Meet the new guard of independent perfumers thriving in London – Robb Report
As with whiskey or coffee, niche fragrances appeal because they are nuanced and distinctive. Not needing to please everyone, they can appeal to a small crowd of enthusiasts. And operating on a small scale, they can more easily take creative and business risks. But at the same time, their lack of marketing force can make them difficult to find. We discovered that London is full of new independent perfumers of all sensibilities and backgrounds.
Sarah McCartney, a Londoner at the head of 4160 Tuesdays, was previously the editor-in-chief of UK cosmetics powerhouse Lush. “I left to write a novel about a perfumer,” says McCartney Robb Report, “but the novel turned into real life and I started making the scents I described in the book.” Her scents are composed like portraits of places and occasions: Ealing Green is a bright green floral named after the west London suburbs where McCartney met her husband; Maxed Out is a blend of rum, tobacco, cannabis, coffee and a hint of hot sweat, inspired by a New York night out and not for the faint hearted. âI can do something outrageous and, if only a small group of people like it, I never make a bigger prize,â McCartney says. âBecause we do everything by hand here, our costs are higher, but nothing is ever wasted. We bottle them to order.
Gallivant of East London was launched in 2017 by Nick Steward, former Creative Director of L’Artisan Parfumeur. Steward sees the two brands as bridges between the names of the mass market and the independent world. Coming home always made sense: âI wanted to show that perfumery is not limited to Grasse or Paris,â he explains. The brand’s fragrances are named after cities, from Amsterdam, which combines a note of tulips and city rain with a warmer base of woods and spices, in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, a tribute to the ancient silk road centered on the iris root. But the first scent was London, a vivid combination of pinks and green leaves, suede and cedarwood, inspired, says Steward, by the Pet Shop Boys song “West End Girls.”
London’s international influence is important to Kershen Teo, a Singaporean creative who settled in the city after coming to study in his twenties. His brand, Prosody London, started out as a candle maker, but quickly specialized in organic and natural fragrances now championed by historic department store Fortnum & Mason. Lantern Reed, one of Prosody’s signatures, is a portrait of warm evenings: citrus fruits, warm woods and myrrh that Teo calls a âcocoon of happiness and well-beingâ.
Another designer who came to study and stay to create is the Swedish Maya Njie, whose eponymous brand offers complex fragrances tinged with nostalgia. Njie says that an “old family photo album from the 1970s was my starting point for creating my scents” like the crunchy floral Les Fleurs and the softer, darker Tobak.
Out of town, David and Julia Bridger run Parterre at Keyneston Mill, where they also grow fragrance ingredients. The couple came up with the scent from marketing and design, but David mentions his family’s history in farming and Julia’s history in crafts. All of these influences came together in Parterre.
âThe ingredients themselves are absolutely fascinating,â says Julia. âEach ingredient has its own story. Their ambitious plan to grow vetiver, the citrus herb commonly grown in Java and Haiti, was the first attempt in the UK. The result, Root of All Goodness, combines sparkling citrus with warm vetiver to create an exceptional summer scent rich enough to wear all year round. The Hour of Dusk and Gold, a deeper, darker scent, is based on their cultivation of wild Persian carrots. The challenge is the deadlines; for example, it takes three years of growth and three more of processing to make iris root. The Bridgers are currently planting rare citrus fruits, but the first fruits will take years to appear.
Hoohaa, a UK subscription service that samples independent scents each month at three ‘adventure’ levels. It’s a clever solution to the niche problem: the fragrances they offer are too rare to be tasted in stores and often too unusual to risk buying blind. The objective, explain the founders Lorenzo Vasini and Ryan Hall, is to “promote niche perfumes to a wider audience, by allowing people to discover new perfumes and to build up a wardrobe of perfumes” . It is currently limited to the UK, but global subscriptions are promised soon. This is definitely one of the funniest ways to explore the expanding world of small batch fragrances.