Monday 17 October 2022

SHEM-EL-NESSIM by Grossmith

Shem-el-Nessim Perfume Bottle from Grossmith
There aren't many perfume houses that have managed to survive the journey from historic fragrance to mass market crowd pleaser, because these two styles of scent usually resonate with very different groups. The change often happens because of a change in tastes, but it’s the act of recognising this that can mean the difference between a company continuing or closing. Grossmith is an example of a historic company that survived by cleverly switching to post-war fragrance fashions, but their original perfumes really are still the stuff of legend. Remastered and reinvigorated, it’s time to rediscover the iris-laden Shem-el-Nessim.

Grossmith was founded in 1835 and was originally an essential oil supplier for the perfumery industry. Now, the business was successful and they could easily have continued as they were, but the founder’s son had other plans. John Lipscomb Grossmith wanted to build on the company’s reputation and actually enter the perfume market themselves, and they absolutely did. They started with traditional colognes but really took the industry by storm with Hasu-no-Hana in 1888. This was joined by Phul-Nana in 1891 and Shem-el-Nessim in 1906, and resulted in a legendary trio that would be revived in 2009.

In a similar way to many other companies, the end of the Second World War saw hard times on the horizon. Grossmith still enjoyed huge success with Sky High in 1947 and White Fire in 1954 (which everyone knows is my favourite Grossmith fragrance!), but the end of the 1970s saw the company cease trading and move out of family control. However, the great great grandson of the original founder managed to buy it back in 2006 and set about reviving the fortunes of one of the most famous British perfume brands. Simon Brooke and his wife Amanda were determined to succeed.

Box for the Shem-el-Nessim Perfume Bottle from Grossmith
The three fragrances that they chose to revive were recreated from John Lipscomb Grossmith‘s original formula books by Trevor Nicholl of Robertet. He was tasked with bringing them in line with current regulations but keeping the essence of the original scent, and the results are incredible. Shem-el-Nessim is fascinating because the original was closely inspired by the now vanished L'Origan by Coty. That means Shem-el-Nessim allows us to glimpse what had gone before and also see how it related to Guerlain's iris-rich L'Heure Bleue that would follow. However, homage aside, Shem-el-Nessim is truly outstanding.

The whole fragrance is built around the powdery and buttery iris, and it’s present right from the outset. Opening with a green-edged neroli and a hint of clove, the iris immediately draws you into the core of the scent which contains a classic rose and jasmine combination. However, alongside a subtle touch of banana from the ylang ylang, the inclusion of geranium adds an exciting masculinity to the scent. As the fragrance develops, you see a cherry-pie heliotrope note come through alongside a delicious vanilla, but the leather-soap combination of labdanum, patchouli and sandalwood adds a powerful support to this exceptional perfume. It’s worth noting that there’s also an enveloping fur-like quality throughout the scent, and this is a fun reminder that Shem-el-Nessim actually launched in the same year that J.K. Farnell launched the first British teddy bear.

Shem-el-Nessim is available from select fragrance shops including as Fiole, Jovoy and Les Senteurs priced at £210 for 50ml or £295 for 100ml. [Bottle was purchased]

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