Perfume Review – Grossmith Phul-Nana: Victorian Opulence

Evelyn Nesbit.

Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967) in the early 1900s.

She was a dark-haired beauty with alabaster skin and a thick mane of hair worn like a Gibson Girl. Her dazzling smile would have merited attention, had it not been for the mounds of pillowy, white flesh that almost tumbled out of her tight bodice to the great appreciation of the aristocratic men around her. Her skin was scented with orange blossom neroli, as spicy, peppered and lush as her reputation, and with amber as darkly golden as the velvet curtains of the theatre box where she held court. Her patron and lover sniffed the aroma appreciatively. It was a marked contrast from the dainty, simple, very prim, floral scents of the other women in his lives, from his fiercely proper Victorian mother who was one of society’s leading matrons, to his retiring, shy wife, and even the young nannies in charge of their children. No, his mistress went for lush abandon and expensive opulence, as was her style, and she wore Grossmith‘s Phul-Nana.

The luxury, limited-edition Phul-Nana Baccarat flacon.

The luxury, limited-edition Phul-Nana Baccarat flacon.

Grossmith is a very old British perfume house. The Perfume Shrine explains that it was “originally established in 1835 in the coterie of influential perfumeries such as Penhaligon’s, Guerlain, Floris and Creed (who were following the footsteps of Houbigant and Lubin)[.]” The house flourished with royal and international acclaim, creating perfumes for royal bethrothals, and receiving royal warrants from various European royal families. As Senteurs d’Ailleurs puts it, Grossmith “rivalled many French houses around the turn of the century. [Then, it] lost its way after the Second World War, going down market and selling synthetic perfumes in the mass market.” By 1970, the house was in serious trouble, and, by 1980, it was sold out of the family’s hands.

Amanda and Simon Brooke. Source: The Perfume Magazine.

Amanda and Simon Brooke. Source: The Perfume Magazine.

Then, one day, around 2005, a man called Simon Brooke was researching his genealogical background, and discovered that he was the great, great grandson of Grossmith’s founder, John Grossmith. A fantastic newspaper article in the Telegraph, entitled “Grossmith: scent by descent” charts what happened next. In 2007, Mr. Brooke decided to buy back the company, return it to the family, and revive it with the help of the legendary Roja Dove, perhaps one of the most famous perfumers alive. “The original plan was to revive the perfume house using Dove as the nose, remastering the perfumes based on photochromatographic analysis of antique samples.” In 2008, however, Mr. Brooke met a distant Grossmith relative, and found that he had old ledgers containing 300 of Grossmith’s perfume formulae which he had rescued from Grossmith’s offices during the 1940s Blitz. It changed everything. As the Telegraph explains, Mr. Brooke and his wife followed Roja Dove’s suggestion to commission Robertet (a French fragrance house in Grasse who specializes in very high-quality natural materials) to replicate Grossmith’s three greatest classics, making every effort to hew as closely as possible to the original formula. Money was no object, no matter how great the personal burden and sacrifice:

‘We didnt give Robertet a budget, we just told them to produce it using the best materials.’ Brooke is tightlipped about exactly how much money he and Amanda have invested in the company, but it is a considerable sum. “We sold our holiday home and used our savings.” The resulting fragrances are expensive-smelling floral orientals that bear no resemblance to the bland massmarket concoctions that litter today’s perfume counters.

Source: Fragrantica.

The new Phul-Nana and its siblings in regular bottles. Source: Fragrantica.

In 2009, Grossmith re-released its three most famous, historical fragrances. One of those fragrances was Phul-Nana. Phul-Nana was originally released in 1891, and caused a storm, soon becoming one of Grossmith’s most beloved fragrances. As the Telegraph article explains, Phul-Nana “was “the Chanel No5 of its day.” Luckyscent puts it into historical context by saying that, when Phul-Nana was originally released, Jicky was brand new, and Jacques Guerlain was just barely out of grade school!

The Baccarat set of crystals as it looks today, £23,250. Photo: Grossmith via The Telegraph newspaper.

“The Baccarat set of crystals as it looks today, £23,250.” Photo: Grossmith via The Telegraph newspaper.

To celebrate Grossmith’s revival with true style, even two royal families stepped in to help. The Telegraph article says, “The royal families of Oman and Bahrain… invested in the new Baccarat crystal presentation sets of the three scents costing £23,250, made using the original Baccarat crystal moulds from 1919 (tracked down by Brooke when he noticed ledger entries detailing Baccarat orders) and etched with real gold.” I find them to be stunningly beautiful, but then they should be at that price.

The new 2009 Phul-Nana was created by Trevor Nicholl. Like its siblings, it was released in both eau de parfum and pure parfum (or extrait de parfum) concentrations. This review is for the Eau de ParfumGrossmith describes the fragrance as follows:

Hindi for lovely flower

“A Bouquet of India’s Choicest Flowers”

A fresh, sweet floral composition with aromatic fougere overtones on a soft warm, woody base. Originally created in 1891, this scent is a rare marriage of the herb garden with the flower garden, unusual in a feminine fragrance. It paved the way for the ‘oriental’ fragrances that were to follow.

According to Senteurs d’Ailleurs, the notes include:

bergamot, orange, neroli, geranium, tuberose, ylang ylang, patchouli, benzoin siam, cedarwood, sandalwood, opoponax [sweet myrrh], tonka bean, and vanilla bourbon.

nerolifruitandflowersbPhul-Nana opens on my skin as spicy, peppered, herbal flowers. There is geranium which smells fiery, dark, and slightly pungent, followed quickly by neroli. The latter smells exactly like orange blossoms turned spicy, bitter, sweet, slightly herbal, green, and masculine. I should probably explain something about neroli. Both neroli and orange blossoms come from the flowers of the same tree, but the method used to extract the materials differs and, thereby, leads to a slightly different aroma. Steam distillation is used to obtain neroli oil from the blossoms of the bitter Seville orange tree, while distillation with solvents is used to get orange blossom absolute. The latter has a fragrance that is more feminine, indolic, lush, sweet and purely floral than neroli which is more bitter, spicy, green and brisk. Yet, at the end of the day, both ingredients are merely a form of orange blossom, and that is the primary characteristic of Phul-Nana on my skin.

Source: Twitter.

Source: Twitter.

At this point, however, Phul-Nana is primarily herbal, peppered geranium followed by bitter, but sweet, neroli, trailed far behind by small flashes of other elements. There is a subtle whiff of lemony bergamot and juicy, blood-orange, both infused with a hint of dark, peppered patchouli. Lurking far below, in Phul-Nana’s depths, is something floral, herbal, and aromatic that almost resembles lavender. The whole fragrant bouquet is wrapped up with sweet, slightly honeyed opononax, or sweet myrrh. Everything feels peppered, bitter, sweet, herbal, floral, and resinous all at once.

Orange geraniumThe ensuing result is a very unusual fougère with oriental spiciness and resins. In fact, it seems to be quite rare to have an oriental fougère for women at all. On Fragrantica, as one commentator noted, that there are only five such perfumes listed in the Oriental Fougère database, as compared to 139 for men and 41 unisex fragrances for all. Yet, nothing about Phul-Nana feels as though it’s purely for women. The aromatic, herbal notes which give way to an oriental floral spiciness certainly seem very unisex to me.

Twenty minutes into Phul-Nana’s development, the “rare marriage of the herb garden with the flower garden” finally takes place, and the perfume starts to shift. The fragrance is still a highly peppered, spicy combination of geranium-neroli with a herbal facade and dark, bittersweet citrus fruits, but new elements start to appear around the edges that start the transition into a purely oriental scent. There is a tiny whisper of buttery, custardy ylang-ylang in Phul-Nana’s depths, and the amber begins to grow deeper. The bitter edges seem smoothed out, as the fragrance becomes sweeter and warmer. The opoponax seems richer but, also, drier. It has lost that tiny vestige of honeyed sweetness, and is now infused with cedar which adds yet another layer of pepperiness to the spicy mix. When combined with the feel of bitter, sweet, blood orange, the result is a strong visual of orange and black.

Shortly after the end of the first hour, Phul-Nana becomes softer and even warmer. The fragrance seems to fade a little in power, and the notes feel a little less pungent or forceful, but Phul-Nana still a potent, heady, dense bouquet. The neroli orange blossom has now far overtaken the herbal, spicy, peppered geranium, though the combination still remains atop its amber base. There are hints of cedar and patchouli, even occasionally a ghostly pop of ylang-ylang, but I don’t smell any tuberose and absolutely no sandalwood. The absence of both elements never changes, either. In fact, the fragrance seems to lose a lot of its existing nuances over the next few hours. The extremely muted, subtle, herbal hints soon fade away, as does the minuscule trace of ylang-ylang and patchouli. Even the geranium retreats from center stage, becoming a background player to the warmed, amber-infused, neroli orange blossom that takes over as the star of the show.

Evelyn Nesbit.

Evelyn Nesbit in 1902, photo by Gertrude Käsebier.

By the start of the third hour, Phul-Nana is an amber neroli fragrance with a muted, hidden flicker of geranium. If one wanted to be laudatory, one could call it warm, seductive, opulent, and very languid in feel. If one wanted to be critical, then one could say it was simple, and unoriginal. I’ll say that it’s both those things, but done in a manner that feels incredibly classique. Phul-Nana feels like a very expensively made fragrance with very rich ingredients done in the old tradition of classic perfumery to create a simple, elegant, very seductively opulent, spicy floral oriental. Oddly enough, it almost does feel like a fragrance that a Victorian or Edwardian beauty may wear. It may be the subconscious impact of Grossmith’s history and Phul-Nana’s description, but something about the classique nature of the fragrance does fit for me. There is no grandmotherly powder or floral daintiness to fit with the Victorian times, but then Phul-Nana was Grossmith’s attempt to bring the Orient to England.

Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): "In the Harem."

Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): “In the Harem.”

What’s interesting to me is just how full-blooded, thick, and lusty Phul-Nana feels, thanks to the headiness of its spicy neroli blossoms. Around the 2.5 hour mark, that full-bodied, fleshy, sultry languidness is supplemented by the arrival of Siam benzoin. It adds an incredibly plush, creamy, rich warmth to Phul-Nana. Though Siam benzoin is usually very vanillic in nature, here it is initially a very dark, slightly smoky, sweet, balsamic resin. It turns the neroli into something so deep and indolic, you almost imagine the bitter, spicy orange blossoms as an odalisque, lounging on a pile of jeweled, velvet cushions while being oiled to a bronzed goldeness. Phul-Nana has the most indolent, dense, spicy, thick neroli I’ve come across in a while and, yet, the perfume isn’t heavy at all in weight. It’s a soft, airy gauze that envelops you in a tiny cloud of golden, orange warmth and opulence.

Evelyn Nesbit.

Evelyn Nesbit in 1901.

The narcotic headiness of the flower really conjures up images of heated skin and seduction. If this version of Phul-Nana is anything close to the original one from 1891, then the only women who would have worn the perfume would be those whose clothes were ripped off their large, heaving, pillowy bosoms in a dark corner during a surreptitious rendezvous. I simply can’t imagine some prim, highly repressed, ferociously proper Victorian matron, or a sheltered, virginal debutante wearing this scent. For me, the neroli is simply too bawdy and blowsy, too full-blown with improper lushness and exotic, spicy Orientalism, to make Phul-Nana a “respectable” scent by the standards of 1891, a full 122 years ago.

My perceptions of the scent, however, are apparently not shared by Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey. According to the article in the Telegraph newspaper about Grossmith’s revised fortunes, Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith bought a bottle of Phul-Nana for Lady Violet, the infinitely proper, regal Dowager Countess played by Dame Maggie Smith. All I can say is that Julian Fellowes knows his history, but he doesn’t know his perfume. I can’t imagine the Dowager Countess ever wearing Phul-Nana. Frankly, she’d be appalled by its overt sensuality and spicy ripeness.

Source: Stock photos.

Source: Stock photos.

Around the 3.5 hour mark, Phul-Nana starts its drydown which remains for many more hours to come. The geranium is just a faded whisper as the fragrance turns more ambered. Phul-Nana drops in sillage, as well, hovering now just above the skin. By the end of the fourth hour, a slight hint of vanilla makes its debut, but it never has a serious impact upon the fragrance. Soon, Phul-Nana is merely a blurry, warm swirl of neroli orange blossoms with balsamic, sweet, ambered Siam benzoin that has a slight hint of smokiness. In its final moments, Phul-Nana is a sheer, muted veil of warm amber. All in all, Phul-Nana lasted over 9.75 hours on my skin, with about 3.5 good smears. I suspect its longevity might exceed that amount if a large amount of the fragrance were sprayed on, instead of the dabbing method that I used.

There aren’t a ton of detailed reviews for Phul-Nana out there. Now Smell This assessed all three Grossmith releases, with Angela writing more about Phul-Nana’s feel than its scent. Part of that reason is that the fragrance seems to have manifested itself as a simple blur on her skin:

To me it smells like an earthy, ambery fougère. Most of the rest of the notes are lost on me. It’s fresh and heavy at the same time. Although Grossmith lists it as a feminine fragrance, men could wear it easily. […]

These perfumes smell old fashioned: dense and contracted, rather than expansive and bright. They smell expensive, but almost as if someone were playing with rare essential oils rather than with the magic chemicals perfumers use now.

For a visual comparison, the Grossmith fragrances each smell like an oil painting darkened by age. If you rub its surface with a soft cloth you see that one of them is a springtime landscape, and another is of a lady’s boudoir, but at a distance they are similar. Modern perfumes, on the other hand, can feel as distinct as an Ansel Adams photograph or an Andy Warhol portrait.

All of the Grossmith fragrances have moderate to low sillage, and they last for a solid eight hours.

Later, in comments to the review, Angela wrote that all three scents “almost smell pre-modern to me. Apres L’Ondee, by comparison, is super modern. The Grossmiths are almost like diluted blended oils–but really nice blended oils.” My experience is obviously quite different, so I don’t feel the same way, though I think “dense and contracted” does fit Phul-Nana in some ways. Still, what manifested itself on my skin was far more than a blurry, pre-modern, diluted blended oil. On me, Phul-Nana smells opulently full, lush, extremely expensive, and wholly baroque in a very classique way. It’s like a very full-bodied, spicy, peppered wine that mellows into a more simple, but still potent, blowsy, full-blown, lush ripeness before fading away as a warm, mellow, blur of ambered, floral sweetness.

Persolaise shares my enthusiasm, and had a slightly similar experience with Phul-Nana, though a few of the details differ:

The most enchanting of the new trio is without doubt Phul-Nana (1891/2009), an exquisite study in old-world refinement. With a trajectory that is a joy to behold, it starts with neroli (edgy-sweet citrus), which then attaches itself to geranium (edgy-sweet floral) before linking up to benzoin (edgy-sweet resin). Enriching the background is a wondrous mix of sandalwood, cedar and tonka bean which lends the whole an air of delectable hauteur. Wear it, hold your head high and walk through the world with the certainty that you’re as perfectly proportioned as the Discobolus.

Grain de Musc, however, was wholly disdainful, summing up all three fragrances as “ghosts” that should stay dead and whose “séance” she’d rather not attend. For her, the issue seems to be the dated feel of the scents and their richness:

The result is the olfactory equivalent of tight-lacing: a surfeit of rich notes which manages to be both as stifling as the corsets of the women who wore the perfumes back in the Belle Époque and as flaccid as their flesh when they removed it. Sensuous in an overbearing, costume-drama way that might appeal to tastes frustrated by today’s skinny juices the way a pastry cart will make a dieter drool…

The reason why she hates the fragrances is exactly why I enjoyed Phul-Nana so much! I would absolutely wear the fragrance if one of the “cheap,” regular bottles ever fell into my lap. The prices are steep, but I just love the spicy geranium-neroli opulence of the scent. There is nothing edgy, revolutionary, or even remotely complex about Phul-Nana, but it smells luxe and old-school, in the best way possible. In fact, it feels like some Guerlain classic from 100 years ago — perhaps, a more simple, uncomplicated, second cousin to something like the sensuous, heady Shalimar (in vintage form). Phul-Nana conjures up visions of buxom, heaving bosoms on women of minimal virtue, or reclined odalisques languidly sprawled on silk and velvet, bejewelled pillows as they’re being fanned, fed, and pampered. It doesn’t feel remotely British and, outside of a short window of time in the opening, it certainly isn’t an aromatic fougère on my skin.

Evelyn Nesbit. Source: nl.wikipedia.org

Evelyn Nesbit in 1901. Photo: Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr. Source: nl.wikipedia.org

I think Phul-Nana would appeal to perfumistas of both genders who have more ornate, opulent tastes, and who are fed up with the diet of “today’s skinny juices[,]” as Grain de Musc put it. Men who love vintage Guerlain orientals could certainly wear Phul-Nana, and would probably enjoy the transition from an aromatic fougère opening to a bodice-ripping oriental amber. Women who love baroque florientals or neroli/orange blossom scents would be transported by its sensuality. If you like fragrances that have the luxurious feel of vintage Guerlains, or modern Puredistance, then I think you’ll enjoy the opulent richness of Phul-Nana. Those who are Amouage fiends will, too, though Phul-Nana lacks the thousand-layered complexity and true Orientalism of the Omani scents. However, I think young women used to more modern, mainstream offerings would find Phul-Nana’s indolic heaviness and denseness to scream “old lady” — and, as compared to many new, commercial fragrances with their focus on flirty fruity-florals like (the terrible) Petite Robe Noir, they’d be correct. Lastly, anyone expecting an edgy, complicated, morphing, unusual, modern scent will be completely disappointed with Phul-Nana. You can’t expect a perfume based on a 122-year old formula to smell fresh, bright, and different. It’s simply not possible.

Yet, I’m damned impressed by this Victorian old lady, and her heaving, bodice-ripping drama. Perhaps its my historical background, but I was definitely transported back to the golden age of perfumery, or before, to an era where chorus girls became famous mistresses, and exuded a lush, brazen sensuality that scandalized an otherwise proper world. Try Phul-Nana, and I think you’ll see.

1891, the famous Lillie Langtry, future mistress of King Edward VII, posing as Cleopatra. Source: Corbis images.

1891, the famous Lillie Langtry, future mistress of King Edward VII, posing as Cleopatra. Source: Corbis images. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The version of Phul-Nana being reviewed here is the Eau de Parfum which comes in two sizes: a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that costs $260, €175, or £125.00; or a 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle that costs €260 or £185. Phul-Nana is also available as a 10 ml pure parfum or extrait de parfum, and I think prices start at £150 for that. Fragrantica says Phul-Nana “is available in exclusive glass bottles as 10 and 100 ml perfume, as well as 50 and 100 ml EDP. You can also order the fragrance in the original shaped bottle from 1919, embellished with gold.” Finally, there is also a coffret of all three of the Grossmith classics available in 50 ml. In the U.S.: Luckyscent is the only U.S. distributor of Grossmith fragrances, and they have both the small 50 ml EDP being reviewed here and the 10 ml extrait version. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Phul-Nana is available at The Perfume Shoppe which sells the 50 ml bottle for $105. In the UK, Grossmith fragrances are available at Roja Dove’s Harrod’s Haute Parfumerie, Bloom Parfumery, and Fortnum & Mason. However, the last two do not list Phul-Nanu on their website. You can find the fragrance in all sizes and concentrations at Les Senteurs which also sells samples of the fragrance. In Paris, Phul-Nana is carried at Jovoy. It is also sold at Belgium’s Senteurs d’Ailleurs, and Germany First in Fragrance. The Grossmith line is available at numerous other vendors from Italy to Dubai, Kuwait, Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, the Ukraine, Australia, and more. You can look for a vendor near you at Grossmith’s Stockist page. Samples: You can find samples at many of the sites linked above. I obtained mine from Luckyscent, but Phul-Nana is also available at Surrender to Chance which sells the eau de parfum starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

42 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Grossmith Phul-Nana: Victorian Opulence

  1. Beautiful review Kafka!
    I’m not a Grossmith fan
    I tried all the fragrances from the line and I only found the historical three: Hasu-no-Hana, Phul-Nana and Shem-el-Nessim to be worth sniffing.
    The black label series is kind of a disaster to me, especially with Saffron Rose (remember that one in Quick Sniffs?)

    • Thank you for your kind words on the review. 🙂 Interesting about the Black Label series being a disaster for you. I don’t know if I’m inspired to try any of them beyond Phul-Nana. I like the historical background and it seems to be the one that isn’t powdery, so that’s why I chose to test it. The rest, I’m not so sure about. Plus, the prices don’t help…. 🙂

  2. I’ve never tried Grossmith perfumes but based on your review I think that Lady Violet might wear this. She’s a feisty one you know. Grossmith is another line I’ve avoided because of the prices. Thankfully for me there’s not a whole lot of buzz about them on the blogs I read so it’s easy to resist temptation when there is none.
    Heavy scents like this don’t bother me. I bet it would be good in the winter.

    • Lady Violet is definitely feisty! LOL. That said, she’s also very conservative. Do you recall her horror at the concept of a “weekend” (said in tones of revulsion), or her distrust of modern advances? The Dowager Countess also has very strict views on how women should act or behave, so I really think that Phul-Nana would be too fleshy or overtly sensuous for her. I think Penhaligons or Creed would be much more her style. But how fun to argue Downton Abbey fragrances! 😀

  3. I am with Denyse on this one! Kind of fusty and prickly, for sure. That said, I didn’t mind Betrothal, the release for Kate and William’s wedding. I think that one was done in more modern vein.

  4. What an interesting history to the Grossmith house! I had 1) no idea it existed and 2) what a fascinating tale it had. I really enjoyed learning about it. As for the scent, it sounds quite nice – this is definitely a house I will have to explore in the future!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Kevin. I thought the history to be fascinating, and I’m always impressed by people who try to return family things to their old, former level of greatness. It’s a very laudable endeavor. As for the fragrance, I’ll be curious to see what you think of it if you ever get to try it. 🙂

  5. A wonderful review, Kafka, within an especially evocative historical perspective. I’m sure there’s someway you could work that into a really marvelous Victorian themed novel…can you possibly be persuaded to write one using Grossmith perfume as a leitmotif? Lovely read and the photographs really ‘fleshed’ out the review! 🙂

    There’s been the occasional buzz on Basenotes about Grossmith in the men’s forum, but I’ve not understood anything of it until now, having read your review of Phul-Nana. The other two perfumes of this triad, Shem-el-Nessim and Hasu-No-Hana are equally interestingly named. Did you choose Phul-Nana because of its Indian association?

    As an aside, have you ever watched Ripper Street on BBC America (off now while being filmed for its 2nd season)? It delves into middle and lower class Victorian life in London (especially criminal life and street politics). Ripper Street is the antithesis (and antidote) to television’s romance with the elite of Victorian and Edwardian England. (I have to turn on sub captions while watching due to the usage of Victorian phrasing.) You may find it entertaining. Anyway, congratulations on hitting the cricket ball out of the deer park with your review of Phul-Nana!

    • Thank you, my dear. I’m very glad you enjoyed it. You should look up Evelyn Nesbit one day. She was actually an American, and she drove men to sufficient madness that a very famous murder ensued. It was called the Murder of the Century, and was the very first, big, celebrity murder trial of the 20th Century. Really interesting stuff. (And I’ll spare you my fascination with Lillie Langtry who had perhaps the most interesting life of them all, from her relationship with the future Edward VII to her extremely close friendship with Oscar Wilde, her time in America, and more.)

      I chose Phul-Nana because it was the only one that was reported NOT to be powdery out of the historical ones. I’m not sure how much I trust a few of those reports, and I would like to try the other 2 as well, but I think Shem-El-Nessim might be the one that would be a little outside my tastes with the heliotrope and iris.

      I actually do watch Ripper Street! (I watch almost everything on BBC America, except Copper. Somehow, that one never pulled me in.) My new interest is Broadchurch, however, though I worry about its potential similarities in style to The Killing. I am *not* a fan of The Killing…. 😀

      • Long Susan Hart is the Ripper Street character whom I think might wear Grossmith’s Phul-Nana. I have to agree about Copper; somehow it failed to draw me into its world…but then I was also somewhat disappointed in Spies of Warsaw. Haven’t seen Broadchurch…will have to hunt it down. I may have to also track down a sample of Phul-Nana to see what a recreation of a Victorian scent smells like. (I have two Penhaligon’s: Elixir and Endymion, but neither seem particularly Victorian.)

        • Oh, Long Susan *definitely* would wear Phul-Nana!!! Nice choice, my dear. As for BBC America offerings, Broadchurch premiered just last night (Weds. at 9 CST after the new season of Law & Order:UK at 8), and it apparently created a storm in the UK. Supposedly, it was the most popular new British series since Downton Abbey, but it’s not a historical period piece at all. As for Spies of Warsaw, I agree with you. It wasn’t fantastic. I hear Luther is returning in early September, and that one I’m rather looking forward to. If you like period pieces, do you have Showtime? The White Queen premieres this Saturday, and is set in the late 1400s. It might be up your alley. 🙂

    • No, I’m afraid I haven’t, dear Caro. Hasu-No-Hana was going to be my second choice for a Grossmith fragrance/sample to try, but I somehow fell harder for Phul-Nana’s notes. I think it was the inclusion of sandalwood in the notes. Alas, it never showed up on my skin, but I certainly enjoyed what did!

  6. Brilliant! I think you have portrayed Phul-Nana to a tee. There is just no way that this perfume will ever be modern or edgy, nor should it try to be! I really admire Grossmith for bringing back this trio in almost their original form. I think that it might take them a few more years to reclaim their identity as a brand, the Black Label collection is very hit and miss as I mentioned in my review of ‘Golden Cyphre’. (Which is still tearing me in two, do I love it or do I just love the idea of it??)
    Personally I would choose Phul-Nana for myself, but I love it and appreciate it for what it is; a gorgeous reminder of a past when this was ‘the’ scent for those women who weren’t afraid to loosen their corsets and wear their sensuality like a silken robe.
    That was a joy to read 🙂

    • Also, Ripper Street was amazing!
      Have you read ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ by Michel Faber? Now that is a book that needs a scented narrative. Soooooo good 🙂

      • I see The Crimson Petal and the White is also a BBC mini-series of 4 parts. Hmmmm. Very good reviews by the way with one description of it as a tale of madness, obsession, and betrayal – three of my favorite things – in a movie! 🙂

        • Two2ahorse, the Crimson Petal miniseries was greatly admired, but the book…. !!! When it was released in 2007 (or so), there were comparisons to Dickens, Victor Hugo and the like for its author. It was a critical hit, beyond question, so I hope the series (which I haven’t seen) captures some of what supposedly made the book stand out.

        • The series was really good too, but the book is fantastic, lengthy but when you start reading you just can’t put it down! It’s pretty racy and dark in places. Brilliant!

      • I’ve heard tons and tons about “The Crimson Petal and the White,” along with Faber’s own story in terms of writing it. I’ve never gotten around to reading the book, though I’ve wanted to since 2007, and I doubt I’ll have the time now given its whopping length. Still, I really want to see the series, and I had planned to see if it was available on Netflix. So, thank you for the reminder, Susie!

    • Oh, I’m so glad you enjoy Phul-Nana and, more importantly, that you see the loosened corsets as well! It’s such a sensuous, lush fragrance, and I’m so impressed by its history. Honestly, the history gets to me even more than the fragrance itself! (I’m such a history junkie. LOL.) Anyway, a definite Bravo to Simon Brooke for bringing back the classics. As for the Black Series, your review of Golden Chypre was great but, yes, I get the sense that the Black collection isn’t really blowing people’s socks off. I don’t think Grossmith’s prices help very much either. But, gosh, how I would love a bottle of Phul-Nana!

  7. I’ve never smelled anything from Grossmith, but I am head over heels in love with the story. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful review. I love the names too. Are they really all hyphenated? Lemings born today

    • Yep, they seem to be officially hyphenated in name! What was cool about that Telegraph article is that they showed photos of the *original* bottles (with the names hyphenated) and with extremely colourful labels. A far cry from how perfume bottles are presented today; by modern standards they would probably look quite cheap, but they’re fascinating on a historical level. As for the fragrance, I think Phul-Nana has enough drama and headiness to intrigue you! It’s hard for me to see how much is left in the vial given the label, but I’ll set it aside for you, sweetpea.

      • Aw! Thank you, darling Kafka! I don’t think anyone carries Grossmith in New York. We’ll add that to the pile along with Ormonde Jayne, Vero Profumo, Neela Vermeire, Roja Dove, and Jo Loves. Lucky Europeans!

        (ps. I think I would like this one too)

  8. Dear Kafka
    Thank you for finally giving the attention to this scent that its place in history and the story of its resurrection demand.
    Quite apart from them I think it stands worthy of examination on its own merits.
    I find it a complex fragrance, very much in the ‘three act manner’ that Guerlain is often credited with inventing, and though classic in form totally wearable today.
    I’m also at one with you that there is nothing particularly ‘female’ about Phul-Nana (whatever that means &c), and I would happily not only wear it myself but recommend it to others.
    As to the house’s other scents, the reconstructions are fascinating but I must put in a word for the seemingly maligned ‘Black Label’ series.
    Yes, they are extremely, even eye wateringly expensive, but the quality of the ingredients shine through.
    My favourites are Saffron Rose and Golden Chypre, elegant compositions, though ultimately, I would accept, variations on themes, one contemporary (oud and rose) and the other classic (chypre!).
    All in all I feel the money this family has invested has paid artistic dividends and can only hope their enterprise remains sustainable.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • My dear Dandy (I have to always resist the urge to call you Beau Brummell, lol),
      I’m so enormously glad that Phul-Nana has another fan. And I agree with you, it’s a lovely fragrance that merits attention even apart from Grossmith’s history and revival. You know, you bring up an excellent point about its Guerlain-like structure because I was thinking last night, if Guerlain released this fragrance, there would be a crazed firestorm of gushing with talk about how Guerlain had returned to its golden roots and such scents as Shalimar, etc. etc. I think some (not all, but some) of the critics would fall over themselves to admire Phul-Nana if it came under the Guerlain label. I certainly doubt it would be criticized for being a surfeit of richness.

      I’m curious how it manifests itself on your skin: very neroli/orange blossom and oriental in nature? Does the aromatic “herbal garden” last for a while? More importantly, is it “fusty and musty” as some people seem to think, or more sensuously oriental and indolically languid?

      Thank you for providing your thoughts on the definitely maligned Black Series. I’m always glad when someone provides a defense to the under-dog. (But then, isn’t this entire perfume house’s collection an underdog?) I will be sure to keep your comments in mind and see if I can get samples. 🙂 As always, thank you for stopping by. It’s lovely to see you. (And I will try not to call you Beau. 😉 lol)

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever tried anything from Grossmith and I do not think this one will be for me but the way you describe it makes me want to try it anyway 🙂 Oh, and Lady Violet is probably my most favorite character in that show and I agree: she wouldn’t be wearing anything too “modern” or inappropriate for a lady.

    • Lady Violet is my absolute favorite too! Have you seen the YouTube clip called “S___ the Dowager Countess says” — complete with the perfect ringing bell tossed in every 20 seconds? Absolutely hilarious. As for Grossmith’s Phul-Nana, I’d be really interested to see what you thought of it. I think you’d like it, given the style of the other houses you enjoy.

      • What have you done?! I just spent 20 minutes listening to clips 🙂
        Lady Violet: You are quite wonderful, the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.
        Isobel Crawley: I take that as a compliment.
        Lady Violet: I must have said it wrong.

        • BWAHAHAHA, I just snorted up my coffee. “I must have said it wrong.” God, I love the Dowager Countess. Simply LOVE! Of course, I worship Maggie Smith in general, but her Lady Violet really makes Downton Abbey for me. I can’t wait until January when it returns!

  10. Sounds very interesting potentially right up my alley. I’ll have to look into purchasing samples in order to test them out since they’re not available near by.

  11. Oh, you make this sound wonderful! If only I could win the lottery, I’d buy us each a bottle.

    I vote that you might be surprised by the Dowager Countess’ taste in perfume. Remember, she’s partial to rich food. My great-grandmother was born in1893. She was a very tall, raw-boned, athletic woman, and fiercely Presbyterian. (She insisted that my mother, sister, and I be baptized Presbyterian, because she’d be miserable in Heaven without us.) I never saw her wear makeup, and her clothing was neat and respectable rather than sexy. Her perfumes? Tabu and Tigress.

    • What a fantastic story about your great-grandmother! Tigress??! Ha, I love it! I’m still unconvinced about the Dowager Countess of Grantham though. It seems to be an even split down the line thus far, so it’s a pity none of you have tried the perfume or I’d set up a poll/vote. LOL.

  12. Yes, yes, yes. A world of yes. Thank you for thinking of me when you wrote this womderful complex and engrossing review. The girl in the red velvet swing was a perfect leading lady for this review. And I agree that Lady Violet would wear this opulent Phul-Nana….and so would I.

    • I *knew* that you would know all about The Girl in the Red Velvet swing! I just knew it, my fellow history junkie. 😀 I really hope you get the chance to try Phul-Nana, maybe the next time you go down to LA’s Scent Bar or order something from Luckyscent. I think you’d adore it and would be transported back into time. xoxooxox

  13. Pingback: Jovoy Paris: Aladdin’s Cave of Luxury Perfumes | Kafkaesque

  14. Pingback: Grossmith Shem-el-Nessim: Romantic Beauty - Kafkaesque

  15. This has become my go to scent for academic events. Sultry in depth yet not detracting from the intellectual with its more pared down simple side. Wearing it today for my PhD defense 🙂

    • Good luck with the defense! But you won’t need luck, as I’m sure you’re more than ready and it will all go swimmingly.

Leave a reply. Discussion and respectful debate are encouraged. Polite disagreement is fine, but personal attacks will be subject to deletion.