Diary of a Perfumed Ponce Part 4

Richard E. Grant

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

Whereas I habitually ’Dear‘ and ‘Kind Regards’ my Middle Class way through letters, faxes and emails, Catherine Mitchell, the BDM (Business Development Manager) of IFF (International Flavours and Fragrances Inc) like her ‘abbreviations’, is a woman who doesn’t waste words. Emails begin ‘Richard’ and end with ‘Catherine’ making a strong impression before we’ve even met. Which we do at her HQ (note!) in Roehampton. Crop haired, Durham accented and possessed of an unequivocal ‘Take no prisoners’ attitude, I like her in a milli-second. ‘Only reason I’ve agreed to meet you, is because you’re not trying to launch a celebrity fragrance and you’re punctual andyou came to see me’. (See what I mean?) She nods her way through my instantly truncated ‘story’ of how and why I am sitting in front of her, at the end of which, she averts her gaze out of the window, then turns back and declares – ‘Liberty are looking for a new quintessentially British bespoke perfume. Let’s see if they will give us a meeting?’ The words ‘let’s’ and ‘us’ brusquely warm me up all the way home!

Before you can say ‘Ein, zwei, drei’, we’re at the Liberty’s café for a breakfast meeting with Gina Ritchie and Sarah Coonan, the Empresses of all things beautiful-to-buy and like all great partnerships, they top ‘n tail one another seamlessly. ‘Yes, we want to do this with you, exclusively at Liberty’. Whilst their mouths are detailing plans for me to meet their in-house graphics designer for packaging and logo ideas, my eyes have gone all slo-mo, as my ears try to grapple with this good news, not quite willing to believe it’s true. Contact details are exchanged and before my legs have had time to get themselves out from under the table, my lips have brushed the cheeks of three uber-women who have solved my ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum of needing a perfume licensee and distributor, instantly. Felt like I had just cracked Dragons Den.

Somehow my feet got me outside the iconic black timbered store before my arms flung themselves around an equally ‘charged’ Catherine, who wide-eyed and gasped that she had never had such a short and successful meeting, quite like it! Like the best speed date and shag you could wish for, except without any bodily fluids being exchanged or marriage vows, violated! Confirmed by Gina’s follow up email which began with the word ‘Wowzers!’, – channelling Joe E.Brown’s old Millionaire in ‘Some Like it Hot’ when he hits on Jack Lemmon’s ‘Daphne’.

With this commitment from Liberty, we can now embark on the development of the actual perfume. ‘Off the peg is not an option’ declares Catherine, explaining that Fragrance companies have collections of scent used for a ‘quick response to a project’, equivalent to good off the peg suits. ‘The Holy Grail is access to a Perfumer’- Savile Row Bespoke. Alienor Massenet, the Paris-based ‘Nose’ is Catherine’s number one choice and she has agreed to meet me to see if we can work together. ‘But’ – uh oh – ‘From this point on, you have to work exclusively with IFF. If you have a problem with that, tell me immediately’. Catherine eyeballs me, half raises an eyebrow and gets my ‘word of honour’ instantly. Now the neck-twist of what to tell Julie Harris at Robertet? ‘This is business and Julie will understand. Just be honest’.

My apologetic ‘Dear Julie’ ends with ‘I just hope that when our paths cross again, you don’t clonk me over the head with a bottle of Kerry Katona!’. Julie being Julie is as forgiving as she needn’t be and replies that indeed she’ll keep a ‘bottle of KK’ in her bag for ‘just that purpose’, graciously conceding that my IFF and Liberty ‘deal’ is ‘a perfect fit’.

Now for that elusive, quintessentially British ‘name’?

Am fortuitously seated beside GQ Editor Dylan Jones at a BAFTA dinner who politely asked what I was up to, unwittingly getting an earful of my Perfume-plan. ‘Write about it for the magazine’. When I pitch up in his office months later, our meeting lasts less than five minutes, concluding with a deal to scribble 900 words per column. Surveying my Union Jack vintage bunting packaging ideas and the shortlist of names, he says ‘ Call it Jack’. Bullseye! ‘Register it’.

Dylan’s two-worded, two-second parting instruction, presaged an avalanche of legal wranglings that lasted months, skilfully ‘skied’ by Patent lawyer, Ben (with his Dickensian surname) Mooneapillay. No sooner was Jack submitted to the Trademark Registry Office, having Yahoo and Googled all possible ‘challenges’, than all seemed guaranteed to be a stress-free Slalom snowboard-glide to the finish line. On the day my trademark was due to be granted, a very aggressive letter landed, threatening legal action from an instantly recognisable and hugely powerful global American brand. Claiming ‘Jack’ to be too like ‘their’ fragrance, also beginning with the letter ‘J’. A gonad clenching, stomach plunging, jaw dropping set-back which instantly cast me as ‘David’, set to challenge this corporate ‘Goliath’.

In the name of JACK, let battle commence!

JACK will be launched exclusively at Liberty in April & at www.jackperfume.co.uk

Richard E. Grant