Anything but common scents

Readers of this blog will know I’ve got a thing about decent aftershaves, colognes, eaux de toilette (see that correct plural folks, who are you calling flash…) – so the first thing I’m going to do is recommend a book about them.  Called “Artisan Perfumery or Being Led By The Nose” it’s by Alec Lawless, self-published and it’s a rattling read.

Lawless takes you through the history of perfumery then looks at sourcing natural ingredients like sandalwood (exploding the popular myth that the sandalwood tree is an endangered species, which is only true in India), notes on the quality and storage of key ingredients and oils, how we process scents in our brains, how culture has affected tastes. A former wine dealer he’s been aware of the importance of the olfactory sense long before he became a perfumier himself. My Amazon link to the book is below and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the subject – it’s a thoroughly engaging read on the subject of perfume by all means, but also offers insights into history, culture and psychology.

He’s more interesting than that, though – Lawless runs Essentially Me, a service in which he makes bespoke perfume for people. You get a consultation, the chance to smell loads of individual scents from a wooden box of basic oils he carries around, then he blends based on your likes and dislikes. He’s not interested in your partner’s tastes yet, it has to come from you – and a particular element might work best as a base note/background scent or a binding rather than the leading smell anyway, so your initial consultation will only hint at what you’re going to get.

He then sends two samples through and asks you to experiment wearing them, and asks you which you prefer. It’s possible to arrive at a compromise answer; if it’s overpowering for half an hour then settles to something you like, he can probably adjust the blend so that it settles faster.

You end up with a fully tailored, bespoke perfume – and yes, he describes it all as perfume and pretty much rubbishes the idea that one element is definitely for women and another for men. If you like it that’s fine with him, and he’ll keep the formula on record so he can provide it again – with the proviso that like a good wine, oils can develop in the bottle and with different crops over the years so something which appears identical on paper may vary a little once it’s blended, bottled and delivered. It’s not an impulse buy; £245 covers the whole process including your bottle. Divided by the chunks of his time you get and the average cost of perfume (the strong stuff, not the eau de toilette weaker versions many of us are used to) it’s good value for what it is.

I spent a very pleasant lunch hour discussing it with him a few weeks ago. He’s one of these interesting, engaged people who communicates his enthusiasm completely. If you were thinking of doing anything like this he’d be an excellent person to talk to.


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