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Creed de coeur: Inside France's 300-year-old fragrance house

2017-11-24By Peter Howarth

Creed is a Paris-based perfume house that can trace an unbroken line of perfumers, father to son, down seven generations. The current master perfumer, Olivier Creed, first studied to be a painter at the École des Beaux-Arts before joining the family firm. His daughter is the company’s designer and his son helps in developing the scents.

Although Creed has produced 200 perfumes over the centuries, Silver Mountain Water, launched in 1995, is still one of Olivier’s favourites. Inspired by his love of skiing, it is cool and clean, designed to evoke the sensation of standing on the top of a peak in Switzerland or the Austrian Tyrol, either in winter, or as pure Alpine streams flow when the snow starts to melt. Notes of citrus, tea, blackcurrant, musk and ambergris combine to give this an icy, mentholated smell, which also works remarkably well in the sea air.

Current master perfumer Olivier Creed at work

Pursuing the nautical theme, consider 2007’s Virgin Island Water, a fragrance that was dreamed up after a sailing trip taken by Creed’s father-and-son creative duo. This has a tropical palette of scents that conjures up the Caribbean: soft coconut and ylang-ylang flowers suggest a relaxed atmosphere, while a hint of fresh green lime juice evokes the splash of the dazzling blue ocean.

While Creed boasts impeccable French credentials – still Parisian, with a factory at Fontainebleau – the family all possess dual nationality and can travel on British passports. This is because originally the firm was based over the Channel.

Creed's distinctive bottles are engraved at its Fontainebleau factory

It began its adventures in the olfactory world in 1760 when, having just opened in London as a maker of tailored riding habits and accessories, it delivered a pair of scented leather gloves to George III. The story goes that James Henry Creed, who had set up in Mayfair’s Conduit Street in that year, made bespoke scents as gifts for special customers. The King was hooked and years later his granddaughter, Queen Victoria, would appoint Creed to supply the Royal Household.

This is where the French come in. It was Queen Victoria’s friend, the Empress Eugénie, who was married to Napoleon III, who apparently lured Creed to Paris, in 1854, where it has remained ever since. Olivier Creed, a direct descendant of the 18th century’s James Henry Creed, scours the globe to source materials. From Bulgarian, Turkish and Moroccan rose, to iris from Florence, Indian tuberose and vetiver from Haiti, Creed works with ingredients that have been used in haute perfumery for centuries. The only problem is to decide which one to have in your onboard bathroom cabinet.

From £220, creedfragrances.co.uk