Diary of a Perfumed Ponce Part 5

Richard E. Grant

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

December 2012

‘Dare to be bold with your perfume. Go for the ‘Marmite’ factor’ advises Gina Ritchie at Liberty who is as well groomed and deliciously ‘scented’ as she is informed about what customers are looking for. Her advice jostles in my cranium alongside the staggering statistic that there are approximately 1,100+ perfumes launched every year of which 180 are celebrity scents. I will be 56 & ¾’s when JACK launches in April, which is the equivalent of an-almost pensioner releasing a pop single with no track record of ever having yodelled a note before.

The casualty rate conjures up an image of a Nuclear, albeit fragrant, fallout!

Silently mouth this mantra ‘Be Bold, be bold’ all the way into Ed Burstall’s office, he being Le Grand Fromage of Liberty, and an American to boot!

Pipe cleaner slim, crop-shaved either side of his quif-top, Ed is a man with the innate confidence to dispense his encyclopaedic retail knowledge with the cast-iron conviction of his catholic ‘tastes’. So it’s a profound relief when he declares his approval of my favourite niche perfume, indicating the direction I am headed in. ‘Done properly, JACK will be a huge success’. At this moment I would like his sentence cast in gold!

‘How to combine the ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ of something new whilst simultaneously looking like it’s always been there?’ – this is my challenge to in-house graphic designer, Matt Blease, who patiently looked at my sketches and faded bunting samples, listened to me blather on about classic ocean liner sized luggage and labels with rivets and said he would come back to me with suggestions for the bottle, label and box. Young enough to be my adult son, he is bearded & booted in the current skinny City-Hillbilly look that marks his generation, generously saying that as neither of us has designed a perfume brand before, ‘lets collaborate’.

Catherine Mitchell has secured a meeting with ‘Nose’ Alienor Massenet and a banquette at Colbert restaurant in Chelsea, a new but ‘old’ looking classic French Bistrot owned by those Wolsley Englishmen, Messrs Corbin & King.

Irony upon irony as I’m from Swaziland, determined to create a quintessentially British perfume with a French perfumer, for Liberty, which is owned by an Italian and run by an American, all of which is illogical but makes ‘sense’, London being such a unique polyglot of people from everywhere under the auspices of that Union Jack flag that I love so much.

Alienor is so chic and tiny that it’s a mind boggle to work out how she’s managed to accommodate all her organs, let alone give birth to three teenagers? Sharp of feature, eye and mind, she wryly smiles when I de-pocket my favourite ingredients onto the table – lime, marijuana, jasmine, gardenia, mandarin, pepper and a perfume oil sample. It’s an undiluted pleasure listening to her professional interpretation of my amateur passions, concluding with the compliment that she would like to work together ‘as you have a very clear ‘idea’ of what the perfume should smell like’. All the while sipping a thimbleful of tea as I scoffed the biscuits, not a crumb of which, passed her lips. In answer to my quest for a signature British scent, she confided that as an Anglophile, she had spent two years at a Kent boarding school to escape the rigidity of the French Baccalaureate!

Levitated my way back down to the tube, smiling like a stoner at all the rush-hour passengers, imagining them all spritzed, top to toe, in JACK.

Reality checked in seeing a Sunday supplement magazine trumpeting the launch of four Union perfumes with the flag design incorporated onto the bottles. Swiftly followed by an epic email from my patent lawyer detailing the threat of court action from an American corporate ‘Goliath’ claiming my JACK trademark will confuse their customers when buying their ‘J’ Christian-named product. At this juncture, without a label, bottle or package design, let alone the actual ‘perfume juice’, the notion that my niche brand-name, is posing any kind of threat, is utterly farcical.

February 2012

Anya Hindmarch wrestles away my doubts over dinner and advises to remain ‘passionate’ but realistic. ‘At worst, be prepared to lose everything you’ve invested, as that’s the gamble of going into business. But such an exciting risk! I’m going to ask my brilliant lawyer pal, Hugh Devlin, to give you some advice’.

Boy oh boy, he does too. Ensconced in his Old Bailey board room, Hugh charmingly bullet points what I need to do : set up a company, limit cash outflow, nail down how many bottles Liberty will order, limit the design budget, get everything on a professional rather than hobby footing and remember that in a recession, people work harder, but buy perfume in bigger volumes. ‘The under 30’s are incredibly brand-savvy and they are your target market. Bottom line – if it doesn’t work, you’ll have a lifelong supply of your bespoke perfume to give away!’. Within a week, Hugh emails an acutely detailed list of do’s and dont’s and unbelievably refuses to charge me for his invaluable 30 minutes. Gold dust generosity!

March 2012

Attempting to staunch my patent lawyer’s multiple options/ alternatives/ possibles/ is capsizing my frontal lobes, challenging their function as ‘the centre of our essential Humanity’. At this moment, all I want to know is how likely I am to lose my slingshot at ‘Goliath’ if I have to go to court? Uncle Monty’s voice echoes up – ‘Steady the buffs, boy. Par for the course for an ‘Indie-preneur’. You’re simply arming yourself in readiness to do Battle as a Perfumed Ponce!’

Richard E. Grant