I don't envy anyone trying to start a niche perfume brand today. In an environment where over 1000 fragrances are released every year, standing out from the crowd is virtually impossible unless you have a truly original scent or substantial amounts of cash to spend on publicity. Needless to say, many new brands have neither, and their products dwindle away into obscurity.
On the face of it, Rebecca Goswell has done everything right. She's unified her debut scents with a simple, unpretentious theme: London locations. She's given them clever names: London postcodes. And she's commissioned the services of a perfumer with an excellent pedigree: Francois Robert, who just happens to be the son of the late Guy Robert. And yet, despite all this, her Bex range fails to get Big Ben ringing with excitement.
I'd say the reason is the fragrances themselves. There isn't anything especially wrong with any of them, but nowadays, a start-up cannot afford to be merely competent: the attention of potential customers has to be grabbed in no uncertain terms, as ELDO proved with their polarising Secretions Magnifiques. So, for instance, EC2 does a decent job of presenting aromatic, 80s-style masculine notes (rosemary, thyme, juniper) against a musky background, but it doesn't have anything novel to offer. N6's rosy heart is pretty, but too thin to be memorable, and certainly too calorie-free to be the gourmand that the publicity material would have us believe it is.
SE1 fares better: inspired by the South Bank's trade routes, it opens with a wonderful presentation of spices (from cardamom to cloves to pepper) but its vetivert base isn't as substantial - or as tenacious - as one would have hoped. The highlight of the quartet is probably W1X, a carroty, almost medicinal iris which never lets its floral heart become too comfortable and eventually settles on an interesting, powdery drydown. 'Highlight' is, of course, a relative term, and although W1X is enjoyable, it doesn't have the personality to make itself indispensable.
Who knows? Perhaps Goswell has the time and the resources to allow Bex to find an audience and develop a following. I certainly wish the brand well, but I rather suspect that it may have to make a more radical statement if it hopes to achieve enduring success.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de toilette provided by Bex London in 2012.]