Perfume isn’t just a capital city experience anymore, as Stephan Matthews discovered when he created his own fragrance in the middle of the Welsh countryside (and the middle of a pandemic)
Every perfume fan has, at one time or another, dreamed of making their own fragrance. Unfortunately the price tag that goes with a bespoke scent means it’s usually out of our reach. This is where the many perfume workshops that have sprung up come into their own. They allow you to play with ingredients and, at the end, hopefully walk away with something that is wearable. Normally confined to either London, Paris, or Grasse, you can imagine my surprise when I found a perfume workshop was quietly operating in the beautiful surroundings of a Tudor garden in Monmouth, South Wales.
Run by Louise Smith, who is both self-taught and studied privately with a classical perfumer in Paris, Monmouth Botanicals has been helping fans to create bespoke fragrances for the last three years. However, the whole process is very different to other workshops that you may have attended before. Louise told me, ‘Creating a fragrance that is bespoke to your personal taste encourages you to wear it with passion and pride, because it’s something that you have handcrafted.’ So, needless to say, I didn’t need any persuading when I was invited to one of their socially-distanced workshops.
After temperature checks, and with masks in place, the two hour session begins with a quick history of fragrance. It’s a general overview but, even if you’re pretty familiar with the subject, I guarantee that you’ll be scribbling some notes. The setting for the workshop is a custom-built wooden studio that looks out onto an incredible five hundred year old walled garden. Designed by Louise’s husband Kenton, who was originally a Canadian Ice Hockey player, you really do feel as if you’re surrounded by nature. Views and pucks aside, the creation process is also fantastic.
You’re each given your own set of 35 ingredients that are split into top, middle, and base notes. Now there’s a mix of naturals and also a couple of synthetics, but Louise very clearly labels them in case you have a particular preference. You’re asked to smell every ingredient and write your impressions in a very stylish workbook, but the unusual part is that you also have to give it a score from 0 to 10 in terms of whether you like it. Luckily, if your nose starts to get tired then there’s plenty of fresh Welsh air outside to help you reset.
From here on in is where the workshop takes a more handholding approach. Louise looks at your workbook, taking into account your scores and comments, and gives you suggestions for the ingredients to use in your final perfume. You pop a drop of each one on its own paper strip, peg them together, and see how the various aromas combine. You do this for the top notes, then the middle, and finally the base ones. This is the point where you can make alterations if you want to, but I found Louise’s method to be pretty faultless.
In many workshops this is where you are often cast adrift, but things are very different here. Louise works out a bespoke formula for you using your choices, and which also ensures that you leave with an IFRA-compliant fragrance. Now what does this mean? Well certain ingredients are restricted and should only be used at specific strengths to avoid allergic reactions. This is why Louise is responsible for creating the formula, but you’re in charge of weighing the oils on the perfumer’s scales. This needs concentration because one extra drop could turn your fougère into a floriental.
So what did I go home with? Well I ended up in woody aromatic territory, which is actually the style I’m loving at the moment. A citrus enhanced neroli led onto an aromatic heart before notes of cedarwood and earthy vetiver mingled in with a touch of woody Iso E Super. You leave with a 50ml eau de parfum and the formula, which Louise will remake for you when you run out. Since I’ve only got about 5ml left, that reminds me I need to order another bottle! A bespoke fragrance doesn’t need to be a dream anymore. You simply have to name it…
The two hour workshop is £60 and includes drinks and chocolate. For more information, or to book, you can visit the website at monmouthbotanicals.com