A new breed of Bri­tish per­fumers are beat­ing the French at their own game, re­ject­ing clas­si­cal train­ing in favour of fresh, home-grown scents with more than a whiff of the English ec­cen­tric about them. Alice du Parcq re­ports

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - CONTENTS - il­lus­tra­tions: vicki turner

The UK’s per­fume in­dus­try is smelling sweet

Knee-deep in a feld of ve­tiver grass, a waft of laven­der in the air, I can’t stop crush­ing my hand­ful of berg­amot mint and in­hal­ing its lemony zing. If this you think this sounds like sunny Provence, think again. I’m in Dorset, 20 min­utes from Poole, stand­ing in 50 acres of prime per­fumery land.

Bri­tain as an up­com­ing smor­gas­bord for per­fumery in­gre­di­ents is not far-fetched. Herbs, wild flow­ers and shrubs with a scented yield fare well here, and Dorset is be­ing hailed as the new Grasse. It’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore more Bri­tish per­fume brands ex­plore the ex­tracts from lo­cal

co­op­er­a­tives, and fail­ing farms re­gen­er­ate their land for fne-fra­grance in­gre­di­ents.

One such Bri­tish pro­ducer is Parterre. When I frst heard of the fra­grance brand and dis­tillery, I had dis­mis­sive vi­sions of a quaint kitchen garden with hob­by­ists mix­ing tinc­tures in the green­house to sell at farmers’ mar­kets. Ex­cuse me while I go and eat my words. This game-chang­ing en­ter­prise spear­heads a new breed of per­fumery, tak­ing on cen­turies of French tra­di­tion and say­ing non, merci to its rig­or­ous train­ing. Bri­tish fra­grance, home-grown and home-bot­tled, marks a farm­ing rev­o­lu­tion akin to the revo­lu­tions in Bri­tish wine, cheese and gin: sniff at it

now, but you will be lured in soon enough.

The Keyne­ston Mill es­tate, home to Parterre, grows more than 2,000 aro­matic plants and flow­ers. As if The Crys­tal Maze de­signed a garden, it is laid out in graphic com­part­ments with a mix­ture of cu­bist ex­per­i­men­tal zones, sweep­ing mead­ows and lin­ear har­vest­ing fields. Be­hind Parterre are hus­band and wife David and Ju­lia Bridger, who ini­tially planned a vine­yard be­fore a chance visit to Grasse four years ago in­spired a new di­rec­tion. ‘ We were look­ing for a botan­ics-based ven­ture,’ says Ju­lia. ‘As we walked around the Frag­o­nard Mu­seum gar­dens, our pas­sion for fra­grance got us think­ing, “We can try this back home.”’ The cou­ple pur­chased Keyne­ston Mill, on the river Stour, with a re­newed vi­sion of build­ing a mod­ern per­fume play­ground. Set on a rich chalk and clay soil and with a coastal mi­cro­cli­mate, it is run by a col­lec­tive of ex­perts in­clud­ing Sir El­ton John’s ex-gar­dener Stu­art Neil­son and for­mer RHS botanist Nanette Wraith. The main pro­duc­tion lab is closed to the pub­lic, but a vis­i­tors’ work­shop fea­tures ac­tive dis­til­la­tion vats and Parterre’s own ex­tracts to smell.

‘The idea is to be ex­per­i­men­tal, us­ing plants not im­me­di­ately as­so­ci­ated with per­fumery, such as yarrow and hys­sop,’ says David. ‘And through trial and er­ror, we’ve learnt to grow for­eign ones, like ve­tiver, an In­dian grass usu­ally grown in Haiti. We didn’t know if it would work, but it did; now we’ve got fields of the stuff.’ There are plants the team strug­gle with, such as tall trop­i­cal trees (‘un­til we build a Kew Gar­dens-style green­house’), but the whole premise of Parterre is to come at na­ture’s hur­dles from a lat­eral an­gle.

‘It’s im­pos­si­ble to grow tonka beans in this cli­mate,’ ex­plains David. ‘But we learnt that the beans get their choco­latey scent from coumarin, a com­pound also found in liquorice, hay and sweet ver­nal grass. So we can de­rive a sim­i­lar scent from some­thing grown here.’

What per­fume fans will get se­ri­ously ex­cited about is the man in charge of con­coct­ing Parterre’s scents: the em­i­nent nose Jacques Chabert, who cre­ated Guer­lain Sam­sara and Chanel Cristalle. The idea of a clas­si­cally trained French­man dab­bling in Brit-made ex­tracts may sound ab­surd, but with most essences for fine per­fumery com­ing from all over the world (Bul­gar­ian rose, In­dian tuberose and Lao­tian oud for in­stance), cu­riosi­ties close to home feel fresh and al­lur­ing. ‘ When my team and I heard about the con­cept we were in­trigued,’ says Chabert. ‘ We’re not used to work­ing with the peo­ple be­hind the pro­duc­tion of raw ma­te­ri­als, and it in­spired us to build fra­grances around the oils. We’re proud to have been in­volved.’

He’s not the only one to have sniffed out Bri­tain’s aro­matic po­ten­tial. Jeanne-Marie Faugier, a Gi­vau­dan-trained nose, col­lab­o­rated with Kent beauty brand Mitchell & Peach to cre­ate the English Leaf fra­grance. The fam­ily farm, run by Jod Mitchell, grows a species of laven­der known for its sweet, peachy scent (hence the com­pany name). ‘The oil yield is low but the qual­ity is fan­tas­tic,’ says Mitchell, who pro­duces about two tons of oil a year.

‘I have so en­joyed cre­at­ing this clas­si­cal cologne with a Bri­tish twist,’ says Faugier. ‘This par­tic­u­lar laven­der en­larges its fresh­ness, al­low­ing the mind to wan­der through the lush English coun­try­side.’

Dig deeper, and it seems our soil bears myr­iad world-class in­gre­di­ents that even pres­tige skin­care brands in­vest in. ‘ We buy pep­per­mint es­sen­tial oil from a farm in Hamp­shire for our En­er­gis­ing range,’ says Su­san Harmsworth, founder of Espa.

‘English pep­per­mint pro­duces the

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