Thursday, August 25, 2011

Crown Bouquet (Crab Apple Blossoms)

The Crown Perfumery Co., before Clive Christian bought and sold off the entire line, was one of the foremost British perfume houses which catered to royals. Founded in 1872 in London by William Sparks Thomson, an American industrialist and manufacturer of crinolines and corsets, with the assistance of his two sons (reference: The New Perfume Handbook by Nigel Groom - 1997), one of whom was William Thomson, Jr. whose chemistry skills shaped the company's future, Crown Perfumery became known for exquisite perfumes as well as their bottle design (the famous crown-shaped bottle caps were designed in the image of Queen Victoria's crown). Among their memorable creations were Matsukita (1894), a powdery, woody Floral Oriental devoid of sweetness and fluff, the evanescent Alpine Lily (1879), the historical Crown Marechale Original and their regal Crown Rose (1873).

Crown Bouquet was originally called Crab Apple Blossoms, and was first launched in 1886. Crown Bouquet was launched in 1936 and, according to Nigel Groom, reintroduced in 1994. Legend has it Crown Bouquet was inspired by a controversial figure named Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who became Duchess of Windsor. Described as domineering, abrasive and notoriously racist, Simpson was named Woman of the Year by Time magazine in 1936, the same year Crown Bouquet was born. Crown Bouquet is described as "the greenest of green fragrances", and since Green fragrances have characteristically been linked to powerful women (Coco Chanel and her No.19, Estée Lauder and her Private Collection), it probably suited her well - however, since the original inception and creation of Crab Apple Blossoms was before Simpson's time (1886, one year before Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee), I do not think of this scent as being connected to her. According to Perfume Intelligence, Crab Apple Blossoms was a fragrance in 'The New Crown Series'.

Crown Bouquet (Crab Apple Blossoms) is a composition consisting of the most vividly experiential greenery and spring white flowers. The notes - galbanum, hyacinth, orange blossom, gardenia and tuberose, all together create the impression of one central motif, the crab apple blossom. There is no crab apple blossom note in the composition, but it is rendered by the copious use of hyacinth and galbanum for the green, apple-like effect (apple is a green note as evidenced by Donna Karan Be Delicious). Hyacinths and I have had a tempestuous relationship; there's always been challenging hyacinth blends that seduced me at first with their crisp aroma, only to turn on my skin, in animalic fashion. Perhaps it's because the note is so redolent of tree sap, of flora and fauna, that when it's warmed on skin, the stemmy, sappy quality becomes amplified. I learned to like Penhaligon's Bluebell, and I still cannot abide by L'Artisan Parfumeur Jacinthe des Bois. Aside from Estée Lauder Private Collection, a most superior American-born Chypre, it's been a challenge to find hyacinths that withstand the test of duration of wear, and Crown Bouquet is one of those skin-friendly, yet authentic-smelling, piercingly green hyacinths.

It is ironic that such a nature-oriented scent is an artistic rendering with the support of modern technology, supported by the fact that, in a pinch, Sung by Alfred Sung could fill the void, but there is no denying Crown fragrances smell like they are from another era: a time when true natural essences (the difference between synthetic vs natural is comparable to a sampled authentic piano sound vs a real acoustic instrument: similar but not the same) played a larger role in perfumery than they do today. That said, because perfume blends are usually complex, it's very difficult to prove how much of either type of essence is in a typical perfume; as consumers, we must rely on the industry to be honest with us, while everyone, including natural perfumers, are now opting to blur the line between natural and synthetic in an effort to keep businesses alive.

Whatever notes were used to build this perfume, the end result has the feel of authentic flowers. Although Crown Bouquet is evocative of a bouquet of flowers with cut stems, it is easily a majestic garden - nay, an entire countryside - of crab apple blossoms blooming for miles, captured in the form of a timeless composition. It smells at once innocent, elegant and clean, both richly honeyed and rousingly crisp like the air in early spring, but most of all, natural in its lively floralcy, a glorious rendering of nature as objectively true to life as we see it, yet as cogniscent of the entirety of its experience as an Impressionist work by Renoir evokes movement and light, sensed and felt in a series of moments unfolding in slow motion, with its merciful soft-focus lens.

Crown Bouquet is a life-affirming Green Floral, a reminder of all of the treasures which used to be available to every creature on earth. By today's standards, Crown Bouquet is an old-fashioned scent, reminiscent of my grandmother's fancy soaps used to craft long-necked, lace doilied swans with which to adorn her sink. To compare Crown Bouquet to popular fragrances would be to compare country living to the city. But even in the city with all its conveniences, there are times when I long for nature and the way things were, and perhaps ought to be. Perhaps if we are grateful for, and take better care of, nature, the art of perfumery will mimic life, in all its refreshing and renewing splendor, idyllic without pretense and perversion, simply and truly beautiful once more.

(Image: Crown Crab Apple Blossoms - Illustrated London News, 1904 -