A theme was beginning to emerge in our thinking about our new business – we needed professional help with EVERYTHING. And for me, the whole thing rested on capturing that mountain fragrance, which in turn meant finding the right people/person to do it – known in the industry as a Perfumer, or ‘Nose’.
Cass’s blog, written in May 2014, with Jonathan’s comments in manly blue, and Cass’s rebuttals in lady-like pink.
Very simple maths; not so simple search.
To cut a long story short (Who are these Noses? Where are they? Why are they hiding?), Who knows?! ‘Knows’, geddit? Oh dear Oh, come on, someone had to do it! I finally found one, thanks to a combination of LinkedIn (all hail; first time I’ve ever found it useful), and long lost colleagues in the cosmetics industry.
I first met our Perfumer for tea, over which she shuddered because she could tell that a different variety had previously been brewed in the same pot. Now that’s what I call a Nose! It probably sounds a bit princessy, but she’s very funny and charming, and I definitely wanted someone with those instincts working on our project. She absolutely got the concept right away, and as I described where we live, and First Light, she started to come up with combinations of fragrances, just verbally at this stage, that might account for the gorgeous aroma in the mountain air. Ever heard of cistus labdanum? Me neither, but apparently it’s a kind of rockrose that has a warm amber-y note and grows wild on mountainsides such as ours. Was that the sweetness that we couldn’t identify? This was starting to feel exciting. All we needed was Matt Damon, a betrayal, and a car chase, and we’ve got ourselves a thriller.
I think that meeting was one of my favourites ever, but it was nothing compared to the Actual Fragrance Meeting, where perfume oils would be sniffed and appreciated or rejected. Jonathan and I both went, not really knowing what to expect. We were ushered into a beautiful room (the kind they use for the silly dancing in Jane Austen adaptations don’t believe her – she doesn’t think anything in Jane Austen is silly), which was dominated by a huge table positively groaning under bottles of perfume oils.
I was in a giddy heaven and rather wishing that I’d worn an empire line dress and had my hair done up with ribbons by a servant. Luckily I had taken exactly those precautions, so felt right at home. I was more worried that I’d say something fatuous, that I would think was funny and no one else would. Welcome to my life. Welcome to my life!
Anastasia and her colleague started us with fennel, because we were absolutely sure that it was part of the elusive fragrance (it was the only thing we were sure of) but who knew how many fennel perfumes there are? Wild Fennel was our favourite, but there was Sweet Fennel and Fennel Seed too, and at least two more that I can’t now remember.
There were perfumes I just loved, and others that I really, ugh, didn’t (which was necessary, because the perfumers had to gauge our reactions).
We must have inhaled about forty fragrances in all, and had to stop when the giddiness was threatening to turn into a full-blown swoon. Can you have too much of a good thing? Seemingly. If you want a mental picture of this, and are old enough to remember the classic BRIDESHEAD REVISITED TV series, it’s like Charles and Sebastian’s wine tasting scene. Actually, now I come to think of it, it’s like every wine testing scene ever; “What was the one we had before this one; the one that tasted like the first one..?” etc.
I made random notes (and later noticed that my writing became more and more erratic): “love hyssop?” “cedarwood with geranium?” “sequoia? Nice name for a girl?” which were entirely unhelpful but made me feel as though I was doing it properly. Anyway, after about two hours, Anastasia and her perfumer colleague felt that they had enough to start working on the first ‘draft’ which in fact, she calls (in a very French accent): une édition.
Well. I don’t know how long I thought it would take (months? After all, they’ve got to capture something they’ve never experienced themselves, from the ramblings of non-professional scent describers) but, not 36 hours later, we had six blended perfume oils, all of which were wonderful, and one of which was very, very nearly, The One.
And this became the basis of what we think of as our signature candle: First Light.
It has top notes of wild fennel, orange and bergamot, and then mountain pepper and rosemary, softened by the lovely but ugly-sounding cistus labdanum, and finally a grounding base of musk. I love it; it just IS our mountain fragrance, and I’ve never smelled another candle like it. Heaven in a glass jar. True dat!