Forgotten flowers: freesia blooms again in contemporary scents!

Flowers, like anything, fall in and out of fashion. There can be a snobbishness about who grows what and where – and of course, perfume falls foul of this penchant, too.

With so many of us glorying in our gardens if we’re lucky enough to have them – we felt it time to fling open the doors and invite you to Step Into the Garden with our latest edition of The Scented Letter Magazine.

In that issue, I explore flowers once religated as ‘old-fashioned’ – violet, peony, rose, magnolia and osmanthus – but which we’re seeing increasing bouquets of proffered to perfume lovers of any gender.

For floral perfumes were once for everyone, then marketing got involved and we were told only women wore flowery scents. But personal hygiene guides were published throughout the 19th Century, warning women to use floral fragrances ‘with caution’, and, as Cheryl Krueger explains in her essay Decadent Perfume: Under the Skin and Through the Page, they offered advice on ‘the careful selection of an appropriate scent, proper dosage and strategic application…’

There are so many other ‘forgotten flowers’ we’re loving to smell in scents these days, though! And freesia is a favourite. Originating in Africa, A plant collector, Christian Friedrich Ecklon, honoured his friend Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese (1795-1876) by naming the flower after him.

Filling a room with glorious sweetness, these delicate, multi-coloured flowers smell nose-tinglingly fresh with a hint of citrus, but they’re frustratingly elusive. Try as they might, perfumers have never been able to naturally capture the scent. As perfumer Alienor Massenet explains:

‘Freesia in perfumery is an imaginary reconstitution – but the smell is gorgeous.’ So: it’s produced synthetically, adding a hint of green sweetness – and airiness – to fragrance creations. Alienor adds: ‘It’s smells like tea, actually.’

And I just adore this quote about freesias that Hugh de Sélincourt wrote in The Way Things Happen:

‘The happiness of that afternoon was already fixed in her mind, and always would the scent of freesia return it to her mental sight, for among the roses and violets and lilies and wall-lowers, the smell of freesia penetrated, as a melody stands out from its accompaniment, and gave her the most pleasure.’

Why not capture a whole day of melodic happiness by trying one of these freesia-filled fragrances…?

A snapped-stalk, florist’s shop galbanum rush: nectar-drenched freesia amidst armfulls of orange blossom.
Miller Harris Sublime Blossom £85 for 50ml eau de parfum

Symphonies of fresh flowers, freesia sparkling dew drops over fruity rose petals on a powdery bed of musk.
Storie Veneziane Palazzo Nobile Blooming Ballet £136 for 100ml eau de parfum

Vintage vibes as carnation, daffodil, marigold and pepper spice up soapy white florals; the freesia resplendently poised.
Calvin Klein Eternity £35 for 30ml eau de parfum

Transcendental lotus flower and sheer jasmine float freesia atop creamy vanilla and sandalwood, laced with musk.
Kayali Musk 12 £84 for 50ml eau de parfum

A contemporary take on freesia’s fresh-airyness, contrasted with fiery black pepper and earthy clove-like carnation.
Diptyque Ofrésia £98 for 100ml eau de toilette

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrance (but make it fashion!) – Scents inspired by fabrics

The trend-fuelled worlds of fashion and fragrance have been hand-in-glove for centuries – quite literally by 1656, when the perfumery and leather industry had become intrinsically linked, the fashion for exquisitely crafted gloves, popularised at court by Catherine de Medici, somewhat at odds with the disgustingly pungent reality of curing leather in urine. So, the Corporation of Glove-makers and Perfumers – the ‘maître-gantiers’ – (master glove-makers/perfumers) was formed in France, importing ingredients from all over the world to scent the gloves; with acres later given to growing and distilling them, such was Queen Catherine’s passion for perfume, and an entire industry was born in Grasse.

Since then, where fashion has led, so fragrance has followed – and just as hemlines go and up down, and silhouettes dramatically alter from era to era, so too do scented ‘shapes’ change with time. And perumers have long been inspired by fabric in their creations – a peculiar thing, you may think, as most fabrics don’t have their own distinct smell. Yet as we imagine a white sheet drying in sunshine, or the plush eroticism of velvet stroked beneath our fingers, we can also imagine the scent these textures might have. Such is the alchemical magic that fragrance can create – an overlapping of the senses, and in this first of two parts looking at fragrances inspired by fabrics, we pay homage to scents evoking satin, cashmere, leather and cotton…

Satin drapes. It clings to the body. It moves in the most sensuous way… And you definitely need to try draping yourself in this from prolific and gifted ‘nose’ Francis Kurkdjian. We’d call this an after-dark fragrance, one for oudh-lovers, for sure – but busting any prejudices against that ultra-woody material, for in Francis’s hands it never, ever overwhelms. We’re getting Turkish delight – a sugar-dusted rosiness that blends Bulgarian rose essence with Turkish rose absolute, while genuine Laotian oudh melts into benzoin from Siam, and the sweetness owes much to a soft, powdery accord of violet and vanilla in the heart. There’s almost a chocolate-y element swirling seductively around the patchouli, while the oudh underpins everything with its animalic smokiness. Mesmerising.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Satin Mood £200 for 70ml eau de parfum
harveynichols.com

 

 

Tom describes Iridium as ‘the fragrance equivalent of charcoal coloured cashmere.’ We always enjoy a description that makes you imagine a smell from a texture and colour, don’t you? And this really is a cool-toned cashmere, exuding effortless chic with all the powdery sophistication of precious iris concrète, but granted a strong silvery spine. The iris is dosed with carrot seed to amplify the dry, root-y yet so-refined character, and the synthetic note of Iso E Super wafts forth a deliciously grown-up gourmand ‘your skin but better’ dry-down – the kind that has people asking ‘what’s that delicious smell?’ and a secret smile is stifled when you know it’s you… Now also available as an extrait formula, poured at 71% strength, for even longer lasting enswathement.

Tom Daxon Iridium £105for 50ml eau de parfum
tomdaxon.com

 

 

Reminding us of our beloved leather jacket, a stack of books or the wood-panelled, boozily infused surroundings of a members’ only club, leather fragrances evoke a particularly voracious and luxurious sensuality, favouring deep base notes that linger the whole day long. Russian leather fragrances have a long heritage, the intense smokiness of birch the vital scent ingredient giving ‘Russian’ leather it’s characteristic smell. Here, Molton Brown curl swirls of smoke through a Siberian pine forest, infusing leather-bound books with a campfire’s glowing ember scent. Magnificently done, it’s an especial pleasure in colder weather, though I love layering it at times with a rose that needs some extra oomph.

Molton Brown Russian Leather £60 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at moltonbrown.co.uk

 

 

Like burying one’s nose in sunny-day line-dried linen, a gust of pure, clean ozonic notes greets us at this fragrance’s first spritz, only made more refreshing by a rush of watery notes and pinch of ginger. Mint and green accords carry this clean and fresh feeling into the fragrance’s heart accord, which then softens into florals, cushioned by skin-like musk and vetiver. Magically capturing the comforting sensation of crispness, and featuring elegant white lilies, floral cotton accords and a vanilla-speckled, benzoin-infused amber glow in the mix: this is one to spray when you need to be reminded of home, of lazy sundays and lie-ins and snuggling up in bliss. (See below to get a luxury try-me size!)

CLEAN Reserve Warm Cotton [Reserve Blend] £82 for 100ml eau de parfum
spacenk.com

 

 

Warm Cotton was the perfect addition to the Luxury Layering Discovery Box – featuring THIRTEEN layerable scents and three fragrant body treats to try at home for £19 (£15 for VIPs) – use it to freshen up a perfume without resorting to the usual citrus, to soften a scent you feel is too harsh or simply to luxuriate in the sebsation of that clean, soft white fabric dried in the sunshine.

Whether vintage or modern – evoking an era or an archetypal fabric – the fingers of fashion are still firmly within those fragrant gloves, and together they work their alchemical magic to embolden us: seducing several senses while enhancing our own sense of who we are – or whomever we want to be that day…

By Suzy Nightingale

Carlos Benaïm – one of the most charming ‘noses’ we’ve ever met – talks scents…

When Carlos Benaïm landed from New York on a flying visit, we settled down into a pair of leather chairs and asked him to share his scent memories.

One of the perfumers we’ve been most charmed by in all our years of hanging out with ‘noses’, Carlos is a veteran of the industry, with so many fragrances to his name: the blockbuster Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb (with Olivier Polge and Domitille Bertier), Boucheron Jaipur Bracelet, Bulgari Jasmin Noir, Calvin Klein Eupohoria and Ralph Lauren Polo – among many others we’ve worn, loved or admired. More recently, he’s created for Frederic Malle, including the airily fresh and so-wearable Eau de Magnolia, as well as the sublime modern classic Icon for Dunhill.

His appreciation of scents and smells started early. ‘As a young boy I would often accompany my grandfather to the marketplace in Tangier and I remember the smells of the spices and fruits, oranges, peaches, melons and apricots – they are engraved in my memory…’

When summing up his career, we also love these words from Carlos: ‘There’s an old Arab saying: whatever is not given, is lost. That’s how I’ve tried to live my life and my career.’

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
The scent of my grandmother’s kitchen, cinnamon, mixed with sugar and other sweet smells. She’s someone I was very close to growing up in Tangiers, in Morocco; I was raised there, although my background is Spanish. I left Morocco at 17 to study chemical engineering and then at 23 went to Paris and New York, studying to be a nose alongside head perfumers Bernard Chant and Ernest Shiftan at International Flavors & Fragrances – I never went to a ‘classical’ perfumery school and for me, it was more like an apprenticeship.

What are your five favourite smells in the world?

  • Orris (iris) – an elegant smell; there’s something so cool (temperature-wise) about it that I really like.
  • Sweets and baking smells and chocolate – because I have a sweet tooth, and I’m often caught with something sweet!
  • Smells that remind me of my mother: Femme and Mitsouko – I always recognise both of those smells right away, which brings back wonderful memories.
  • Fruits. I love the smell of fruits, particularly raspberries and peaches, pineapple, cassis, blackberry, blackcurrant. There is nothing like the smell of a fresh-picked French raspberry; they taste and smell completely different to the ones you can buy in New York – so much more perfumed…
  • Tobacco. This is the smell of my grandfather; he used to have snuff tobacco, and my father who was a pharmacist used to perfume it, either with a violet perfume or a geranium aroma. It was a very rough tobacco from Morocco and that combination was very haunting, blended with those sweet notes. I use it a lot in fragrance as a note; I used to smoke when I was young and fortunately I stopped, but I do like a little ‘hit’ from using tobacco.

And your least favourite?
I hate the smell of garbage – but that’s an obvious one. Actually, I don’t like the smell of cats and dogs. We don’t have animals because my wife is very allergic to them – but I don’t like their scent, either.

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
The great Guerlains: the Mitsoukos, the Shalimars… My grandmother used to wear Shalimar. Those are magnificent, absolutely wonderful, with their mossiness – not just oakmoss, but the other mosses, which we’re restricted from using so much these days.

Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? Is a mood-board helpful?
Everything is helpful for me. A fragrance is a mood, it’s colour, it’s form – and so it’s definitely visual as well; I build up a picture in my mind, and start trying to bring it to life. It’s a process that takes several months.

Do you have a favourite bottle, from those which have been used for your creations?
I’m very fond of the Ralph Lauren Polo bottle, which is also very significant for me because it was my first success. I also love the bottle for Flowerbomb.

Does your nose ever switch off!
As a perfumer, you can switch off being in ‘work mode’, to a ‘not actively searching’ mode. When my nose is ‘on’, I’m sensing the environment, I’m interested in the smells around me, I’m trying to put my effort into understanding what’s going on in, say, that particular flower. But I like to relax, too, and my nose relaxes at the same time.

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
Be interested; that’s really the key. Pay attention and try to ‘fix’ smells in your mind by putting words to them. That’s how a perfumer starts; you smell everything, and you can’t remember abstract smells so you have to label them – I would smell something and think, ‘ah, that’s the wood in my grandmother’s house’ – and that’s how I’d be able to remember it…

 

Juliette Has a Gun founder, Romano Ricci, reveals his five favourite smells…

Romano Ricci – founder of niche perfume house Juliette Has a Gun – was born to be creative, with roots in both fashion (his great grandmother was renowned couturier Nina Ricci) and perfumery (his grandfather Robert created the famous L’air du temps); but though grateful to his heritage, Romano was driven to make a name for himself and learn the basics for himself rather than resting on his laurels and hoping the prestige of the family name would carry him through.

Romano became an apprentice in the perfumery world, studying for four years and learning from the greatest noses, eventually persuading Francis Kurkdjian – a master of perfumery – to allow him to work with him. Juliette Has a Gun say: ‘In the creator’s mind, the innocent Juliet of Shakespeare is transposed to the 21st century with a gun… Metaphor for the perfume, weapon of seduction, or simple accessory of bluff, the “Gun” essentially symbolizes the liberation of women towards men…and sometimes with an aftertaste of revenge…’

Wryly humorous names like Another Oud, Mad Madame, Not a Perfume and Anyway, along with intriguing blends of notes are the hallmark of Juliette Has a Gun – a house that pays no regard to the traditional way of doing things just for the sake of it, but creating some truly great perfumes that have been blowing the socks off press and public alike since their launch in 2006.

And we are thrilled to now stock the JHAG Discovery Kit in our shop – filled with EIGHT NICHE FRAGRANCES, including a 4ml Not A Perfume, so you can explore layering all of these wonderful fragrances at your leisure (and pleasure). We think this kit creates a WONDERFUL GIFT and is perfect for when you are on the go. All yours to explore and treasure for only £25.

 

But before we wonder what your favourite smells of their Discovery Kit will be, we caught up with the stylish maverick Romano, and once cornered, got him to reveal the smells he just cannot do without in his life. What, we wondered, makes his nostrils quiver with delight?

Romano Ricci: My five favourite smells…

1. Tomato leaves ‘There is something about it. Without any explanation, I am just totally attracted and addicted to this poisoning green smell…’

2. Cetalox ‘This is one of my favorite ingredients, I even created a fragrance [NB: it’s called Not a Perfume] made 100% of it. I love the fact that some people can smell it and others cannot. It is the beauty of this pure ingredient.’

3. Castor Oil Plant ‘It reminds me my passion – car racing. Whenever I enter the garage of my racing team, I smell this odour which immediately puts me in a racing mood.’

4. Lavender ‘As a child we used to spend our vacations in our summer house in Grasse. It was called “la Renardiere”  and I loved it very much. It was surrounded by lavender fields. You could smell it all over the place. I should mention, though, that I kind of had a bad experience with the bees! So, it has a bad side to it too…’

5. Play-Doh ‘I used to love the smell of it as a child and still do, I am deeply jealous of perfumers like Demeter for instance, who created a fragrance around it!’

REEK founder Molly reveals her five favourite smells…

With an attention-grabbing name like Damn Rebel Bitches – a scented homage of blood orange, hazelnut, pink peppercorn, clary sage and malt, to the fearsome females of the Jacobite uprisings who were given this nickname – it’s obvious that REEK Perfume were bursting with passion to portray inspiring women in fragrant form. A proudly Scottish niche fragrance house, Molly Sheridan describes starting the brand so she could ‘…memorialise heroic, unapologetic women through scent. We want to celebrate our heroines.’ Damn right, and here at The Perfume Society, so do we!

Following hot on the fragrant heels of the Bitch, the equally flagrant Damn Rebel Witches celebrated those women who dared to be different, and were punished for it. You can read a full review in our guide to bewitching Halloween scents, but truly this is a fragrance suitable for any time of year, and whenver you feel like asserting your strangeness.

Molly says wearing REEK scents should be ‘…an everyday rebellion, a reminder of female achievement, much of which has been forgotten.’

Using unconventionally honest images (completely un-photoshopped images of women that celebrate beauty in all forms, including some of Molly herself) and deliberately provocative names to make people think a little more deeply about how women have been classified  – often by their scent and the things a ‘virtuous women’ is supposed to smell of – throughout the centuries, we were already intrigued by their Instagram account, and so were thrilled to meet up with Molly and get to know her by asking for her five favourite smells…

1 – Chanel No 5: ‘The reason I’m picking this is because at every stage of my life, a lady of significance to me has worn it. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have an older relative, or teacher, for example, who hasn’t worn it! It’s one of those absolute staples, a smell that everyone knows. It’s a classic – I wouldn’t wear it myself, but I love the smell of it on other people. Especially when they wear too much – I love that!’

2 – Elnett Hairspray: ‘It always reminds you of somebody or a particular time in your life when you used it. One whiff and you’re straight back there! And it’s just got this really distinctive smell – something that I can’t quite put my finger on or even describe – but it’s so evocative…’

3 – Petrol: ‘I love the smell of petrol, and I find that a lot of perfumes I like to wear has something like that in the scent for a split second – I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but something that reminds me of it and draws me to it. I want to keep smelling it to get more, more to get the petrol smell back. Weirdly I find that with both fragrances and food – the things I like most have something that reminds me of petrol.’

4 – 4160 Tuesdays Maxed Out: ‘Ohhh… it smells like chocolate limes to me. For ages this was the only perfume I wore, and I wouldn’t wear it during the day, but for some reason I like wearing it at night. Even if I’m just staying in.

5 – Bread: ‘It’s one of those smells that’s the same everywhere in the world. You can be in India or Paris and it all smells the same. Bread is one of those habitual smells that’s so comforting, and makes you hungry to smell it, even if you’re weren’t beforehand. I really like the fact that bread has such a social history, too – it’s a staple of life, we talking about “breaking bread” with people or say something’s “the best thing since sliced bread”. I went to Italy with my little sister and asked her what her favourite thing about the holiday and she said ‘The bread and butter!’ which just about sums it up for me.

Can I just say, I think these are absolutely brilliant questions to throw at someone! It’s so psychological… and I really like not having time to ruminate on the answers, otherwise you’d come up with some perfectly balanced list of things you’re supposed to say. Not like me – petrol and Elnett, haha!’

Molly interviewed by Suzy Nightingale

Get ready for sandalwood’s snuggles

Suddenly our duvets have become irresistible and those opaque tights have made their appearance from the back of the drawer. Along with cashmere cardis and hot toddies replacing the t-shirts and G&Ts (okay, we actually haven’t quite given up G&Ts), so our fragrance tastes tend to swing toward something warmer – a snuggle in a bottle that helps you get out of bed in the morning and comforts you throughout the day.

Sandalwood-rich perfumes are great ones to look for in the autumnal months or colder climates, offering a smooth creaminess that clings to the skin like a cashmere blanket – a poncho made from perfume. Yes we may sometimes wish to be pepped up with a citrus blast every now and again, even on a chilly day; but the majority of us here at TPS Towers are longing for something to snuggle into, and sandalwood as a dominant note definitely fits that bill.

In our just-published Couture edition of The Scented Letter Magazine, my leading feature seeks out ‘The sensational history of sandalwood‘, looking into versatility of this ingredient, and finding out just why perfumers (and perfume-wearers) love it so. But the topic is so vast, I really wanted to give you even more sandalwood-filled snippets, and urge you to swathe yourself in sandalwood scents you already love, or to think about getting seriously cosy with something sandalwood-y and new to you…

Some sandalwood facts:

Sandalwood is used in the base of up to 50% of feminine fragrances.

Supremely versatile, it blends exquisitely with clove, lavender, geranium, jasmine, galbanum, frankincense, black pepper, jasmine and patchouli (among others).

It works as a ‘fixative’, tethering other ingredients and keeping them ‘true’, in a composition.

So many sandalwood trees have been cut down in India, largely for production of perfume and incense – often illegally harvested, because it’s such a valuable commodity – that it’s become endangered.

The good news is that plantations in Australia are now coming on-stream, producing (santalum spicatum) sandalwood oil of high quality – to the relief of ‘noses’ (and conservationists.)

A wide range of synthetic sandalwood-like ingredients are now used in place of this at-risk wood, to give a similarly smooth milkiness (see below for our guide)…

The synthetics now available for perfumer’s to expand their palette is now fairly extensive. With the cost of Mysore (often considered the best quality, and the most endangered) sandalwood increasing approximately 25% per year, you can understand why many fragrance brands are choosing to use these aroma-chemicals, for cost-effective (would you continue to buy a favourite fragrance if it doubled in price every four years?) as well as conservation reasons.

In my magazine feature, indie perfumer, and founder of 4160 Tuesdays, Sarah McCartney, explains why synthetic sandalwood is so vital for perfumers – and how most people asked to compare natural and synthetic sandalwood side-by-side in a blind smelling, will confidently declare those synthetics to ‘definitely be the natural’ wood. So generally, ‘…if you have sandalwood listed in the notes, it will either be accompanied by its synthetic sisters, or replaced entirely.’ Among these synthetics we have:

Beta santalol – considered to be one of the most ‘nature identical’ of sandalwood notes, this imparts the comforting creamy snuggle we expect.
Polysantol – formerly trademarked by Firmenich , it has herbal depth with just a touch of filth for the animalic scent lovers out there. Realistic enough in a composition, it also has great lasting power.
Levosandol  – by Takasago is shot through with tang of dry cedar-like notes for an overall woodiness.
Ebanol – a Givaudan trademark, is remarkably rich and surprisingly potent. The snuggle that just keeps going.
Fleursandol – by Symrise, this one has a lightly floral character beneath the dominant, life-like sandalwood note.
Try sandalwood in these beauties…

But McCartney also reminds us that many naturals also ‘replace’ or snuggle up to natural sandalwood in fragrances, ‘One good natural substitute is amyris essential oil,’ she continues. ‘Mine is from Haiti and smells closer to aged Mysore oil than my Australian or modern Indian sandalwood. Amyris is known as Hatian sandalwood, but is a different species. Sandalwood has strength and richness but never overpowers or forces its way through a composition.’

David Moltz, perfumer and co-founder of cult niche house D.S. & Durga agress on this so-special charcteristic of sandalwood, explaining, ‘Though long-lasting and incredibly umami for a wood, its overall throw is soft. So it’s persistent but never overpowers other oils.’ Personally, he likes to mix the types of sandalwood he uses, depending on what he’s trying to achieve, so he uses ‘…a bunch of different sandalwoods. In the D.S. fragrance, I used top-grade Sri Lankan sandalwood which is the closest we have to the fabled and ethically challenged Mysore varietal from south India.’

Whichever character of sandalwood you choose, it’s just perfect to embrace on chillier, grey days – so do have a look for some of these, and get ready to fully embrace sandalwood’s cosy sensuality…

Molten sandalwood and cedar melds with warm amber, a wispy jasmine that fluffs itself up around ghost lily, waxy magnolia and narcotic ylang ylang. It all dries down to the most glorious pepper speckled honey for a ‘your skin but better’ daily cuddle. Self-care in a bottle.
Estée Lauder Sensuous £56 for 50ml eau de parfum
theperfumeshop.com

 

 

Like burying yourself in a boyfriend’s favourite jumper, textural layers of pink pomelo, ginger and green lemon brush against soft lavender and jasmine whispers. Finally, skin’s wrapped in that comforting sandalwood, with birch, oak, patchouli and musk. Sans boyfriend? I think this amply replaces many.
Missoni Parfum Pour Homme from £33 for 30ml eau de parfum
thefragranceshop.co.uk

Distant recollections of being warm without woollen undergarments evoked with the delectable creaminess of iris butter swirled into sandalwood. It’s all blissfully relaxed limbs slathered in retro-smelling coconut suntan oil and a cool lick of vanilla ice-cream. Thanks for the memories…
Juliette Has a Gun Sunny Side Up £110 for 100ml eau de parfum
harveynichols.com

 

A handsome (completely unisex, we think) scent that’s crisp as a tall G&T (told you we were clinging on) at first, then sinks beguilingly to a dandyish clove, cardamom and nutmeg-laden heart and the softness of sandalwood and vanilla muskiness beyond.
Floris Santal £80 for 100ml eau de toilette
florislondon.com

 

A sacred signal to the Gods, incense billows through saffron’s golden glow, precious frankincense swirled amidst a plush heart of rose absolute, smooth sandalwood soothing you like a whisper on a breeze of translucent white musk. Wearing it feels like knowing the very soul of perfume – ‘per fumum’ meaning ‘through smoke’.
Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire Rêve d’Encens £260 for 125ml eau de parfum
harrods.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Contemporary fragrance houses flying the flag

Who can lay claim to being ‘the birthplace of perfumery’? France and Italy regularly duke it out for the title, but British scents have been going strong since 1730 – with whispers of Yardley London‘s heritage in fact going all the way back to the reign of King Charles I, supplying royalty with lavender-scented soaps. Sadly, these records were lost in 1666’s Great Fire of London, but many British houses have archives bursting not only with records of their fragrant wares, but the customers who bought them – including royalty, film stars and prime ministers along with the many millions who flocked to their historic doors.
We chose to dedicate the latest issue of our award-winning online magazine, The Scented Letter, to these Best of British. (It’s available digitally to V.I.P. Club Members as a membership benefit as well as in print form.)
The emphasis is on heritage houses who have made our name and are still some of our favourites to this very day, with a selection of newer houses mentioned – including Miller Harris, Angela Flanders, Ormonde Jayne and Floral Street – all of whom have their own boutiques, where you can visit to stock-up on their perfumes, both historic and ground-breakingly new. The streets of London may not be paved in gold, but they’re filled with delicious perfumes…
To be frank, the feature was practically an entire book’s worth of material, and we still didn’t have room for every single one we’d have like to mention – which goes to show how many we have to be proud of. Also, we are thrilled that so many contemporary houses are continuing to fly that fragrant flag, being sold online and stocked in independent perfumeries that stretch the entire globe.
What better time, then, to continue our celebration of the diversity, ingenuity and creativity British fragrance houses display, and share with you a list of some contemporary houses your nose should definitely get to know…?

Ruth Mastenbroek

Born in England, graduating with a Chemistry degree from Oxford University, Ruth trained and worked as a perfumer in the 70s – both in the UK and Netherlands with Naarden International (which later became Quest and is now Givaudan – one of the largest perfume suppliers in the world…) Ruth then went to work in Japan and the perfume capital Grasse before returning to England to work for a small company, where she created fragrances for up-and-coming brands like Kenneth Turner and Jo Malone – including her Grapefruit candle. Setting up her own perfumery company, Fragosmic Ltd., in 2003 – the year she became president of The British Society of Perfumers, it was in 2010 that Ruth launched a capsule collection of scented products featuring her signature fragrance – RM – the first to use advanced micro-encapsulation technology in a scented bathrobe…!

Still creating bespoke fragrances for brands, Ruth’s own fragrances allow her to bottle memories, she says, ‘…of childhood in England and America – chocolate cookies, fresh earth, blackberries… Of Holland – lilies, narcissus, hyacinth and salty sea air… Of France – orchids, roses and wild herbs… Of Japan – cherry blossom, lotus and green tea…’ Believing that fragrance can uniquely move us, and with a wealth of knowledge at her fingertips; Ruth distills olfactory flash-backs into perfumes that everyone can enjoy and form their own, highly personal connections with. And with her latest, the sulty, smoking rose of Firedance, shortlisted for Global Pure Beauty and Fragrance Foundation Awards this year, we suggest you allow yourself the pleasure of connecting with them, too…

Quintessential scents Just launched, you can now indulge in a newly-chic box of emotionally uplifting scents. From the sparkling secret-garden fruitiness of Signature, through the romantic, rolling landscape of Umbria captured in Amorosa. A furtively-smoked Sobranie with notes of jasmine and cashmere evoke the dreaming spires of Oxford, while a classic rose is transformed with hot leather in Firedance, to become quite swaggeringly swoon-worthy. Have a chaise-lounge at the ready…
Ruth Mastenbroek Discovery Set £17.95 for 4 x 2ml eaux de parfum
Available now in our shop

4160 Tuesdays

If we live till we’re 80, we have 4,160 tuesdays to fill, and so the philosophy of copywriter-turned-perfumer Sarah McCartney is: better make the most of every single one of them. Having spent years writing copy for other people’s products, and writing for LUSH for 14 years, Sarah wrote a novel about imagined perfumes that make people happy, with such evocative descriptions that readers began asking her to make them. Ever the type to roll up her sleeves and take on a new challenge, Sarah explains she’d ‘…tried to find perfumes that matched what I was describing, and they still weren’t right, so I set off on my quest to make them myself. I became a perfumer!’
Proudly extolling British eccentricity, the ever-increasing fragrances include Sunshine & Pancakes, which Sarah made to evoke a typical 1970s British seaside family vacation, opening with a burst of sunny citrus, with jasmine to represent sun-warmed skin – alongside honey and vanilla (the pancakes element). The Dark Heart of Old Havana is based on a 1998 trip to Cuba: brown sugar, tobacco, rich coffee, fruit, warm bodies, ‘alcohol, exuberance and recklessness,’ as she puts it. Maxed Out and Midnight in the Palace Garden were both shortlisted for the coveted Fragrance Foundation Awards 2016 in the ‘Best Indie Scent’ category, and an army of devotees now relish every day, scented suitably eccentrically.
Quintessential scent  Named for a comment made by a Tatler beauty editor who smelled it, a dash of bergamot, a soft hint of creamy vanilla, velvety smooth woods, musk and ambergris make for a dreamily decadent ‘your skin but oh, so much better’ affair. Like wearing a magical potion made of lemon meringue pie and fancy pants, if they don’t fall at your feet after a whiff of this, they aren’t worth knowing.
4160 Tuesdays The Sexiest Scent on the Planet Ever (IMHO) £40 for 30ml
Buy it at 4160tuesdays.com
Pssst! Breaking news: Fans of 4160 Tuesdays are a passionate lot, and kept asking Sarah when her next crowd-funded fragrance would be available, and so she’s teamed up with James Skinner, founder and designer at Dalliance & Noble, to make a matching scarf and perfume.
The fragrance is a soft, rich, lavish blend of iris, hay, honey, apricot, tobacco, vanilla, lily, almond, sandalwood and bergamot, and as we love scenting our scarves with perfume, we cannot wait to try this one!
They met in 2017 at the artisan trade show Best of Britannia in Brick Lane, then regrouped in Sarah’s 4160Tuesday’s West London studio to choose natural and synthetic materials. The result was a collection of aromas which Sarah took as inspiration for the fragrance, and she named it Truth Beauty Freedom Love, the rallying cry of the 19th Century Bohemian movement or artists, writers and free thinkers.
James illustrated the plants which the natural essential oils came from, and the wildlife they support. In the corners of the scarf he’s placed the aroma molecules which cast a perfumer’s spell on the blend to transform it from just a mixture of materials into an elegant, wearable fragrance. He designed the scarf in two colourways, and named it Eden’s Garden – a haven for fruit, flowers and wildlife.
Crowdfunding prices:
100ml eau de parfum and silk scarf £175 (will be £300)
100ml eau de parfum £75 (will be £150)
30ml eau de parfum £40 (will be £75)
Get in on the action here – but hurry, there’s only twenty days left to secure these special prices!

Nancy Meiland Parfums

Nancy’s background as a bespoke perfumer began with her apprenticeship to one of the UK’s experts in custom perfumery, creating signature scents for those coveting ‘something highly individual and special…’ Before launching Nancy Meiland Parfums, her decade-long journey through fragrance had already included co-running the former School of Perfumery, acting as a consultant for independent perfume houses, working on collaborations with Miller Harris, and speaking on the subject of fragrance at events nationwide.
Now dividing her time between town and country (Nancy’s based in East Sussex), she explains that ‘the creative process of gathering sensory impressions and honing them into a formula is a vital one. Once a blank canvas, the formula sheet acts as a metaphor – and gradually emerges essentially as a kind of poem, with body, light and shade and a life of its own.’ It amuses Nancy, looking back, that she often had school essays returned to her emblazoned in red pen for being “too flowery”. ‘It figures!,’ she says. Thank goodness, say her extensive base of fragrance fans, in love with these portrayals of often traditional ingredients, composed with elegant modernity and beautiful harmony.
Quintessential scent  Definitely not your grandma’s drawer-liner, this is a rose in all its glory, with the entire plant evoked – pink pepper, for the thorns, stalky green galbanum for the leaves; geranium, jasmine, white pear and violet delicately sketching the tender bud. As Nancy observes: ‘I wanted to depict both the light and the dark shades of it, as opposed to this pretty, twee and girly rose that’s become slightly old-fashioned.” Rambling roses entwined with brambles, if this scent surrounded Sleeping Beauty, she’d never forgive that meddlesome prince for cutting it down…

Nancy Meiland Parfums Rosier £62.50 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at nancymeiland.com

Marina Barcenilla Parfums

A rising star of perfumery, Marina Barcenilla is one of the talented ‘noses’ driving the strong trend towards natural perfumery. As the name may suggest, her birthplace may not have been in the UK – in fact she was born in Spain – but it’s where Marina chose to make her home, and to set up her now thriving perfume business. Marina recalls being intrigued by the aromatic notes in the Herbíssimo fragrances and in her grandmother’s lavender water.
Having always been fascinated and inspired by scent – when the chance came to branch out from her aromatherapy roots into the world of perfume, Marina rose beautifully to the challenge. In 2016 Marina won the coveted Fragrance Foundation (FiFi) Award for Best New Independent Fragrance with India. Against incredibly stiff competition, judged blind by Jasmine Award-winning journalists and bloggers, this prompted her to take the next step on her journey; her company – formerly known as The Perfume Garden – became Marina Barcenilla Parfums. But although the name had changed, the ethos remained the same – ‘to create the finest fragrances, using what nature has to offer.’ More awards followed, including a Beauty Shortlist Award for Patchouli Clouds, an International Natural Beauty Award, and the Eluxe Award for Best Natural Perfume Brand.
In 2017, for the second consecutive year, Marina won Best New Independent Fragrance for the opulent Black Osmanthus – which truly put her on the radar of journalists and perfumistas. From sourcing rare and precious aromatic essences from around the world to blending fragrances by hand in her own perfume studio, after years of study, Marina’s long-awaited olfactory journey to ‘rediscover the soul of perfume’ is off to a rousing start – and all from the suitably mystical base of Glastonbury. More than simply reaching for the stars, parallel to her perfumery career she’s also studying to become a Planetary Scientist and Astrobiologist, at the University of London; recently combining her twin passions by creating AromAtom – creating the imagined scents of space as a way to make space science more engaging for children – which Marina regularly tours through schools. What else can we say for this exciting house, but ‘up, up and away…!?’
Quintessential scent  Silky-smooth sandalwood is enticingly laced with flecks of fragrant cardamom, dotted with coriander, huge armfulls of rose and woven with incense for an all-natural scent that’s soothingly spiced, earthily grounding and yet erotically tempting; so you’ll be wanting to dance barefoot (perhaps comletely bare) and wrap yourself around a Maypole, have no doubt…
Marina Barcenilla Parfums India £130 for 30ml eau de parfum
Buy it at mbparfums.com

St Giles

Rarely do founders of fragrance houses come with such experience, passion and dedication to the industry as Michael Donovan. With a career thus far helping stock the shelves of such cult fragrance-shopping destinations as Roullier White, running his own PR company, representing such luminaries as Fréderic Malle – every time we’ve met Michael, he’s been bubbling with enthusiasm about a perfume we ‘…absolutely must smell!’ or a nose who’s ‘a complete genius!’ And you know what? He’s always been right.
He’d been badgered for years by fragrance experts and enthusiasts alike to launch his own range, but the idea had tickled his brain for some decades before being fully explored as a reality. As Michael explains, the concept he just couldn’t let go of was to have a collection that truly represented ‘scents as complex as you are.’ And so, the St Giles fragrances have ‘…been created to stimulate and amplify the many different aspects of our character. This wardrobe of fragrances celebrates the parts that make us who we are, fusing the reality and the fantasy.’
And the nose he sought out to compose them just happens to be one of the greatest of our time. ‘The perfumes are made in collaboration with Master Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, whose vision I have long admired and whose friendship I cherish.’ Having spent many years working alongside Bertrand, but always in regard to his work for other houses, Michael admits he was ‘…extremely nervous’ about approaching him, but it turns out Bertrand was more than enthusiastic in his acceptance. The only question you need ask, now, is which fragrant character you want to embody, today…
Quintessential scent  Rosemary absolute – now proven to stimulate memory performance – adds an aromatic, drily green note while fresh ginger warmly fizzes alongside Champagne-like aldehydes, herbaceous clary sage and the uplifting, fruity zing of rhubarb. There’s a sigh of soft leather and frankincense at the heart, slowly sinking to the inky-tinged base of castoreum absolute, sandalwood, Atlas cedarwood and a salty tang of driftwood. Absolutely unique, you’ll want to cover yourself in it while seeking your muse, perhaps while enjoying a sip or three of something refreshing, wearing nothing else but a velvet smoking jacket and an enigmatic smile…
St Giles The Writer £130 for 100ml eau de parfum
Buy it at stgilesfragrance.com

 

Tom Daxon

Recalling his childhood and growing up ‘in fragrant surroundings,’ Tom Daxon rather understates how perfume practically ran in his blood. Lucky enough to have a mother who was creative director at Molton Brown for over 30 years, and therefore ‘would often give me new shower gels to try, fragrances to sniff’ his scented destiny was sealed by frequently accompanying his mother on her business trips to Grasse.
There he met the father-daughter duo of Jacques and Carla Chabert, who’d variously worked for Chanel, Guerlain and L’Oréal, with Jacques the nose behind Molton Brown’s ground-breaking Black Pepper and Carla creating the hit follow-up, Pink Peppercorn. Having esteemed perfumers in his life from such an early age was a connection that would bravely – still in his twenties – lead Tom to launch a brand new British fragrance house. Clearly a chap who doesn’t like to hang around when he’s got a bee in his bonnet, by the end of that same year, he was already being stocked in Liberty.
Not a bad start, all things considered, and describing the impetus behind him starting his own line of fragrances, Tom says ‘I wouldn’t have bothered if I thought I couldn’t offer something a bit different.’ Uniquely intriguing, the entire range celebrates a luxurious kind of British modernity in their pared back, clean lines, the oils being macerated and matured in England for at least six weeks before they’re bottled here. Harnessing Tom’s Grasse connections but remaining resolutely British in their spirit, it’s just the beginning for this exciting house.
Quintessential scent Lushly narcotic, it’s a hyper-realistic big-hitter – like sticking your entire face in a buxom bouquet, the better to get another dose of its lascivious charms. Using traditional, headily feminine notes like lily of the valley, carnation, rose and oakmoss might have become ‘vintage’ or even a bit old-fashioned smelling in the wrong hands, but the Chaberts and Tom vividly evoke just-bruised, silky petals with a futuristic drama that never fails to shake you out of the doldrums.

Tom Daxon Crushing Bloom £105 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at tomdaxon.com
With a strong heritage behind us, and many of those houses still not only surviving but thriving, it seems British perfumery is once again blooming with a fresh crop of forward-thinking (and often self-taught) perfumers shaking up the scent scene. No fuddy-duddy fragrances, these, they’re flying the flag not only for British niche perfumery, but for the art of fragrance itself. Hoist the bunting!

For further reading, we suggest getting your hands on a copy of British Perfumery: A Fragrant History by The British Society of Perfumers/£30 including UK delivery.
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Just for our V.I.P.s – 20% off at Miller Harris


We’re delighted that from now on, our Perfume Society V.I.P.s will receive a special monthly privilege discount that we’ve negotiated for you with the most fabulous perfume websites.
So: until 30th April 2018, our very first offer is with Miller Harris. Simply visit their website and when you’ve chosen your fragrance/s, add the code PerfumeSociety20 at checkout. Hey, presto! You’ll enjoy 20% off the price of the perfume.
Longing for a bottle of Petit Grain – so perfect for a spring scent wardrobe? Been thinking about trying the new Scherzo and Tender, each inspired by a passage in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night…? Or, if you’ve enjoyed a Miller Harris in one of our Discovery Boxes, there’s never been a better time to treat yourself to a full-size bottle.
Enjoy! With love from us (and Miller Harris) to you…
 

The essence of Hermès, bottled

Enjoying astonishing creative freedom, Christine Nagel, the current in-house perfumer for Hermès, is the picture of happiness. We spoke to the much-admired perfumer about the ins and outs of her day, you can read our in-depth interview with Christine, here.
‘I am free’, was the overriding feeling we got from her smiling answers – and her five new scents reflect just that. Christine wanted to return to the origins of perfumery with these scents, and so created five Orientals to add to the existing strong line-up of the Hermessence Collection. All retain the quintessential ‘essence’ of Hermès,  expressed through Nagel’s bold style. Two pure perfume oils centered around musks are the picture of elegance, whilst the three eaux de toilette are truly unforgettable. Read our thoughts on the new addtions below…

Myrrhe Églantine

An incarnation of myrrh different to any other. This love letter to an age-old precious ingredient – one that conjures images of perfume trade routes and travels through deserts – is equal parts intriguing and irresistible. Entwined with wild rosehip, the rich and enveloping myrrh only shows its true colours, on your skin, hours later. The rose is fruity and tangy and fresh, soft and sweet. A sharp jam-like scent peels away to reveal a rich resinous cave. Deeply sophisticated, yet calming and comforting, this scent lies somewhere between the experience of resting on rose-scented soft sheets, the downy cotton touching your cheek, and walking through rose-tinged woodlands with the depth of dark woods surrounding you.

Cèdre Sambac
It is said that cedars ‘know history better than history itself’. This is certainly an accomplished ode to a majestic tree and a magical ingredient. Powerful jasmine blossoms coil around the hard cedar branches. An engulfing scent, the first spray offers a harsh punch of cedar, sharp and woody, swiftly softened by the creamy white petals of jasmine. The entanglement of these two ingredients feels so natural – almost as if the cedar tree began to blossom jasmine flowers.

Agar Ébène
The carnal warmth of agar wood (oudh) soothed by the light, balmy scent of fir balsam, results in a blanket of enveloping woody comfort. There’s almost a tinge of fruitiness at first spritz, but with facets of agar peeping through. A rounded smoothness evolves, creating a kind of a velvety cloak. The melding of these two woods happens in such a graceful, effortless way – Agar Ébène is like a song that both ingredients have been waiting, and longing, to dance to.

 

The new Eau de Toilettes come with optional leather cases, in true Hermès style

Cardamusc
Like being thrown into a dream… Hands delving into bags of cardamom, the life of the Indian spice market bustles around you – you lose touch, you can’t hear the loud chatter, the car honks, the abrasive sounds. You smell only the sweet cardamom, once bracing and cooling, now softened by soothing musks. Then the relief of musk, giving a warmth that echoes of the comfort and sweetness of hot milk. Altogether an unforgettable adventure in warm spices.

Musc Pallida
A precious powdery iris, meets a rare musk. Tiny, delicate, sweet wisps of powder waft through this scent, while downy musks purr – rich and sensual. This is kind of hazy – cloudy with its softness – but with a feeling of clean sheets and bright fresh air blowing through. Ultimately, the bouquet of musks peppered with violet-tinged-irises creates almost a pool of liquid gold.

Myrrhe Églantine £180 for 100ml eau de toilette
Cèdre Sambac £180 for 100ml eau de toilette
Agar Ébène £180 for 100ml eau de toilette
Cardamusc £275 for 20ml essence de parfum
Musc Pallida £275 for 20ml essence de parfum
In store exclusively at Harrods and at Hermes online
Written by Carson Parkin-Fairley 

Christine Nagel, in-house perfumer at Hermès

Taking over from the revered Jean-Claude Ellena, Christine Nagel embodies the creative freedom so cherished by Hermès , where she joined the team in 2016. She has already ‘signed’ both the playful and uplifting Twilly, along with the salty, shimmering Eau des Merveilles Bleue, in her time there – and we spoke to her at the launch of five brand new (and utterly unforgettable) additions to the Hermessence Collection. (Read about those beguiling scents here.)
My nose is better in the morning. When it is fresh, it’s at its best. Come around 5 pm in the afternoon, I am less productive, because I am tired.
To understand my day, you need to start with how I finish it. After I return to my home in a car, I spray a sample of what I have been working on in my car. I close the door and go back to my room for the night. Then in the morning, when my nose is very fresh and very precise, I open the door to my car. I am alone with the perfume. I smell the scent with my fresh nose, and sometimes I don’t feel anything, but other times, it’s very interesting.
When I arrive in my atelier, I have some blotters on my desk, and I’ll choose three or four samples of a scent that I’ve been working on. I smell again, fresh, and then I select two or three samples. It is then necessary for me to put it on the skin – the sensation I have from it being on the skin is very important. Then I take a long time to decide what’s the best next step. I might like it, but need a modification. I write up the new formula, give it to my lab assistant – and then after the modified formula comes back, I smell again. This is a cycle, a process.
After that, I might do smelling exercises – where I smell ingredients, and I have to identify them by guessing. It’s like training in sport.
All my day, I smell. And not only all my day; all my life, I smell. It’s impossible to cut off your nose, to stop smelling. I find it impossible to close my nose – but it’s possible to close my mind, to shut it off. This only happens when I am truly exhausted, though.
I need inspiration, and my first inspiration is the Hermès house. The history, the leather, the silk, the fashion. The story is so marvellous; I feel like I have an entire playground to play within. Other things I like to be inspired by are exhibitions. It’s necessary to be very receptive to all art.
I work in a city near Paris, called Pantin. When Pierre-Alexis Dumas (Creative Director of Hermès) hired me, he asked: where do you want to work? My response was that I would like to work in Pantin. He replied, ‘are you sure’ Because the city of Pantin is not nice!’ But, for me, in Pantin lives the heart of Hermès. This is where all the artisans work, where all the workshops are, and it’s important for me to be in the middle of the creation/ creative area. We have the leather production labs and the Conservatoire – the archive of all the Hermès creations – and it’s the story of Hermès.
I work on the top floor, with a garden. I am very lucky because Pierre-Alexis Dumas offered me a wonderful place to work, in a building from the 1930s. In my top floor office I work alone with my lab assistant; it’s very tranquil and quiet. I have different rooms – but the little office where I work with my computer was Jean-Louis Dumas’ first office [the man credited with turning Hermès into a global brand]. It has a very special floor, which looks like wood but is made out of leather. It was a prototype that never made it to production, from 20 years ago. It’s very soft to walk on, and very sensual. I have a big room with a large table – and some furniture pieces from Hermès, but not all Hermès. I have many paintings on the walls; it is like my apartment, my sanctuary. Very simple, quality, quiet, and chic – just like Hermès. I could work in the middle of Paris, or by the sea, but for me it is so important to stay within the creative zone.
I love working on different projects at the same time. Some perfumers prefer working on one at a time but I like working on different things – like a painter who might start working on different landscapes. I release myself from a creation, and might find inspiration for another. But with Hermès I have a gift: I have time. And time is a marvellous thing. I may be working on, say, five ideas at the same time, but they’re not always in the same direction. It’s possible I’ll be working on a fresh note at the same time as an Iriental, or Chypre. I like the difference in them. Sometimes it might be two or six ideas, but I am free. I am free and I have time. I am a lucky perfumer!
The first idea for a fragrance comes from the mind and the heart. It’s a question of mind and emotion. After I’ve thought about it, I prepare. The first decision is a name; I chose a working name. It’s very important, like the title of a book; I can’t start a project without a name. After that, I write a formula. I love working on computers, I am half-Swiss and half-Italian and they appeal to my organized (Swiss) side. I love to be very precise with my formulas. After I print my formula, then my lab assistant will weigh the formula out – but if I have an idea to modify it, I may write that by hand. It’s a mix of the artisan and technology.
I don’t have just one source of inspiration. My first inspiration is, of course, the house of Hermès. Hermès is versatile, and excellence shines through in so many areas. The second inspiration is the natural. Nature is very important – but it’s not always a garden; it can be a flower growing in the asphalt, or a nice woman in India, with colour and elegance, or it could be a fruit. Ideas come from everywhere. I am like a sponge.
A big part of my inspiration is art. When I see a fine painting or sculpture, it inspires me. For example; I love Camille Claudel, and Rodin, and when I see a sculpture by them I am impressed by the details. The hands and feet are larger than normal, irregular, but when you see this sculpture in front of you, it looks so natural, like they are living. If I transfer this to the way I work, sometimes I may overdose an ingredient, that shouldn’t be normal, but it smells more natural, more elegant that way. Some painters work with little touches and when you stand afar you see something very sensual, a very clear painting, but when you come up close, you cannot understand it.
It’s important that you understand that I am totally free. One day is never the same as the other. It depends, if I’m too tired to smell, I use my mind and I might go to an exhibition, to have ideas. I am totally free and I work with my instincts, just this. No routine. There is only one point to remember: I work, I work, I work and I smell, I smell, I smell. It’s just an exercise. It’s like when you see a ballerina dancing, it looks easy, effortless, but actually she has worked for years perfecting her moves. When you see me, you might think, ‘Oh, she smells’, but it’s a lot of work.
I’ll only take a fragrance home if I’m ‘upset’ by a creation. This is usually when I’m finding it hard to achieve my goal. And if I’m upset, when I get home, I’ll spray it on my arm, I’ll put it on my pillow, I’ll smell constantly. It’s an obsession. I try to think about why I can’t understand the construction.
I must be calm to work. I cannot work if I am in pain;  it needs to be peaceful.
I’ve worked on many brands, in the past. But I think when you are becoming a perfumer for a specific house, it is important that you have had a life before. When you work for a brand like Hermès, you work alone – but this is fantastic, and I love it. However, with working alone comes a lot of responsibility. I’m free, I have time, I have money, because there’s no limitations, I have the possibility to choose my ingredients from all over the world. And it’s even possible for me to ask them to create a particular special extract, should I need one. Everything is possible.
For Hermès, it’s all about the raw materials and the ingredients. Like the leather they use for their bags, it’s the principle subject and of great importance. The attention to ingredients is number one at Hermès, and it is the same in their perfumery.
We don’t do market research. Hermès never, ever, test a perfume, and this is a marvelous gift. When you test a perfume, a lot of people smell it, and give their feedback, and after you remove any extremes that challenge people. You’ll have a nice perfume – but in the middle ground, for mass market. The decision to choose and produce a perfume at Hermès is made by three people: Agnès de Villers (the General Director of Hermès Parfums), Pierre-Alexis Dumas and the perfumer, me. It’s fantastic, but it’s also a big responsibility. Fingers crossed I don’t make any mistakes.
With each creation, I put my heart into it. I think it’s very important for perfumery that I try to work outside the box, that I don’t stick to the norm and that I’m not afraid to take risks. A lot of perfumes can smell the same, so I have a responsibility to create something different.
When I arrived at Hermès, I didn’t have to learn my job, I knew it already. I worked alongside Jean-Claude Ellena, for a while, who is a marvellous perfumer. When I talk about Hermès, I describe it as a tree – a tree that has its strength with the roots, the history of the house. And all the branches are the different perfumers who have worked with Hermès: Edmond Roudnitska, Jean Claude Ellena, and me. And my role, is to create new ‘leaves’ each year. When I arrived at Hermès, I received another gift: the gift of time. That time was a space in which to understand Hermès, to immerse myself, and that time was also given to Jean Claude to leave the company. It was a very special time, because normally when you change a perfumer in house it is very swift. But we had this special time together.
I didn’t learn my job from Jean-Claude. We are different perfumers and this is why they chose me, for my difference. But when I observed Jean- Claude, I wanted to understand how he captures the essence of Hermès, and how he creates a fragrance with this style – and I observed this. This audacity. When you talk about Hermès, people say: ‘it is classical house, with a lot of serious scents.’ But really Hermès has a lot of audacity, a lot of modernity. I discovered this – the colour, the fantasy, the audacity – when I started to work here. But perhaps Hermès’ most audacious move was to hire me after Jean-Claude, because we are so different. But Pierre-Alexis Dumas, said ‘You are Hermès, just perhaps a different part of Hermès, more tactile. Jean-Claude Ellena was Hermès, Edmond Roudnitska was Hermès.’ Hermès is a rich brand; it is not just one person.
There is no answer to how long it takes to finish a fragrance. It could take three days, three months, three years, or never.
I love music but I am very open with it. I like very different stuff. Sometimes I love to listen to Bach’s violin, or Bob Marley, or Pink Floyd, or Deep Purple, when I’m working. It depends on the moment.
Images can sometimes be helpful when creating a fragrance. Sometimes, I have an obsession. I’ll cut many things out of newspapers or magazines, and I’ll put them in a book, just an image I love. But, really, it’s been about a year since I last touched my books.  
Sometimes, I can create a perfume and do 500 modifications.  But then I still return to the first formula. It’s complicated, it’s not a question of numbers because sometimes I work, and I go too far, and then I need to return to a simpler scent.
My perfumer’s palette is very special. Because in a perfumer’s normal palette, they have maybe 1200 ingredients. I prefer to have only 300-400. My palette is small – but if I ever need something, anything is possible.
I have the best job in the world. And for this reason, I am so happy.
By Carson Parkin-Fairley