~ Posted by Pip Wroe, February 21st 2013
Today we launch our latest Big Question: what is the best smell? Some of the smells chosen by our six writers—wild roses, rain, freshly-mown hay—are freely available; others—frying bacon, baking bread—involve very modest expenditure. But some smells are much pricier and yesterday I went to the launch of one that costs £3,000. It was so expensive that the journalists there weren't allowed a single sniff.
We had been invited to Bentley's main showroom in Berkeley Square, and instead of climbing in and out of cars that cost six figures we stood in front of a table that had eleven glass bowls. Each bowl had its own smell: cedarwood, patchouli, musk, benzoin siam, galleon rum, cinnamon, clary sage, leather, black pepper, bay leaves, and bergamot. The perfumier, a blonde French woman in her 30s, talked us through the science of making the car company's new range in luxury fragrance.
In the office there had been jokes about "notes of gasoline" and "hints of axle grease" and it was surprising that Bentley's thinking ran along similar, if classier, lines. The creators wanted the smell to resemble that of getting into a Bentley (a new one), with its heady blend of leather and wood. If science had allowed them to distill the sweet smell of success (the Bentley Mulsanne costs £225,000), no doubt they would have added that too.
There were three fragrances in the range. The first, "Lalique for Bentley Crystal edition" (above), a collaboration with the French glass designer, has a limited run of 999 bottles priced at £3000 each. The second was "Bentley Intense" (£76) and the third "Bentley Eau de Toilette" (£69). I opened the last of these and sniffed tentatively. It was surprisingly good: rich, sweet but not overwhelming (that’s what "Bentley Intense" is for).
We were given little sample sheets, paper cut-outs of the perfume bottles, on which we sprayed the contents of the second and third bottles. I knew from the Sceptical Shopper's piece on perfume that these things change: "Citrus smells, the commonest top notes are highly volatile and disappear fast. Resinous base-note ingredients, such as myrrh or benzoin, last for many hours." As the chatty perfumier talked us through the scents, I felt that I too could detect the subtle notes of cinnamon, the sweet smell of the rum, and the luxurious whiff of leather and wood. But back at the office, sniffing the sample sheets once again, all I could be sure of was a warm, sweet, syrupy smell. Not much like a new car, but very like lots of other, cheaper eau de toilette.