One of my favourite ever candle scents was created for Hotel Costes in Paris by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti, probably one of the first successful examples of a design hotel being translated into perfume. I’ve never been to Hotel Costes but I feel like I’d be very at home if I ever walked in there. And could demand a free suite or something (I might be escorted out again, but smelling great).
Done well, when an hotel offers guests a scent as part of their stay the whole place just seems more homely, evocative and and inviting, the equivalent of finding a beautiful selection of books and ornaments tucked away in a hidden lounge for guests. This must be offered sensitively and as something people opt-into, rather than having the whole building taken over by a smell that some might love, and others might experience through the nose equivalent of gritted teeth.
This year I’ve been working on a delightful project called Sensory Storytelling with three hotels that form part of MGallery by Sofitel, which globally encompasses a family of 71 properties. All three – the Queens Hotel in Cheltenham, the Castle Hotel in Windsor and the Francis Hotel in Bath – are located in historic English towns, have a long-standing heritage, and bring their stories to life through their architecture, interior design and services.
With Sensory Storytelling, they are offering guests a special way of making their stay memorable, by offering them a choice of fragrance for their bedroom. Rather than simply translating a design ethos into aroma, my role was to research the history of the hotel, the town, and English perfume heritage, so that MGallery’s fragrance house could develop a palette of scents – three for each hotel in total. As well as having a diffuser in your room or suite, you can also order a cocktail or afternoon tea which showcases some of the aromatics evoked by the fragrances. This approach I think is particularly nice as you can either enjoy the fragrances on a purely sensory level, or delve a bit more into their inspiration.
FRANCIS HOTEL BATH
Given the Francis Hotel occupies a series of interconnected townhouses dating from the 1730s in a fashionable residential district, we took inspiration from Bath’s position as a town of assemblies, balls and entertainments.
For these scents I looked at aromatic drinks that will likely have been served at these sorts of functions. Regency England, for which Bath is indelibly connected given its starring role in the novels of Jane Austen, really had a fever for orange flower as a flavouring in sweet and savoury food (we now associate it with Middle Eastern cookery), so one of the scents, Capillaire, evokes the orange blossom and almond concoction served to women as ‘Orgeat’, deemed suitable as it was non-alcoholic. Though we called our version Capillaire, which was thought to be the naughtier boozy version… We also worked on a fragrance called Negus, named after the delicious hot beverage of sherry, nutmeg and lemon, stirred up with an hot poker. If you want to know more about these drinks, or recreate them at home, see this excellent post on Jane Austen’s World.
QUEENS HOTEL CHELTENHAM
Also in a fashionable spa town, the Queens Hotel is actually situated on top of the original spring, the Sherborne Spa, discovered in 1761 and moved down the road when the hotel was built. It was a dedicated grand hotel from the start, and was finished in 1838.
As the Queens Hotel was very much associated with fashion, health and curative remedies (though I’m sure a little hedonism crept in amongst guests), her fragrances are inspired by beauty products originally brought to England in the 18th century. One of them is a delicate, juicy rose called Olympian Dew, named after the cure-all rosewater tonic described thus by The Times: “As a Perfume, it is the most fragrant and pleasing of any – proved by an Observation of the Queen of France, at Versailles about five Years ago – ‘No Perfume so sweet, so fragrant, or refreshing, as Olympian Dew,’ – was Her Majesty’s expression.”
Obviously this was written before the French Revolution, when Marie Antoinette was very much a) alive and b) a fashion icon to the British.
The second fragrance, a wonderfully warming spicy scent built on cinnamon, was instigated from another cosmetic remedy from France called ‘Eau d’Ange’, which could either be used as a scented water, or incorporated as a base into soap when combined with milk or roses, peru balsam and ‘powder of mareschal’. Here is a recipe I found in a book called Mirror of the Graces, anonymously penned by ‘A Lady of Distinction’ in 1811. I might start calling myself a lady of distinction….
“Pound in a mortar fifteen cloves and one pound of cinnamon, and put the whole into a quart of water, with four grains of aniseed; let it stand over a charcoal fire twenty-four hours, then strain off the liquor, and put it up for use. This perfume is most excellent, and will do well for the hands, face and hair, to which it communicates a very agreeable scent.”
CASTLE HOTEL WINDSOR
This hotel pretty much overlooks Windsor Castle (incidentally, I NEVER seem to be in town when the Queen is in. She’s avoiding me). A wonderful story in the property’s annals is that Queen Victoria once bought her beloved Albert a present of …a live deer, which got delivered to the hotel. I like the idea of some modern-day version whereby a doe gallivants about by the bar while guests drink their cocktails.
Many in the fragrance world are intimately familiar with a book of formulations called The Art of Perfumery published by the 19th century perfumer Septimus Piesse of the firm Piesse & Lubin. Fragrance then was just as concerned with lifestyle and famous people as it is now; and would often be dedicated to royal places and personalities. For example Septimus offered one recipe called ‘Buckingham Palace’. We were delighted to find a mixed floral perfume from Septimus called Windsor Castle Bouquet, which inspired one of the fragrances, and another intriguing scent called Royal Hunt Bouquet, which was reinvented as the verdant Hart in the Park. Victorian floral scents offered the added delight of a connection with the art of Floriography, through which different blooms brought together into a bouquet could convey particular messages to whoever you were flirting with.
I hope some of you planning a weekend break might take a trip to Bath, Cheltenham or Windsor to have an explore of the scents.
Sensory Storytelling is now available as a package at the three MGallery by Sofitel hotels, at £170.00 pp including an overnight stay, room fragrance, signature Sensory Storytelling cocktail and Afternoon Tea.
To find out more visit:
Francis Hotel Bath – 01225 424105
Queens Hotel Cheltenham – 01242 307800
Castle Hotel Windsor – 01753 252800