Doesn’t it sometimes feel as though there are just five or six mega-conglomerates running the entire world? The little coffee shop on your high street masquerading as something bijoux behind a lick of French Grey paint turns out to be owned by an even bigger chain. Those quirky clothes? A diffusion line knocked out by a retailer working under a different name just four doors away.
So all credit is due to those who go their own way, working to liven up the marketplace and expand its possibilities. As fumeheads we’re especially lucky, for there are a number of innovative independent perfumers blazing scent trails worth following. This month we meet two relative newcomers who are quickly gaining momentum and a portfolio of rave reviews: Elizabeth Moores of Papillon Perfumery, and Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays. If there’s a message to take away from these brave, scent-loving women, it’s the realisation that inspiration is absolutely everywhere if you’re receptive – and that there’s much to be gained from chasing your dreams.
Liz Moores started Papillon just over three years ago, but has been passionate about perfume all her life. She started small, making fragrances for her personal use, and then recruited family and friends as guinea pigs to test her scents on them.
She says: “Many of my creations are greatly influenced by periods of history, romantic and literary concepts, nature, people and artwork – it is the fragments extracted from these muses that combine and make something entirely new.” As you can tell from the butterfly in her logo, Moores is attracted to the idea of metamorphosis – “transforming raw materials into fragrances that can transport you to the extraordinary” – and acknowledges that fragrance is “the ultimate personal luxury”, powerful enough to revive memories and stir the soul.
“When creating a perfume I think of colours, textures and places. I imagine the people who may wear the fragrance. As the mother of five, my working life has been affected, but also inspired, by this additional factor. I have always adored reading and have taken both factual advice and fictional inspiration from literature.”
Speaking to London boutique Les Senteurs, she explains how she constructs her fragrances: “I weave accords within accords inside each composition; each one layers across the next … to create olfactory depth. I wanted the perfumes to have strong evaporation curves: perfumes that move and display their various facets at different times. Perpetuating the classical composition of perfume, that adopts a roughly 50/50 ratio of natural to synthetic materials, was important to me.”
Moores is able to use the finest materials – often rare and costly, sourced from around the globe – because each scent is handcrafted in small batches. This is not without its challenges, she admits. “At first it can be tricky to source materials. If you are unable to buy in large quantities, like the large perfume houses, you can be at risk of missing out on certain discounts. However, I presented many suppliers with my dreams for Papillon and was fortunate enough to be offered great support. I have built fantastic relationships, and believe this proves that perseverance, kindness and a strong business model will allow you to overcome the initial difficulties.”
When it comes to getting the word out, in addition to PR provided by her London stockist, Les Senteurs, and traffic through her website, Moores maintains a Twitter and Facebook presence and says she’s been greatly helped by independent bloggers. “I find this form of ‘advertising’, if you can call it that, to be particularly crucial, as it is not established through an excessive budget, but rather from real people offering real opinions. Personal responses are integral to independent businesses.”
Papillion’s three scents – Anubis, Tobacco Rose and Angélique – are available online at www.papillonperfumery.co.uk; priced £94 for 50ml, or you can buy samples before committing to a full bottle. All are eau de parfum strength using a high concentration of the pure extrait, and all the scents are androgynous, “as we believe there to be no gender boundaries when wearing a perfume”. It also offers a bespoke service. Visit the website for details.
An interest in all things beautiful led Sarah McCartney to her current incarnation as a perfumer. At university she made and sold jewellery while doing a degree in maths and sciences. Later, working as a copywriter for Lush, she carried on making things in her spare time – sewing, knitting, confecting chocolate, and creating photographic collages.
“Lush encouraged people to dream up creative ways to do business and change the world. Although I never got near the lab to make anything, it was my job to explain how the creative team took raw materials and inspiration to come up with an idea.” She learned about the essential oils Mark Constantine used in Lush’s cosmetics then, “I read masses of books to fill the gaps, including those on materials, cosmetology and perfumery”.
After 14 years she felt shattered: the atmosphere had been intense and she was desperate for a rest. “I took time off to think, set up my small project to save the planet by knitting more, and did more yoga (I’m a qualified Iyengar teacher and yoga is my pension plan), and wrote a novel. I’ve still not officially left Lush, but my sabbatical is getting longer and longer.”
Her novel concerns a perfumer who makes scents to remind people of happy times and to help them through troubled times. Unable to find the precise scents she was describing, she decided to have a crack at making them herself. It was a classic case of not knowing what she didn’t know: “Lush are outside the perfumery establishment so I didn’t even realise there was one. Lush made all their own perfumes so I thought that was normal. It’s not; it’s the tiny exception.”
Unlike the big manufacturers who, she says, measure success in sales, McCartney thinks of what she does as a craft, “a way to create things of beauty that a handful of people will like. So I’ll make 500ml of perfume from materials around in 1914 for the London Transport Museum’s World War I event, and it’s a good day when 80 people turn up to my talk and like it”.
Her inspirations are wide-ranging, from scents composed for friends that she’s later offered to the public, to Lady Rose Lion, based on the unicorn tapestries, or Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers, which she designed as “the scent of the Champs Elysees as Sir Wiggo led Cav to win the last stage of the Tour de France 2012”.
Does she face any special difficulties as an independent? McCartney says: “Independent perfumers have to comply with EU regulations, same as everyone else. Except that £350 for a product’s safety certificate is nothing to the big guys, and it’s a huge additional expense to us. You can buy natural essential oils in small quantities, but until recently no one could buy little bottles of the good quality pure synthetics that all the big guys use. You can get ‘strawberry oil’ or ‘white musk’ – blends dissolved in dipropylene glycol – to make your own, but that’s a bit like buying a box of cake mix for your bakery.”
The company name, 4160 Tuesdays, refers to the fact that this is the number of Tuesdays in an 80-year lifespan. But all her fragrances carry unusual names, from Sunshine & Pancakes and The Dark Heart of Old Havana, to Evil Max and The Great Randello (come to think of it, with my name, I need a bottle of that one).
Speaking to The Perfume Society (www.perfumesociety.org – see last month’s Crave to learn more), McCartney said the internet has sparked a revolution. “It’s changed the way we can find out and talk about perfume; it’s made materials accessible to small companies and people who just want to experiment. [It] made it possible for small organisations to operate globally … and for us all to talk to each other: customers to perfumers to bloggers to suppliers.”
One of the biggest problems she faces, however, are new shipping laws that mean she can no longer send her fragrances around the world, but, perhaps controversially, she’s open to the idea that restriction sparks innovation, telling The Perfume Society that regulations governing perfume ingredients “force people to be more creative. If a company suddenly finds that 80 per cent of its products are technically illegal … they have to pull their socks up, get a perfumer into the lab and find a way to make products that they can still sell … Of course it causes no end of problems, but a regulatory rocket up the backside means that you have to have new ideas.”
Prices are £90 for 100ml; but check www.4160tuesdays.com for special sales of her discontinued scents, sample sets, scent handkerchiefs, and to learn more about McCartney’s vintage perfume decants, sold by the ml. She also offers a bespoke service. If you are visiting London, you might want to attend one of her themed monthly scent making workshops, or a sniffing session, where you can smell modern and classic fragrances and the materials that define them. Visit the website for more information and to book. If you want to read the blog that started the brand, go to:http://4160tuesdays.blogspot.co.uk.