I'm aware that it's been released, but it hasn't found its way to me yet.


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