There are perfume lines which have a level of quality that is consistent, the hallmark of attentive planning and meticulous care to the last detail. In the case of Ormonde Jayne, it's a case of cherchez la femme, or in other words Linda Pilkington, its founder and soul. Personally I consider Linda a friend by now: Not only have we over the years gone over our children's respective routines, laughing at the little things, as well as our womanly preoccupation with meeting the many roles modern women are expected to fulfill, but there is also a special pleasure in exchanging news and chatting on developments in the fragrant industry which rises beyond the "saving face" methods of most perfumery owners. Linda, despite her ladylike manner and her pretty petite physique, doesn't mince her words and that's a refreshing quality to find amidst a world that is immersed into producing and selling a sanitized fantasy.
The stepping stone for our conversation I'm transcribing for you here has been a new service that is offered at her own brick & mortar boutique and the new corner at Harrods, called "Perfume Portraits", but it evolved into so much more... so I am breaking it up in two parts (Part 2 will be up next week).
I hope you will enjoy it as much as we both did!
Elena Vosnaki: Linda, it's with much interest that I learned you're offering a new service to your clients. How does Perfume Portraits work and why is it different than other consultations?
Linda Pilkington: Perfume Portraits is a quick profiling process offered at our stores by specially trained staff, aiming to guide the clients through not only the portfolio of Ormonde Jayne fragrances, but through the building blocks of the scents, the raw materials composing them. This is a lot different than asking the client their formed preferences, because it allows them to converse with the materials themselves rather than the finished products and encourages a gut response that aims at the subconscious rather than an intellectualised "fabricated" reaction. I have too often seen people coming into the shop thinking they'd go for some genre, only to discover they completely went against type. The most surprising case involved a gentleman (we have lots of male customers) who was very butch, the biker type with the helmet, the Perfecto jacket and the boots and all, he looked very masculine, very virile and acted the part and when we actually sat down to do his Perfume Portrait I found out he loved white flowers! Feminine, lush, delicious flowers, like orange blossom, jasmine, freesia, things like that. He caught me by complete surprise! In the end he went his merry way having bought Champaca, our rice-steam & flowers perfume, which to him was utter bliss.
EV: Haha!! Love this! More anecdotes to share?
LP: Another gentleman was very hard to "crack": He was so silent, the quiet type; not easy to pigeonhole at all. But you see, Perfume Portraits just requires to respond with a "yes", a "no" or "maybe" to the essences presented for sniffing so it's non dependent on a specific vocabulary, which can be intimidating to the non initiated. Not every one of our clients is a perfumista, but they're discerning and they do want to find something they will really love.
The most baffling case was a lady who came into the shop, sniffed all the seperate essences and didn't like any of them! Exasperated, we had to ask "what do you like to wear then?" She explained she used to get vanilla extract for cooking and put that behind her ears! But she wanted to find something more sophisticated. So we tried to introduce her to a sweet scent, with an element of what she liked, but considerably notched up; we offered Ta'if, our saffron and roses combination which includes sweet dates that would appeal. She liked it a lot and got a bottle, but the most extraordinary thing is how much her husband enjoyed it! He mailed us a while later to let us know he loved the smell and welcomed the change! That's a case of a successful turn-around we're proud of.
EV: It definitely is! Any "naughty" stories while doing the consultations?
LP: Ah Elena, I could tell you hundreds! Are your readers up to them?
EV: I think so!
LP: Well, then, there's one: There was someone who was going through the essences and the oils we offer; there's a cluster of 21 raw materials, three from each of 7 families (hesperidic, light floral, intense floral, balsamic, oriental, woody and atmospheric). So stumbling upon one, I was surprised to hear "it smells like when you touch yourself". But you know what, it was the right impression. It did smell like that! And I didn't perceive any aversion on their part in saying so, so I felt comfortable to proceed. So you see, there's a lot to the process of finding out preferred smells, it's not always just going for the pretty smells.
EV: So, do you think that there is some correlation between how attuned someone is to smells in general (pretty and non pretty, in perfumes or in everyday life) and how much they're into perfumes?
LP: Definitely! I'd go further and say that people who are into smells are more sensuous on the whole. They embrace the sensations brought on to their senses by stimuli from other activities, such as cooking, gardening, pampering themselves with beautiful frabrics or even sex, and they're therefore more receptive to perfumes.
EV: This is what we have been empirically commenting on, online on the perfume fora, comparing notes, so to speak, on how many of us are into cooking, appreciating fashions on a tactile level, the arts etc. Now, please let us know about the procedure itself. And please define what constitutes the "atmospheric" family of essences you mentioned!
LP: I made up the term "atmospheric" for oils that have an effervescence to them, an unusual sparkle, such as those entering Isfarkand and Zizan. It's a fantasy term!
Seated at a bespoke testing table, trained staff take notes about the client’s likes and dislikes, favourite perfumes and other aromas. The customer is then invited to smell three raw ingredients from 7 different families. At this stage the client is only asked to say if they like the aroma or not, and not to try to relate the scent to a perfume they might wear. This segment takes all but 6 minutes, because we don't want to overload the client, but to bring out gut responses, letting personal taste be guided by the mind’s limitless scope to decipher the aromas around. When that's done, two or three Ormonde Jayne perfumes that may suit by summarizing the favoured oils are recommended. Again, the favoured perfumes are presented on a second collection of black and gold ceramic stones. The client will then choose the perfume they like best. Sometimes this could be two or three perfumes and the chosen perfume is finally sprayed onto the wrists.
We also take notes on other preferences, if they prefer to take baths or showers, if they like oil of cream consistency best, their habits, who served them at the shop, what they bought if they bought anything, alongside a telephone number. This is all filed in a personalised card so that it's always available to the client for reference. You'd be surprised at how many husbands walk through the door meaning to get their wife a gift and don't know what her favourite fragrance is! But also how many clients bought something, they need to replenish, but in the interim have forgotten the name!
EV: I assume they throw out the bottles? But tell me, why are ingredients presented on ceramic and not on blotters or sprayed in the air (under some form of tincture or dilution, naturally, when technically feasible)?
LP: Well, another reason behind the Perfume Portraits consultation was that we wanted to eliminate the congested atmosphere in our shops. We have 12 fragrances in our line now. For a client to go through them all it would be asphyxiating, not to mention very confusing, to spray each and every one of them in rapid succession. Have you noticed how when you enter a perfume hall you're greeted by the scented air hanging over from previous customers testing? Even in the first hours after opening. There are just too many perfumes around! I think people should just stop making more perfumes. Give it a rest for a while!
EV: "People should stop making more perfumes": Now, there's a quote! Especially coming from someone in the business who has a lucrative brand. Linda, explain yourself, darling!
LP: There are just too many perfumes overall. Pressure to issue new things all the time, at least in the mainstream sector. At Ormonde Jayne, which is a thoughourly niche brand, we're free to operate at the beat of our own drum. Why rush to bring out a new one? There's no reason to!
EV: But aren't you interested in taking advantage of the new techniques and materials which as they emerge dictate trends? I'm thinking about the many magnolia-focused fragrances we've seen, or the resurgence of tuberose recently in so many niche releases, accountable to new supplies and methods of rendering.
LP: I'm not bound by trends! I'm simply not interested in trends! Of course it's natural that "trends" are formed through the options of new suppliers or new techniques of extraction of oils which de facto interests perfumers. But that doesn't mean one has to have a new fragrance out because of that. Magnolia, which incidentally is a favorite flower and note of mine, is already highlighted in our fragrances. I just don't see the need...
To be continued...
In Part 2 Linda Pilkington talks about the market and some intriguing little-known facts about luxury clients vs. mainstream clients, her plans for Ormonde Jayne for the future both in the UK and in the US, and the surprising & scary power of the Internet.
Paintings by Joël Rougié "Les Demoiselles aux Fleurs Jaunes" and "Les Ballerines"