Fragrances for Napoleon, and a pomade made with bear grease – a place like a theatrical stage: how to stay modern and international without breaking with English tradition
English artisanal craftsmanship
Tucked away inside London’s historic Burlington Arcade is British perfumery house, the Atkinsons 1799 standalone store. With a mascot of a bear dressed in a three-piece suit perched on its front doorstep, its glassy façade is lined with wooden panels and accented with a golden crest across the centre, symbolising two hundred years of English artisanal craftsmanship. Renowned for creating fragrances that exude far-ranging scents ranging from Argentinian sandalwood to Southeast Asian musk, Atkinsons sets itself apart with a dedication to pay homage to a traditional heritage with a sense of offbeat British eccentricity. (Burlington Arcade is the commercial gallery that connects Bond Street to Piccadilly, passing by the Burlington Gardens – hence the name. Commissioned by Lord George Cavendish to architect Samuel Ware and inaugurated on 20 March 1819, it was a passage with an iron and glass roof, with 72 side commercial spaces – now reduced to around 40 units, of two floors each. The exit on Piccadilly was remodeled in the twentieth century in a Victorian mannerist style, n.d.r.).
This year marks the two hundredth anniversary of Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade, and it’s home to a few other fragrance houses. Just a couple doors down from Atkinson’s lies Roja Parfums, Kilian and Frédéric Malle. When the original store first opened, Atkinson’s hair pomade, which was uniquely made with bear grease, became the brand’s most successful product due to its ability to help stimulate hair growth, and was especially designed to help men suffering from balding. It was so successful that the product remained in production until the end of the First World War. The pomade has since come to be the known as the basis of the brand’s mascot and the perfumer’s logo was created to resemble a chained bear.
The new store includes a barber’s situated on the lower ground floor and a by-appointment only salon on the upper level, taking the retail space into an experimental environment that reconnects the store with its dandy roots. The top floor of the house evokes the feeling of being in a Georgian gentleman’s house, with ornate handcrafted furniture, warm tones, pure silk carpets and vintage perfume bottles. Intimate with plush chairs and a spiral staircase only separating the two floors, the space reflects the essence of Atkinson’s products with bespoke, grooming services that encourage interaction and create a wholly personal experience for the customer.
Atkinson’s streamlined interiors reflect a restrained thought out approach to design and fragrance, with each element complimenting one another. From the yellow hued lighting and smooth marbled textures to the contrasting deep reds and purples of the interiors, the entirety of a space works as one balanced area that presents the fragrances as first and foremost. Allowing for the fragrances to stand out among the elements encapsulates the perfumery’s British style and devotion to offering the finest bespoke service to its customers.
This approach sets apart of French perfume houses such as Diptyque, where fragrances are often reflected with an emphasis on opulence, with flamboyant interiors that are traditional in style and often include a number of large, striking elements in one space.
London at the heart
Founded by James Atkinson, the perfumery’s roots have always been connected to London. The story starts in 1799, when James Atkinson travelled from his hometown of Cumberland to London with a handful of recipes that were detailed with personal concoctions of fragrances and toiletries, including the formula for the brand’s distinctive rose-scented bear’s grease balm. After relocating to London, production of his recipes began underway in a factory in south London.
In 1826, King George IV took notice of Atkinsons, and declared the brand as the official perfumer to the Royal Court of England. This then saw the perfumery house cater to the finest of Aristocratic society and to exclusive clients including pioneer of the three-piece suit, Beau Brummel; who serves as the inspiration for Atkinsons’ floral The British Bouquet fragrance, Napoleon and Queen Victoria, who commissioned the house to create her wedding day scent.
The original bricks-and-mortar shop opened in 1926 and was designed by architect, Vincent Harris, who built the store on the corner of Old Bond Street and Burlington Gardens. It was significant that the first flagship store occupied this arcade — as Bond Street was known to be the premiere luxury shopping area that served the high-society, therefore the location amplified the grandeur of the store and the prestige of the fragrances. James Atkinson’s pet bear, which he had brought from Cumberland, initially sat at the store’s doorstep, and the store became memorably known as the ‘marvellous perfume shop with the most terrifying bear’.
The original Georgian shop was designed in Gothic Revival style to emulate the sensorial experience of the prestigious perfumes in a physical space, with decorative detailing from the Arts and Crafts movement. On the ornate gildings of Burlington Arcade, ‘Atkinsons 1799’ is carved in stone, cementing the house’s legacy. The historic store is eponymously celebrated with the 24 Old Bond Street Cologne, a cooling, aromatic fragrance that’s composed of fresh juniper and woody cardamom.
Although the fragrance house earned successful business, the store left Burlington Arcade in the 1950s due to a dip in trade after the war, and the original location of the store is now replaced with a Salvatore Ferragamo store. Atkinsons returned to Mayfair for the first time in sixty-seven years after being bought by Italy’s Perfume Holdings, and in 2013 re-launched with a three-floor flagship store in Burlington Arcade.
Designed by London-based interior designer, Christopher Jenner, the new store references Atkinsons’ original 24 Bond Street store and is characterised with 19th century-inspired British décor and Georgian influences. For the creation of the store, Jenner referenced photography of the original store and commissioned British artisans and manufactures to design bespoke interiors for the store, in order to reflect Atkinson’s English heritage.
About the structure elements of the store: gold engravings by specialist Ruth Parker flourish the walls, while brass lighting, designed by Paul Warren, illuminates the rich interiors with a warm feel, and a polished marble flooring is accented with golden brown tones, heightening the sense of drama in the room, akin to the atmosphere of a theatrical stage. A marble bar acts as the centrepiece of the first floor and in place of drinks are two dozen glass bottles of perfumes that include four collections, in colours that range from light creams to warm amber, which radiate against the rich, dark colours of the first floor, directly drawing the eye in.
James Atkinson’s fragrances were known for being ‘fearlessly English’, and original scents have been reinterpreted with the Legendary collection including oriental-inspired Amber Empire and The Odd Fellow’s Bouquet, a fiery-scented gingery fragrance. Newer scents are found in the Contemporary collection, and the house also presents a range of oud-centred scents. Typically characterised by a fresh aroma that was always mixed with warm and spicy hints, the scents stood out among the house’s Italian and French counterparts with fragrances that were suitable for both men and woman.
Often drawing influence from inspirational figures and countries from around the world, the fragrances exuded charismatic sensibilities with unique mixtures, and were always encased in sleek, geometrical bottles. Platinum Blend takes inspiration from the Philipines, Iran and India, reflecting the vibrancy of the countries with a masterful composition of bright elemi and sweet almond, before blending into aroma of creamy tonka beans and musk.
Text Natalie Chui
40-41 Burlington Arcade
London, United Kingdom