Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Win VIP Subscription To The Perfume Society + Interview With Co-Founder Jo Fairley


When the UK's Perfume Society emerged last year, everyone in the 'fragrance community' - if there is such a thing - had an opinion about it. Some felt it was a welcome force that would help bind all the disparate, scent-loving cliques out there. Others complained that it was little more than a coat-tail-rider, forcing its way into territories successfully occupied by other players for years. Its lasting impact has yet to be determined; after all, it hasn't been with us very long. But there's no question that it is now much more than just a blip on our olfactory radars.

Its founders, Jo Fairley and Lorna McKay, have successfully staged a series of well-regarded perfume events, featuring the likes of Thierry Wasser, Luca Turin and a travelling version of the Osmothèque. They have assembled several issues of an award-winning magazine, The Scented Letter, which has grown from a digital-only format to being available in print. And they have enabled their members to share their passion for the fragrant world by curating several Discovery Boxes containing samples, blotters and aids to what one might call 'intelligent sniffing'. In other words, they've been busy.

They have also offered Persolaise readers a chance to win a 1-year VIP subscription to their services (see below for details) so I decided it was time I tried to find out what makes them tick. To this end, I arranged an interview with Jo Fairley, a lifelong fragrance aficionado whose name has been synonymous with scent-related prose for years. As a Jasmine-winning writer, businesswoman and public speaker, she has raised the profile of perfume in the UK (and beyond) in a manner which few others could hope to emulate. So perhaps it was inevitable that one day, she would co-create a means for like-minded scentusiasts to enjoy and deepen their interest together. It was with the subject of creation that I began our conversation: over a cup of tea at Fenwick on Bond Street, I asked how the Perfume Society came into being.

Jo Fairley: I was doing a perfume workshop for YOU magazine readers, which was going to translate into a feature for the magazine. I was putting out the fragrances and I thought, 'You know, it's so weird that there's no perfume society.' And I just got shivers down my spine. I was thinking, 'Can there really not be anything people can join?' I went to my domain name provider, and Perfume Society, Scent Society, Fragrance Society, dot com, dot org - apart from a couple - were all sitting there. In the perfume industry, so many resources are poured into journalists and fragrance consultants. What I wanted to do is take all of that - literally all of it - and turn it around 180 degrees to the perfume-loving consumer, through actual face-to-face contact with them - not just a website - and through our sample boxes.

Persolaise: How did your co-founder, Lorna McKay, become involved?

JF: I got Lorna in because of FR.eD [an online scent recommendation application] which is the algorithm that she came up with in 1992. It was in Harvey Nichols and Liberty, and I wrote about it for YOU, and I'd nagged her ever since to bring it back to life. That seemed a perfect fit. Lorna and I spent about a week in France thrashing out what it should be... and then the next two and half years working on it!

P: How does your relationship with Lorna work? Who does what?

JF: I'm editorial and she's business.

P: Really? I would've thought you're pretty business-minded too.

JF: I'm no slouch, but I'd rather not be doing that, if I don't have to. How it worked at Green & Black's [the chocolate company co-founded by Fairley in 1991] was always that my husband, Craig, was strategy operations, nuts and bolts, finance etc. I was product development, customer service, PR, marketing.

P: Are all the things we've seen from the Perfume Society so far the sum total of everything you'd planned for it, or do you still have a few other ideas up your sleeve?

JF: There are other things. But the key elements - the events, the How To Improve Your Sense Of Smell workshops, the website, the boxes, the Scented Letter - have turned out pretty much as I had envisaged.

Discovery Box

P: Who is the typical Perfume Society member?

JF: They are so varied. Very interestingly, we have 28% men. The women and the men come to us for very different reasons. The women come to us, generally, because they're real perfume aficionados and they have quite a collection of fragrances. They are fans. They're devotees. The men come to us because they have generally just woken up to the fact that they have a nose, and they come to us almost as scent virgins. The members go from teenage girls to 70 year old ladies, and everything in between. There isn't a class to it. It's really interesting. It goes from nurses through to dowagers, basically.

P: You must be aware that when the Perfume Society appeared, quite a few feathers were ruffled by your claim that you're the first online perfume community.

JF: No, I'm not saying we're the first community at all, and I've never said that, nor would I, because it's not true. There's Fragrantica, which has 290,000 people online at any one time, and Basenotes etc, and those are forums. There is a thriving blog community and we have complete respect for it. We read all the blogs. But we're in the real world, as well as the internet. We have 60 perfume groups around the country already. Growing every week. Our tag is: The world's first official appreciation society for all things fragrant. And it is. Legally. If you set up a business called a society, you have to get permission from the Secretary Of State For Trade & Industry. It's a lengthy legal process which we were actually advised not to bother to try to do. My lawyer said we wouldn't get it.

P: What criteria did you have to meet?

JF: You have to be structured in a particular way. What they don't want is someone selling fragrances through the grey market and calling themselves a 'society', because it has a sort of established feel to it. 

P: So are you saying the Secretary Of State wants someone to see the word 'society' and think 'non-profit'?

JF: No, not necessarily non-profit. But the word 'society' just has an inferred authority. There's a long list of words you can't use in a company name without applying for permission. We went through the process, and we were fine.

P: Is the Perfume Society a sort of entry point for somebody who is beginning to develop an interest in perfume, before they move on to the hard core of, say, Basenotes?

JF: Well, we get people at all levels on the women's side. Some of them read Basenotes. But for many of them, it is that first point of going beyond buying a bottle of perfume. They haven't ever read a blog. They haven't ever gone online before. They've read Stella, or a feature in Style, or something like that.

P: What do brands have to do if they'd like to be featured on your site?

JF: They have to feed us information. They have to pay for a listing on FR.eD, as you would in a directory. But we feature everybody on the site itself.

P: So if a brand can't or won't pay to be on FR.eD, they could still be featured on the Perfume Society's site?

JF: Yes. Absolutely.

P: Have most brands agreed to be on FR.eD?

JF: There's nobody that hasn't.

P: Do you have a deliberate policy of not being negative about brands on your site?

JF: Yes. There isn't a forum on the site, because we lead people by the hand to a fragrance and we leave them to make up their own mind. And that's why our tag line is: Discover, explore, enjoy. We will never tell people what to think about something or make them feel bad about their choices. If they want to express their opinion, they can go to Basenotes or Fragrantica.

P: Was this avoidance of negativity part of the deal you had to make with brands, to get them to agree to appear on your site?

JF: No, no, no. It's part of me, as a journalist, always being brought up with the idea that if you haven't got something nice to say, don't say anything at all. That's always been my guiding journalistic principle. There are enough positive things to write about. Why would you give space to negativity?

P: How many members do you have now?

JF: Over 3000. Growing all the time. And re-signing, which is really nice. But my absolute mission is to use fragrance as a tool to get people to improve their sense of smell and become more aware of their sense of smell. That is my mission.

a page from the latest issue of The Scented Letter

P: You've had fingers in so many different pies over the years. What do you say to people who ask, "What keeps you going? Why don't you just put your feet up for a bit?"

JF: I'm just not the type. I just couldn't. What would I do? I would be bored.

P: So is that part of the reason you set up the Society? Because it was a challenge?

JF: Yes, I like doing things that nobody's done before.

P: Has it turned out to be massively profitable?

JF: No, no, no. It's washing its face, but it'll be a long time before Lorna and I make any money out of it. But even with Green & Black's, I never made a penny out of it until I sold it. Not one penny. I never took a salary. I had to finance myself through my writing. Every penny had to go back into the business, because that's what you do when you're growing a business. You put everything back in. That's the way it works. But I am not a person ever to stare at sunsets. That absolutely doesn't interest me. I've had 4 businesses now. I had Green & Black's. Then I opened an organic bakery and organic food shop in Hastings, which won a couple of awards. And then I opened a well-being centre in 2007. It's called The Wellington Centre and it's a beautiful, 9-room centre with a Pilates studio and a yoga studio. That's still going. In fact, we now have people who rent both those businesses from us.

P: What would have to happen for you to think that the Perfume Society has become really influential?

JF: Frederic Malle called us the most authoritative perfume site in the world. I cried at that point. And I think that's partly because every single bit of information on FR.eD is completely accurate.

P: And what would have to happen in the public sphere for you to realise your level of influence?

JF: Oh gosh, I don't really think about things like that, to be honest. I just get on with stuff. I never had a vision of Green & Black's. We just took advantage of opportunities as they came. But you know, all this comes from my personal love of perfumes, which goes right back to my teenage years, when my dad used to travel all over the world as a journalist, and he would bring my mother and I back, every time, a fabulous bottle of fragrance from Duty Free. So I had, from age 12 and 13, Miss Dior and Caleche and Calandre. Then Rive Gauche. I had a big collection from a very early age. And I loved it.

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The Perfume Society have decided to name yours truly their Blogger Of The Month - for which, many thanks! - so I now get to give away a few 1-year VIP subscriptions to their goodies and services. I invite you to visit their own site to find out about the benefits of being a subscriber (click here) but, in a nutshell, advantages include early booking access to some events, free entry to some events and price reductions on sample boxes.

In this draw, I am giving away 5 subscriptions. After the draw is over, I'll be holding another competition for 5 more subscriptions, so if you don't win in this first round, please be sure to come back for round 2. Details will be announced in due course.

To enter this draw, please read the Terms & Conditions below and then leave a comment on this post on the subject of first perfume loves. Can you remember the first perfume which seized your affections? Was it something you wore yourself or did you smell it on someone else? Why do you think you loved it so much? I look forward to reading all your entries!

PS Please don't forget that on Monday, Basenotes, the Candy Perfume Boy and I published our lists of the best perfumes from Dior. Please click here to read them.

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Terms & Conditions

i) the draw will be closed at 10 pm (UK time) on Thursday 22nd October; ii) five winners will be selected at random; iii) the winners will be announced on Persolaise.com on Friday 23rd October; iv) if any winners have not made contact with Persolaise.com by Friday 30th October, an appropriate number of alternative winners may be selected; v) the winners' addresses will be shared only with the Perfume Society, who will post the prizes to the winners, where appropriate; vi) only readers from the United Kingdom are eligible to enter; vii) Persolaise.com takes no responsibility for the prize and/or the services provided by The Perfume Society; viii) for Terms & Conditions of being a Perfume Society VIP subscriber, please visit the Perfume Society's site; ix) relatives of anyone associated with Persolaise.com are not permitted to enter.

11 comments:

  1. First perfume love? YSL Paris was the first perfume I wanted to own.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Goodness me! Talk about an amazing first love!

      Delete
  2. My first perfume love was YSL Paris - I was 15 and it seemed so grown up and lovely.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Long time lurker, but this is the first time I comment!

    My first perfume love was Yves Rocher Clea, given to me by my mum when I was 11, 20 years ago. The liquid was amber coloured, and I remember associating amber - the gem - with the perfume, as if this was how amber ought to smell: rich, sweet, golden.

    I went through two bottles, until I got bored with perfume at age 17 (I would rediscover perfume a decade later, through a chance meeting with L'heure bleue). Last summer, I smelled Clea again. The beginning was just as lovely as I remembered it, but then it transformed into a sour rose that stuck to my skin and refused to let go.

    Some things are better left in the past.

    Cecilia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cecilia, thanks very much for stopping by. Great story! And yes, I have no doubt that some things are better left undisturbed.

      Delete
  4. Old Spice by Shulton was my father’s firm favourite for all the time I can remember. But it wasn’t my bag at all, so I won’t pick that one. In the late 70’s there was my brother’s acquisition of some Brut 45 by Fabergé. Its appeal to me was more visual than olfactory; I found the actual bright silver chain and tag around the neck of the dinky dark-green glass bottle far more stunning than the fragrance itself. It was a smell I associated with people who joined the Royal Navy or who wanted their mates to know they had got a job and could afford it. It made me feel like it wanted to overpower me, and make me be something I wasn’t ever going to be. Definitely not really my bag at all so won’t pick that one either. My enlightenment came, as a complete surprise to me as much as others who knew me, in Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior. When I first discovered it, the top note and heart note oozed a level of luxury that I willingly and without obligation wanted aspire to. I discovered it under the tree on Christmas morning; a present my parents saved hard for. On opening, I also discovered what came to be a longstanding love for citrus florals. The experience of wearing Eau Sauvage became so much a part of me in those days that it could have been its creator’s, Edmond Roudnitska, gift to me personally for all I knew. It evoked all the things I aspired to be and to become. As if a statement of intent - or a promise even - of what might follow. I loved it then and love it now. Today, all those years on - and even though I don’t currently own any - Eau Sauvage still smells to me like that amazing Christmas morning when I first encountered it.
    Joseph at Olfa Labs London, 22 Oct 2015.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joseph, that's a wonderful story, thank you!

      Delete
  5. First Perfume loves?
    Old Spice by Shulton was my father’s firm favourite for all the time I can remember. But it wasn’t my bag at all, so I won’t pick that one. In the late 70’s there was my brother’s acquisition of some Brut 45 by Fabergé. Its appeal to me was more visual than olfactory; I found the actual bright silver chain and tag around the neck of the dinky dark-green glass bottle far more stunning than the fragrance itself. It was a smell I associated with people who joined the Royal Navy or who wanted their mates to know they had got a job and could afford it. It made me feel like it wanted to overpower me, and make me be something I wasn’t ever going to be. Definitely not really my bag at all so won’t pick that one either. My enlightenment came, as a complete surprise to me as much as others who knew me, in Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior. When I first discovered it, the top note and heart note oozed a level of luxury that I willingly and without obligation wanted aspire to. I discovered it under the tree on Christmas morning; a present my parents saved hard for. On opening, I also discovered what came to be a longstanding love for citrus florals. The experience of wearing Eau Sauvage became so much a part of me in those days that it could have been its creator’s, Edmond Roudnitska, gift to me personally for all I knew. It evoked all the things I aspired to be and to become. As if a statement of intent - or a promise even - of what might follow. I loved it then and love it now. Today, all those years on - and even though I don’t currently own any - Eau Sauvage still smells to me like that amazing Christmas morning when I first encountered it.
    Joseph at Olfa Labs London, 22 Oct 2015.

    ReplyDelete
  6. *** THE DRAW IS NOW CLOSED ***

    Many thanks to everyone who entered.

    The winners are about to be announced in a separate post here on Persolaise.com.

    ReplyDelete

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