Master Perfumer John Stephen On The Power Of Smell
Acknowledged to be a walking olfactory encyclopaedia, John Stephen — one of the five independent perfumers in Britain — grabbed the spotlight when he was commissioned to create floral scents for the British monarch. The owner of the fragrance brand Cotswold Perfumery — a man who believes that the right way to wear fragrances is to feel them and change them according to your mood, the season and even the time of the day — is the man to turn to, if you want a scent that is uniquely personal, one-of-a-kind in the world.
In India thanks to a recent association with 3003BC, a Gurugram-based custom perfumery brand, he says, “Aromas are a part of India’s rich cultural history, and there is so much to learn here.” Creating an exclusive scent is not just about using rare ingredients but making an individualistic statement. Having a nose craft a fragrance especially for you, keeping your preferences and memories in mind, is one of the pinnacles of luxury. The whole process could take more than a year and a 100 ml bottle can lighten your bank balance by a few millions. “The first thing I start with is a brief to make sure that I am on the same page as my client. Sometimes, the terms we use in perfumery are lost on a layperson. For instance, to know that they like florals is just one step. I have to make them smell a lot of subcategories within the genre so that I know what excites them.” The key to getting it right is harmonising the ingredients. “For instance, rose and lavender will always smell distinct, whereas rose and sandalwood fuse together so well that you don’t realise where the rose ends and where the sandalwood begins.”
Once the samples are ready, they are sent to the clients. Then they choose the bottle and think of a name for the fragrance which is engraved on the glass. “You could name it after your loves ones, an emotion or a place. It’s up to you,” shares Stephen. I quiz him about the strangest olfactory request anybody has ever come up with. “Well, I was once asked to design a ‘smell of repulsion’ by a therapist who would use neurolingustic programming to cure those with eating disorders.” The real power of a perfume lies in its power of association, and that can never be underestimated. Stephen elaborates, “My friend, a doctor, treated epilepsy with jasmine. He asked a group of patients to smell it while taking their medicines. Surprisingly with time, their dependency on the medicines reduced and they could recover by simply smelling the flower.” It’s got real power, the sense of smell!