Nancy Meiland is a brilliant British perfumer, now with her own gorgeous boutique in Brighton; but let’s get to know her (and her scented style), starting with where it all began…
Based in East Sussex, Nancy divides her time between town and country, explaining 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 essays returned to her emblazoned with ‘too flowery’ as a criticism. ‘It figures!,’ she says.)
Beginning her career as an apprentice to one of the UK’s experts in custom perfumery, in London, creating signature scents for those coveting ‘something highly individual and special…’ before launching Nancy Meiland Parfums, her decade-long journey through fragrance also saw Nancy co-run the former School of Perfumery, act as a consultant for independent perfume houses, work on collaborations with Miller Harris, and speak on the subject of fragrance at events nationwide.
Now with her own artisanal line, she has the knack of conjuring emotional responses with lyrical fragrances that are contemplative yet so effortlessly sophisticated, based on scent memories of her own, but inviting the wearer to go on their own fragrant journey with every spritz.
Writing about Nancy Meiland for The Perfume Society, beauty writer (and proud Londoner) Viola Levy once admitted that ‘…Nancy Meiland’s fragrances – an ode to the beauty of nature – would make even the most hard-nosed city girl like yours truly want to kick off her Louboutins and go skipping and spinning through a meadow Julie Andrews-style. (I feel similarly towards other UK perfumers inspired by green spaces, there’s just something about the earthy, rain-sodden British countryside that lends itself rather well to perfume…)
You always have an image of someone in your head before you meet them. To be honest, I was expecting Nancy to be a softly-spoken, Brönte-reading country girl (albeit a glamorous one, à la Savannah Miller), pausing our conversation to whimsically gaze into the distance every now and again. A far cry from the chatty, effervescent blonde sat opposite me – and all the better for it. I’m surprised to find out that Nancy is a city girl herself – a fellow North-Londoner no less – whose fond memories of visiting her grandparents as a child inspired her olfactory journey.’
You can watch a fascinating in-depth Q + A with our co-founder Jo Fairley interviewing Nancy Meiland on the video below…
And of course you can read about each of the fragrances (and her inspirations for them) plus the full story of the how the house began, on our page dedicated to Nancy Meiland Parfums.
So-knowledgeable, always engaging, we’re thrilled Nancy now has the scented space to experience the perfumes in person – well worth a visit to the seaside to go on your own mini sniffari to seek them out!
Nancy Meiland Parfums, 2 Nile Street, Brighton, BH1 1HW
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am – 4pm (Saturdays 11am – 5pm)
‘Along the shores of the sea, plunge into the childhood memories of Yves Coueslant, one of the Maison’s founders. From this small seaside pagoda, the fragrance of tuberoses brought back by his mother from the flower market electrifies the senses and transports heart and mind.’
And what a fragrance Do Son is. Even previous tuberose naysayers (like me!) have fallen for it, this tender portrait of scent memories bottled in perfume form. Inviting us to ‘plunge into the childhood memories’ of Coueslant, the animated film takes us away from gloom and doom, straight to the sea shore in Vietnam, where balmy air and intoxicating scents lap at our senses. Really, the timing of this Do Son resurgence couldn’t be better.
So, what does Do Son smell like? Here’s my review, on smelling it again at their beautifully bijou Brook Street store:
Do Son feels lusciously fresh with a rising humidity, like walking into a hot house filled with just-watered exotic blooms, early in the morning before their headiness erupts. There’s a salted breeziness to it that’s all waft-y silk kaftan walks on the beach before breakfast, bare toes on warm sand, then ankle deep in the sea and staring at the horizon, blissfully.
If you have a bottle to hand, why not spritz some on as you watch the short film and prepare to escape for a while, within this tender and emotionally resonant portrayal…?
Encompassing a full range of fragranced treats in the limited edition Do So collection – including eau de parfum, eau de toilette, so-covetable (and refillable) Solid Perfume and Body Mist versions of the scent – you can further immerse yourself in the fragrance by incorporating the softly nourishing Cleansing Hand & Body Gel or Shower Oil; individual or beautifully boxed sets of scented soaps, a luxurious hand cream (so needed for the bitter winds and driving rain of the U.K. currently), Hair Mist, and even a Do Son Perfumed Bracelet.
If you’re yearning to get away and already dreaming of holidays, you’re certainly not alone. If you’ve yet to experience the scent of Do Son for yourself, now is a great time to seek it out for olfactory escapism. Or if, like us, you’ve already fallen for it – liberally layer the Do Son scent, and hit repeat on that short film until you can feel the sunshine flooding in…
Christmas is always the most scented season, but this year the perfumes we spray have taken on an extra poignancy – many of us deeply missing mloved ones we cannot be this year because of the continuing pandemic, or who have passed away.
Fragrance can be a great comfort – and a way of connecting us, if only we chose the scent to spray that immediately evokes someone we’re so wishing we could be with right now.
For the Christmas edition of The Scented Letter magazine, we asked a number of our favourite perfumers, journalists and fragrance experts which scents they would be spraying this year, and who they’re missing most. We were so overwhelmed by the lovely – and often very emotional – reponses, that we didn’t have room for them all in the printed pages!
That’s why we want to share these beautiful scent memories with you, now; and wonder: whom would YOU most love to conjure with a single spritz right now, and what fragrance would you need to spray…?
Alice du Parcq – writer for Glamour U.K. / Space NK:
‘This Christmas I’ll be in a fume-cloud of Maison Margiela Replica By The Fireplace. It is the scent of roasting chestnuts on a roaring fire in a Chamonix ski lodge in 1971, so think toasted embers, plumes of silky sooty smoky, wood polish and the creamy, vanilla-spiked, nutty flesh of charred chestnuts. We did this as kids every winter at my parents’ house (which incidentally still looks like a 70s ski chalet) and watched my dad roll those glossy globes around a skillet until they crackled and split. My sister and I had scalded fingertips all season from the impatient peeling of the blackened chestnuts that were still too hot to touch. The fire was wild, ferocious and mesmerising, and the whole house smelt like fireworks and bonfires. I remember it vividly, and since we can’t all be together this year I’ll honour that memory with a daily spray of this magnificent and curious perfume.’
Sarah McCartney – perfumer & founder 4160 Tuesdays:
‘Usually we head north to York to see a collection of family and friends, play music and swap presents. I’m always delighted when my nephews put in a request for one of my fragrances at Christmas and their favourite is Invisible Ben. This is a blend of sandalwood, oranges, cognac absolute, musks and Ambrox, so it mingles with the atmosphere, a definite presence but not shouting for attention. It’s just like the lads themselves.’
Nicola Bonn – Outspoken Beauty podcast:
‘One of my best friends wears Chanel Chance. Smelling it and her never fails to make me happy. I always meet her at this time of year for drinks and celebrations and not being with her is so very sad. I’ll spritz this and have a virtual cocktail with her.’
Marcus Jaye, beauty & fragrance blogger / author a.k.a The Chic Geek:
‘This will date my childhood, but mine is Giorgio Beverly Hills. This is pure Pretty Woman, back-combed mum of the 1980s. Chuck in a soupçon of Elnett and I’m there.’
Olivia Jezler – fragrance innovation & technical design specialist, Future of Smell:
‘Both my parents always change their perfumes so its less about their signature scent… but the scent in their home over Christmas is always the NEST Holiday candle. I love it and for me that’s the smell of Christmas…combined with the pine of the Christmas tree!’
Professor Charles Spence – experimental psychologist / head of Crossmodal Research Group, Oxford University:
‘It would have to be smell of nardo – the flower that my (now) wife would always bring to airport when I arrived in Colombia… Which the web says is “Polianthes means “many flowers” in Greek. In Mexican Spanish, the flower is called nardo or vara de San José, which means “St. Joseph’s staff”. This plant is called as rajanigandha in India, which means ‘fragrant at night’. I didn’t realise it was a night-blooming one, but have since become very interested in night-flowering scented plants, so night flowering jasmine, which would have to be my second choice.’
Whomever you are missing, and whatever their favourite fragrance was, we hope you’ll be able to find great comfort and bring them home with your own personal scent memories, whenever you need them most…
To get straight to the point (I’m not even sorry) the scent of pencil shavings is often cited as one of the most-loved nostalgic smells. One whiff can transport us to nostalgic reveries of childhood, and the giddy ‘back to school’ excitement of buying a new pencil case and assorted accessories.
‘In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.’
So which pencil did Van Gogh for? He reportedly favoured a carpenter’s pencil for his intial sketches, at first, but later came to prefer a Faber pencil, writing to his brother that ‘They’re soft and better quality than the carpenter’s pencils, produce a marvellous black and are very agreeable to work with for large studies.’
Pencils matter very much to the writers, artists, creative thinkers, list-makers and stationery nerds among us. Because, no matter our actual experiences of school – gilded, halcyon days for some, unsettling and full of trepidation for others – that scent just takes us right back; and in a perfumer’s hands, can evoke a kind of olfactory optimism.
The pencil as we know it today was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. Previously, pure carbon (what we call graphite) was wrapped in material or used on its own for mark-making. When it was first discovered, carbon was mistakenly believed to be lead, and, as the always excellent brainpickings.com informs us, ‘…was called ‘plumbago’ or black lead (hence the ‘plumbers’ who mend our lead water-carrying pipes), a misnomer that still echoes in our talk of pencil “leads”.’
Most often, we hear people sniffing cedar-rich fragrances ahhh-ing blissfully and saying ‘pencil shavings!’ when asked what they’re smelling. And there’s a good reason for that. As wood-database.com tells us (there really is a website for everything, isn’t there?): cedarwood ‘is the primary material for wooden pencils, because it is soft and tends to sharpen easily without forming splinters.’
Perfumers love cedar for its smooth, dry resilience, and its ability to play well with so many ingredients. It smells woody, obvs, but that’s just too simple: it also has a freshness, with hints of resin. If you’ve ever walked in a lush, evergreen forest, cedar will whisk you back there, as well as the schoolroom. It’s mostly the foliage (from trees grown in the Atlas mountains of Morocco, or Virginia in the USA), then steam-distilled to produce the intense oil, which is also used in aromatherapy for calming and balancing.
Many fragrances wishing to evoke the schoolroom must also find a way to incorporate the slightly metallic aroma of graphite – along with the cedar, wood polish and other, more abstract smells that somehow represent a sense of naivety, a yearning for a chance to start again, captured in a bottle.
Some smells associated with school are best left out of a fine fragrance – overcooked cabbage, damp mops and sawdust covering various effluvia sping to mind; but these fragranced products and personal scents are cleverly composed to provide a highly refined – and sometimes welcomingly whimsical – time-travel trip for your nose…
Noted pencil-makers Caran d’Ache have collaborated with perfumer Alberto Morillas‘ fragrance house, Mizensir, to create pencils infused with the scent, Alps Spirit. The set of four graphite pencils ‘carved from fine woods and manufactured entirely in Geneva will transport artists to the opulent Alpine region’ via foresty patchouli, musk and nutmeg and a background glow of subtle orange, to recreate ‘…the sensation of watching the awe-inspiring sunrise over the Alpine peaks.’
A novel take on the traditional reed diffuser, here Hindmarch uses ceramic pencils to draw up the scent and diffuse it into the room. The Pencil Shavings’ scent is satisfyingly dry and woody, with the cedar punctuated by mandarin, pink pepper, rose, cypress and a surrealistically realistic accord of ‘novelty erasers and fresh notebooks.’ Adding quirkiness and humour to a WFH (Working From Home) desk, the expression definitely matches my own on many a day.
Drawing a huge number of fans, this classic cedar-rich fragrance from 2008 is the daddy of pencil-shaving scents, if you like, for those seeking a hit of nostalgia. Apart from the reassuringly long-wearing drydown of cedar swirling with sweet tobacco and supple leather (the teacher’s study, maybe?) bright shards of bergamot and leafy violet atop loamy patchouli beckon lunchtime walks in the woods.
A perfumed portrait that Byredo describe as ‘A modern scent reduced to the essential,’ those seeking simplicity will sigh at the shade of Virginian cedarwood and cool Haitian vetiver, with a scatter of rose petals and silky musk in the base. Deliberately reminiscent of pencil shavings, it will immediately evoke ‘…a sense of nostalgia for school days and simpler times.’
Byredo Super Cedar £115 for 50ml eau de parfum byredo.com
A scent memory etched in time, there are wafts of old wooden school desks, pencil shavings and chalk dust – the gentle scratching sound of charcoal on paper as young artists draw their dreams. Memories are played out in hints of lemon and earthy angelica root, a joyful giggle of cocoa, geranium and the sheen of freshly waxed floors reflecting in the comfort of the cedar base. It feels like wearing the pages of Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers – she said, dating herself – or any school-set book series involving cosy intrigue, pillow fights and the alluring promise of midnight feasts.
Book nerds need to check out this fine art fragrance collaboration between Rory Sparks of the Working Library and artist and writer, Catherine Haley Epstein. ‘A collaboration combining a love for scents and pencils – a one of a kind homage to a favorite studio tool,’ this limited edition has that freshly shaved woody hit and the metallic hint of graphite illuminated by citrus. The Midi Set includes 7.5 ml of the handcrafted fragrance, a pencil with a custom message, and a letterpress insert.
I’ll leave the pun to perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, here, as she asks ‘Isn’t there something romantic about pencils? The old school kind (get it?)’ Fully fledged daydreams abound in the interplay of Atlas and Texas cedarwood amidst a hazy drift of choya ral (the smoky, leathery balsam made from the burnt resin of the Indian Shorea robusta tree) and dusty motes of oakmoss dancing in the distilled sunlight of petitgrain. Hurwitz excels at making natural fragrances slowly reveal their wonders in a way that’s astoundingly nuanced yet so delicately handled.
Although not a cedar fragrance, I simply couldn’t leave out the tender image so beautfully transcribed in scent by Memoize – a melange of memories that tumble through layers of rose, burnished leather and the smell of distant bonfire smoke in the air, conjured by the oudh wood in the dry down. Created to inspire feelings of self-confidence and self-worth (something we could all do with a dose of right now), they describe the fragrant vision ‘Recalling a first day of school, the pruned rose bushes, games in the woods, the leather strap of a satchel, a mother’s proudest moment…’
I’m fully aware that the notion of ‘back to school’ doesn’t represent an unsullied pleasure for many of us – either our own memories or the particular concerns surrounding students returning to classrooms this year, in the continuing fallout of a global pandemic. But much as learning the art of lucid dreaming can transform a nightmare into an adventure; the wonderful thing about fragrance is that we can use it to shape our own recollections, to create new scent memories. And there’s no doubt, that cedar-y smell of pencil shavings – whether deliverved via a perfume, home fragrance or an actual pencil imbued with the scent itself – speaks of simpler times, of hopes and dreams, the blank pages of life yet to be filled.
Or, as Catherine Haley Epstein so beautifully puts it: ‘the ideas of freedom, focus and unlimited possibilities in the head.’