The Field

Hitting the right notes

Woody or floral? Jasmine or javanol? Bespoke scents capture your character – but at a price

- written BY ettie Neil-gallacher

Ettie Neil-gallacher on scent

Just a few drops of Chanel No 5,” may have been enough for Marilyn Monroe but, given the climate, I’ll wager most us need a little more coverage at night. However, scent still plays a central role in our lives - particular­ly at this time of year.

Last year we spent £1.8bn on it in the uk, with fine female fragrances outselling male ones almost twofold, and nearly half were bought around Christmas. the market has become saturated with identikit smells: as brands need to sell their products worldwide, mainstream scents need mass appeal. “they get whittled down to something generic that attracts the greatest number of people,” explains Edward Bodenham, the ninth generation family member and perfumery director at Floris. so customers increasing­ly seek out niche and independen­t perfumes, or even customise their own.

But bespoke scents will set you back. At the Perfumer’s story, Azzi Glasser, whose celebrity clients include Helena Bonhamcart­er, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Kylie Minogue, offers a £15,000 bespoke service. through personalit­y and lifestyle consultati­ons, Glasser “brings their story to life” with a scent that “isn’t based on fragrance trends or marketing rules”.

Roja Dove’s eponymous brand also offers a bespoke service, though at £25,000 it costs the same as a couple of terms at boarding school. Dove likens it to “a fitting”, involving alteration­s and tweaks. starting with a cuppa and a chat, Dove introduces raw materials for clients to smell without knowing what they are, and “[records] their reactions. It is part of a long

process that enables me to establish their olfactory fingerprin­t. It is very personal and often emotional as the client opens up the floodgates to their scented memories.”

Floris’ bespoke offering is comparativ­ely restrained in its financial outlay – for up to £4,500 customers (including Prince Harry and Meghan Markle prior to their wedding) undertake a six-month consultati­on period, involving archived blends, antique glassware and imperial measures. Bodenham explains: “We start with finding a base – woody, floral, citrus – and then add complement­ary blends. they receive three or four different samples to test on themselves and loved ones.”

Both written and electronic records are kept and the price includes five extra orders. Floris also offers a “very popular” two-hour, £450 customisat­ion service. “Customers often get reduced to tears as they work through bases and blends, which awaken a nostalgia for things long forgotten. they can be transporte­d to a moment in time.”

But if we can’t stretch to bespoke, mercifully there is a host of interestin­g, smaller perfumers. Among the most respected is Ormonde Jayne. Founded 18 years ago and still owned by Linda Pilkington and her husband, there is a charming lack of commercial­ity tempered by an unbridled passion. Her 14-strong signature collection, which is grouped by type (woody, citrus, floral, oriental, abstract and atmospheri­c – though some straddle category divisions), all cost the same (£160 for 120ml) because “we take an average price point. there are some we can only sell retail and not wholesale because we don’t make much money on them.” In the same vein, Pilkington has even replaced bottles customers have accidental­ly smashed and, to avoid upsetting customers who’ve been coming to her for years, she’s never discontinu­ed

a scent. Offering a Made-to-measure service alongside a bespoke one, she has plans to introduce a Scent IQ workshop next year to teach people how to smell.

Her lack of ruthlessne­ss shouldn’t be mistaken for amateurish­ness. Biophysici­st Luca Turin, whose vibration theory of olfaction argues that it’s the vibration of molecules in the infrared range that dictates smell, is also a fragrance commentato­r, writer and co-author of Perfumes: The Guide, who says: “She really is something. When she started, I thought: this is the next Guerlain. Her stuff is original, wearable, complex, satisfying, intelligen­t and sensuous at the same time. It’s hard to do better.”

In terms of other independen­ts, Turin rates Papillon, Grossmith and Cloon Keen, to name a few. But he is cynical about some others, arguing that while serving themselves up as “a separate aesthetic” (they’re “not your mother’s perfumes”), in reality, “each is dreaming of being bought by Estée Lauder. What started in quite an interestin­g way has become quite boring. They overcharge because it’s hard to distribute in significan­t quantities when you’re a niche operator, so the firm becomes marketdriv­en. They develop a strategy to appeal to a particular demographi­c to make enough money for a big company to be interested in buying them. It’s dishearten­ing.”

This is a familiar pattern. Three retail giants already own many of the big names alongside some of the more supposedly recherché offerings. Estée Lauder owns Aramis and Jo Malone, alongside niche producers Frederic Malle and Le Labo; L’oreal has Lancome and Yves Saint Laurent; and Coty has bagged Marc Jacobs and Gucci. Spanish company Puig has Penhaligon’s, and Manzanita Capital has snaffled Diptyque and Byredo.

still independen­t

But there are independen­t perfumers out there plying their trade without corporate handcuffs. One is Parterre in Dorset. David and Julia Bridger run essentiall­y a craft perfumery, where they grow and distil oils for their three fragrances (£160-£175 for 100ml), which are limited editions by virtue of the fact they’re confined by the harvest. “We grow plants you wouldn’t expect but are common in scent, such as iris, and other more unusual ones, too. Buddha’s hand citrus fruit has been used in Chinese perfumery for 2,000 years but not here. And there’s no reason why other English plants, such as lemon thyme and yarrow, shouldn’t be used, so we do,” says David Bridger. Julia points to their growth of vetiver, native to Haiti and Java, and a component of 70% of male fragrances, which they grow successful­ly, “which people said couldn’t be done”.

Working alongside consultant Virginie Daniau, president of the British Society of Perfumers, and master perfumer Jacques Chabert in Grasse, the Bridgers have a horticultu­re team that includes Elton John’s former head gardener. They have cultivated a palette of 40 ingredient­s grown from scratch.

It’s the combinatio­n of ingredient­s and compositio­n that produces quality. Synthetics are used to “make the natural ones smell better and last longer” explains Sarah Mccartney of 4160 Tuesdays, an independen­t perfumer in London. But

it seems that a fairly high percentage of natural elements is a requisite for fine fragrances. Floris draws on archives dating back to 1730, while at Ormonde Jayne, Pilkington’s tireless pursuit of the right naturals is evidenced in the forthcomin­g launch of Privé – she’s spent 14 years trying to blend two of the world’s most expensive ingredient­s, vanilla and orris.

While Turin observes that chemistry and perfumery have gone hand in hand since 1885, when the discovery of certain synthetics translated into the ability to stabilise perfume structure, mainstream scents contain as little as 1% of natural ingredient­s as elements get substitute­d without anyone noticing. Not all mainstream is poor; “Chanel is special, like Armani. They’ve managed to have different lines at different price points without contaminat­ing the image.”

Another interestin­g trend in niche and independen­t fragrances is that they are dividing less neatly along gender lines. For men, in mainstream scents, Hugo Boss is the most popular, and well over half-a-million bottles of Old Spice were sold here last year. Glasser observes that men are likely to have “a signature scent” while women will have a range, for different occasions and moods. Indeed, still popular are Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet, first made in 1872, and Churchill’s favourite, Blenheim Bouquet, made for the Duke of Marlboroug­h in 1902.

But the male fragrances that Turin recommends for men are unisex, such as the oriental, spicy, citrus New York Intense by de Nicolaï, and oriental, woody Au Coeur du Desert by Tauer, which rather chimes with the direction that the niche and independen­t market is heading in. Unisex fragrance seems to be for the discerning.

Uber macho actor and all-round sex god Tom Hardy wears The Perfumer’s Story’s Sequoia Wood, for example, as does Glasser herself (£225 for 150ml), with middle notes of neroli and palmarosa, and base notes of cedar, patchouli and white musk. Pilkington relays an anecdote about a customer who finally caught the attention of a girl he’d fancied for months when he wore Isfarkand, with its notes of lime, mandarin and bergamot. Turin himself uses Guerlain’s Jicky – the oldest perfume on the market and the first unisex offering.

Liz Moores, of Papillon Artisan Perfumes, embraces this, having “always believed perfume to be genderless. How dull to live in a world where all men smell woody and women smell of flowers. Women wear leather and smoke perfumes, men wear roses”.

Mccartney observes that, “it’s astonishin­g what people like when they don’t know what it is. Men love flowers with jasmine and tuberose – but if you tell them it’s a flower they leap back in horror. Women quite often apologise for liking citrus fruits and woods.”

At the same time, there are notes that need to be used with restraint. Bodenham observes that a slight overdose of patchouli, vanilla or oud can “overwhelm”, while Pilkington likens javanol (which, typically, goes in a sandalwood scent) in all but tiny quantities to a fire blanket, extinguish­ing other notes.

But how do you tell whether a fragrance has got the balance between ingredient­s and compositio­n right? It would seem our penchant for snapping something up in Duty Free while waiting for our flight is hugely misjudged. Turin says it is “easy to differenti­ate” and that quality is really measured by how it smells a few hours later. “Wear it for half an hour and see what happens. The current crop of top scents are front-loaded: people sample it and like it and buy it based on that first smell. But most of the money in the formula has gone on the top notes, so the fragrance starts with great fanfare but shortly afterwards you’re left with a barren landscape of nothing.”

Men like flowers but if you tell them it’s a flower they leap back in horror

 ??  ?? Left: in the UK, female fragrances still outsell male ones two to one Right: Ormonde Jayne’s bespoke service starts at £10,000 for 500ml
Left: in the UK, female fragrances still outsell male ones two to one Right: Ormonde Jayne’s bespoke service starts at £10,000 for 500ml
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Scents with seasonal appeal courtesy of 4160 Tuesdays of London
Scents with seasonal appeal courtesy of 4160 Tuesdays of London
 ??  ?? Independen­t British perfumer David Bridger of Parterre, who has cultivated a palette of 40 ingredient­s
Independen­t British perfumer David Bridger of Parterre, who has cultivated a palette of 40 ingredient­s
 ??  ?? Ormondo Jayne, founded 18 years ago by Linda Pilkington, has a 14-strong Signature collection
Ormondo Jayne, founded 18 years ago by Linda Pilkington, has a 14-strong Signature collection

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