One of my favourite things to do when I visit an unfamiliar city is to purposely get lost in the streets and simply walk and explore. You get to observe daily life in that city and see things you will not see on a tour bus or with a guide. Serendipitously, you discover things that before that moment of discovery, you never knew existed. This was how I discovered Ormonde Jayne. Actually, I had seen the brand mentioned in a few perfume blogs but I never connected the dots in my head until I found myself in the Royal Arcade on Old Bond Street, facing a glass façade of perfume bottles. These bottles, filled with golden liquids of different hues seemed to be suspended in mid air; an illusion created by mirrors and glass inside the Ormonde Jayne boutique. My visit to Ormonde Jayne was one of the surprises I took away from London.
I spent some time with the boutique’s manager, Natalie, who carefully took me through the collection. We exchanged some stories and I left my contact details with her. Whether it was due to that visit or coincidence, our paths crossed again and I began talking with the brand’s PR manager. Now back in Australia and guarding the two samples I brought home from London (unfortunately there is no stockist here in Australia) Ormonde Jayne was kind enough to bring the boutique to me in the form of a sleek black box that contained samples of their entire collection. Called the Discovery Set, the name suited the philosophy of my blog that is about discovering the world of perfume.
Over the past three weeks I have been making my way through the collection, reconnecting with smells I found in the brand’s Old Bond Street boutique, and getting to know new scents that I overlooked in my journey last year. You get the sense a lot of consideration went into the careful selection of precious oils and raw materials to create the collection. In ancient times traders would travel the spice routes of the orient in search of new and rare ingredients. Now with the ease of air travel, Ormonde Jayne’s spice route stretches to each corner of the globe. From handpicked flowers on remote pacific islands, to the velvety resin extracted from Peruvian tolu trees or Arabian roses, taken from gardens overlooking the Red Sea, each perfume has its own story. And unlike the hundreds of perfumes launched each year that tell tales of originality and mystique, yet the only mystery is why they all smell the same; each Ormonde Jayne story is told by the uniqueness of the ingredients that go into each creation. A more unusual material that fascinated me is Black Hemlock absolute, an extract known for it’s coniferous aroma with balsamic subtleties, a signature ingredient of Ormonde Woman. It is also a feature of Ormonde Man, a perfume of spices, precious woods and oudh, which opens up wonderfully on skin. My personal favourite is Isfarkand, a masculine scent of spicy pink pepper that vibrates beautifully with a citrus accord of mandarin, lime and bergamot. Vetiver and iris are combined with moss and hints of cedar throughout. As I write this I am wearing Zizan, a rich scent that showcases the chameleon nature of vetiver. In this instance it is paired with herbaceous notes and violet florals. Like Ormonde Man, it is a truly masculine scent.
After some time to play and reflect I was invited to ask the perfumer behind the collection, Linda Pilkington, some questions about her brand, the range and the journey she has undertaken. Linda has a fascinating story in that her career as a perfumer has primarily been one that is self-driven. Going against the industry grain, this year Ormonde Jayne celebrates ten years of creativity.
On becoming a perfumer:
WMSSL: How did you come to realise you wanted to be a perfumer?
Linda Pilkington: Ormonde Jayne exists today by nothing more than happenstance. I never set out to conceive a perfume house, she came about by meeting up with an old friend I had not seen for 25 years. Mr Andersen worked for Chanel and he wanted to know if I still made lovely scented products, as he remembered from long ago when we were neighbours. He had purchased very expensive large designer candles that would not burn, so he asked if I could re-set them. This was very easy for me as candle making had been my hobby since I was a child, along with other things like making chocolates, growing plants and making bath oil. The candles were returned the next day and he was thrilled. When they were finished he asked me to create a scented candle to burn in their Fine Jewellery shop. Not wanting to disappoint him, I set out to create the best I could. After contacting Grasse, Google, reference books, you name it, I finally came up with the product. He and Madame Sophie loved the candle and ordered 36. I created Ormonde Jayne so I could send them an invoice, so my very first business invoice is Chanel number 001.
That was nearly 10 years ago and I haven’t looked back since. To progress my new company, I showed Ormonde Jayne at trade shows. For 3 years running, we won the first prize for style and design. It gave me a lot of confidence that I was doing something right. At this point I had taken on a studio and my main business was private label, creating small runs of scented products , mainly for stylists and designers.
As I was also learning at the same time, I enrolled in a number of short courses to understand more about perfume. A very good book is called Pouchers. It is expensive but contains over 100 formula’s of how to create basic accords, like tuberose, jasmine, grapefruit and cedar etc. This is very good for practising and so as time went on, I learnt more and more until you develop your own style that sets you apart from the rest of the perfume houses.
Today, we are still learning, always looking to be more innovative and creative. I have the luxury of owning the company, and so I am not at the mercy of outside investors. This allows me to be as creative as I like , when it suits me and at what ever cost and I think my clients appreciate that.
WMSSL: I know you have always had a fascination for fragrance and you are a collector of perfumes long before Ormonde Jayne. Who did you collect and were there any perfumers or brands that inspired you to become a perfumer?
Linda Pilkington: My earliest memory of scent is Madam Rochas which was in a tall cut glass bottle with an ornate top and the liquid was the colour of cognac. My mother gave it to me as she had received it as a present and did not like it. For me though it was like treasure! I was 10 years old and this was the start of a beautiful relationship with perfume. At that point though, it was more about the visual beauty of the bottle. But as it sat so grandly in my “little girls” bedroom, I lusted after more bottles as it seemed so grown up and sophisticated. So I asked my mother and all her friends if I could have their empty bottles of perfume for my bedroom, and they very kindly obliged. One thing lead to another and there came a point when I had so many bottles that one of my mother’s friends asked me if I was going to be a perfumer. It hadn’t crossed my mind, and actually, I didn’t even know what one was as I was still quite young. But from when I was in my late teens, I was always very taken by the whole concept of fragrance and then choosing and wearing perfume became part of my everyday life – so much so, that I would never dream of leaving the house without a perfume on. I would always notice other people’s perfume and came to expect comments on mine.
WMSSL: Are there any other people or things in your life outside of perfume that inspire you to create scents?
Linda Pilkington: My inspiration comes in all forms, shapes, colours, landscapes, botanical gardens, botanical books, materials and food. Inspiration sometimes takes the form of something completely unrelated and unexpected. When I was on holiday in Vietnam, I was on the beach and this woman had the most beautiful scarf on that I had ever seen with bright orange, cream, beige and black stripes. I couldn’t stop looking at the scarf and when I saw this bright mandarin orange, which is the colour of our packaging, I went into a reverie of Ormonde Jayne and all the different directions I wanted to take the company in and other work fantasies. But the whole inspiration came from looking at this beautiful scarf on a beautiful woman on the beach.
WMSSL: What are the benefits and disadvantages of being, I guess in many respects a self-taught perfumer? I am thinking one advantage is you are not taught the industry standard approach to perfume creation and the result is you have a collection of perfumes that are regarded as very unique and contains your own fingerprint. Are there any disadvantages in having to learn your profession by self-discovery? What was the journey like from the first time you sat at a perfumer’s organ to now being an accomplished creator?
Linda Pilkington: Initially, when you are first formulating basic accords and following a formulation down, you tick each ingredients off as its being weighed and added to your balance but it’s quite nerve wracking. It’s rather like following an extremely complicated cake recipe that has 20 ingredients and some that weigh very little, and some require no more than 1 drop from a pipette, but what you don’t know is, will that drop (fall) fast or slowly according to its weight, and if a second drop accidentally falls, that would be a mistake. But my philosophy is that we are always learning and as new ingredients are launched, we need to learn and develop the new ways of working with them so it’s a constant learning process! I have had raw ingredients arrive at the studio and I am expecting it as an oil, but when I open the package, it’s in powder –form or a piece of rock. The perfume world is still full of surprises!
WMSSL: Did you have a “light bulb” moment when things all of a sudden made sense or is it a constant learning curve?
Linda Pilkington: I did indeed have a light bulb moment! It came when I was sitting with a client consulting for a bespoke perfume in 2001. The client wanted me to make her a copy of a perfume which was Fracas with tuberose. It was a nonsense for me as you can never get a perfume to be 100% the same but I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I told her I would use another oil that would be as exotic and heady and fabulous as Fracas. And as I was saying this to her, I realised this was what I should be doing for Ormonde Jayne. I should be going out to find ingredients not widely used in the perfume industry and I knew instantly I was on the right track because I felt this surge of excitement running through my veins! It took me two years. The first four scents were Champaca, Osmanthus, Ormonde Woman and Tolu although I didn’t open with those. They came later.
Your creative process:
WMSSL: Do you have a creative process you adhere to? When creating a new perfume, do you start with a raw material that has inspired you, or do you start with an idea or story that you then find ingredients to communicate your idea?
Linda Pilkington: I start with an idea. And then I get a bee in my bonnet and I pursue that idea to the ends of the earth! Sometimes it comes off. Occasionally I get sent samples of new oils, and I keep them safely in my desk and I always look through them to see what is relevant to my ideas.
WMSSL: What is your proudest moment as a perfumer?
Linda Pilkington: It was when I found Black Hemlock ten years ago and I discovered you could buy black hemlock oil. I did my research and realised there was no perfume in the world with hemlock as its main ingredient – that was 10 years ago. And also being the first European fragrance house, alongside YSL, to launch a perfume with Oudh in 2004. YSL used it in their scent M7 which was launched the same week as Ormonde Man in autumn 2004. Considering the size of my company at the time, it was remarkable.
WMSSL: Do you have a personal favourite amongst your creations?
Linda Pilkington: I do have my top five favourites and I have certain favourites for each season – In spring I love to wear Frangipani and in summer I wear Osmanthus a lot. In autumn, I love Ormonde Woman and Orris Noir, but it also all changes, for instance today it’s freezing and I have Champaca on.
WMSSL: Most perfumers and brands have their signatures. Generally you can pick a Chanel, an Hermes or a Guerlain. How would you describe the style you have developed for Ormonde Jayne?
Linda Pilkington: You can always tell Ormonde Jayne scent and we have a very defined style. There are three ingredients in every single perfume (except Tolu) which forms the basic accord and it’s the secret of our success.
WMSSL: The brand celebrates its 10th birthday this year? What is your view of the business at the moment? Do you see a shift in trend with the numerous smaller or ‘niche’ brands competing for a segment of the market that was much smaller 10 years ago?
Linda Pilkington: Yes definitely, there has been a vast change and so much so that even the big companies are trying to adapt to capture the sort of idea of the niche market – even the big fragrances launch an exclusive fragrance to one store in one country and that is because they too want to be niche in any way they can. People want to get back to basics and to products that are crafted, handmade, seasonal and small perfume houses capture that zeitgeist .
WMSSL: I notice a focus on the use of quality and rare perfume ingredients now. Many smaller brands have always operated this way, but today you see some of the big competitors launching smaller exclusive lines within their larger lines to enable them to attract niche perfume clientele (Chanel, Hermes, Cartier, Dior). These exclusive lines are produced in smaller amounts also enabling them to use rare ingredients that would not be available in a larger production due to cost and availability. Do you see this trend effecting smaller brands like yourself where rarity was always a key difference between niche and the more commercial brands? Now the big names are doing niche and many of them have the financial power behind them to do it well. How do you see smaller perfumeries continuing to differentiate themselves from the luxury retail giants?
Linda Pilkington: Innovation and staying true to your philosophy. Everyone has their own ideas, and if you are truly innovative you will go forward and continue to create. We are not just creating perfume, but also different ways of wearing perfumes. For example, our Gold Dust is scented dusting powder made with 24 carat gold with a hand-sewn ostrich feather. Big fragrance companies would never copy this because it is far too time-consuming, but at Ormonde Jayne, we can! Because we are not solely focused on the financial aspect and the larger perfume houses could never be as creative and innovative as a small niche brand.
On the smell of men:
WMSSL: Writing a blog called, What Men Should Smell Like, I am always interested to get opinions on the matter! What do you think the ideal man smells like?
Linda Pilkington: The ideal man smells like my husband who is a true fanatic of Isfarkand and he goes through more perfume than me.
WMSSL: I know Isfarkand has a huge fan base (myself included). It’s rare for me not to like anything that contains vetiver and iris (two of my favourite perfume ingredients). Is there a story behind this fragrance you can share? How did it come about?
Linda Pilkington: Isfarkand came about by a lot of gentlemen clients at the time requesting a cologne and I always listen to my clients. But I wanted to put an Ormonde Jayne twist on the basic cologne accord and take it from cologne to its own special status.
Thank you to Linda Pilkington for answering my questions and to Sarah at Ormonde Jayne for arranging this Q&A as well as providing me with photos.
For a complete overview of the Ormonde Jayne range, you should visit www.ormondejayne.com