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Perfumer nose success lies in reinvention

Emily Maben found the inspiration for one of 2010's new scents. (PATRICK CASTILLO)

By Aimee Greaves

What is your favourite material, your favourite perfume, your favourite food? What scents did your mother wear? These are questions you have to answer during the perfume profiling at Penhaligon's.

This traditional English perfumer is not dissimilar to a modern-day apothecary, with more than a dozen bottles of different scents taking centre-stage at its stores, where boxed-up bottles and accessories are neatly lined up against mirror-lined walls.

Some of these have remained untouched since founder William Penhaligon devised the recipes more than 100 years ago.

"Blenheim Bouquet is the biggest seller in the UK. It's a beautiful, timeless citrus fragrance. It was created in 1902 but still smells contemporary and because it's so simple, it's easy to wear and suits a lot of men," says Emily Maben, the company's Marketing Controller, during a recent trip to Dubai.

More have been added over the years to take the collection to 28, but that will grow this year. Last week, London-based Penhaligon's opened its latest counter in Bloomingdale's at The Dubai Mall to complement its standalone store in the mall. It's original three-year-old Dubai outlet also remains at Wafi.

The company chooses not to advertise because it says customers do not respond to advertising, but its royal warrants help as they show customers it is a quality product, especially because they are reviewed every four years, says Maben.

In tribute to the founder, the company is releasing a 12-scent Anthology series over the next three years, with the first four arriving in stores from July. The scents are breathing new life into the heritage fragrances, some of which date back to 1927. This year's quartet is; Extract of Limes (1963); Eau de Verveine (1949); Gardenia (1976) and Night Scented Stock (1976).

Many of the fragrance formulations have remained unchanged since conception, offering a unique insight into fragrance tastes and trends of the era, while others have been reformulated to ensure their appeal to modern fragrance wearers while still retaining the heritage feel.

"Extract of Limes was originally 1963. It's such a fresh and clean fragrance that it needed nothing doing to it. Neither did Eau de Verveine, which is refined and gentle for a guy. Gardenia was a beautiful white floral scent but we added rhubarb to it, which sounds strange but worked well, then we found Night Scented Stock was too musky so tweaked it slightly," says Maben.

There is one more scent due to hit stores later this year, but this one is more personal to Maben for she came up with the concept.

"Sartorial has been inspired by Saville Row. Churchill went to this shop and wore Blenheim Bouquet, so it has some links," says Maben, who found the inspiration for the scent among the wood and leather of a London tailor.

The Briton joined the company, famous for its Bluebell fragrance, two years ago from Molton Brown. As marketing controller, she has taken on much of her CEO Sarah Rotheram's travelling responsibilities. After her trip to Dubai last week, she also has Japan among others, on the horizon in the not too distant future.

She has always been interested in perfume, even dragging her father around Paris as a teenager to find Thierry Mulgar's Angel but her collection has grown substantially from her one signature scent as a youngster.

"I wore Angel for eight years and still do sometimes now but I've gone away from one fragrance that defines me. I stopped wearing it because when people thought of Angel they thought of me. But why would you smell the same every day when you don't dress the same every day or even drink the same drink," Maben says.

Now, one of her favourites is Hamman Bouquet, which is traditionally a male fragrance but as with many in the Penhaligon collection can be worn by both sexes, but she chooses it because she "likes a challenge. It's about what suits your skin so lots of fragrances are unisex."

Buying a fragrance at Penhaligon's is a different experience to what we settle for when buying at a department store. But this is what makes the stores so charming; they have the personal touch and that's important when spending more than Dh500 on a 100ml bottle.

Back at the profiling counter, it's time to get down to the business of choosing a scent. Based on a person's answers, shop assistants will offer samples at different ends of the spectrum before narrowing the choice down to the winner. Having thought I liked fresh, citrus scents, I ended up with a shortlist of three floral perfumes before settling on Ellenisia, a subtle yet long-lasting delicate fragrance.

It's not an easy choice with such a variety and that is set to get harder when the new fragrances are launched later in the year, but with competition always snapping at their heels it is important to keep reinventing the name.

"There's a huge amount of niche fragrance houses we are in competition against. To an extent we're competing with Chanel and Dior but we are more niche than them. Miller Harris and Jo Malone are also competition but we make fragrances in a different way," says Maben.

Five steps to creating a scent

1. At Penhaligon's someone thinks of an idea. However, Maben says at commercial perfumeries, the first step is looking at where the gap is in the market or looking at new trends. "We brief the perfumers, then off they go," she says.

"They don't have a budget because if we restrict them, we won't get something special.

2. The perfumers go back to the office with their first submission. "We all smell it but I've never known us to accept the first scent," says Maben, which is why it can take six months to a year to get it right.

3. Once the fragrance is confirmed, it has to go through maceration for the International Fragrance Association certificate. The scent is left to sit for six weeks to see what happens to the oils and ensure they mix well. "Most of the time they smell better at the end," says Maben.

4. Once the scent has been passed, attention turns to the label and packaging.

5. As ever, the final step is putting the new fragrance out to the market.


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