a journey of the senses by FLACONNEUR
Some of life’s journeys, innocent as they seem, can sometimes lead you to places you never anticipated. This story is about a journey into genealogical research that found an English couple entangled in the world of perfume. The story of Amanda and Simon Brooke is an interesting one. They are the owners of the English perfume house called Grossmith. The Grossmith name was not new to the world of perfume but this couple knew little about the real story. Most people conducting research into their ancestral past never anticipate uncovering a renowned family perfume business, but that’s exactly what Amanda and Simon Brooke discovered.
Simom Brooke admittedly finds pleasure in researching his family history and enjoys his genealogical endeavors. It seems that his discovery started with the pursuit of the lineage of his great grandmother, Amelia Eliza Brooke, nee Grossmith. Simon owns a book that was given to him by his father entitled “Government Upon First Principles” by a John Grossmith published in 1860. Simon discovers that the author, who is Amelia’s father, was a farmer, perfumer and the individual responsible for creation of The House of Grossmith. Grossmith perfumes was established by Simon’s great, great grandfather John Grossmith in 1835 in the City of London. They produced some of the finest perfumes known in the industry and with considerable success, and built a reputation as one of the finest perfume houses in the world.
During the early 1900’s, Grossmith had a series of esteemed customers, including Royal Warrants from a Queen of England, the King of Spain and the Royal Court of Greece. To properly dress his perfume creations, Grossmith worked in collaboration with Baccarat and produced unique crystal flacons with detailed etching. Grossmith would continue producing beautiful perfumes for the better part of a century before their luck changed.
A decline in the company’s popularity started in the 1920’s as a result of the deaths of two family members, John Lipscomb Grossmith and his son Stanley, who both trained with Bruno Court in Grasse. The great depression in 1929 started yet another downturn in the financial marketplace for anyone in business. In 1940 the Grossmith offices, production areas and warehouses were destroyed as a result of German bombing attacks during the Second World War. A great deal of natural materials important in the production of perfume were not available as a result of a world in turmoil. Unfortunately, these resources were the lifeline to a company dependent on the continued production of their popular products.
Grossmith held their ground with some of their products which included soaps and a successful synthetic perfume called ‘White Fire’. The company that was now known as J. Grossmith was lost in the early 1980’s.
Simon wanted to experience his family’s perfumes first-hand so, he decided to start a search on eBay. He discovered the International Perfume Bottle Association, and even a collectors group that specialized in Grossmith products from the 19th and 20th centuries. Finally, Simon discovered a Tasmanian seller that owned a bottle of ‘Phūl-Nānā’.
After the discovery of his connection to the Grossmith perfumery, Simon saw this as an opportunity to resurrect a longstanding family business that seemed to be the victim of bad times and modernization. In the summer of 2007, Simon and his wife Amanda committed to the revival of Grossmith perfume and decided to call it ‘Project Amelia’ after his great grandmother.
Making their decision to dedicate their life to the newly revived perfume company, fitting called Grossmith, these untrained perfumers needed a little help from a professional. At the suggestion of a friend, Amanda and Simon Brooke went to a lecture about the history of perfume that was being conducted by Roja Dove. The lecture would also cover some of the older historical perfume houses. Simon realized that perhaps, Grossmith might be one of the houses covered in Dove’s lecture. At the conclusion of the lecture Simon and Amanda introduced themselves, and proceeded to explain their situation and that they were bringing back Grossmith perfumes. Dove was quite familiar with the historical Grossmith products. Since this chance meeting, Simon and Amanda have developed a wonderful friendship with Roja Dove and he has provided his expertise whenever possible.
Simon was looking for more information regarding the circumstances under which the J. Grossmith company ceased operations in the 1980’s. He spent many hours poring over records on microfiche from Company House at the Guildhall Library. Although Company House had destroyed all paper records before 1970, there were many documents containing company information, including the company directors list. Simon discovered the name and address of a descendant of John Grossmith, who would have been just over 100 at the time. He wrote to her at the address listed in hopes that the property would still be in the Grossmith family and some living family member would respond. Three months later, Simon received a reply from the ladies nephew, his third cousin, and they arranged a meeting.
Upon Simon’s meeting with his distant third cousin, a conversation ensued about a medal that was presented to John Grossmith for his essential oils and perfumery at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was to Simon’s surprise that his cousin held the medal in question, as well as two original leather-bound books with over three hundred formulas including, 96 perfumes, 23 eaux de toilette and colognes, 10 essential oil blends and 82 soaps. These books also contained information about the special edition Baccarat crystal flacons that Grossmith had commissioned for its Serie de Luxe range of perfumes. Later, the Brookes obtained permission from Baccarat, which keeps all of their moulds, to reuse the original designs for their relaunch project.
In an interview by Raphaella Barkley for The Perfume Magazine, Simon’s wife Amanda was asked about the huge financial investment in a project of this nature and this is what she had to say.
“We embarked on this project at a time of recession. We are not a rich family. Banks were unwilling to take risks so the only way to finance this was to sell our holiday home and to put all our savings into the business. Seeing our commitment and understanding that we are not rich dilettantes, our suppliers have been generous and flexible, helping us make this venture possible. We have also made big career changes – Simon from his 35 years in the world of commercial property and me from my life as a housewife and mother and my work with a sheltered housing charity. Our business and life experience have equipped us well and we are not afraid to draw on others’ expertise. Simon’s property advisory business was based in Mayfair which is also a perfect base for the offices of a perfume house such as ours.”
It would involve many hours of work over a period of three years before Simon and Amanda Brooke were able to bring this perfumery gem back into existence. The resurrection of the House of Grossmith would be based on three of their most successful perfumes; Hasu-no-Hana (created in 1888), Phūl-Nānā (created in 1891) and Shem-el-Nessim (created in 1906). They would work in collaboration with Robertet, a well established perfume manufacturer and distributor, to closely simulate the original formulas. The formulas would be produced with the finest natural materials available. High quality synthetics would be supplemented for restricted materials, mostly those from animals. The three fragrances were relaunched in 2009 with the design agency of Holmes & Marchant creating the entire visual brand identity.
Betrothal, relaunched in 2011, has a contemporary edge, based on a formula, originally designed for Princess May of Teck when she was engaged to the Duke of York in 1893. The Brookes worked with Melanie Carestia of Robertet to redirect the focus from Jasmine and Geranium in the top notes by introducing two notes not in the original formula, Neroli and Vetiver, giving it a more contemporary edge. Acting as a consultant, Roja Dove continues to assist the Brookes with the development of a skill set necessary for the world of perfume.
Grossmith is gaining popularity in the Middle Eastern market due to the complexities and richness of the perfumes and their sincere dedication to the original formulas. Today’s mainstream markets seem to reflect a clean, crisp type fragrance structure which most Americans, Asians and English customers seem comfortable with at this time. Many might not have the ability to appreciate these opulent scents.
I myself have conducted my fair share of genealogical research and can appreciate where Simon Brooke is coming from. I understand his desire to resurrect his families business and the extraordinary satisfaction this brings to someone so devoted to the past, as most genealogists can be. Simon is writing a new chapter in the Grossmith archives and I’m sure that John Grossmith would be very proud of his descendants achievements thus far.
What perfume would the great, great grandson of the creator of the House of Grossmith wear, you might ask? Hasu-no-Hana by Grossmith of course.