By Katya Puyraud – co-owner of Euro Start Entreprises
Perfume is not just some misty substance you can waft away. It’s a multi-billion pound industry that, according to advertisers, does not just sell scent. It sells a lifestyle and an identity.
To get to grips with the business of perfume, I went to visit French-born Emmanuelle Moeglin (pictured) the brains and nose behind an innovative company called The Experimental Perfume Club that provides workshops for individuals, groups and companies who want to find out more about the fascinating world of the perfumer and how to create a special signature scent.
Being a lover of perfume myself, I frequently drive my family mad by making pitstops through department stores to spritz and sniff all the latest brands. But despite being fond of a handful of well-known perfumes, I’ve always hankered after a certain scent that always seems just beyond the reach of my nostrils. No perfume ever quite hits the mark.
So off I went to the trendy side of East London to meet Emmanuelle and take part in a “Petite Parfum” workshop in the hope that I might create and capture the fragrance that I’ve always searched for.
Emmanuelle is a trained perfumer who studied at the top school of perfume in Versailles, the prestigious Institut Supérieur International du Parfum, de la Cosmétique et de l'Aromatique Alimentaire (which is thankfully shortened to the acronym ISIPCA) and is the aspiration for all those wanting to start a career in the perfume business.
She adds: “I decided I wanted to join ISIPCA from a very young age, maybe 12 or 13 years old when I realised it was possible to transform my perfume passion into real work. So it became my obsession to become a fragrance professional through this specialised school. I had to take a degree in chemistry before I could even apply. The training at ISIPCA was like a dream come true - you spend your days smelling and learning hundreds of ingredients and being trained to compose fragrances in the lab.”
Unlike the usual sterile atmosphere of a lab, Emmanuelle’s own lab is a fresh and welcoming space with no white lab coats in sight.
Emmanuelle explained the idea for her concept: “I want to share the world of fragrance with the people. Perfumery is one of these industries which is sadly fairly closed and secretive. While it is important to keep a bit of magic, I also think it’s important to give people back a little bit of knowledge. The business of fragrance is extremely savvy but consumers have poor access to information, at least to genuine information beyond the marketing. But everybody has a nose, and we are all very good at it. The missing link is education to empower people to use their sense of smell a little more and in a more accurate way.”
To start me off on my scent education, Emmanuelle placed a series of bottles in front of me, each containing a different blend that hits various olafactory notes which - once you choose the right blend in the right percentage - gives you the tools to create a magical scent tailored especially for you.
First Emmanuelle had me sniff each bottle without knowing what it was and asked me to write down my first impressions. Smelling them was a nostril-opening experience that weirdly conjured up lots of memories of childhood - the inside of a linen cupboard during a game of hide and seek; the plants on my family’s old allotment; my Grandma’s sweet drawer; the inside of a jewellery box my dad brought back from the Middle East; my uncle’s tobacco...
I suddenly realised the scent that is always just out of my reach is actually a memory of a time during a summer road-trip in Europe when my family stopped by a field in Switzerland. I have never forgotten the sweet aroma of grass, flowers and Alpine air. Even though I was only about nine years old, I remember being stunned by it. I think, in a way, all my pitstops at perfume counters are a bid to get back to that memory. But with Emmanuelle, I now had a chance to recreate it.
After smelling the first batch we made up, I was very happy with the fresh, sweet flowery smell but realised there was something missing, something that wasn’t quite right. When Emmanuelle used her expert nose on my creation, she agreed. And luckily she knew just how to fix it. She upped one blend and then added another that I hadn’t found appealing at all. In fact, when I’d originally smelt it I had reeled back because it had a very bitter smell of tomato leaves. But Emmanuelle convinced me that it was the missing ingredient.
She was totally right. This leaf smell was the grass element of the Swiss field that I was missing. She’d nailed it. When I’d finally stopped sniffing my wrist, I managed to ask her a few questions about her business and her experience of being a French person starting up a company in London.
Emmanuelle started living in the UK five years ago after being smitten by Britain when she’d spent one of her degree years in Cardiff 12 years previously. Setting up a business in the UK was a smooth process (which will no doubt be mirrored by her French homeland now the business-friendly Macron has been voted in as president).
Emmanuelle added: “London and the UK are very open-minded to entrepreneurs and new ideas. London is a city built for entrepreneurs - you have shared offices everywhere, a big start-up community who are eager to help any like-minded people for free or not much money. In comparison, the French mentality can be a little more dismissive towards unusual creative ideas or pessimistic in the chance of success. But I say, if you don’t try, you don’t know…”
The challenges of owning a business meant that Emmanuelle had to throw her social life out of the window to commit her time to her business. She also had to grapple with the difficulty of renting space in the extremely expensive London area. But with her swanky new surroundings in the creative hub of London Fields her risk-taking has started to pay off big-time.
“The response has been great. In just six months of business, I have moved from the first lab, which was a small space in Dalston to my permanent studio in London Fields, which is a much bigger space and connected to a creative community. I managed to get regular coverage in magazines such as Living, Metro and Wallpaper as the concept is unusual and attractive. And I’m very proud the lab is getting busier and busier with more people and businesses visiting.”
And looking ahead to the future? “I’d love the Experimental Perfume Club to become London’s fragrance destination for anyone who likes or loves perfumes! And in parallel, I’ll continue as an independent perfumer working for brands and businesses.”
So as I drove back – one hand on the wheel, one hand to my nose still sniffing my signature scent – I made a mental bet that Emmanuelle’s name will very soon be known much further afield than the UK and France. Having just ordered my first refill, I had a feeling the Experimental Perfume Club will be the club where everyone wants to be a member.
If you'd like to have the chance of creating your own perfume, you can contact Emmanuelle at www.experimentalperfumeclub.com. And if you need help setting up your original or creative startup in the UK or France, get in touch using our contact page, or click on our articles about how to open a company in the UK, or how to set up a business in France.
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