Tailored scents

Rob McFarland is immersed in masculine tradition at a revered perfumer's flagship London shopfront.

Unsurprisingly, the first thing that hits me when I enter Floris is the smell. It's as if ribbons of fragrance are being twirled around my head - a delicate aromatic dance of floral and citrus tones, offset by sharper notes of spices and wood. For a few seconds I pause, sniffing the air like a basset hound.

It's a fitting introduction to the second-oldest perfumer in the world. Started by Juan Floris in 1730, the company has been in the same family for nine generations. The flagship Jermyn Street store is in the heart of London's St James's, an exclusive enclave of gentlemen's clubs, tailors and boot makers.

The interior is exactly as you'd expect - delightfully traditional with rich burgundy carpet and mahogany cabinets that came from London's Great Exhibition in 1851.

I meet Floris's marketing director, Edward Bodenham, who takes me into the back room, an olfactory Aladdin's cave of glass-fronted cabinets filled with mysteriously labelled bottles and potions. It is here that the company's perfumer concocts new fragrances, often starting from handwritten recipes passed down through several generations.

If you have £4500 ($6930) to spare, Floris can create a brand new scent, tailored to your preferences. The process takes three to six months and involves a minimum of three consultations. A less extravagant option is a fragrance customisation (£195), where ingredients are added to one of Floris's existing scents.

By contrast, Floris's standard fragrances are refreshingly affordable, starting at £50 for a 50-millilitre eau de toilette. It also sells a wide range of scented candles, bath essences and moisturisers.

I sample the store's best-selling male fragrance, No.89. Despite being created in 1951, it smells surprisingly contemporary with a light, powdery, just-stepped-out-of-the-barber's feel. It's been worn by many a distinguished gent, from James Bond's creator Ian Fleming to explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Other celebrity endorsements include Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Marilyn Monroe and Liv Tyler.

The company also has impressive royal credentials - over the years it has held 17 Royal Warrants and is the sole perfumer by appointment to the Queen and the Prince of Wales. Bodenham shows me a large leather-bound ledger containing orders from a who's-who of royalty, countesses and marchionesses from all over the world.

To celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee last year, Floris produced a new fragrance, adapting a scent they created in 1926 for her birth. Only six bottles were made. One was given to the Queen, one was auctioned for charity, one was kept by the store and three were put on sale. The cost? £15,000 each.

Despite being a bastion of English traditionalism, Floris knows that progress is inevitable. Last year it opened a second store in London's Belgravia, 282 years after the first. As Bodenham notes with a wry smile, "We don't like to rush these things."

Rob McFarland was a guest of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Sanctum Soho Hotel.

Floris stores 89 Jermyn Street, St James's, +44 207 930 2885, and 147 Ebury Street, Belgravia, +44 207 730 0304. See florislondon.com.