AMONG the unexpected things one discovers at Ormonde Jayne, the swish private perfumery with outlets in New Bond Street and Sloane Square (plus a Harrods concession), two stand out: men make up the greater number of clients, and hemlock (the poison that did for Socrates) is an excellent perfume ingredient. As is whale vomit.
Actually, ambergris – the grey mulch produced in a sperm whale’s intestines – has long been used as a fixative in perfumes. These days, because of its relative difficulty in harvesting and the production of synthetics that recreate its qualities, it’s not used very much. However, “synthetic” – along with “mass-produced” and, one imagines, “Old Spice” – is a dirty word round Ormonde Jayne way.
Founder, director and all-round entrepreneurial dynamo Linda Pilkington maintains a close-to-nature policy that has seen her roaming the world in search of the kind of ingredients that you won’t find in scents produced en masse for the world’s fashion houses.
“If I went to a company and asked them to make my perfumes for me, it would be impossible,” she says.
Not that it stops imitators trying. Pilkington has had visits by teams of scientists from the big producers, trying to uncover the secrets of her rare scents. Sure enough, ingredients she claims to have used first, such as the champaca flower from South East Asia, have turned up in mass-market offerings. “The comparison is flattering, and shows up the superior quality of what we’re producing,” Pilkington reasons.
Ormonde Jayne produces a range of 13 perfumes (four are for men, including two colognes) with names like Tolu (a Peruvian tree resin), Sampaquita (a Filipino relative of jasmine) and Isfarkand, as well as straightforward Ormonde Woman and Ormonde Man.
They’re fresher, clearer, longer-lasting and more complex than what you’ll find in Boots, and unlike some of Pilkington’s rivals in the world of exclusive perfumery – smart kitchen company Clive Christian’s scents go for anything between a few hundred pounds and several thousand – they’re competitively priced.
It’s not just in her olfactory concoctions that Pilkington is showing considerable innovation, though. Her biggest online seller – and online sales account for around half of revenue – is a beautifully-packaged set of all the perfumes in tiny glass vials. Alternatively, get your scent in four black, pen-sized travel atomisers, a godsend for those on the move.
The latest innovation, at the beautiful new Sloane Square shop, is a set-up by which Pilkington can construct your “perfume portrait”. In a one-on-one consultation, Pilkington takes you through the various perfume ingredients – like vetiver, moss, and indeed hemlock – to see which float your boat.
She then makes a recommendation based on the findings – for those unused to buying scents (and those who are, for that matter), it’s an enjoyable education in aromatics, and a good way to pinpoint something if you’re as indecisive as I am.
“Our customers like things that are artisan and bespoke,” Pilkington says. “This is us giving people that sense of personal service, in a way that they find fascinating.”