The newest limited edition perfume line of Jo Malone London is perhaps its most intriguing in recent years—featuring Tobacco & Mandarin, Whisky & Cedarwood, and Leather & Artemisia, among other unusual combinations—clearly inspired by the spirit of its namesake, the Bloomsbury Set, a famous group of intellectuals who made a home in Bloomsbury, London, its artistic residence from 1904 to the Second World War.
The Bloomsbury Set began as an informal group of writers, philosophers, and artists—then mostly fresh graduates of Cambridge—who would get together at what’s now known as the Charleston house in East Sussex and would spend evenings drinking, smoking, and discussing social and cultural matters relevant to that time. This group included men and women who lived and worked in Bloomsbury and whom we now recognize as icons in art and literature such as author and crucial English modernist Virginia Woolf, novelist and essayist E.M. Forster, writer and critic Lytton Strachey, economist John Maynard Keynes, post impressionist painters Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, literary journalist Desmond MacCarthy, and art critic Clive Bell.
The Bloomsbury Group's Duncan Grant and John Maynard Keynes, photographed in 1913
Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf
We can only imagine the discussions, tangled personal relationships, and activities that transpired in the art house, which today remains intact like a living time capsule. “It is a beautiful and rambling cottage surrounded by an incredible garden,” says Celine Roux, Jo Malone London vice president of global fragrance development. “We enjoyed the idea that this group of people appeared to be very English and proper but they were in fact non-conformists and true hedonists. We liked how the ‘proper’ contrasted with the ‘promiscuous.’”
Roger Fry, Virginia Woolf, and Lady Ottoline
In order to create a fragrance line that would be an authentic representation of the quintessential Bloomsbury Set, its makers needed to immerse themselves not only in the literature and works of the members of the group, but in the Charleston house itself, exploring its every nook and cranny. “The very first time I went to the house, it all came alive,” recalls Roux. “The colors, the textures, the smell of the paint, the light through the windows, the leather-bound books in the library—everything felt frozen in time and I imagined these intellectuals sitting there and brainstorming ideas. Everything at Charleston is painted from floor to ceiling, every table and every lampshade. We thought it would be fine to do a collection about the different moments throughout the day. Fragrance, after all, is meant to be fun and emotional.”
The Charleston house from the outside
Celine Roux and Yann Vasnier inside the Charleston House
Master perfumer Yann Vasnier brought the collection to life. “When I was there, I made a storyline in my head from morning to afternoon to evening, so the five fragrances have a natural evolution. Having read a few books about the Bloomsbury set, I particularly love the juxtaposition of domesticity and simplicity with this hugely intellectual environment,” he says. “It was definitely a cool project to work on.”
Some sources of inspiration in the Charleston house that gave birth to the Bloomsbury collection
We would have to say this is one of Jo Malone London’s most impressive collections to date, truly reflective of the unconventional and free-spirited artists who inspired it. Each fragrance captures various elements in the Charleston house, from the rich smell of the floor-to-ceiling leather bound books in the library tempered by aromatic plants such as artemisia and absinthe in Leather & Artemisia and the fresh tobacco pipes the group smoked at teatime in Tobacco & Mandarin to the cottage’s waxy wooden floor and the group’s drink of choice in Whisky & Cedarwood. More feminine takes on the scents are translated in Blue Hyacinth, which is inspired by the fresh first smell of the morning in Bloomsbury and in Garden Lilies, a beautiful mix of lilies, white musk, and jasmine inspired by its garden’s lily pond. It is definitely a marvelous collection you’d want to experience again and again.
Each 30ml cologne is priced at P3,780; available this month at Jo Malone London boutiques nationwide.