Scent obsessed: our interview with Gill Smith (MD of The Perfume Shop)

Being a life-long fragrance lover, when Gill Smith became Managing Director of The Perfume Shop – the second largest fragrance retailer in the whole of the UK, let us not forget – took it all in her scented stride. Having recently celebrated their fifth anniversary of The Perfume Shop’s ‘Love Perfume Awards‘, we couldn’t wait to catch up with Gill and find out exactly when this obsession first began, and – what we always find absolutely fascinating – her five favourite smells…

At what point in your life did fragrance begin to be so important in your life?

Gill: ‘I started out in the wine business, which is all about scent and notes, so from my early twenties I became obsessed with learning to smell things properly and I sat two levels of wine expert exams. I remember going around Harrods food hall and just smelling everything, becuse we don’t have a natural memory bank of connecting words to smells, we have to builld it up. I guess that’s where it started.

I know it sounds weird, but I even kept a ‘smell box’ of nasty and nice smells. The smells you find in wine totally translate to perfume, too. When I started working in The Perfume Shop I wondered what I was going to say to customers, but remembered my smell training and went from there!’

The Perfume Shop have partnered up to support Alzheimers Research UK – how did this relationship begin?

Gill: ‘Well we felt it was a very under-represented charity who do so much good, and the fact that one of the symptoms is the loss of smell (and therefore the memories that go along with them) – we just thought it was there were so many great links and ways we could not only raise money, but awareness, too. We’ve signed up for at least two years with them, and have two research projects we’re helping fund. One is a brain-scanning technique that shows when Alzheimers first happens, and the other is looking at a protein in the body that some tests indicate it’s an early indicator. Our #MemoriesMatter campaigns have been so successful, and we want to do loads more with them.’

We always like asking our friends in perfume a highly revealing question. So, Gill… may we ask for your five favourite smells – things that trigger specific memories for you?


1. ‘Oooh… Definitely getting into bed with fresh sheets that have been dried outside. That smell just makes me want to jump into bed immediately, it’s so comforting.’

2. ‘The next one is roast chicken – the smell of chicken in the oven, wafting through the house – it immediately makes me think of being cosy and at home with my family. Such a happy smell.’

3. ‘This sounds a bit odd, but… a mouldy cellar. I know, I know, but it’s because of my background in wine, and for me it’s immediately being down in a wine cellar exploring all the dusty corners. I smell that and I just think “I absolutely know there’s going to be great wine down here.” All those memories. I’m straight back there with one whiff of a basement!’

4. ‘Something that always makes me smile whenever I smell it is a peony – they’re only around for a really short while and so you have to get in there to sniff them. It’s so exciting when they start blooming, and that happens to be around the time my birthday is, so it’s extra special.’

5. ‘I know this sounds a bit silly, but it’s important for me – it’s the smell of Right Guard Original – my husband has worn it forever, I’ve known that smell for over thirty years and when I smell it I know it’s him, if you know what I mean? Even if he wears other fragrances over the top – that’s his smell.’

Written by Suzy Nightingale

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