Diary of a Perfumed Ponce Part 2

Richard E. Grant

(Or the A–Z of how I got set up in the Scent business)

No sooner landed back from the Caribbean with Anya Hindmarch’s encouragement to ‘Go for it’ ringing in my cranium, than the harsh winds of Hounslow and the cold reality of actually getting ‘started’ in the perfume business, came doubt-filling and scuppering my resolve. Not unlike a holiday romance where your entire future is romantically mappe out, then disintegrates within nano-seconds of landing on home turf. But being Anya, before I’d even emptied my suitcase, ‘ping’ goes my iPhone with an email ‘introducing’ me to Independent British Perfumer Lyn Harris of Miller-Harris, who kindly agrees to meet me.

Tube to Notting Hill and head for Lyn’s shop, feeling like a fraud every step the closer I get. She is as open and generous with her advice and time as you’d never expect a total stranger to be. Seated in her basement ‘laboratory’, she details the rudimentaries of getting started and is visibly relieved that I am not intending to make a celebrity scent. ‘Passion is everything’.

It’s like a game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’ where, with my first throw of the dice, I’ve zoomed from Start to the top of the first ‘step’ getting expert advice and being taken seriously, surprised that Lyn doesn’t dismiss my beginners ideas outright. Be ‘patient and resolute’, as it’s a treacherous ‘market’ to manoeuvre through. Feels like taking baby steps into a ‘business’ which at this point is as invisible as scent itself.

Catapulted back into the last century when I confessed to my music teacher/mentor that I wanted to become a professional actor, fully anticipating a Panto chorus of ‘Oh no you don’t!’

April 2012 – ‘Marigay meet Richard, Richard meet Marigay’ is how Anya’s next magic wand email intro goes. Ms Mckee is the head buyer of all things Beauty related at Harrods and as immaculately groomed and business-brained as you’d expect her to be. Works a 60 hour week, is Exocet -missile focussed and within my ten minute meeting, which has taken almost as many weeks to secure, Marigay details what sells, what doesn’t, the costs of hiring staff and a ‘stand’ in the perfume department and suggests I meet Roja Dove, the scent Supremo who has his own bespoke Emporium on the fifth floor. Everything about her office is uber-efficient and chic-assistant-scheduled-to-the-second and I can’t help feeling like a country bumpkin flattening my nose to the glass wall of a corporate world I will never earn entry to.

Took a deep breath on my way out and ventured into Roja Dove’s Lalique glass and chandeliered luxe perfumery that looks like Ali Baba’s cave of gleaming treasures. A Rolodex of dollar signs scrolls cartoonishly across my eyeballs prompting a tiny voice to whisper up from nowhere – ‘You have no backer, no production company, no distributor, no retailer, no business plan, no hope, boy!!’ This horribly familiar yo-yo of hope and doubt is swathed aside by Marigay who intro-emails me to Roja within minutes of leaving her office. ‘Yes, I will help you in every way I can. Let’s meet’. Before we do so, we back and forth emails with an immediacy and familiarity as if we’d known each other forever. Meet for dinner in Mayfair where he lives. At fifty five, billiard bald, and coutured from collar to calf in velvet with diamond rings on every other finger, Roja is a walking-talking-perfume-lexicon with an encyclopedic knowledge that he is willing to share.

Impeccably well spoken and mannered, he is unequivocal about the David and Goliath nature of the business world and pin points what kind of ‘market’ I am aiming for – ‘Niche or Mass? Bespoke or ‘Boots’?’

Am taking notes as fast as I can with the challenge of getting my ‘greys’ around all the practical aspects of bottles, packaging, tops, atomisers, labels, licences, base oils, patent application for the name, up down and sideways.

No sooner has this list unravelled, than Roja asks me to note all the smells I love or loathe, topped off by an hour long Olfactory tester session.

He opens a series of upright cases that are a ‘library’ of tiny tubes which he ‘blind’ tests me on, writing down every response to assess my ‘nose buds’.

It’s the sniff-equivalent of twenty Christmas dinners and for a ‘Smellaholic’, sheer nirvana.

He concludes that, possibly because I’ve never smoked nor drunk, my schnoz is ‘fresh, clear, pure and obsessed’. Haha!

‘Go to Grasse!– as soon as possible – to Robertet who produce the purest and best perfume oils available to properly immerse yourself”.

Even though warned otherwise, I’ve fixed on an image of the Provencal hillsides all flowered-up and Timotei advert scented.

Mais non Monsieur!

Roja has arranged for a private tour and before my wife and I have even got out of the rental car, the perfume saturated air is overwhelming. The factory machinery is part Dickensian, cheek by jowelled with 21st transforming tons of petals via a Dr Seuss-ish hiss and steam process that produces drumfuls of perfume wax. All described in epic techno-detail to which our heads nodded, like dashboard dogs. Meeting a professional ‘Nose’ whose job it is to mix and create new perfumes convinces me that this is exactly what I want to be doing. Headed home feeling frisky as a pair of whippets!

Richard E. Grant