The sweet smell of success

The fragrance that introduces its wearer tastefully and without ostentation


This article is taken from the May 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

A decade or more ago I made my annual pilgrimage to the second floor at Fortnum & Mason and the Creed counter in its perfume department. That journey was (and is) always made with an admixture of pleasurable anticipation of some pampering and preening and guilty discomfiture at the exorbitant cost. Even the tiniest ampoule will set you back £145. Creed is not for the faint-scented.

Creed is not for the faint-scented

There, waiting in welcome, were an impeccably-mannered and manicured floor walker with his younger but equally elegantly-equipped assistant. On sight of me, the senior man gave me a swift all-sizing glance before smiling and enquiring, “Good morning sir, Green Irish Tweed?”

I was astounded, genuinely astonished. “But how did you know?” “Ah sir,” he replied airily, “we know our gentlemen.”

My story began over 30 years ago, when my mother gave me as a graduation gift a small bottle of Green Irish Tweed, or “GIT” for short. “If it’s good enough for the Prince of Wales,” she said, “it’s good enough for you.”

I cannot remember how I thanked her, but I can still remember how it smelled. A magical mix of sandalwood, citrus and mint which carried me off to the people and places of my imagination. An impecunious student translated to Savile Row and Jermyn Street with one short squeeze of the atomiser. It was marvellous.

Whether our new King really is a patron we do not know. We do know that the Creed story began back in 1760 when His Majesty’s six-times great-grandfather, George III, acceded to the throne and James Creed arrived in London.

Not that the Creeds stayed forever. Fast forward to Second Empire France and Paris, to where Creed decamped when Napoleon III commanded the company to supply his household. They set up shop in 1854, and that is where subsequent generations of the family remained.

The story of scent is as old as the hills, or to be more precise the hill at Buda, brother of Pest, where the first modern fragrance was bottled in the fourteenth century (though the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Romans had each played around with perfumes). At least according to folklore, Queen Elizabeth sent her apothecaries in search of aromatic oils to combine with alcohol and create what they called “Hungary Water”.

Santa Maria Novella pharmacy, Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

From there it was but a short sail across the Adriatic to Renaissance Florence where Catherine de Medici’s personal perfumer, Rene de Florentin, toiled to perfect her eau de toilette. Legend has it that a hidden passage linked his laboratory to her closet so that the secrets of his scents were never revealed. In the same city, Dominican friars were concocting sweet potions for the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Rosa, the oldest pharmacy in the world, to ward off plague and pestilence.

Next to these medieval contenders Creed is the new enfant on the boulevard (accurately the Avenue Pierre 1re de Serbie). But its lineage is unimpeachable. All its issue has been pure perfume pleasure. And since they have authored over 80 in recent times that is quite a record.

Some creations have been for private and not public customers, yet about its haute société clientele Creed is commendably coy. They will neither confirm nor deny that a certain British statesman celebrated for his cigars and stirring speeches, nor an American president, fêted for his youth and style, were amongst the glitterati for whom very personal pomades were conceived.

Restraint is the hallmark of this House — extending even unto its fragrances. Green Irish Tweed is a cologne that introduces its wearer tastefully and without ostentation. It connotes discernment with discretion. They may not quite match “Ich bin ein Berliner”, but I take pride in the words “I am a GIT”. So go on, be a GIT.

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