CEO Letter | The Scent of the Season
Being romantically inclined, I had always been drawn to the idea that one’s favourite perfume should be an invisible, unconscious signature. Coco Chanel called it the ‘unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion…that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure’ but finding a scent that perfectly describes you is no easy task. It seems to require an outrageously bold sense of self, or the kind of dog-like nature that constantly wants to mark its territory, or, worse, that one should have to be the same person every day when really it’s much more interesting to play the chameleon and smell of something that befits the occasion.
Still, the idea persisted. It once took me all around Paris – to Caron, to the wonderful Guerlain boutique on the Champs-Elysée, to tiny parfumiers in dark streets off the Marais – in a fevered hunt for that hit of recognition that would mean the scent was mine. But although I discovered many delicious things on that trip – Jolie Madame, Schiaparelli’s Shocking, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, Balenciaga’s Le Dix – the perfect perfume eluded me. The closest I came was Chanel No.5 parfum, until I realised I loved it for its fugitive memory of my grandmother and not for my own sake. The charm of its old-fashioned, refined elegance – bone-structure over botox, if you like – never palls and sometimes I wear it to try to catch a fraction of her sophistication. Chanel No. 5 may be the world’s best-selling perfume, but thankfully, it’s not the world’s most frequently worn, or there’d be the olfactory memory of a zillion Granny Brocklebanks wafting around the streets of London.
Perhaps the signature scent thing was always destined to elude me – even my own signature on the bottom of letters and on the back of bank cards is a somewhat indeterminate scrawl. Jettisoning the search for a defining perfume turned out to be oddly liberating: Instead of worrying whether a scent captured the quiddity of me, I ended up with a repertoire – a perfume library – with which to project different facets and moods, choosing a scent to subtly imprint a subliminal sense of who I wanted to be that day. If I was heading into a frightfully serious meeting full of captains of industry, a dash of Jo Malone’s Basil, Lime and Mandarin herby androgyny would help signal a breezy efficiency; Floris’ 1927’s aldehyde fizz – think jazz-age meets English country house – turned out to be an excellent prompt if I needed to dial down my earnest side and switch up the charm; Ormonde Woman, a mysterious, smoky eye of a perfume, seemed to suggest a mere spritz from the bottle was entirely capable of transforming one from housewife to houri, such is its alchemical power. Worn with a killer frock from Temperley London and oodles of Boodles diamonds, Ormonde Woman was the extra boost I needed to get up on stage to introduce last month’s Walpole British Luxury Awards. There’s something for every situation – if I’m feeling bookish, nothing puts me in a more receptive frame of mind than Penhaligon’s Elixir. Sadly, its lovely dark smell of old books and incense is now only available in a candle so I’m sparing with what I have left in my bottle. And if Brexit gets any more vexing (is that even possible?), I intend to douse myself in Imperial from Boadicea the Victorious’ Power collection and head off over the bridge in the direction of Westminster to give the politicians a piece of my mind.
Fortunately for the fragrance business – and sales have nearly doubled in the UK in the last ten years – I’m not alone in having a substantial array of beautiful scent bottles on my bathroom shelf. Unsurprisingly, perfume is a perennially popular Christmas gift – according to the NPD Group, a third of the year’s sales of prestige fragrance take place in December alone – last year, the week’s pre-Christmas sales accounted for revenues of £448 million. It sounds nerve-wracking, having so much riding on a single, short month, and this last full shopping week before Christmas is the most nail-biting of all.
I’m sure there are many Walpole members who intend to buy someone perfume over the next few days – of course, because you’re a member of Walpole, you’re a person of great taste and discernment. Not for you the Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy gift set (£19.99 at Superdrug) or StormFlower by Cheryl. Instead, you might take inspiration from some of the exquisitely crafted things available at Selfridges or Fortnum and Mason, or perhaps at the Salon de Parfums on Harrods’ sixth floor.
Elegantes’ Cashmere Elusive with its soft, opulent smell of rose, sandalwood and bergamot and its hand-blown Black Opera crystal flacon would look splendid on any dressing table. Roja Dove’s Elysium is a delicious-sounding citrus hit of lemon, bergamot, grapefruit and lime with a base of benzoin, vanilla, leather and ambergris smells and so compellingly masculine I can’t smell it without imagining its wearer behind the wheels of a new Bentley Continental. I can vouch for the hypnotic allure of Ormonde Woman and Ormonde Jayne’s best selling scent for men, Isfarkand, sounds equally irresistible: in the words of Ormonde Jayne founder Linda Pilkington, it’s ‘hugely popular, addictive, and once you wear it, there’s no going back’.
If you’re buying for someone you don’t know well but nonetheless want to impress, the ‘can’t fail’ buy from Penhaligon’s would be Halfeti from the Trade Routes collection which is exotic florals and spices – there’s a rather wonderfully packaged gift set that has both the Eau de Parfum and a bath and shower gel. People flock to Floris, the oldest perfume house in Britain, for No.89, which has the timeless, elegant, appeal of orange and bergamot with lavender and neroli underpinned by cedarwood and vetiver.
For those of you who love Floris but are in agonies about getting it wrong, Floris Travel Sets, containing four 14ml bottles, are a clever fall back. Equally, Clive Christian, whose exceptional, hand-crafted perfumes are the apogee of luxury, has an Immersive Discovery Set for her and for him, perfect for a leisurely exploration of these most lavish of scents. From Molton Brown, who wouldn’t love something called Muddled Plum? It’s a limited edition for Christmas and when I sprayed some on earlier it filled me full of memories of those long, lazy lunches with friends one has time for between Christmas and New Year. Guaranteed to please those who either are, or aspire to be, the perfect English gentleman, is Geo F Trumper’s Essence of Limes which I challenge anyone to smell and not imagine its wearer has both exquisite manners and effortless style.
I’m not sure I’ve made buying scent for Christmas any easier – I hope my suggestions above have whetted the appetite about the lovely things made by fellow Walpole members, but since buying perfume for someone is so intensely personal, I thought I’d also ask an expert – and here, below, Roja Dove has given his advice for buying scent at Christmas.
Buying Scent for Someone Else by Roja Dove, founder of Roja Parfums
One of the most common questions I am asked at Christmas is – how do I buy scent for somebody else? It is important to find a scent that reflects the person you are buying for – a fragrance evocative of their personality. When looking for a scent for somebody else, I would start be deciphering which “fragrance family” they belong to.
There are three families in feminine perfumery: FLORAL, CHYPRÉ, AND ORIENTAL: Floral wearers often have a carefree disposition. They tend to be uncomplicated and happy-go-lucky – a little like flowers themselves. Chypré’s are a very refined group of fragrances based on woods and mosses. Often complex but never overpowering, Chypré wearers tend to be understated, very tailored in their tastes; they are the true sophisticate and do not desire anything flashy. Orientals are big, exotic scents that suit extravagant personalities with luxurious, sensual tastes.
Consider various elements of their sense of style. Do they prefer sumptuous interiors and dress in luxurious fabrics and colours? Then an Oriental is their match. Or perhaps they prefer the sleek, sophisticated aesthetic that aligns them with a Chypré – the sort of character to invest in one good, but well thought out piece. Also think about items the person has around the house – scented candles, flowers or spices they use in the kitchen. This will be a good indicator of their olfactive taste, so be sure to look for a fragrance that contains the same basic notes to match.
Another indicator is to separate fragrances into seasons: Do they prefer spring freshness? Go for a fresh floral, or for hot and heady summers, go for a sensual floral. A warm, dry Chypré is perfect for those who thrive in the autumnal months, whilst a warm, spicy Oriental is just the ticket for anyone who loves the cosseting, sensual aromas of the winter season.
By taking the steps to decipher what fragrance family is best suited to the person you are buying for, it will immediately narrow down your search by two thirds and set you off on the correct path.
Before heading out to the shops, do some research online: Take the time to become well versed in everything that is available to ensure you increase your chances of finding a perfect match. Be sure to read the note descriptions for each scent as they will tell you which ingredients dominate the composition, as this will give you more of an idea of the ones you will want to go and experience.
It is important to avoid buying into the latest craze and purchasing a scent based off of a bottle, an endorsement or a celebrity face, especially when you are hoping to create a thoughtful and perfect gift. See the fragrance for what it is – the choice and quality of the notes used in the composition – and how these reflect the taste and personality of the person you are buying for.
Be thorough as opposed to making a spontaneous purchase, as this will surely pay off. If you smell fragrances freshly sprayed your nose will tire after the third one or so due to the alcohol content, which works like an anaesthetic. Smelling the perfume on paper, when the alcohol has evaporated is the only sane way to try a fragrance. Spray a few options on blotter cards, taking note of the name, and smell them away from the perfumery. Compare each one to the next, eliminating the one you think embodies their personality least until you are left with just one.
Something I would highly recommend is to seek guidance of a trained fragrance professional. These individuals have a genuine passion for perfume and create an environment where scent discovery is insightful, informed and interesting. Invest your time, trust (and at times cost) in a 1:1 consultation and allow your mind to be opened up to what is available to you.
(At Roja Parfums, we offer a 1hr service at my Burlington and Harrods boutiques which is an in-depth Odour Profiling experience tailored to find the client find their signature scent. You will be guided through my collection of scents by a Fragrance Specialist – trained by me – and the service costs £150 which is redeemable against purchase of a perfume so makes the perfect gift to give someone).
And finally… Celebrate with Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole
HOW WILL YOU BE CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR?
I love a really traditional Christmas with family – this year the clan is gathering at my sister’s house in West London.
WHAT GIFT ARE YOU HOPING TO RECEIVE IN YOUR STOCKING?
Books are always a welcome present – top of my list is ‘Our Friends in Berlin’, the latest from Anthony Quinn, one of my favourite writers. Inspired by true events, Our Friends In Berlin is a spy story set in the Blitz. Quinn has a seemingly effortless way of balancing cracking story-telling with beautiful, rich prose & he brings London to life like no one else. Crossing fingers that the elves get the memo.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE/FAMILY CHRISTMAS TRADITION?
My family lived in Germany when my sister and I were children, so we make quite a big deal of Christmas Eve. I also re-read The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper every year – it’s a super-spooky kids’ book set on 21st December and if you haven’t read it you should.
FAVOURITE FESTIVE FILM AND SONG?
Music: Handel’s Messiah. Films: Elf or It’s A Wonderful Life
BEST PLACE TO ENJOY THE CHRISTMAS ATMOSPHERE?
The Walpole & Royal Warrant Holders annual Christmas Carol service at the Chapel Royal, St. James’ Palace.
TOP TIP FOR SURVIVING THE FESTIVE SEASON IN STYLE?
I can make a mean cocktail – a skill I picked up when I worked at Esquire. A Champagne cocktail is guaranteed to make everything feel full of the Christmas spirit (resist the temptation to have a second).
Put a sugar cube at the bottom of a champagne flute and add three drops of angostura bitters, a tablespoon of cognac and a tablespoon of Cointreau. Top with very cold Laurent Perrier. Add a maraschino cherry for a touch of ‘Abigail’s Party’ glamour.