The man who wrote the story of British perfumery

  • Publish date: Thursday، 16 June 2022

Atkinsons has been creating cosmetics and fragrances since 1799. It all began in England when Regency fashion favoured lace, sumptuous silk and the Empire waist dresses that we have come to know so well through popular television series in recent years.  It was a stimulating and culturally vibrant period in which the aristocracy imitated King George IV’s fondness for opulence, the novels of Jane Austen were avidly devoured by young romantics and the poetry of William Blake and John Keats tripped off the tongues of dandies as they gathered in the salons of London’s most illustrious residences.

Ostentatious displays of elegant attire and gracious manners were accompanied by a somewhat haphazard attention to grooming and it was in this context that the first toiletry product to make a splash was a rose-scented pomade made from precious essential oils extracted from Persian flowers. The name of the pomade was Otto of Rose, and it was produced by a young and enterprising perfumer called James Atkinson.

His entrepreneurial spirit was never in doubt. At the age of just seventeen, he left the rugged Cumberland countryside and set off to London in search of fortune where he set up shop in Bloomsbury. Before long, business took off to such an extent that he moved with his brother Edward to premises at 44 Gerrard Street in Soho.

The popularity of James Atkinson and his products exploded in 1826 when King George IV himself fell in love with his Eau de Cologne. This bold, heady fragrance based on woody and spicy notes was a far cry from the citrussy Italian and French colognes of the day and chimed perfectly with the flamboyance and splendour of the times.

Suddenly, Atkinsons’ Eau de Cologne became the must-have fragrance for anyone who was anyone in English society. When Atkinsons was proclaimed the Official Perfumer to the Royal Court of England, fame spread further afield as kings and queens, princes, heads of state and artists all clamoured to purchase it. Clients included Queen Victoria, the famous dandy Beau Brummel, the Duke of Wellington and his arch-rival Napoleon, along with a host of European royal personages including Queen Margherita of Savoy. The Atkinsons archives still contain bespoke labels of its creations for a host of famous customers and the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Museum in Saint Petersburg is home to the custom-created bottle of White Rose perfume which once belonged to the Tsarina of Russia.

Growth and Royal Seals of Approval

In 1831, Edward Atkinson, James’ brother, became a partner and introduced a series of strategies to grow the business. These included changing the name to J. & E. Atkinsons and moving to the prestigious Mayfair address of 24 Old Bond Street. The premises were designed to accommodate offices, a laboratory and of course a large boutique with the finest cosmetics and fragrances on display. These included exotic scents, colognes, perfumed face powders, soaps, face creams, hair lotions, toothpaste and depilatory creams for both ladies and gentlemen.

Success continued when the baton was passed on to Edward’s son, named James after his uncle, and his manager Eugene Barrett. However, it was not until 1896 that J. & E. Atkinsons saw a vast increase in capital, in the form of 200,000 pounds, a veritable fortune at the time. Under the leadership of CEO Horace Barrett, the brand and the products went global, winning over discerning noses throughout America, Europe and Asia.

The fame of the House of Atkinsons showed no sign of letting up, as it garnered awards, including the gold medal at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878 and again in 1889, which also happened to be the year of the Eiffel Tower. In 1900 it scooped the Grand Prix, and the following year received another royal warrant, bestowed this time by King Edward VII.

Atkinsons continues to garner royal seals of approval and, in the official book celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, it appears as one of just 70 distinctly British brands recognised for their contribution to business, society and culture in Great Britain.


Atkinsons in the Twentieth Century

In the manner of the greatest visionary brands, Atkinsons was ahead of its times. To mark its first centenary, it released a series of natural fragrances, created solely with flowers. Or, to quote the label, “Made from flowers, no artificial production”. Then in 1901, disaster struck and tested the mettle of J. & E. Atkinsons when a fire devastated the shop and production premises. Undaunted, the business forged ahead, demand for its fragrances showed no sign of slowing down, and in 1910 Atkinsons opened a site in a vast three-storey edifice in Bermondsey in South-East London. Known as the Eonia Works, the building would go on to welcome hundreds of staff in all manner of roles across many different departments through its doors.

Fragrant aromas wafted from the Eonia Works and into the entire suburb. Its warehouses were full of essential oils, spices, dried fruit and floral extracts from far flung corners of the globe. The ground and first floor housed the management offices while behind the main building was a purpose-built factory, divided into two sections. The “Free Factory” was where bath salts and soaps were manufactured, including Old Brown Windsor which is still used by the Royal Family. Inside the “Bonded Factory”, alcohol-based products were made, such as fragrances using violets and jasmine, facial tonics and hair lotions. Customs and Excise officials kept a close eye on what went in and out of this area, as at the time, a special permit was required for products containing alcohol and this also entailed access to financial advantages in terms of exports.

The new, enlarged organisational structure led to substantial economic growth and the shop in Old Bond Street was a beneficiary of its success, embellished with enormous gold and crystal chandeliers, Baroque furniture and mirrored walls. It was around this time that J. & E. Atkinsons started to distribute perfumes to the mass market, offering more affordable products such as

Californian Poppy (1905) and Poisetta (1911) and investing heavily in advertising.


Respect for tradition, commitment to a greener way and joyfully genderless

Today, three of the addresses that played such an important part in the Atkinsons story are immortalised in the names of some of the brand’s most iconic fragrances: 44 Gerrard Street, 41 Burlington Arcade and 24 Old Bond Street. Under the ownership of EuroItalia, Atkinsons continues to be celebrated for the quality of its genderless scents, while forging a greener future with a move of its manufacturing processes nearby Milan. Along with the use of sustainably sourced packaging materials, this move marks the brand’s commitment to reducing impact on the environment.

The colognes and perfumes are made from the very best ingredients and respect the long tradition behind the brand, reinterpreted with a more contemporary image for a twenty-first-century lifestyle. The orange and purple packaging reflects its royal connections while the Atkinsons coat of arms, with its crown flanked by two bears, recalls the core values established by young James over two hundred years ago. Those values of courage, noble spirit and intuition are just as relevant today as the brand embarks on the future with its head held high.

Follow us on our Whatsapp channel for latest news