Absolutely Magazine: September: Maverick Perfumery by Lawrence Roullier White

The following feature by Lawrence Roullier White appears in the September issue of Absolutely Magazine. Brent Leonesio of Smell Bent will be in store on Thursday 25th September - come and say 'hello'. 

Traditionally perfumery has always been a difficult skill to learn, expertise and knowledge was handed down through the family so it was very much a closed shop. Budding perfumers could seek entry level work at one of the great fragrances houses and hope to learn the ropes on the job or train as apprentices with a master artisan perfumer but opportunities were few.

Things opened up a little when the Givaudan Perfumery School in France opened in 1946. The school claims to be responsible for training the noses behind one third of fragrances on sale today, including Chanel’s Jean Polge and Hermes’ Jean-Claude Ellena, mastermind behind my beloved Cologne Bigarade for Editions Frederic Malle. Another school, The Institut Supérieur International du Parfum, was founded in 1970 by famous perfumer Jean-Jacques Guerlain, a school where successful applicants (only twenty are chosen each year) are required to have a chemistry degree in order to apply. The Grasse Institute of Perfumery is even more restricted; taking twelve students per year on its nine month intensive programme. Even if one is accepted onto one of these oversubscribed courses the likelihood that one will end creating the next Chanel No. 5 is remote. Most trained perfumers work very much below the radar scenting and flavouring a myriad of household and food products. It is not surprising then that those with talent and an eagerness to create set about teaching themselves, unencumbered by convention and fuelled by the spirit of entrepreneurism, these outsider perfumers, the olfactory mavericks, are the ones to watch. 

I describe Sarah McCartney, founder of 4160 Tuesdays, as an olfactory lyricist, her deft hand realises beautiful composed concoctions recalling moments in her life of significance; moments to which we are given a lasting, unique and vivid insight. Sarah’s compositions whisk you off to her world, real or imagined, in the same way the lyrics to Rodgers and Hart’s Manhattan might have you wandering the Lower Eastside streets in a summer in the 1930s. It is no surprise then that Sarah’s background is that of a cosmetic copywriter, a profession from which it was a sideways step into starting to make the things she had been writing about. Her story telling continues; What I Did On My Holidays evokes just that, peppermint rock, briny air and candy floss. 

Hiram Green became fascinated with perfume by selling it – his first foray into fragrance Moonbloom is a sophisticated and elegant celebration of night blooming tuberose with a twist of jasmine and ylang ylang. Noticing a gap in the market Hiram blends exclusively natural ingredients and the results are remarkable, working differently on different skin types and developing in an ever changing cycle on the skin.

Chris Bartlett of Pell Wall Perfumes was again drawn to perfumery by the ingredients, his fascination with the components of a scent, collecting ingredients soon led to him creating his own blends. Gin & Lime is the result of Chris’s other passion; that of cocktails. Gin & Lime is a citrus-type cologne that is designed for everyday wear, to lift your mood day or evening. It is delicious as is my favourite Green Carnation, with top notes of cut grass.

Free from the commitment to funding international ad campaigns the perfume produced by independent self-taught perfumers relies on the quality of the actual juice to sell itself, not the colour page spreads, elaborate packaging or over the top bottles. As Brent Leonesio founder of LA cult fragrance brand Smell Bent explains; "The goal of my perfume was always to put the money inside the bottle rather than outside". Leonesio was a retail fashion buyer who spent his redundancy cheque on some raw ingredients and some technical tomes, teaching himself his craft. Smell Bent is now one of the most revered indie perfumeries in the world, and with names like Miss Panda Gets Lei’d and Walk of Shame it is certainly one of the most maverick; and they don’t teach you that at perfume school.

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