Smell by Richard E Grant | Walpole Editorial

My late father wore Old Spice, which in combination with the Brylcreem in his hair, made for an indelible combination that powerfully conjures up his presence more strongly than any photograph can. He was a fastidious dresser and liked his hair to be immaculate. Whenever I am in the company of men a generation ahead of me, there is usually someone wearing this scent combination, which I always find very nostalgic.

Roses, wood smoke and moss. These three strongly contrasting scents are what most potently summon up the essence of Englishness for me. Old-fashioned roses suggest spring and summer, wood smoke heralds the onset of autumn, while moss, with its damp, earthy aroma smells like winter. I love the smell of roses, honeysuckle, narcissi, Pears glycerine soap. I also like dandelion flowers, which smell like puppies and box plants (Buxus sempervirens). The latter smell like someone who’s just been running and perspired. I’m not keen on anything that claims to smell like violets, as the flowers have no scent whatsoever – or none that my nose has ever detected.

When I was 12 years old, growing up in Swaziland, I had a huge crush on an American girl called Betsy Clapp. I couldn’t afford to buy her scent for her birthday, so I attempted to make my own by boiling gardenia and rose petals in sugared jam jars and burying them in the garden, hoping for magical osmosis. Fast forward four and a half decades and fellow houseguest in Mustique, Anya Hindmarch, saw me sniffing everything in sight and asked if I had ever thought of creating my own fragrance brand. With her contacts and encouragement, I went ahead and took the gamble and created my own line, JACK.

The best part of the perfume-making process is mixing scent combinations in my head. I also enjoy making that dream a reality by mixing perfume oils together until you finally arrive at that ‘eureka’ moment, when it’s precisely what you imagined. Creating perfume is very solitary and instinctive, led entirely by your nose, even though testing out various combinations on your friends and strangers is very social. However, the final decision is yours and yours alone. Whereas with acting, you have to rely on other people, not all of whom always have the same agenda in mind!

Not being a professional ‘nose’, I have no preconceptions about what will or won’t work together and am literally led by my nose and instinct. As with the marijuana note in JACK, there have been raised eyebrows about the inclusion of petrol as a note in my third fragrance JACK-PICCADILLY ’69 prompting some perfume buffs to call it ‘utterly addictive’.

Red is my favourite colour and I wanted to create a brand that was instantly recognisable as British, hence the glossy, pillar-box packaging, and faded, vintage-style Union Jack drawstring bag that acts as a sleeve to the bottle inside. Calling it JACK was logical, it’s a no-nonsense British name that fits either sex. I didn’t want to call it JACQUES and pretend that it was French. Ha-ha!

Swazi-British actor, director and perfumer Richard E Grant has appeared in countless high-profile films and TV shows including Withnail and I, Dracula and Game of Thrones. In 2014 he launched ‘JACK’, the first of three unisex scents and continues to build upon his British-made fragrance line.