How to choose the right fragrance from 400 unknowns.

The two quotes above are the philosophies on which my next subject – Roullier White, London seems to have been founded. It is a shop of two halves. The front part showcases an almost unique, carefully curated collection of the most beautifully designed and yet functional homewares, ceramics, scarves, slippers and toiletries – and more. These have been sourced by Michael Donovan, the MD who has travelled the world to seek them out. Most are made by skilled craftspeople. He also sends out an interesting newsletter every Saturday morning which is like hearing from a friend.

Michael Donovan, MD of Roullier White and Creative Director of St Giles Fine Fragrance

So what’s this got to do with Perfume? Well, in the back ‘second half’ section is ‘The Perfumery’ – a splendid oasis of about 400 niche luxury fragrances from around the world, made by small artisanal brands. There is nothing here that you will find in Duty Free.

Michael told me why he has created this: ‘’I have worked in the industry for over twenty years and perfume is my passion. I look for talent and a unique voice and my job is make others as excited about scent as I am. Because our sense of smell is tied to memory, a fragrance can transport us through time and space in an instant – much like music.’’

The Perfumery at Roullier White

If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can find the shop on the iconic Lordship Lane in East Dulwich, a locale described by Time Out as having ‘a fine abundance of indie shops and an easy-going vibe.’

I’ve visited twice, there’s plenty of great coffee shops and places to eat and there’s also the fantastic Dulwich Picture Gallery nearby. It’s worth taking a morning or afternoon out to explore.

So how do you pick your special fine fragrance from over 400 unknowns? Well on my visit I was first asked what notes I wanted: spicy, citrussy, floral, a mixture and so forth. The staff really know their stuff and picked a few to spray on those tester sticks then whittled down the selection to the ones you spray on your skin to see how they respond.

You have to be disciplined and limit yourself as your ‘nose’ gets tired and, even with the fresh coffee beans they offer you to refresh your sense of smell, you will find yourself struggling if you try too many.

In my case, I’d intended to buy spicy but finally chose citrus. A fragrance called ‘Mediterraneo’ which instantly transported me to Tuscan lemon groves (despite never having been to either Tuscany or a lemon grove).

 This is from the Capri based brand Carthusia, whose origins hark back to a centuries old formula by Italian monks, so I suppose they’ve had plenty of time to get it right. Allegedly it’s also one of George Clooney’s favourites, so you could also give it to your partner to wear and then close your eyes and imagine…..

The Mechanic – transforming the smells of the mechanics pit – oil and rubber, fuel, hot skin into something magnetic and muscular

Since my visit, Michael has launched his own fragrance collection called St Giles, with great names like ‘The Actress’, ‘The Tycoon’ and ‘The Mechanic’ above. (This latter sounds pretty physical, so not for the faint hearted). They are available in Selfridges so I’m keen to give them a try this weekend.

Now this exploring is all very well but what if you want to get started right away and don’t have a great ‘Fragrance Destination’ near you? Don’t worry.

Firstly, you may be unaware of what’s actually on your doorstep. Go to  the website for buying online from cool independent shops and put ‘perfume’ into their search box (not ‘fragrance’ as you’ll get scented candles and reed diffusers). You’ll be astonished at the myriad fragrances that come up and the dozens of local boutiques that offer them, often buried among what might be their eclectic mix of accessories, clothes and other lovely things for the home.

Alternatively, Roullier White (and probably others) offer a sampling service online where you can input the names, notes or nose of the sort of fragrance you want to try. A selection pops up and, for a small fee, you will be sent a few 2ml samples. That way, you’ll have saved the cost of the train/air fare to London.

Spend it on a second bottle!

And now, enough. The next and final fragrance tale will follow in a few days.

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