Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Dukes of Pall Mall - Greetings from the Victorian 1980s
Dukes of Pall Mall comes across as a venerable gentlemen's establishment in the style of Trumper's, and as much is suggested by the little accompanying leaflet, which states, in carefully chosen words, that "Dukes of Pall Mall continue to compound toiletry preparations for private warrant...based upon these original formulae" of the Regency period. In fact it would seem the enterprise was launched in the 1980s with a faux patina. The company was incorporated on July 21, 1982 and in 1983 Country Life magazine announced the launch of the only two known product ranges by the firm, Cotswold and Belgravia, a town and country pair of scents clearly evoking the traditional style of English perfumery by name as well as by their composition. I am aware of cologne, after shave and after shave balms under these names and from what one occasionally reads on shaving fora they aqcuired a good reputation amongst the small circle of Anglophile traditional shaving aficionados, though the firm did not hold out very long. By 1989 the company was held by one Terence Revill who operated from his home. I acquired versions of both colognes from this era through ebay (recognizable by the Harrow address, rather than the 46-47 Pall Mall of the old flacons) and the quality was noticeably inferior. My first encounter with Dukes had consisted in the blind purchase of a number of bottles of Cotswold aftershave through online beauty discounter direct cosmetics (from whence harked my first Crown perfumery scents, as well). I was stunned from the moment I smelled this beautiful juice, a quintessential old-fashioned citrus-floral that blows most of the other "traditional English" survivors out of the water due to the incredible quality of its ingredients. That, for some time, has been a problematic issue with houses such as Floris, Penhaligon's or Taylors of Old Bond Street (of which only the latter commensurately offer their products at a bargain price), who frequently sell fragrances related to their original formulations only by name and are of vastly inferior quality. Dukes, however went all-out on top-notch ingredients, something that admittedly was a lot easier to do in 1983 than 25 years later. A lovely citrus top (bergamot, lime, verbena?) is followed up by an utterly beautiful accord of jasmine and ylang that never fails to entirely captivate my senses - particularly, for some reason, in the Aftershave version. It is so stunning that the light woody-musky base remains a mere afterthought. Cotswold is a sublime perfume which could not possibly be bested as the fragrant complement to a fine country suit, or even a blue chalk-stripe city outfit, but in today's perfume context it would equally well adorn a dandy.
Belgravia is supposedly based on a formula from the 1860s, but it is in fact a classic and beautiful fougère with a 1980s vibe. I cannot get over how close it comes to Penhaligon's recent Sartorial - if you subtract the modern ozonic elements from the latter and imagine it done with really good raw materials. Both are orientalized fougères, featuring lavender, floral notes, patchouli, spice, moss, coumarin and most characteristically a wonderful warm spicy-sweet heart (of beeswax in Sartorial and oppoponax in Belgravia). I do not actually find it particularly urban(e), but nearly romantic, though it is unquestionably sophisticated, elegant and never gets loud. In the context of 1980s powerhouse extremes it would perhaps seem lean and clean. The quality, if perhaps not the complexity of the composition, I find to be on par with the famed Patou pour homme - whoever created these beauties was a master of the art who knew his or her stuff. In fact it appears that none other than John Stephen of Czech & Speake fame authored Cotswold and that certainly makes sense.
It is a shame that more perfume lovers with a taste for vintage styles cannot smell and wear these lost Victorian treasures of the 1980s. I will let slip here, though, that I have lately smelled a new version of Belgravia, but that's all I can say for now. As for the unknown entrepeneur who launched Dukes of Pall Mall with a sense of history and quality, if not enough good fortune (hello, Gobin-Daudé), here's three cheers and a royal salute for creating two gems of English perfumery.