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!