James Craven is our new Perfume Agony Uncle – and he wants to answer YOUR questions…

James Craven is famed in scent circles for his extraordinary depth of knowledge, and we’re thrilled to announce he will be our new ‘Perfume Agony Uncle‘ for The Scented Letter magazine – answering all your fragrant questions and scented conundrums!

‘Helping a client to find the perfect scent requires the combined skills of a psychologist, palmist and priest’ James (half) jokes, and his career has been defined not only by the vast knowledge he’s gleaned over the years he’s worked in retail as a fragrance expert, but his ability to ‘match’ people to their perfect perfume and answer any number of queries.

We want YOUR questions to put to James, which he will answer in the forthcoming issues of the magazine. Sadly he wont be able to reply to them all, but will read through, pick some favourites and gift you his wonderfully eloquent wisdom. Think of him as the Olfactory Oracle, if you will!

Ask James Craven (The 'Perfume Agony Uncle')

Your questions for James Craven, The Perfume Society's 'Perfume Agony Uncle'
  • Could it be 'how do I know when a fragrance suits me?' or 'How can I make scent last longer on my skin?' or even 'Which fragrance should I wear to make me feel invincible?!'
  • (You can remain 'anonymous' if you wish, but please make up a nom de plume so we can separate questioners!)

James first earned his scented stripes in Harrods, where he recalls such glitzy occasions as ‘…state visits from Paloma Picasso, a bevy of glamorous Fendi sisters, or even Mrs Lauder herself. It was enormous fun; this was life on the grand scale, such as the Guerlain sales team being treated to a trip to Venice on the Orient Express after an especially successful Christmas.’

But later, the allure of a more intimate, independent perfumery called to him, and James ‘…found myself enchanted by an opening which arose at Les Senteurs, a tiny jewel of a shop, then in Pimlico’s Ebury Street, which first defined niche perfumery in the UK 36 years ago.’

Having reigned as the doyen of retail consultations, we’re so happy (and you are SO lucky!) to have James turning his expert attentions to your questions in what will be his regular column within our magazine, The Scented Letter. This multi award-winning publication is FREE to read for our VIP Club Members, or can be purchased as a glossy Actual Real Life Paper Format for either individual editions or an annual subscription. International readers are also now available to sign up for the online edition.

Whatever your own level of knowledge – from complete perfume novice to utter fragrant fanatic – NO question is too big or too small. Simply fill in the form on this page, or put your question in our Instagram Story. We can’t wait to hear what you ask and, of course, read James Craven’s brilliant replies…

By Suzy Nightingale

Happy 1st May! We want this to be the most fragrant day in the calendar…

In France on 1st May, there is a wonderful tradition of offering lily of the valley to those you love and admire. We can’t think of anything nicer – which is why from today, The Perfume Society has introduced this tradition in England. We hope it spreads and spreads. (A little like these wonderfully fragrant nodding flowers do in your garden, if you let them.)

So today, we are ‘flowerbombing’ all sorts of women we like and respect – from Sandi Toksvig to Fearne Cotton, Kate Moss to Marjorie Scardino, Mary McCartney to Emma Freud – with posies of lily of the valley, in the run-up to the Society’s full launch on 18th May.

If you’re not on the list this year (sorry!), then we thought you might enjoy this posting from James Craven, Perfume Archivist at Les Senteurs London on the subject of this very special flower…
‘… Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Always productive and fascinating to smell perfume oils and then return to the original source – the flower which inspired them. The fascination for me lies in discovering how the flower actually smells in the raw, often remarkably different from what we imagined or remembered.

The radiance of the lily of the valley has inspired mankind for centuries. Modern sources sometimes claim it originated in Asia, though Nicolson’s exhaustive 1886 Gardening Dictionary describes it as native to Britain and at that period still to be seen growing profusely (imagine!) in English woods. Medicinal and spiritual qualities (the warding off of evil spirits) are attributed to it, and an extensive folk lore is not the least of its charms. The flower is said to represent Our Lady’s Tears at the Crucifixion; and sometimes named Jacob’s Ladder or Ladders to Heaven – from the Patriarch’s dream of angels, ascending and descending the Divine staircase.

I have a plant before me now: exquisite in form and colour, both the flowers and foliage. With its vivid green silky spear-shaped leaves and pure white bell-like flowers (one of its French names is Clochettes d’Amour) it was a definitive corsage for Edwardian ladies,fashionably pinned to furs or lapels with a diamond clip. As the sun or the heat of the body warm the blossoms, the sweet,fragile yet pungent fragrance arouses almost unbearable nostalgia.

Inhaling it now, the scent is unexpectedly musky,very expensively soapy, verging on the powdery; with delicate hints of jasmine, orange blossom, even rose. Remarkably sophisticated, with a subtle suggestion of spice rather in the style of an old-fashioned clove carnation; complex and bewitching, unmistakable yet paradoxical.

For lily of the valley defies perfumers to extract oil from the plant: it has to be synthesised from other floral oils in combination or reproduced chemically. A conjuring trick of the highest order but you can see from the other flowers that it references, even from a pot on my kitchen table, how it can be pulled off, if very rarely. Dior’s Diorissimo is one such example: it was the designer’s favourite flower. His funeral took place in a bower, a cascade of lilies. Caron‘s Muguet de Bonheur catches the waxy muskiness of the flower: a salute to the Parisian chic of Claudette Colbert who wore it; and a souvenir of the French custom of offering lilies of the valley as a token of love on May Day. If you are after for the green,airy, spring-like quality try Malle’s Lys Mediterranée – a gorgeously fresh garden of white flowers with lily of the valley nestling discreetly but sweetly at the heart.

‘They toil not, neither do they spin’… lilies of the valley earn their place in creation just by being.’
There. Hope you love that as much as we do. And Happy May Day, from The Perfume Society

Written by Jo