Diary of a Perfumed Ponce Part 3

Richard E. Grant

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

No sooner have I bid ‘Au revoir’ to Grasse, than chief honcho at Robertet, Francis Thibaudeau email intros me to their London representative, Julie Harris, suggesting that we meet up and ‘make his perfume dream come true’. Atta boy! This means the French have taken me seriously which bucks my day up a good deal.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘BLINK’ revealed that we make assessments of strangers within 15 seconds. It takes half that time to feel the warmth and inherent kindness of Julie Harris who patiently outlined how the perfume market worked – High end luxury brands sell well as do their low price counterparts, but the mid range products are struggling in the current credit crunch.

Advising that it was ‘near impossible to go it alone’, Julie suggested I meet up with someone who is essentially a one-stop-fits-all operator whose company will licence, bottle, package, label and product-distribute via their in-house sales team. Advises that I need to decide whether to aim for the Luxury Store route signposted Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Liberty‘s and Selfridges or head for the Via Appia of Argos and Boots.

The Langham hotel is the rendezvous for our ‘One man band’ meeting but it took all of one ‘blink’ to know that this wasn’t going to go anywhere. If you’d called Central casting for an ‘Used car salesman’ type, he was a perfect ‘fit’. Talked the talk and gabbed the gab. Ten to the dozen. As much as Julie had loved my perfume sample, indicating the ‘direction’ I was headed in, this bloke loathed it and bluntly said so. His invisible ‘thought bubble’ popped up above his head and I could make out the word ‘Ponce’ beginning to spell itself out. Interspersed with a verbal fusillade from below opining that "Basically this ‘Juice’ business is all a load of crap, just a bit of scented w‘ater bunged inna fancy b’ottle and blinged up inna box. Child’s play. Nothing to it. Done loads a‘ celebr’ity scents. You name ‘em, I’ve done ‘em. Did a straw poll of what people thought of you and they all said ‘Quintessentially English and a bit of an oddball, ‘eccentric type’. So there you ‘ave it. ’Topped off with a bravura run down of what profits we could make together in less time than it would take to wind up a toy monkey.

Felt a pang for Julie because clearly Mr Blokey and I were in no way a ‘Business fit’ and my aspiration to make a bespoke luxury perfume with integrity, was kiboshed at the ‘get-go’. In other words, a No-Go! And a ‘Thank you very much,we’ll be in touch’ polite over-and-outski.

Couple of days later, Annelise Quest, the Beauty Merchandise manager at Harrods meets me for some free business advice detailing which perfumes are top sellers, the nuts and bolts cost of floor space and staff, the short shelf life of Celebrity perfumes and stern advice not to try and brand it in any way with my name. ‘Why the vintage Union Jack flag idea for the packaging?’ ‘I’ve obsessively collected flags and bunting forever and want my packaging to be unmistakably British’. She looks at my scrapbook of ideas, drawings and photos and says that having a very clear vision is vital to success. ‘What are you going to call it?’

This question has been pin-balling around my head for a while and Anya Hindmarch suggested using my initials. However, the prospect of a perfume called ‘R.E.G.’ conjured up images of Reg Varney or Terry Thomas bounding up to a counter and demanding – ‘A Couple of bottles of your finest R.E.G. please, Madam and don’t be shy with the wrapping!’. Something quintessentially British, but what?

Annelise says she is having lunch with Kenneth Green, whose company is the biggest distributor of luxury brand perfumes in the UK and will ask him if he is prepared to meet me.

Again and again, I’m overwhelmed at how generous people have been with their time, advice and help. A ‘Do-re-mi’ domino effect, with each contact opening yet another door that I had never imagined entering before.

May 2012
Drive down to Woking, summonsed by Mr. Green himself and on entering the building, the big name brands he distributes, are all on display and seemingly following my every step, like those moving eye’d portraits in olde horror movies. Kenneth Green is the original ‘No-shit-Sherlock’ self-made man who gives you your ‘medicine’ straight up. Identifying my ‘Chicken and egg’ situation; needing a Licensee to physically ‘make’ the perfume and register it’s secret formula on the one hand, then needing to find an agent, on the other, to get it distributed and ‘taken to market’. Sounds like a phrase from a Fairy Story, which at this moment this is all beginning to resemble - unreal and unattainable. Confirmed by his follow up email, whilst full of suggestions of whom to approach to ‘make’ the perfume, a Licence Specialist friend of his in New York has warned that ‘The market is very tough and I fear that Richard’s idea may be too niche to find a suitor’. Niche, suitor and ‘to market’ have segued into Fairy tale-Grimm-speak!

Whilst generously sharing his contacts and business acumen, Mr.Green’s prognosis is decidedly ‘Stick to your day job, Boyo’ and be done with dreaming scents.

Two days later I’m filming HOTEL SECRETS documentary in Las Vegas and get to interview 30 year old multi-millionaire Dan Fleishman who patented the phrase ‘Whose your Daddy’ which made his entrepreneurial fortune!

Whilst sitting at a slot machine at the Golden Nugget downtown, Dan gives me this advice – ‘The Story of why and how you do it, is THE THING. No amount of paid advertising can compete with THE STORY, the Interview, the Tweet. Smell and packaging is important, but the sales distributor is EVERYTHING. Avoid the Giants. The corporate Goliaths will gobble you up and spit you out. Get the best team around you. Cut through all the bullshit. Keep it simple. Keep it focussed. Can you see and identify your product and brand from ten feet away? Does it look like any other perfume. Editorial is all!’

But then, like all Fairy Stories, you need some magic and luck for a happy ending. And the Wizard who came to my rescue, yet again, was Mr. Roja Dove. And here’s how – ‘I want you to meet Catherine Mitchell at IFF perfume company whom I believe you will get on with’. That short sentence chain reactioned EVERYTHING that happened next. Not only is the IFF office in Roehampton, a five minute drive across Richmond park from where I live, but as Roja intuited, Catherine and I proverbially ‘clicked’ in a blink.

Perfume will be launched exclusively at Liberty’s in April.

Richard E. Grant