London is bursting with exciting niche perfumes and perfumes just waiting to be discovered. Our pick of the best independent brands and boutiques in the city will help guide you to the perfect new fragrance for you
Perfume is having a moment. There’s a whiff of change in the air and it has nothing to do with your mother’s old favourites. After years of super-brand domination, the perfume landscape has shifted, and a new band of scent rebels is challenging the status quo.
'I think the growing desire people have for uniqueness is also a desire for something more authentic' - Keren Bester, founder of the Chemical Poetry Club
The revolution began some 20 years ago, when Parisian fragrance guru Frédéric Malle launched his Editions de Parfums, selecting ‘super-noses’ to create perfumes under their own names and thus turning the spotlight back onto the scent rather than the marketing circus that surrounds big labels. Yet it is only recently that the trend has exploded. Leading the charge are bottled-in-London brands such as Perfumer H and 4160 Tuesdays, renegade scents such as mushroom and hot sand, and a summer 2017 exhibition at Somerset House dedicated to all things olfactory.
Niche brands made up nearly half of 2016’s 2,000 new perfume launches last year, reports Premium Beauty News, fuelled by the long-tail effect of internet sales. But with all this creativity, there’s a danger of niche-fatigue setting in, as consumers become overwhelmed by choice. A handful of London-based fragrance specialists are responding – not only by shifting our notions of scent but also the way we consume it.
One such perfume provocateur is fragrance specialist and scent forecaster Emmanuelle Moeglin, who launched the Experimental Perfume Club in 2015 with the aim of reconnecting people with their sense of smell and demystifying the perfume-making process. ‘People in cities are already bored of niche brands – they are looking for the next level,’ she says. ‘They want to peek behind the scenes. It’s as much about the experience as it is about creating something bespoke or unique.’
The keen-nosed and curious should visit Moeglin’s ‘micro-lab’, hidden on a back street behind hipster hotspot Broadway Market. The space is a world away from the perfumeries of west London; Moeglin describes it as ‘an open-access perfume lab – dedicated to the juice.’ Attend a workshop to learn how to create a unique perfume, have a bespoke consultation to bottle a favourite smell, or simply turn up to the twice-monthly open-lab sessions and ‘play’ without boundaries. ‘Some of the most interesting scents develop when people experiment and you get offbeat flavours like Thai basil curry,’ enthuses Moeglin. Her business model, she says, has always been ‘a community of creators. People come back to learn more, they stay in touch.’ She’s built up such a following that the business is now being crowd-funded – in contrast to the more usual corporate mould. ‘It’s grown organically and I want to keep it that way,’ says Moeglin firmly.
Keren Bester, another east London perfumer, runs the Chemical Poetry Club, a subscription service that delivers three samples from a different artisanal producer every month. Bester sifts through the plethora of indies to select the truly innovative, seeking, she says, ‘polarising brands’ that aren’t shy about provoking a response. The idea, she explains, is to ‘help showcase some of the extraordinary creativity of the independent perfumers and encourage online discussion to create a perfume appreciation club. If we can all imagine the soundtrack to our lives, should we not be actively building our scent tracks? That’s what I want to do with Chemical Poetry Club.’
Bester agrees that customer demands are changing. ‘I think the growing desire people have for uniqueness is also a desire for something more authentic. There’s a growing connoisseurship movement. Coffee, gin, wine, chocolate… why not perfume, too?’ she asks. ‘We’ll help our customers to educate their nose and discern what they like and don’t like, and why.’
Her mission is to elevate perfume to an art form. ‘If you break it down, perfume is a chemical poem,’ she says. ‘The idea is to build a community who can contribute to that poetry by sampling some of the most provocative and divine chemistry out there.’
The heritage brands are upping their game too, looking for new ways to satisfy the growing demand for uniqueness. Mayfair perfumer Creed now offers a monogramming service; customers can sip champagne while their perfume bottle is engraved. Quintessentially British house Penhaligon’s has just launched its super-luxe Bespoke by Alberto Morillas. For a cool £35,000, the world-renowned nose will create a one-of-a-kind scent presented in hand-customised bottle: an intensely individual process that takes months. From the ultra-luxe to the more affordable, it looks as though personalised perfume is here to stay.