Only very infrequently do nurserymen or plant breeders collaborate with perfumers. Once briefly in 1993 one such collaboration produced a success: Evelyn.
The company willing to work with a breeder to produce a replica scent was Crabtree & Evelyn and the breeder was David Austin. He was promoting a new strain of roses that he had been working on since the late sixties, English Roses which have the look and perfumes of old garden roses but are repeat flowering. He was always far more attentive to fragrance than any of the other rose breeders I’ve ever read about. David Austin was concerned not simply with stem bending size of rose or outlandish color, but with form of blossom, foliage, and very much with scent.
In the mid eighties he had bred an unusually fragrant variety , “Their fragrance is superb,” he writes of this rose in The English Roses,”-a beautiful Old Rose scent but with a sumptuous fruity note reminiscent of fresh peaches and apricots.” The rose was named for the firm of Crabtree and Evelyn and soon afterwards a collaborative effort to capture the rose’s unique perfume and bottle it began.
This was major effort too. According to Jan Moran in Fabulous Fragrances, the resulting perfume contained eighty five ingredients and the project went on for eight years with Mane perfumers and head space technology filling in the finer nuances of the fragrance, though it seems Austin was the final authority on whether Evelyn smelled like Evelyn.
The notes Jan Moran gives are necessarily no more than the major impressions the accords give, but the top of the fragrance was rose, a rose made up of many rose materials to give a panorama of rose, the heart turned green with more rose and a lily of the valley, plus the introduction of Evelyn’s distinctive peach tonality. The floral burned down to musk and woods, a gentle finish that didn’t intrude on the earlier floweriness of the perfume.
I smelled Evelyn several times when it was still produced in the original eau de parfum formula and the effect was intensely rose, as though you were sitting in one as giant as James’ peach, and this Roald Dahl impression shortly gave way to a peachiness, but almost a peach flower note. Surprisingly, almost shockingly for an early nineties perfume, Evelyn was feminine and gentle with just enough sillage to be noticed but not enough to overwhelm. Evelyn recalled Guerlain’s Nahema to me only without the strident rose hyacinth and passion fruit gels that design the hot pink stage lighting of Nahema, and without that perfume’s dramatic, Diva’s performance on skin. Evelyn by contrast was an English scent and that means natural and very, very pretty.
Evelyn has of course been reformulated, there is violet in there now and an amber base, neither of which were in the original, and the long time wearers are annoyed and are hoarding their bottles. Alas the price has gone up, and all I could find of the original release was body lotion for seventy five dollars. in the listing shown above. How times have changed. Crabtree & Evelyn used to be nice but affordable self indulgences, not any more.
Are more efforts of this kind going to happen? I can’t think so. They are too painstaking and too long, no one would take eight years to work out a perfume anymore. The closest effort I can think of recently was Ineke’s Gilded Lily which really does smell like the Gold Band Lily, but otherwise flowers translated into scent are now dead languages.