Saturday, 24 October 2009

Wake Up and Smell the Roses

This week I was invited to spend a morning working with business students, pushing them to invent a new product to raise money for a good cause, and create the campaign to go with it. Our two hours were organised chaos, just the way I like it, and by the end of the session we had three decent ideas which I can present to the Lush creative team (if the students remember to email them to me). One man was the bounciest, noisiest and most enthusiastic; he got his idea through by sheer determined but good-humoured domination. When I worked as a lecturer, I was always told to make sure everyone got an equal hearing. In real life, if this had been a Lush recruitment session, he would have been the one who got the job.

That evening, I was in the smart end of Victoria, Belgravia perchance, at the delightful little posh scent shop, Les Senteurs, for their 25th birthday celebrations, Marie- Hélène Rogeon of Les Parfums de Rosine and her expert perfumer, François Robert, came to talk about their range of rose scents. Marie- Hélène has a passion for roses which she grows in her own garden. She also has a perfumery heritage; her great, great grandfather made Eau de Cologne for Napoleon III. When she recreated designer Paul Poiret's 1911 perfumery, she invited François - already a respected 'nose' - to develope fragrances to match the widely varying scents of her own roses. As they talked about their different rose perfumes - one that smells of oranges and lemons (and roses of course), another of mint, then ginger, saffrom and even chocolate - a picture developed of their creative process which goes something like this.

Marie- Hélène: I've a rose that smells of lemons.
François: That's impossible. Roses don't smell of lemons.
Marie- Hélène: No really! I'd like you to create a scent that matches my lemony roses.
François: Roses smell of rose.
Marie- Hélène: I'll send you some of them.
François (as he opens the box of roses): OK, I see what you mean.
Result: Un Zest de Rose, a fresh, light lemony rose fragrance.

After going through a similar process with the ginger scented roses, the sand roses that smell of sea salt, the mint ones, the blackcurrant and the ginger ones, François Robert was convinced. Roses don't just smell of roses.

So, after a couple of glasses of Les Senteurs' delicious champagne, I asked M. Robert if his advanced technical training had shackled his imagination. He laughed kindly and explained that in perfumery, there are two rose scents: absolute and essence. Rose absolute is light and fresh. Rose essence is deeper and heavier. Both are excruciatingly expensive. Working with Marie- Hélène had obliged him to accept that the rose's natural fragrance is rather more intriguing and variable than he had imagined. He's off to visit David Austin's extraordinary garden soon but said that his favourite is the simple rose that grows at the roadside in hedgerows. He also thinks that unscented roses are pointless, no matter how beautiful they look.

Marie- Hélène and François make up a creative team which works beautifully. Passion, inspiration and confidence, matched with technical pefection, skill and even more (but quieter) confidence, Marie-Hélène knows what she wants and François Robert knows how to create it. The result: works of art. (IMHO.)

There are three parts of creativity: ideas, skills and the ability to get it done. Sometimes they exist all in one person. Sometimes it's a duo, sometimes a trio. When it's successful it can turn into a whole company. Occasionally creative people are criticised for not having all three. Don't let that put you off. Spot your strengths and find people you can work with who have the ones you lack. Then things start to happen. What you do need, like Marie-Hélène or my bouncy business student is the determination to go get 'em.

Footnote: If you think that wearing scent is a trivial luxury, bear in mind that the world of fine perfumery fills fields with flowers, bees and birds employs Europe's travellers to pick the petals and changes our mood for the better. Put one one your Christmas list. Don't buy a big bottle of the cheap stuff instead; get a small, precious pot of the real thing.


  1. I have absolutely no idea why my nice neat blog has appeared in two colours and two fonts; if you know how to fix it, drop me a line. Thanks.

  2. I suddenly feel like buying perfume. thank you for another entertaining blog.

  3. You're welcome.
    PS I fixed it. Pasted it into WordPad, took out all the hidden html and pasted it back into the blog again. Ace.