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Thursday, 2 February 2012

Valentine’s, Roses and Chocolate - the scent of romance

Here is the second in my series of articles for the Shropshire Magazine, this time looking at the history of Valentine’s Day and it’s association with gifts and incorporating a little foray into gourmand perfumes.


You can see a pdf scan of the article as it appeared in the magazine or the unedited version in plain pdf, which is also presented here:


Valentine’s, roses and chocolate – the scent of romance
Valentine’s Day has been irrevocably associated with romance since
the 19th century. For many it’s a chance to express things usually left
unspoken, often with the aid of roses, chocolate and perfume.

You probably know it was originally the feast day of Saint Valentine – you
may not know there were several saints of that name (at least two, possibly
three) celebrated on that day and more who were not. These early Christian
martyrs – the feast day was established in 496 AD – didn’t preach anything
to do with romantic engagements. Sadly there’s no evidence that any of the
lore associating these early saints with love and romance is historical fact
and some of it was plainly invented for marketing purposes in the Internet
age. There is a splendid Wikipedia article on the subject if you are interested
in exploring what is known.

Chaucer and late medieval traditions of courtly love had a significant
influence on modern Valentine’s Day ideas and certainly included the giving
of flowers: by the Victorian period there is a complex language, where
particular flowers have meanings and elaborate messages could be sent in a
posy. As a perfumer the concept of combining flowers is obviously dear to
me and the 19th century also sees an explosion in the types and numbers of
perfumes available. I’ll return to flowers – roses – in a moment, but first
chocolate . . .

Chocolate
Chocolate itself can be traced back at least 4000 years – as far back as
perfume – but for centuries it was only known in the Americas and even
after it arrived in Europe it was only consumed as a drink until 19th Century
inventors learnt to make solid chocolate. The association with perfumery is
more recent – an extract of the same beans of Theobroma cacao has been
available to perfumers for decades but it’s only in the mid-20th century that
its use became popular. The rise of gourmand fragrances – perfumes that
use scents reminiscent of food – began with Shalimar, the now legendary
1925 Guerlain scent.

Now I’m not suggesting it’s in the same league with Shalimar, but I was
inspired to create a gourmand myself: Imagine walking into a very special
sweetshop – the sort of place that is full of fine quality chocolates with all
sorts of exotic fillings behind a glass counter. Every kind of luxury
confection is on display from Turkish delight to Italian ice cream. Tuesday’s
of Market Drayton is just such a place and as a lover of fine chocolates I
have been a regular visitor ever since I first discovered the place. Eventually
I just had to try to capture the wonderful, tempting smell that hits you when
you enter the shop and the result is Tuesdays – which you can now buy
alongside the chocolates in Tuesday’s, an association of which I’m rather
proud.

An evening in with a gourmand scent and luxury chocolates might be a
bigger temptation than an evening out at even the very best restaurant in
town, and did you know that Champagne goes well with bitter chocolate
too?

Roses
Everyone knows that red roses mean love in the language of flowers but
you’ve probably also been disappointed that many don’t have any significant
scent: that’s because they were bred for their appearance and the scent has
been lost in the process. Roses have been in cultivation since ancient times
– probably the oldest cultivated decorative plant – and fortunately there are
plenty of them that are still scented. In Bulgaria, Morocco and Turkey huge
fields of Rosa damascena – the Damascus Rose – are grown for the perfume
industry.

It takes a great deal of effort to capture the scent of the rose: something of
the order of 50,000 flowers to make 30ml of oil – roughly 60 roses per drop.
When you realise that every flower has been picked by hand, you can see
why the resulting oil is so expensive.

Fortunately a little rose oil goes a long way and a few drops added to many
perfumes will add depth and complexity, even when you are not consciously
aware of the rose scent. Combine rose with vanilla and you can create a
wonderfully sweet, persistent scent that says summer rose garden as clear as
day. Blended with other flowers and precious woods and something more
exotic and sultry emerges to accompany you on that romantic evening out.
The rose is a wonderful ingredient I’d hate to be without.
So what will you be buying or hoping for on the feast of Saint Valentine this
year – a scentless red rose in a plastic tube or a little bottle containing the
essence of a thousand roses?

Chris Bartlett is the owner of Pell Wall Perfumes; a Shropshire based perfumery producing exclusive fragrances for
men, for women, for the home and specialising in making unique bespoke fragrances. More information is available
on the website: www.pellwall-perfumes.com.