Patchouli, Led Zeppelin and the moth.

‘My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon,I will return
Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when
movin’ through Kashmir….
C’mon,let me take you there…

Kashmir Led Zeppelin

Patchouli, Afghan coats, big hair and the sound of Led Zeppelin are synonymous with the hippie couture of the late 1960’s and early 70’s – a fashion with relatively few followers but one that left an indelible print on the senses of those who came into contact with it.
Add odour of joss stick and the occasional whiff of something stronger and never has there been a fashion statement as much about the smell as the look. The smelliness of the Afghan coat is attributed to the poor curing process of the sheepskin in cheaply made copies; an authentic item, hand embroidered and made in the province of Ghazni, Afghanistan had very little odour even when wet.

Afghan girl

The hippie blend, a not unpleasant sweet leather with notes of damp dog and incense had incredible tenacity and would linger post party for days. The scent, surely most pronounced in the hippie wardrobe would offer the added benefit of moth protected woollens particularly expensive cashmere. Moths or specifically moth larvae love cashmere: moths hate patchouli.

Patchouli owes its introduction to perfume by this very route – as a moth repellent, the herb used for centuries on the sub-continent to protect stored silks and woollens.Forming a small, woody stemmed shrub with soft pubescent leaves the plant requires a tropical climate to thrive: in India it is cultivated in the Tamil Nadu region.                            Much further north in Kashmir, more associated with the growing of roses for perfume….

‘Who has not heard of the Vale of Kashmir
With its roses the brightest that earth ever gave
Its temples and grottoes, and fountains clear
As the love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave?’

Lalla Rookh Thomas Moore

…there grazes the Pashmina goat producing a fleece second to none for its quality in the manufacture of cashmere wool. Cashmere shawls, originally worn by Kashmiri men were exquisitely made by local weavers and their luxurious quality was appreciated far and wide eventually finding favour with the wealthy nabobs who worked out of the administrative centres of colonial India.  shawl By the late 18th century British East India Company merchants were ordering the shawls from Kashmiri weavers. By track, road and by boat on the River Ganges they were transported hundreds of miles south to Benares (Varanasi) and then on to the British controlled port of Calcutta (Kolkata). It is here that they were repacked with layers of patchouli leaf to be stored in the company warehouses ready for shipment to London. On eventual arrival in London the shawls were unpacked to find they had acquired the distinctive patchouli scent: the scent became synonymous with the shawl.                                                         

 The shawl, incredibly warm yet lightweight proved the essential accessory to the flimsy, bare armed Empire dresses of the day. Empress Josephine loved them and had them made into cushions and dresses! In Paris demand outstripped supply and this was exacerbated by the trade blockades of the Napoleonic wars: cashmere shawls were consequently smuggled into France.

In Britain demand was met by the mechanical Jacquard looms of the weaving factories of Paisley, Norwich and Edinburgh. Although inferior in quality the copies of French made Kashmiri style shawls in a silk and wool mix proved highly profitable throughout the 19th century; the shawl having survived changes in Victorian fashion. However, to appear authentic they had to smell of patchouli! At first bales of dried patchouli leaf were imported by the same trade route – small bundles of patchouli could be bought from apothecaries for use in homemade drawer sachets and pots-pourris – then oil, as cultivation of the plant increased and distillers could supply the wholesalers of Ghazepoore, the centre of perfumery trade in India.

Situated on the north bank of the River Ganges above Benares, Ghazepoore was also the main producer of opium in an industry established by the British East India Company in 1820.

Used as a single note in Victorian handkerchief scents -Flaubert’s Emma Bovary never had enough to satisfy her extravagant use of the oil in the seduction of her lover – and then in blends notably chypres in the New Age of perfumery late in the 19th century, the dark, earthy, woody scent has an exotic almost minty top note richening and sweetening with maturity.

Although a favourite of perfumers and used in many blends patchouli has many detractors none more so than the clothes moth – both common and case-bearing species – the patchouli’s camphor upsetting the scent detecting equipment of the moth.

Darasina has been asked to put patchouli and other aromatic ingredients to the moth deterring test in trials to be conducted in coming months.

In September of this year Led Zeppelin and patchouli came together again in the new promo video for Dior Homme. A reformulation of the Olivier Polge confection it has a sweet patchouli, cacao and vanilla drydown with just a hint of tobacco. A very assured and well dressed creation it is perfectly matched to the choice of visuals on video – an immaculate besuited Robert Pattinson in all-action retro black and white imagery. Led Zeppelin provide the soundtrack with Whole Lotta Love but here, Zeppelin have gate-crashed the wrong party…………………not enough patchouli man!

Thanks to Brora, The National Trust, Aileen Ribeiro The Courtauld Institute of Art

Pot-pourri 2 – Odette Toilette’s Blend #1


In Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando: A Biography published in 1928 our eponymous time traveller walks into a modern department store in London’s West End …
     ….‘ Shade and scent enveloped her. The present fell from
    her like drops of scalding water….. Now the lift gave a little
    jerk as it stopped at the first floor; and she had a vision of 
    innumerable coloured stuffs flaunting in a breeze from which
    came distinct, strange smells; and each time the lift stopped
    and flung its doors open, there was another slice of the world
    displayed with all the smells of that world clinging to it. She was
    reminded of the river off Wapping in the time of Elizabeth, where
    the treasure ships and the merchant ships used to anchor. 
    How richly and curiously they had smelt!’

In 1600 the British East India Company were granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I enabling the business to compete with the rival Dutch East India Company for the valuable trade routes to India and the Orient. Trade in perfumery ingredients – spices, resins, musk and ambergris etc. – flourished. 
A five acre warehouse in Cutler Gardens off Houndsditch and smaller premises in Billiter Street in the City of London were developed to accommodate the cargo of hundreds of ships – textiles, porcelain, tea,spices, saltpetre etc. – by the late 18th century.

The old way of making pot-pourri was by the moist method. Part dried flower petals, invariably rose, are layered with a coarse iodine-free salt in a large earthenware container along with part dried herbs and citrus peels. This is left to ferment until such time that the pot has cured. Spices are then added along with ingredients that have a fixative quality: roots such as orris – the dried rhizome of Iris ‘Florentina’ – angelica, tree resins from the Orient – benzoin and storax – and tonka bean that help capture the scent and add their own perfume to a blend.
Once matured the resultant slightly damp, almost sandy textured mixture produces a perfume of great depth and richness giving up its scent partly by evaporation and partly by decomposition as air is allowed into it. To prevent its drying out special pot-pourri jars were designed with an inner lid to keep the mix airtight when not in use.
18th century porcelain makers displayed their finest craftsmanship in the manufacture of these jars and many featured a pierced gallery between the jar and the outer lid allowing air to enter the contents and the scent to gently waft into a room: others would have a pierced outer lid. Their manufacture continued well into the 20th century although in many households a simple bowl or vase were used and the contents would inevitably dry out within a few months: a well made and well kept pot-pourri would retain some scent for up to fifty years claimed Taylor’s of London, the perfumers. A few drops of brandy, a stir of the contents and gentle warming of the pot were suggested methods of reviving a tired pot-pourri.


Royal Doulton Stoneware Pot-Pourri Jars circa 1925

A moist pot-pourri inspired by a 1920’s recipe has been made by  Darasina for Odette Toilette.
Lady Ottoline Morrell, a matriarchal figure within the Bloomsbury Group at once recognisable for her striking features and flamboyant dress found time in her hectic social life to make her own pot-pourri. The characteristic of every house in which Ottoline lived was its smell;  bowls of pot-pourri and orris root stood where space permitted.

Lady Ottoline Morrell

                  From Old Bloomsbury Virginia Woolf 1948 essay.

          ‘When indeed one remembers that drawing room full
          of people, the pale yellow and pinks of the brocades,the
          Italian chairs, the Persian rugs, the embroideries, the tassels,
          the scent, the pomegranates, the pugs, the pot-pourri and 
          Ottoline bearing down upon one from afar in her white shawl
          with the great scarlet flowers on it and sweeping one away
          out of the large room and the crowd into a little room with her
          alone, where she plied one with questions that were so
          intimate and intense…..
          I think my excitement maybe excused’


William Moorcroft Pomegranate design pot-pourri jar for Liberty & Co circa 1928

Their own recipe pot-pourri and William Moorcroft pot-pourri jars were quintessential 1920’s Liberty & Co. products on offer in the Regent Street department store.
Established in 1875 in a half shop at 218A Regent Street – grandly re-named East India House – it opened with Arthur Lasenby Liberty and two paid members of staff; Haru Kitsui a Japanese boy and Hannah Browning, a girl of sixteen together with the voluntary service of one William Judd. The shop specialised in silk fabrics and oriental wares proving popular amongst a bohemian following. Liberty added an ever expanding stock catalogue, adjoining shop space and staff numbers as their empire grew.
Shunning contemporary architectural fashion, a rebuilt Tudor style store was opened in 1925. The Tudor period had a romantic appeal to Liberty with its great days of merchant adventuring and treasures brought back by the shipload……to be sold in the little shops of Elizabethan London.


Liberty’s Tudor building.Pen and ink by Hanslip Fletcher.

The timber, oak and teak, for the construction of the new building came from two early 19th century men-of -war sailing ships – H.M.S Impregnable and H.M.S Hindustan – broken up on the Thames. The giant timbers were used externally and for internal flooring and staircasing . Hand chiselled Portland stone and hand-made roof tiles complete the facade.
Sailing aloft the main entrance is a gilded copper weathervane modelled on the Mayflower. The arms of Queen Elizabeth I are on the gable facing Regent Street.
Step inside Liberty & Co. and as with all old department stores one is greeted with the rich smell of polished wood, perfume, silk, calico and leather …… only more so.

Odette Toilette’s Pot-Pourri Blend #1 ingredients include:- rose petals, Russian coriander, cardamom, rose geranium, lemon verbena, orris root, the oriental resins storax and benzoin, cedar of lebanon and tonka bean.


1953- The newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

1851   –    Moby Dick is published.   Herman Melville’s storyteller Ishmael offers a discourse on the dignity of whaling.   ‘……. Think of that, ye loyal  Britons!   We whalemen supply your Kings and Queens with coronation   stuff’.  Ishmael alludes here to sperm oil ‘……. the sweetest of all oils’ and not to ambergris, the digestive secretion produced by the whale to ease   passing of indigestible matter such as  bony beaks of squid.

1559   –   At her coronation Elizabeth I comments on the holy oil as being ‘greasy and smells ill’.

1626   –   For the coronation of Charles I a more fragrant formula is devised by the celebrated court doctor Theodore de Mayerne.  The Huguenot had been physician to Henry IV of France and his Queen consort, Marie de Medici. The marriage of their daughter Princess Henrietta Maria and Charles took place on 13th June 1625 heralding a continental love of perfume in the Court of St. James’s.
The blend is prepared by the Royal Apothecary Nicholas le Myre. 

Courtesy of Westminster Abbey Muniments.

The recipe includes neroli,  jasmine, rose, cinnamon, benzoin, ambergris, musk and civet; a mix of oils and solids warmed then diluted to a liquid state. Oleo Been refers to moringa seed oil much used in oil based perfumes since antiquity.
The oil is formulated more on aesthetic lines than on any biblical reference.
1649   –   The Commonwealth.  Diagnosed by de Mayerne as suffering from ‘valde melancholicus’ Cromwell orders that the coronation regalia be ‘totally broken’ as being symbolic of the ‘detestable rule of kings’.  The anointing vessel –  a gold ampulla and the silver gilt dispensing spoon said to date back to the coronation of King John in 1199 are sold off.
The puritan has since been found to appreciate scent  – Exhibition: Perfumes for the Protector

1660   –   Restoration of the Monarchy. A new ampulla in the form of a golden eagle is supplied by goldsmith Robert Vyner and the anointing spoon sold off for sixteen shillings is returned and  decorated with freshwater pearls for the coronation of Charles II in 1661.
Charles II favourite dish is eggs and ambergris.

1837   –   The Coronation of Queen Victoria.  Over the years the formula for the anointing oil has evidently changed since Peter Squire, appointed Chemist in Ordinary to the court pharmacy by Victoria, prepares a ‘new’ blend based on the 1626 recipe – it contains sperm oil.  However, Queen Victoria hates the oil and can’t wait to wash if off saying that it is sticky and overpowering….. 

1902   –   … sticky that by the time of the coronation of Edward VII the oil has coagulated and a new batch is prepared.

1941   –   Westminster Abbey is hit by German incendiary bombs – the Deanery is gutted by fire.

1953   –   In preparation for the coronation of Elizabeth II, the vial of anointing oil last used at the 1938 coronation of her father George VI  has been traced back to is storage in the Deanery.  The consecrated oil is either deemed missing, destroyed or not fit for use.
Panic sets in at official level when it is established that the maker and recipe keeper of the oil has gone out of business.  Squire and Co, chemist and royal warrant holders had held this position since 1836 only to be acquired in a business takeover by Savory and Moore, the dispensing chemist  in 1950.  They have no idea of the recipe.
According to reports, officials track down the recipe either from a former employee of Squire and Co or perhaps from notes kept by the granddaughter of Peter Squire or from the British Library where the original hand written formula is kept.
The Surgeon Apothecary J P Loring hands the recipe to J D Jamieson of Savory and Moore for the oil to be made up at short notice.  It is blended on the premises of the dispensing chemist at its flagship store 143, New Bond Street, London.

The site of Savory and Moore. 143, New Bond Street,London; now a branch of Ralph Lauren.

Savory and Moore are themselves acquired in 1967 by Macartheys who are now part of The Lloyds Pharmacy Group under the parent company Celesio AG.
A vial of the formulation lightened with sesame oil is presented to the Dean of Westminster to arrange for its consecration – the Bishop of Gloucester performs the blessing.

1953, June 2. –  Inside Westminster Abbey 8,000 guests along with 27 million BBC television viewers witness the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  Dutifully and obediently the cameras look away from the lowered concealing canopy carried by Four Knights of the Garter.  Hidden from gaze, the soon to be crowned Elizabeth sits in King Edward’s chair wearing the simple, austere anointing gown.  The Dean of Westminster pours the oil from the ampulla into the anointing spoon and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher with fingers dipped into spoon anoints the monarch on the hands, head and heart. 
In this most sacred and spiritual element within the service the monarch is dedicated to God in their undertaking and obligation to the Crown.

      And as Solomon was anointed King
      by Zadok the priest and Nathan the Prophet,
      so be thou anointed, blessed, and consecrated Queen
      over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God
      hath given thee to rule and govern,
      In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
      and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The sovereign of the United Kingdom is the last anointed monarch.

2012   –   The artist Tom Railton commissions Darasina to make a re-creation of the Charles I anointing oil for use in his artwork ‘Unction’.

All the ingedients are used with the exception of an animal dervied musk. In a diluted state the oil is nevertheless overwhelmingly heady – far too strong to be used in the damp, heavy air of that June day inside Westminster Abbey.
Further diluted the oil smells extremely pleasant;  a classic ambery oriental using a considerable quantity of ambergris.

2013, June 2  –  The sixtieth, diamond jubilee anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

1851   –   Moby Dick published ‘………. I have it, I have it’ cried Stubb, with delight, striking something in the (whale’s) subterranean regions, ‘a purse! a purse!’  Dropping his spade, he thrust both hands in, and drew out handfuls of something that looked like ripe Windsor soap, or rich mottled old cheese; very unctuous and savory withal.
‘Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of  a sick whale!’

An excreted piece of ambergris. Part of a black squid beak is showing. Beachcombed.

The ambergris smells of cigars and the ocean.  It adds a velvety lusciousness to a blend.  In perfumery ambergris has been superseded by synthetic substitutes.  Ambrox is made by the giant flavours and fragrance company Firmenich SA who also develop perfumes for labels including Armani, Yves Saint  Laurent and Ralph Lauren.


Pot-pourri 1: Part of the fabric of an English country house.

From Knole and the Sackvilles. Vita Sackville-West 1922.

Vita Sackville-West

‘…There are other galleries, older and more austere than the Cartoon Gallery …… They have the old, musty smell which to me, whenever I met it, would bring back Knole. I suppose it is really the smell of all old houses – a mixture of woodwork, pot-pourri, leather, tapestry, and the little camphor bags which keep away the moth; …….. Bowls of lavender and dried rose-leaves stand on the window-sills; and if you stir them up you get the quintessence of the smell, a sort of dusty fragrance, sweeter in the under layers where it has held the damp of the spices. The pot pourri at Knole is always made from the recipe of a prim-looking little old lady who lived there for many years as a guest in the reigns of George I and George II.’

Pot-pourri recipe – Lady Betty Germaine, 1750.   

‘Gather dry, double violets, rose leaves, lavender, myrtle flowers, verbena, bay leaves, rosemary, balm, musk, geranium. Pick these from the stalks and dry on paper in the sun for a day or two before putting them in a jar. This should be a large white one, well glazed, with a close fitting cover………. Layer of bay salt above and below every layer of flowers. Have ready of spices, plenty of cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and pepper and lemon peel pounded. For a large jar half pound of orris-root, one ounce storax, one ounce gum benjamin, two ounces of calamino aromatico, two grs.musk, and a small quantity of oil of rhodium ………… mix all well together and spread bay salt on top to exclude air until the January or February following.’                    nb. for rose leaves read rose petals.

Lady Betty composed the Knole recipe in 1750 at the height of the fashion for pot-pourri in Europe. She was a courtier to Queen Anne and had lived at Drayton House in Northamptonshire and then moved to Knole House in Kent on widowhood where she was invited to stay through her friendship with the Sackville family .She had her own apartment in the magnificent 365 room Tudor house.

There is another reference to the pot-pourri in Orlando; A Biography, Virginia Woolf ‘s 1928 dedication to Vita and her ancestry and to Knole House, where Orlando playfully ‘….Slid along the polished planks of the gallery, the other side of which was rough timber; touched this silk, that satin, fancied the carved dolphins swam; brushed her hair with the King James’ silver brush; buried her face in the pot-pourri, which was made as the Conqueror had taught them many hundred years ago and from the same roses…..’

A more likely explanation of the origins of pot-pourri lie in the Arabic tradition of salt preserving rose petals for perfume use that were imported into Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries via Venetian traders. Another route, under Moorish influence comes from Spain.

Known more prosaically in 16th and 17th century Britain as pickled roses and sometimes referred to as sweet pot or sweet jar, it was not until a fashion took hold in the 18th century Royal Court of Louis XV where his mistress Madame de Pompadour created her own recipe, probably with the assistance of Vigier – perfumer to the King, that the French term pot-pourri crossed the Channel. She commissioned richly decorated containers for her confection from the Sevres porcelain factory. English porcelain factories; Chelsea and Derby etc., catalogued their jars and vases as pot-pourri after the French manner, although it took until the mid 19th century before the term was generally applied to the contents.

Whereas the fashion in France disappeared with the Revolution, in British country houses and cottages alike pot-pourri making remained a hobby for the fashionable lady. If a garden supplied enough rose petals she would design her own signature scent that might stay in the family for generations. She might otherwise copy one of the recipes included in the proliferation of domestic help books or she might purchase a ready made pot-pourri from an apothecary or from a perfumer. Ingredients for home made pots-pourris;  spices, resins and oils were widely available and by the 17th century grocers would attend town markets stocked with barrels of preserved rose petals, orris root powder, benzoin and musk.

I first came across the Lady Betty Germaine recipe in a 1900 publication Home and Garden by Gertrude Jeykll, the celebrated garden designer. Gertrude takes up a complete chapter on the making of pot-pourri where she gives details of her own recipe filling a fifteen gallon barrel with the finished product. She then gives mention to the Lady Betty recipe, handed to her by Vita’s mother Victoria who had commissioned Gertrude and the architect Edwin Lutyens to design properties in London and in Sussex – friendship flourished as a consequence.

Gertrude Jeykll’s nieces and gardener
preparing rose petals for pot-pourri.
Summer 1899

Gertrude would make enough pot-pourri to give to friends and  family including the Lutyens’ and her sister-in-law Agnes, whose home, Munstead House in Surrey was described as ‘the apogee of opulent comfort and order without grandeur, smelling of pot-pourri, furniture polish and wood smoke.’

The tradition of home making pot-pourri that had spanned the centuries between the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II died to some extent with the demise of the English country house that had become a financial liability under crippling taxation and expense of upkeep. Opening their doors to the public has saved many historic houses yet they have lost, perhaps, their lived in character.

Apart from their lovely scent, pots-pourris have an historic feel – almost part of a ‘Merrie England’  with pastoral and hand made qualities. This perhaps was the appeal to Desmond Knox-Leet, joint founder of Diptyque, the famous Parisian perfumery. His love of ‘traditional English things that smell so good’ led to Diptyque making pot-pourri in its early days in the 1960’s. From a family recipe handed down to Dido Merwin, a friend of Desmond, Diptyque offered for sale ‘Le Redoubte de Mrs Merwin’ .

Diptyque logo designed by Desmond Knox-Leet
showing a pot-pourri jar.

Scented candles and their first eau de toilette L’eau based on an English 16th century pot-pourri and a clove pomander were added to a growing list of scented things to be sold amongst an array of charming items in their boulevard Saint-Germain shop including soft furnishings, toys and their own hand made gifts. It is for their scented candles that Diptyque are justifiably famous and whereas pot-pourri has all but disappeared from the catalogue of the perfumer, scented candles are now listed by all.

The Lady Betty Germaine pot-pourri can be sampled at Knole House, in Kent – check with the National Trust as to opening times.

Amy; a 21st century Orlando, pictured at Knole House with the Lady Betty Germaine pot-pourri.
Courtesy of the National Trust