Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finding the Perfect Vanilla & Interview with L'Artisan’s Mohammed Jamal

It would be grossly unfair, clueless even, to claim that a city as great as London – with its stupendous galleries, museums and theaters that are there to quench the thirst for knowledge and to appease any possible need for beauty and art, would be defined by a shop of all things, but considering my week spent in the grand metropolis only afforded time for touring the various perfume locations and minimal sightseeing (Sniffapalooza keeps one busy!) I can’t help but make the very claim. Liberty of London defined the city for me: Quintessentially British in spirit and rich in history, its beautiful exterior is done in Tudor style and its interior almost entirely made of wood – the wood of two grand ships of old, the length and height of one of them being equal to the current length and height of the gorgeous building itself. Inside, one could happily spend an entire day, finding just about anything one could ask for: Fabrics and furnishings, rugs and carpets, gifts, teas and chocolates of the highest quality, designer shoes, bags and clothes, ultra-niche beauty brands at the beauty department and rare, hard-to-find gems at the astounding perfume department. But combining the ultra modern with the cozily traditional is Liberty’s specialty: one can climb all the way to the top, to find the most cozy haberdashery department, filled with intricate buttons, ribbons, colorful threads and tapestry kits and if the day of the visit is a Saturday (oh, how I wish I could spend every Saturday morning there) one can even follow the weekly sewing course conducted in the most beautiful environment any prospective clothes-customizer could ask for.

We visited Liberty of London on our second day in London and were welcomed by a team of Liberty staff that surprised us with their gracious hospitality and enthusiasm. After a tour of the building and the most delightful of presentations on its history (every word of which I followed with incredible enthusiasm) we were escorted to a private room for champagne cocktails and pastries. Liberty’s head beauty buyer, a young, fiercely intelligent, beautiful and passionate woman took the floor and introduced us to a host of perfumes all brought up there just for us, many of which exclusive to the shop – such as Miller Harris’ Rose en Noir. Amongst these, the perfect vanilla, a brand new creation by L’Artisan christened Havana Vanille and not to be released till October. Before I even knew of the late release date, I found myself cradling the bottle, knowing that my quest for the one vanilla was well and truly over. Those of you who have been following my Paris travelogue will know of the great disappointment I experienced in Paris, visiting and re-visiting every possible vanilla candidate and coming back empty-handed. Who would have thought I’d find it in London? More importantly, how could I possibly suffer the heartache of leaving it again for months once I’d finally found it? You can imagine my distress. But what followed bears testament to the service and attention Liberty’s gives to clients: As calmly as I could, I related my story to the head beauty buyer, explaining to her how hard I’d looked for this perfect scent, how much I wanted to have it. Even though it seemed impossible, I asked if they could possibly try to get it for me. Unbelievably, she replied that they would. Liberty’s only had a tester, so she would have to come in contact with L’Artisan and see if together they would be able to do something for me. Having already fallen in love with the shop, I reached a deeper understanding of why the Britons in our group of fragrance lovers expressed such devotion to Liberty’s from the moment we walked in: Liberty’s inspires this devotion not only with its quality, but also with its incredible service to customers like me. I left my details and just a few short hours later, I received a call from L’Artisan’s Flagship, informing me that they had a bottle for me.

Our schedule with the Sniffapalooza group was tight, so my only chance to pick up the bottle was on my last day in London, while the rest of the group was visiting a lavender field and distillation facility in Norfolk. The extra time in my hands meant this was the perfect opportunity to also conduct an interview while at the Flagship L’Artisan, on the line’s brand new vanilla, on the hot topic of discontinuation policies, on London’s perfume preferences and of course on the store itself, one of best fragrance destinations for visitors of the city! Mohammed Jamal, himself a professionally trained nose and fragrance evaluator graciously received me in the spacious, beautifully tasteful shop and agreed to be interviewed for Fragrance Bouquet:

Fragrance Bouquet: This is a line which covers all families of scents. One of your most popular scents for example is Premier Figuier. Amongst fragrance aficionados on the other hand, this brand is adored for its more esoteric scents, such as Dzing! and Passage d’Enfer. But today I want to focus on this store in particular, which serves the aware, avant-garde clientele of London. Which scent moves London? In other words, which is your best-seller?

Mohammed Jamal: A few scents actually: Timbuktu, La Chasse aux Papillons and Ambre (both the regular and the Extrême version). When it comes to these scents, we simply cannot stock them fast enough. We double the quantities in our orders and yet we still run out! And let me tell you something interesting about Timbuktu: Not only is it favored equally by men and women who buy it for themselves, but it also works both ways – Both sexes also buy it for each other as a gift!

FB: Why would you say that is? Is there a special connection between this scent and the spirit of London in your opinion?

MJ: It all comes down to understanding the customer and breaking all barriers down. It doesn’t have to do with the culture itself, but with truly understanding the customer… Finding the key ingredients that each customer likes and meeting their needs. We identify these needs before introducing them to any of our fragrances.

FB: So you would say this is one of the special services that clients can receive when visiting L’Artisan’s Flagship here in London?

MJ: Absolutely. Clients come to us for the perfect wardrobe scent and we offer a Perfume Profiling service as well, where a client chooses scents from every family and together we slowly start eliminating until the perfect scent is found. Another service we perform for our customers is to keep their preferences in our database. That way we can call them personally when one of their fragrances is being discontinued, to see if they would like to either purchase some of their remaining stock or to advise them on alternatives. We want to follow up with our customers so that they are always satisfied. We try our best to not discontinue fragrances, but if a change is required that would destroy the fragrance as we and our customers know and love it, we prefer to withdraw it from the market, instead of producing an inferior product. A recent example of this would be the case of Jour de Fete… Last but not least of course, another service we offer here are the complimentary hand and arm massages in the comfort of our lounge. These are performed using products from our organic range – either L’Eau de Jatamansi or the brand new Cote d’Amour.

FB: Speaking of brand new, I would like to turn my attention to the newest fragrance in the line, Havana Vanille. Artisan already has a vanilla scent, one that is in fact considered by many a “Gold Standard” due to its perfect nature: not too sweet, never cloying, gentle and well-behaved. Why another vanilla?

MJ: It is all being unveiled slowly, but it was to add a twist, a deeper character, an edge. We wanted to bring vanilla into a different context. For example, we will be using an image of a luxurious travelling case and cigars. We are travelling into elegance and offering something that either a lady or a gentleman would happily wear. We want to intrigue our customers with a new vanilla that is unlike any other! Further, we want to reinforce the faith in true perfumery; like all our fragrances this too is inspired by memory, travel and experience.

FB: Who was the nose behind Havana Vanille?

MJ: Bertrand Douchaufour (Dzongkha, Timbuktu, Poivre Piquant etc.), our key perfumer.

FB: What kinds of vanilla have been used for this perfume?

MJ: We used two types of absolutes: Madagascar and Mexican.

FB: And finally, what was the inspiration behind this new scent?

MJ: Havana and everything that’s magical about it: The spirit of Salsa coursing through the streets, aromatic cigars, its streets with their old American cars from the 50s, flowing Cuban run… Even the architecture of extraordinary buildings, like the Santa Clara Convent.

I couldn’t help but linger in the cozy yet at the same time spacious boutique after concluding our interview and –I must admit- experimenting with and exploring not only L’Artisan’s beautiful fragrances, but also the Flagship’s collection of absolutes in the lounge, there to help customers explore different ingredients while on the path to finding their true fragrance love (A favorite, unsurprisingly, was the marvelous hay absolute). But the Flagship store on number 36 of Marylebone Highstreet is not the only must-see L’Artisan boutique London has to offer. In fact, many would argue that the true perfume insider’s travels would be incomplete without a visit to the L’Artisan boutique in Chelsea, found on number 17 of Cale street. This was in fact the first boutique of L’Artisan in London and has been the meeting place of L’Artisan’s most loyal fan base for more than 20 years now. No London-based perfume pilgrimage would be complete without it!

Return to Fragrance Bouquet tomorrow for an exclusive review of the yet-to-be released Havana Vanille, and the first presentation of its official notes!


PinstripedZebra said...

That was an interesting read for sure, I love shops which give very good customer service. In my opinion there are not at all enough of those!

Furthermore, an interview! I have missed those on Fragrance Bouquet! Intelligent questions, to the point and with someone who genuinely has something to say. I already look forward to the next one.

I can't wait to read the review of 'the perfect vanilla', looking forward to reading what makes this the perfect vanilla for you.


violetnoir said...

Marvelous! And I thought our Nordstrom here in the US had top-notch customer service. Based on your experience at Liberty, Nordies does not hold a candle to Liberty's customer service. I am bowled over by it!

I loved reading your interview, and can't wait to read your review of Havana Vanille.


Karin said...

Divina, this is incredible! You managed to score of bottle of a fragrance that is not due to release until October??? Wow. Now that's amazing customer service. Think they could conjure up bottles for a few of your closest friends? Wink - wink. :-)

Divina said...

Z, in complete agreement with you on customer service practices - sore point with me as well! As for interviews, well, there will be more for sure :) So look forward to it.

Divina said...

Violet, the way they handled this really moved me as well. I know handing out bottles of something that's not even released yet is not something that can be done often, but it is to their credit that they listened to my story about my vanilla quest. Passion is recognized between perfume and beauty lovers, to be sure!

Divina said...

LOL! Oh, Karin believe me, I tried! I was not the only person on the trip hankering after this beauty! People were like "ANY amount will do!" but I couldn't even get extra samples.

Anonymous said...

I didn't even know jour de fete was discontinued :o(
It was one of the first few gourmands to grab my interest. So unique and not in the least bit juvenile. Still, it is nice to read that l'artisan follows this policy of discontinuation. It somehow seems more honest than what most companies are doing.


Flora said...

Wow, I am really looking forward to trying Havana Vanille now!

Thanks for the great imagery of Liberty's and the interview too - pure perfumista heaven! :-)

Ines said...

I can't wait, can't wait to read the review. :)
And what incredible service L'Artisan offers!
Btw, Timbuktu is one of my favourites as well. I'd do well in London. ;)

Zazie said...

I'm loving your posts: from paris to london, you are a marvelous reading - I feel as I travelled to wonderful perfume locations too!! And I also enjoyed the non-perfume related tips.
Thank you!

Suzanne said...

Cigars, rum, and vanilla...oh my!! Can't wait to read your review!

Divina said...

Christine, I don't know where I stand on the issue. On one hand I agree with you.. Selling a travesty of what a scent used to be with the false pretence that it is the same and with the same or overinflated price is certainly something I oppose. On the other hand, it would break my heart to see some of my favorites completely out of the market. Somehow, when even the name of the perfume ceases to exist (or worse, when it is taken over by a different perfume altogether) something truly breaks..... forever. So I don't know :(

Divina said...

Flora, you'd love Liberty's I'm sure! What fun we'd have sniffin' there together! :)

Divina said...

Ines, I saw you've been exploring the L'Artisan range lately and that you liked the original Vanilia! I wonder what you'll think of this one?!

Divina said...

Zazie, thank you so much for the fabulous compliment! It's been absolutely my pleasure!

Divina said...

Suzanne my dearest, the review is up today, but I just wanted to also tell you how very much I enjoyed your post on Miel de Bois. I don't like the scent itself, but your writing was so evocative and so beautiful! The travels of your family, your younger self coming through in the writing, the Moroccan leathers.. beautiful!