Many, many…many years ago I worked at Penhaligons in Burlington Arcade.
The arcade was magical, especially at Christmas, working there felt like you were immersed in the early 1900’s and it remains that way today. I professionally wrapped gifts in advance for the customers, sometimes wrapping 40 a day. I loved that job with all my heart and it taught me the value of decadence, attention to detail and the power of perfume.
I was delighted to be invited to Burlington Arcade for a Christmas tour – what could be more enticing than a day spent sampling the delights of a historical arcade in London.
Opened to great acclaim in 1819, Burlington Arcade is one of Britain’s earliest shopping arcades and was built by Lord George Cavendish, later Earl of Burlington, ‘for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public’.
We were warmly greeted by the first store which was Laduree where we were served decadent pastries and fresh coffee under the arches of the arcade. Inside the store the walls were golden and cavernous with sparkly lights, rather like a trip into Willy Wonka’s VIP room.
The history of Parisian tea rooms is closely linked to the story of the Ladurée family. It all started in 1862, when Louis Ernest Ladurée, a man from the south-west, set up a bakery in Paris at 16 rue Royale. Lucky for us we can experience a bit of Paris in Burlington Arcade!
A couple of doors down we stepped into a treat for the senses – True Grace, which was bound to be one of my favourite shops. I LOVE smelling scented candles and this place was next level.
Inside the store there is an arch of home scents which you’re guided around with your nose, going from light and floral to musky and peppery. Not only do they smell incredible on their own, but certain perfumes can be paired to compliment one another.
So if you had a large room, you could combine two candles to create a multi-nasal experience. Our favourites were – English meadow, and Burlington.
And as we were “shown” the scents they gave us a story behind each one, for example fresh cut grass, tomato plants from a greenhouse; incredibly realistic smells with a perfumed addition that you wouldn’t expect. It’s difficult to describe the scents and I would urge you to pay a visit yourself. They also offer engraving to personalise candles – perfect for Christmas. We were gifted the most beautiful advent candle, which I can’t wait to light!
Next up on our nasal journey was Frederic Malle an almost seductive store with a luxurious interior. We were taken up to the profile room where we learnt about all of the different fragrances that were likened to the “little black dress” “fur coat and no knickers” and a few other descriptions that evoked certain thoughts and feelings.
Frederic employs various perfumers who produce scents for other famous brands, but this is where they get to produce their own signature scent under the encouragement of Frederic. The results are well thought out perfumes with multiple layers and a story behind each one.
Downstairs there is a “scent chamber” which looks like a smaller version of a Star Trek time portal. Instead you get to smell your favourite scent on you from the perspective of someone else walking by. It’s incredible that when someone uses particular words to describe a scent it conjures up visuals. The types of scents used include Turkish rose, which smells a lot like Turkish delight.
Penhaligons was our next stop and I tried to contain my excitement. It was comforting to see that it hadn’t changed much and the old carpet had been replaced with lovely floorboards. I digress…
First of all take a look at their cute little Christmas video
They also have a profiling section on their site which helps you find your perfect scent.
Their profiling room is so worth a visit, it contains loads of beautiful bottles, large chests of gorgeous trinkets and rather impressive stuffed peacocks. I loved hearing the story behind their new Portraits range which also has scented candles.
Lalique is a stunning crystal collection towards the end of the arcade.
René Jules Lalique was a French glass designer known for his creations of glass art, perfume bottles, vases, jewellery, chandeliers, clocks and automobile hood ornaments. (thanks Wikipedia)
The collectors item in the window is worth a look. It’s a huge perfume bottle with designs based on a dragon fly’s body. The value is 200K!
We left with some perfume samples in these gorgeous bags, but not the collectors item, ahem.
Pickett was our final stop and it was a really fun experience. Trevor Pickett welcomed us with a G&T and cheese straws, he must have seen how “weary: we looked. Trevor is an amazing character and it was wonderful to meet the man behind the brand. His unique approach to designing his collections is admirable and you can sense that he takes great care in his process. (A little video of Trevor here: http://www.pickett.co.uk/insights/pickett-hand-made-in-england/)
Leather goods, engraving, customisations and every colour you could imagine drape and cascade down each wall of the Pickett cave. The bags are incredibly beautiful and the fur lined gloves with buttery leather make you want to be cold outside. There are walls of smaller items too such as purses and jewellery boxes, some of which would make some fabulous stocking fillers. How cute is this keyring?
I gasped when I saw their amazing collection of handmade slippers, made using off-cuts of authentic Turkish kilim and also featured in Vogue, no less. Other Christmas treats include fancy scrabble and back gammon made from leather and ready to roll up for an on the move game.
Here’s a cool plan of Burlington Arcade to help you navigate your way through: Christmas shopping
Shops in order of “appearance” starting from the main entrance: