Talking scents with Celine Roux, Jo Malone London’s Head of Global Fragrance
Scents and sensibility
An hour-long car journey from our hotel in central London later, we found ourselves at an airfield in North London, where a row of black helicopters emblazoned with the Jo Malone London logo were waiting to take us to the event venue in Kent (talk about heading out to the countryside in style!), where we were about to experience the brand's newest fragrance, Honeysuckle & Davana.
A short flight later, taking in views of the Thames snaking through the city, and the striking London skyline, we found ourselves at a gorgeous nursery, complete with Victorian glasshouses which were set up for various activities; bundle dyeing, floral arrangement and a cocktail masterclass with a mixologist and forager, who's inspired me to learn how to create my own tinctures, but that's a separate topic for another day. Bundle dyeing saw us creating a beautiful mess—flower petals in a myriad of colours were sprinkled generously onto damp silk sheets, which were then rolled up tightly and steamed to create a flower-dyed scarf. In the process, I managed to keep my white shirt clean, bar one spot, and while in the bathroom trying to wash it out , I realised I wasn't alone—a lady in a cream linen dress had also got some floral dye on the hem of her dress, and she turned out to be Jo Malone London's own Celine Roux, the creator of the new fragrance, Honeysuckle & Davana.
After trying to remove the spots (to varying degrees of success), I sat down with Celine after afternoon tea in yet another flower-filled greenhouse to talk about her latest scentsorial adventure.
Cai Mei: We're in this beautiful nursery in the English countryside. Can you please tell us a little more about how this inspired Jo Malone London's latest fragrance, Honeysuckle & Davana?
Celine: The starting point was actually honeysuckle, the flower itself. It's a flower that I've always loved. I first discovered it in a fragrance I wore constantly when I was a teenager, but didn't know there were notes of honeysuckle in it until a few years ago when some perfumers told me, so it must have been in my mind for a while. When you talk about honeysuckle to an English person, they always have a story to tell and I love that. There's that strong emotional connection with honeysuckle and I really wanted to do it for a few years but I didn't know how. When I was familiar with the headspace technology, I asked the perfumer if we could do headspace on the honeysuckle that I liked, the ones in the English countryside? And they said ok. I really wanted us to smell honeysuckle in its environment and capture that, so that was the start of the fragrance, which is much more challenging but also a lot more fun. The two days we spent getting the notes from the honeysuckle were perfect—the weather was beautiful, we were in the arboretum at midnight smelling honeysuckle; it was a different environment and we kind of switched off work mode a little; It's a much nicer way to get inspired and to start a project, and we were actually at an arboretum not far from where we are now.
Can you briefly tell us about the headspace technology?
We put something that looks like a glass bell over the flower and there's a suction happening within which captures the air scented with honeysuckle. We then get the molecule or odour compounds, which the technical perfumer then translates into fragrance. The idea is that it's never perfect but you adjust accordingly. When we smelt it at midnight, it was a little bit creamy, a bit sweet but not sugary sweet, and you work that way. It's a long process but it makes it so much more interesting and the perfumer gets really excited because it's rare to work this way.
You wanted to evoke the feeling of joy and happiness with Honeysuckle & Davana. What other scents evoke emotions for you?
There are a few. Firstly, Wood Sage and Sea Salt. I was really inspired by the English coast. I wanted a scent that takes you to a moment when you're on the beach, surrounded by cliffs. It's almost a bit cold, and you're with your lover, or with your friends, and you have this moment of freedom, a free spiritedness, and that's what I wanted to capture.
Then there's Blackberry & Bay. I go blackberry picking every summer; everybody in England goes blackberry picking. I was picking blackberries with my kids just last week. One of my sons loves Blackberry & Bay and I was telling him that the scent was actually inspired by blackberry picking. And there are so many memories when picking blackberries—you eat them straight off the bush, you don't go home with the full basket, or the basket falls—that always happens with my kids—there are so many moments of happiness and innocence. Right now, we have so much stress in our lives, there's such speed, everything is quick, quick, quick.
I love scents that are comforting, in particular with vanilla notes, like in Myrrh & Tonka. When I smell scents that make me feel good, or cosy, or feel enveloped in, I react to it a little better because it's comfortable. I don't react as well when it's super sharp. It's finding a balance of what you want to achieve but in general, right now, I tend to like the emotions or feelings of comfort and wellness, of wellbeing. Vanilla has a bad reputation because there are a lot of synthetics but vanilla the ingredient in perfumery is one of the most expensive and it smells divine. There are so many facets to it; it's a little bit woody, animalic, oriental and sexy, but in general when you have a little bit of vanilla, it creates the sense of comfort. That's my current mood. Maybe if you see me in six months, I'll be like 'it's all about fresh and zesty!' [laughs]
Speaking of fresh and zesty, I was at the Regent Street flagship where we discovered the boutique exclusive fragrances and I really loved Tobacco & Mandarin. It's a pleasantly unexpected scent, not your usual tobacco-type scent.
I'm so happy to hear that. That was a fragrance that I really struggled with. What I wanted to achieve in that Bloomsbury collection, is to capture the quintessential English gentleman—the well-dressed man who talks about poetry and literature, wearing cologne and smoking tobacco (not cigarettes). I loved the idea of mixing the freshness of the cologne with tobacco. It was really tough to do—it was either too fresh or had too strong tobacco notes. And again with this fragrance, I wanted a feeling of comfort and warmth; I'm glad you like it.
What are some of your favourite smells outside of Jo Malone London fragrances?
I only wear Jo Malone London fragrances, and can tell if there's someone in the office not wearing one of our perfumes, and that's when I'll go up to them and question them [laughs]. I love hay; right now I really like straw and all earthy scents. It's a scent that makes me feel very at ease. We did a collection, English Fields, that revolves around grains and cereals. We went to an organic bakery and downstairs, they had the dough, and all the grains, and there was an earthiness to the smells that I really liked. I suppose you can call that my go-to place. At work, I have a Jo Malone London box filled with hay from my parent's countryside home and when I'm feeling under the weather, I smell it, and everything's better.
As dusk slowly started to set in, we made our way back to the helicopters, walking past blackberry bushes and what Celine told me earlier came to mind. Perhaps Honeysuckle & Davana will be the fragrance to remind me of the English countryside, these Victorian glasshouses and many moments of happiness to come.
Honeysuckle & Davana is now available at all Jo Malone London stores. Stay tuned to our Facebook Live at an exclusive #BuroxJML event happening on 2 October 2018, to celebrate the newest scent.
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