There is a history behind this perfume. Grossmith Black Label ‘Golden Cyphre’ and it’s companions ‘Amelia’, ‘Floral Veil’ and ‘Saffron Rose’ are the first new perfumes to be launched by the English perfume house in more than 30 years. the story of Grossmith’s re-encarnation has really piqued my interest. I shall tell you about it.
Established in 1835, Grossmith was one of England’s oldest perfume houses and was a master of it’s craft. John Lipscomb Grossmith, son of the founder and the driving force behind the brand, artfully instated Grossmith perfumes into the upper echelons of Victorian society, winning royal warrants from Queen Alexandra and the courts of Spain and Greece. It was awarded prizes at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and proceeded to issue forth three of the most iconic fragrances of the era, ‘Hasu-no-Hana’, based on the Japanese lotus lily, ‘Phul-Nana’, an oriental bouquet of Indian flowers and ‘Shem el Nessim’, a spice infused tribute to Arabia.
Sadly, the Second World War marked the beginning of a slow decline for Grossmith after it’s Newgate Street premises were destroyed by German bombing in 1940. Rationing restricted the use of expensive glass bottles and the quality of the ingredients was compromised. By 1970 the company had folded it’s Haute Perfume costume into mothballs and concentrated mostly on soap. By 1980 it had lapsed into obscurity.
It wasn’t until Simon Brooke, great-great-grandson of John Grossmith, delved into his family history that his rich heritage was discovered anew. He and his wife Amanda decided to re-establish Grossmith with all the high class and quality of it’s hay day. Amazingly, they were able to track down the old ledgers containing the original formulas for over 300 fragrances. Grossmith could truly be reborn and the iconic fragrances recreated for the 21st century.
I have chosen a perfume from the Black label collection because, although I love the history of Grossmith, I’d like to experience it’s new, modern incarnation. ‘Golden Cyphre’ is described as
“conjuring images of autumn sunlight shimmering on golden leaves”.
It sounds glorious and very evocative, autumn is my favourite time of the year. Although the august sun is shining brightly today, I find myself spirited into november …..
The time has come to meander home, under a sky still clutching at the last rays of golden sun. Gilt edged clouds grow inky as the light retreats, clustering against the pale blue backdrop of chilly air.
The sun’s warmth is quickly disappearing from the pavements, breath turning frozen and fingers numb. In her arms she carries her day’s work, a huge wreath for the front door. It is a fragile creation, she dare not wear her gloves for fear of crushing the delicate dried fronds. She is rosy with achievement and the heat of her pride keeps her warm.
It took all day to make, sitting at the scrubbed wooden table surrounded by great heaps of ingredients. She starts by making a willow hoop, the wood flexing easily in her hands. To this she secures slices of dried orange, still potently zesty, with a warm sweetness. She studs fresh clementines with little green cardamom pods, unable to resist popping one in her mouth to chew. As the wonderful, fragrant seeds explode in her mouth she attaches nutmegs to stands of raffia, creating little clusters of hanging fruit, sharp, warm, sweet.
She turns to the pile of dried flowers, harvested from the garden months ago and hung in the shed to dry. She inserts the brittle blooms in with the fruits and spices, their petals still blushed faintly with colour but their complexions withered and powdery. She plaits long grasses to form elaborate loops then weaves her precious amber beads through and through, securing them with fragrant wooden pegs.
Standing back to survey her progress, she has a stroke of inspiration and hurries outside to clip the last stalks of geranium from a pot by the door. It is the kind that has lovely, variegated leaves, deep purple fanning from the centre of the heart shaped foliage. She groups the herbaceous greenery around the dried roses, lending them some freshness, just for today. The afternoon is whiled away in details, more little clusters of spices and golden ornaments, until it is time to go home and give the wreath pride of place on the front door.
She approaches the gate now, pushing at the frozen wrought iron with already numb hands. The lights are on in the house, warm light spilling into the evening chill. She hangs the wreath in all it’s tawny glory from the brass door knob. The contrast against the black paint is stunning. Glowing with pride, she beckons through the window to the people within……
‘Golden Cyphre’ has questioned my opinion of spiced perfume. I will confess to having previously avoided putting anything with foody spices on my skin. Those smells evoke strong memories, they belong on the dinner table and infused in the air. They belong in December. I don’t relish the idea of smelling like Christmas all year round. I am also wary of overtly masculine colognes and oriental florals. I have the type of skin that accentuates warmth and spice in perfume, to the detriment of all the other notes. I’m sure that my grandmother used to have a fragrance that was oriental because when I smell a fragrance like it, I get vivid images of her bedroom, jewellery boxes spilling over with beads, glass bottles, and powder compacts. This is a lovely memory but I do not wish to smell of my grandmothers dressing table, of a bygone era with which I have little connection.
‘Golden Cyphre’ opens with the expected intensity of orange peel and nutmeg. Then almost at once the festivities are cooled by the cardamom. I really wasn’t expecting the cardamom to have this effect but it somehow reigns in the jolliness and gives it some restraint. The green fragrance is at once spiced and fresh.
The perfume continues to warm on my skin, shifting between piquant and mellow. I find the nutmeg a little pervasive, the sensation is like inhaling too deeply from the spice jar. My sinuses feel a little burned and I wonder if maybe this fragrance contains iso E super. There is definitely something woody sending tendrils through this warm haze, but I also detect a kind of acrid ‘nothing’ smell. I have sampled ‘Amelia’ from the Black Label collection and chose not to review it because to me it smelt of nothing but pure, raw chemicals. It was thoroughly unpleasant and it would not shift from my skin for hours, even with repeated scrubbing. In ‘Golden Cyphre’ that same burning sensation is present but is much more tamed and it has a part to play in the development of the scent.
I’ve been wearing this perfume for a few hours now and there are elements of it that are quite lovely. It has warmth but also reserve, the geranium comes and goes in little bursts of herbal greenery and the rose is delicately dry. I also catch the scent of a scrubbed wooden table and the barest wisp of incense. There is golden light in the resilient orange and the spice has mellowed to freshly baked cinnamon pastries. But the strange chemical smell has changed into an impression of cold metal, pinning the musk just a little too far back to be enjoyed.
‘Golden Cyphre’ contradicts itself by being both warm and cool. Although the metal note is not particularly pleasant, it has the effect of offsetting all the spice and dry rose, which could become rather monotonous and overbearing. I do find myself constantly catching that icy tang, I don’t like it but it brings the fragrance back round again and again, giving the other notes a chance to shine through before appearing once more.
As spicy, woody florals go, ‘Golden Cyphre’ is by far the best I have tried on my skin, mostly due to it’s restraint. But I am frustrated by that mysterious metal, it persists right up to the end and stops me from loving this perfume. It is also not a summer scent. So reminded was I of late autumn evenings that it was rather like wearing a woolen jumper over my sundress.
I will try it again when the seasons turn and the leaves whisper their last breath into the chill air. When I need warmth and comfort I will return to ‘Golden Cyphre’ in the hope that, this time, we can be life-long friends.