In the case of St Giles, I suspect this is no accident. Michael Donovan, the founder of the brand, is a veteran of the perfume industry, having worked for years as the UK representative of several high-profile houses, including Frederic Malle. He knows how shoppers interact with perfume: what they’re looking for on a shelf, how they handle tester bottles, how they react to names, colours, stories. So he will have been well aware that giving his releases names like The Actress and The Stylist - as well as including brief pen-portraits on the boxes - was bound to fire the imaginations of a significant number of the fragrance-buying public.
How accurate he’s been in his characterisations - composed by none other than Bertrand Duchaufour - is up for delicious debate. But for my money, the most successful of the debut quintet, probably because it’s the most surprising, is The Tycoon. When I featured it on one of my Love At First Scent videos, I tried to express the idea that even though it displays a suitably assertive quality, it also feels like it would be the type of CEO who’d be quite happy to treat her employees to doughnuts every morning and to indulge in two-hour lunches, which immediately prompted one of my viewers to say, “So it’s like a French tycoon.” And that’s exactly right. The galbanum, cypriol and castoreum form an uncompromising backbone - the steely reserve that gets things done in the boardroom - but they’re tempered by a haze of more pliant effects - geranium, magnolia and oakmoss, to name three - which lend the overall attitude a welcome touch of humanity. This is a creature that insists on taking the whole of August off to bask in some Mediterranean retreat, its nouveau-chypre construction - think: large dose of patchouli - lending it a sophistication that is distinctly continental.
The other four members of the family are equally worthy of your acquaintance. The Stylist impresses with its kooky balance of potentially incompatible elements: a mango-pineapple note over incense and rubber, almost like Bulgari Black with a fruity opening. Or to put it another way: Carmen Miranda in a dark, Rick Owens shroud. With its oils, leathers and musks, The Mechanic is a chuckle-inducing fantasy of a spanner-wielding garage-dweller. Knize Ten meets Kwik-Fit, but without the patronising attitude you often get at the latter. The Writer isn’t the angst-ridden misanthrope I’d secretly hoped for, but a more contemplative soul, spiking woods and incense with a form-busting slug of rosemary to create an image of a sage dispensing philosophical guidance in the middle of a forest. The Dalai Lama crossed with Monty Don, perhaps.
And finally there’s The Actress. Donovan launched Malle’s Portrait Of A Lady in Britain so I suspect he knows it better than most of us. And I’d say a sizeable portion of its DNA rubbed off on him and has been channelled into this diva. A scene-stealing, vanilla-and-sandalwood-heavy, floral-oriental with a lily-and-pear accord that can only be described as slinky, it is more than ready for its close up and it’s busy coming up with its acceptance speech even as it locks lips with another hapless co-star. And yet it persuades everyone around that it is never anything less than classy. Quite a performance.
[Review based on samples of eau de parfum provided by St Giles in 2018.]