There is a mysterious power to our sense of smell – scents can, in an instant, transport us back to childhood, remind us of people or places, or even evoke an unexpected emotional response. When it comes to choosing a fragrance, it is usually a case of trial and error, sampling a range of perfumes to find the one that best captures our preferences, from powdery to herbaceous and heady to delicate. But for those who want to take their signature scent one step further, a growing number of perfumers are offering customers the opportunity to create a bespoke fragrance – a scent that defines who you are and the kind of response you would like to evoke in others.
Custom fragrances have been around for hundreds of years. Paris-based British perfumer House of Creed, for example, has crafted perfumes for individuals since Tailoring the intangible A bespoke scent is the ultimate expression of personal style. the 18th century. Now, perfume houses around the world, including Fragonard in Paris and Grasse, Goest Perfumes in Los Angeles, and Floris in London, all offer bespoke options.
Penhaligon’s, founded in the late 1860s by William Henry Penhaligon, a Cornish barber became court barber and perfumer to Queen Victoria, recently elevated bespoke perfume to the level of couture. Alberto Morillas, the nose behind some of the world’s most recognisable scents – from Calvin Klein’s CK One and Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy to Marc Jacobs’ Daisy – will, for £35,000 (S$62,000) or more, create a truly one-of-a-kind fragrance.
The formula, of course, will remain a secret that’s kept under lock and key at Penhaligon’s until it’s reordered on demand. Clients are assured that it will never be replicated.
“A bespoke perfume expresses an individual’s uniqueness in terms of personality and mood,” says Angel Cheung, a Hong Kong-based aromatherapist, who studied the art of perfumery in Grasse, the French town where Chanel No. 5 was created. “The experience is highly personalised; nothing like the traditional purchase of branded perfumes at a store.”
Cheung now runs Intime Artisan de Parfum, a perfume studio where she offers group and private perfume-making sessions. Participants intuitively choose their favourite scents from a range of 32 unlabelled blue bottles divided into top, middle, and base notes. Then she provides a personality analysis based on the selection and creates a perfume to match. “Most of my customers tell me the personality analysis based on their ingredient selection is spot on, and, more amazingly, the fragrance blend I create from that evokes many memories for them,” she says.
Cheung’s intimate interaction with customers revealed that people’s scent choices often do not match gender expectations. “The market tends to stereotype certain perfume profiles based on gender, such as floral for women and aromatic or aquatic for men. But from my experience, many men actually prefer floral notes to herbal or spicy scents under blind testing, while some women look for woody and spicy notes. I think this might be one of the reasons why mainstream perfumes are losing a share to niche brands. People no longer want to be stereotyped by their fragrance choices.”
Indeed, for perfume aficionados, bespoking a fragrance is an opportunity to create a personal brand, and be identified by a specific aroma that defines their unique personality and style.
With so many possibilities on what you can achieve, why wear what everyone else is wearing when you can create a perfume that reflects exactly who you are?
Find bespoke services at these fragrance houses.
PENHALIGON’S After at least eight months of trial-anderror testing, and for a fee of £35,000 and more, one of the world’s great master perfumers, Spanish-born Alberto Morillas, will create an exceptional and unique fragrance for you. The Penhaligon’s Bespoke by Alberto Morillas process begins with a series of questions, including “How would you describe your personal style?” “If someone close to you would describe your personality in three words, what would they say?” and “Where do you love to go on holiday – a beach or a city break?” Three months after that initial meeting, Morillas will provide up to three fragrances to help refine the commission, after which there are two rounds of amendments. The final perfume comes in two handcrafted 200ml bottles. More bottles, at a cost of £3,000 each, can be reordered. www.penhaligons.com
OO LA LAB Fragrance Design & Mixolo gy Services Singapore-based Oo La Lab has created a Collector’s Fragrance Mixology Kit ($388) in a black briefcase filled with 12 fragrance notes, two limited-edition crafting ingredients, mini funnels, bottles, a notebook and an instruction manual for perfume aficionados to create their own at home. The fragrance notes are divided into top (such as ozone, tea and aldehyde), middle (muguet, rose) and bottom (oriental, vanilla amber, musk). Oo La Lab also offers perfume workshops at Delta House, 2 Alexandra Road, and has hosted sessions in Dubai and Jakarta.
FRAGONARD At the Perfumer’s Apprentice Workshop, at Fragonard’s Cote D’Azur factory and Musee Du Parfum in Paris, participants compose their own eau de cologne, customising it with aromatic and citrus notes, and orange blossom. Then they take home their 100 ml bottle of fragrance in a special pouch, along with a Fragonard “apprentice” apron, a signed diploma, and their recipe. Before leaving, they are taken on a guided tour through the facility. The two-hour experience costs €69 (S$104) in Grasse and €95 in Paris.
EX NIHILO This French brand, known for combining refinement with an avant-garde spirit, offers what has been described as the custom perfume experience of the 21st century. Visitors to its Paris flagship store can have their selected perfume personalised by the n°001 Osmologue, a futuristic-looking, polished metal and glass interactive machine. Customers select perfumes from the Initiale and Babylone collections and can add accents from up to three ingredients such as the absolutes of iris pallida, vanilla bourbon or rose centifolia from Grasse. You can choose to adorn your bottle with precious stones or even 24K gold and diamonds, and the glass can be engraved with a name or dedication. Prices start at €200 and go up according to ingredients and the bottle.
FLORIS Founded in 1730 and owned and run today by the eighth and ninth generations of the family, Floris is the oldest English retailer of fragrance and toiletries. After signing up its bespoke perfume service, your custom blend will be securely archived in the almost 300-year-old Floris ledgers for you and your future generations to reorder. The full bespoke service (£5,000) involves three appointments with a Floris perfumer to create your signature scent. The price includes six bottles of perfume. Floris also offers fragrance customisation programmes, for individuals (£550) and couples (£950), which involve adding new accords to fragrances.
(Related: Best perfume stores in Paris)