For this London apothecary and perfumery, it’s business as usual–and that’s the way we like it.
Writer and aesthete Oscar Wilde was fond of the colognes and toilet waters. Author and humorist P.G. Wodehouse shopped for shaving creams and brushes. You’ll still find boldface names shopping for shaving accoutrements, soaps, aftershaves and cream shampoos, but London-based D.R. Harris & Co. Ltd. is discreet. The shop will not sell and tell.
The D.R. Harris history dates back to 1790, explains marketing director Julian Moore. “Two cousins–one a surgeon, the other a pharmacist–founded the company,” says Moore. “They performed minor surgeries, compounded medicines and, as a house benefit, started formulating colognes and toilet waters for their clients.” Back in the 18th century, Moore points out, people didn’t bathe regularly, so the cousins were probably doing everyone a favor.
The cousins–Henry Harris and Daniel Rotely (hence the D.R.)– soon found themselves doing a brisk business on St. James’s Street, around the corner from Buckingham Palace and Parliament, an area that later bristled with gentlemen’s clubs. Over the centuries, D.R. Harris moved to different locales in the area, most recently moving back to a building the business had occupied in the 1960s, with an interior that has historic fixtures, including pharmacy drawers affixed with Latin ingredient labels. A second, newer shop is located a few blocks away on Piccadilly. Because the shop initially offered colognes and shaving items, customers were largely men at first, notes Moore. But with the addition of soaps, shampoos and lotions, the offerings became more unisex, attracting the ladies.
“We are still a working pharmacy,” says Moore, “so you can come in and get your prescription filled while you shop. And it’s still owned by a member of the Harris family. Up until about 30 years ago, a family member was the pharmacist, too.”
But it’s the timeless grooming products that have attracted fans worldwide. Generations have braced their skin with Bay Rum aftershave, enjoyed the citrus-y, fern-y scent of Arlington cologne or reveled in aromatherapy with the lime and lemongrass notes of Classic cologne. Almond Oil soap soothes and cleans, shaving creams in jars are meant to be used with old-school badger bristle brushes, and Milk of Cucumber and Roses is a light moisturizing lotion. D.R. Harris still offers cream shampoos in jars, a pearlescent mixture you lather up between your hands before massaging it into your tresses.
Not that D.R. Harris is completely stuck in a 1790s time warp. They have responded to consumer needs and trends. “We add two or three new products a year,” says Moore, pointing out a newer line of hipster-friendly beard oils and mustache waxes. “We’ve also don’t use paraben and sodium laurel sulfate in our products. Most of our products are made simply, with essential oils and alcohol.” The firm has also become environmentally conscious, using less packaging and encouraging customers to recycle the glass containers. Many of the ingredients are sourced in the U.K. They don’t test their products on animals, and the badger bristles are the by-product of sustainable farming.
One thing that has not changed much is the traditional look of the bottles and jars, as well as the old-fashioned labeling and typeface on the products. “We prize that look,” says Moore, “and our customers do, too. I saw some of the ‘modern’ packaging from the 1960s and ‘70s, and it looked terrible. We are glad that we kept the original look. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
No doubt Wilde and Wodehouse would agree.
D.R. Harris is available at Amusespot here.
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