I have never felt more proud to be British in my life than I have over the last two weeks. Team GB and everything Olympics related (did you see the opening ceremony? Wasn’t it fabulous?) have gone a long way into strengthening the nation’s sense of pride, making everyone realise that for a small little island we aren’t half bad at all!
Along with the explosion of national pride this year, due mainly to the Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee, is the overwhelming number of British-themed product releases. Of course the world of perfume is no exception and there is a new fragrance brand on the block celebrating the very best of what Britain has to offer in terms of perfume ingredients.
“From the moorlands of Yorkshire to the mountains of Snowdonia, the windswept fens of County Derry and craggy Highland heaths, Union’s creative perfumer, Anastasia Brozler, has scoured the countryside for the most beautiful ingredients, gaining access to some of the country’s oldest private estates in her relentless search for the finest single notes that Britain has to offer”
The name of the brand is Union and rather than just cashing-in on the current high in national spirit they have spent a significant amount of time sourcing ingredients from the four corners of the British Isles to successfully showcase the flora and fauna that makes the country so beautiful (not that I’m biased or anything). The result is four unique compositions that feature such incredibly British ingredients as thistle, quince bluebell and Marmite…
Scottish Highlands Holy Thistle, Pembrokeshire Bay, Borders Bracken and Highland Pine Resin
How Does it Smell?
Holy Thistle, as the name suggests, is centred around holy thistle sourced from the Scottish highlands. My main memory of thistles as a kid is that they are very prickly and trying to recall the smell left me drawing a big olfactory blank, that was until I uncapped the sample bottle of Holy Thistle.
As you would expect, Holy Thistle is a very green scent but it manages to so with just the right amount of spiky edges for it to be evocative of the plant from which it takes its name. It also has a strong herbal quality that tempers the sweeter facets of the thistle by adding a sprinkle of something slightly savoury.
The base is woody with strong hints of pine and that prickly thistle really does last, and last. I have to admit that Holy Thistle is perhaps the least interesting of the Union collection, but that’s not to say it isn’t well done, it is a nicely composed bitter green fragrance that is worth trying. It is just very rare for me to feel inspired by all that is green!
Garden Mint, Caledonian Juniper Berries, Lime Leaves, Somerset Quinces, Snowdonian Thyme, Gloucestershire Sage, Sterling Mountain Ash and Irish Moss
How Does it Smell?
Quince, Mint & Moss is one of those fragrances that is nothing like your expectations. I find it to be the most curious of the Union quartet and even now I’m still making my mind up as to whether it is something I would wear or not.
It opens with an intensely herbal mint, and if you’re idea of mint in perfume is along the lines of Gorilla Perfume’s Dirty, Heeley’s Menthe Fraiche or Malle’s Geranium Pour Monsieur then you are completely on the wrong track with this one. This mint comes straight from the garden and it smells almost herbal, oily and almost earthy.
The blend of Somerset quince, lime and Caledonian juniper berries smells like something you would find in a men’s grooming kit. It has an almost barbershop quality to it thanks to the herbs, strong lime leaves, fuzzy quince and gin-like juniper. This is what I really enjoy about Quince, Mint & Moss, it has a clean, soapy texture that conjures images of shaving, grooming and general masculine preening.
As billed in the name, the “Moss” part comes in the base and whilst it isn’t a dark or bitter moss, it does ground the lighter more effervescent nature of the fragrance with a good degree of green dank-ness.
Quince, Mint & Moss has remarkable tenacity and is fresh/sparkling enough to be worn in the heat without wimping out after 30 minutes. I’m still on the fence as to whether it is for me but it is absolutely worth trying, I honestly cannot think of any fragrance that smells like it.
Peat, Oak, Fir Balsam, Aberdeenshire Pine Needles, Marmite, Birch Tar and Fife Bog Myrtle
How Does it Smell?
I get a feeling that Celtic Fire is going to be the one that everybody talks about, and rightfully so, it is a brave fragrance that features a melange of big, strong, smoky notes such as; peat, birch tar and Marmite. Yes that’s right, Marmite. As in the yeast based spread made in Burton-on-Trent that very much divides opinion.
Marmite-haters need fear not. The use of the most love-it-or-hate-it toast accessory is relatively subtle, whether you like Celtic Fire will instead depend on your opinion of birch tar. It is a wonderfully smoky composition that doesn’t quite push the birch tar envelope to the extreme levels of Tauer’s Lonestar Memories or Amouage’s Interlude Man, but the emphasis remains firmly on tar and peat. Still, the fact that it is refined and not so harsh really makes it so good.
As I mentioned before the Marmite is on the subtle side, but it is noticeable. It adds a salty, savoury hue to the tar that makes the smoke so delicious that you either can’t stop smelling your arm or nibbling at it (it’s worth noting that it is delicious in a completely different way to Interlude Man, which is also rather yummy but in an sweeter ‘edible vanilla bonfire’ kind of way).
In the base Celtic Fire settles to a subtle wisps of smoke and tar. The Marmite is all but gone, just leaving a touch of salt that weaves in and out of the smoke. I find it to be a novel composition, but it isn’t a novelty, it’s very wearable and I can see it being absolutely wonderful in autumn and winter. I’m certainly tempted by a bottle…
English Bluebell, Narcissus Absolute, Hyacinth, Devonian Violet Leaf and Dorset Ground Ivy
How Does it Smell?
Gothic Bluebell is one of the only bluebell fragrances that actually uses real English bluebell as an ingredient. It is also my absolute favourite of the Union collection (with Celtic Fire coming a close, well-deserved second)
I’m not sure whether I would describe this bluebell as “Gothic”, to me it feels more “vintage”. It has a beautiful old-timey powdery feel to it that makes me think of classic Caron fragrances such as Narcisse Noir and Narcisse Blanc. In my warped mind I see it as a bluebell found in Miss Havisham’s mansion, perfectly preserved yet draped in dust, cobwebs and sorrow.
The bluebell is paired with narcissus and hyacinth, both of which, along with a good slug of violet leaf in the base, amp up the general impression of sweet, powdery flowers. With time it does take seem to take on a fresh, green quality, akin to that of a ripe lily opening in the sun.
The smell of peppery buds and stems comes as a lovely surprise but it isn’t so strong that it takes away from the overall sepia impression of Gothic Bluebell, in fact it gives it just the right amount of contrast needed to remind you of the solemn air that the fragrance creates.
As you can tell I am pretty enamoured with Gothic Bluebell, it manages to smell vintage without being prim, proper or dated. It successfully incorporates the signature of many a classic powdery floral with that unusual kick of freshness that makes it new and exciting.
All four fragrances in the Union fragrance collection are available in 100ml Eau de Parfum for £125. They are currently exclusive to Selfridges in the UK.
PR sample. Images, quotes and notes via press release.