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.
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.
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’
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.
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.