Glass meets Linda Jayne Pilkington perfumer and founder of fragrance brand Ormonde Jayne

A FRAGRANCE obsessive from childhood, self-taught British perfumer Linda Pilkington made candles and own perfumes as a child growing up in Cheshire and now is one of the world’s leading perfumers whose independent fragrance brand Ormonde Jayne is revered and highly rated by the public as well as perfume world insiders.

An instinctive entrepreneur, Linda Jayne spent 14 years travelling the world through Africa, the Far East and Latin America, where she established and ran a range of businesses such as a soya bean farm, a boutique hotel and ice cream parlours before returning to the UK in 2002 when following a chance meeting with  a family friend, who recalled her homemade candles, commissioned her to make a candle for Chanel. So, as she recounts,  her first invoice was for the legendary French fashion house and Ormonde Jayne was born.

A pioneer in using rare and unusual ingredients of highest calibre – such as hemlock – and producing her fragrances in her own high-tech studios in Regents Park under her own eye not outsourcing any of the process (as some houses – even luxury independent perfume brands – do), neither does Linda Jayne stint on any aspect of quality of her bottles, stoppers or packaging  where she leads, others follow with “money being no object” in her search for the best and most exotic and intriguing ingredients.

Ormonde Jayne fragrances are now widely acclaimed and also widely available due to Linda embracing e-commerce and finding nifty solutions to any business challenges she encounters. Two of her perfumes Ormonde Woman and Ormonde Man achieved top ratings from the picky perfume experts Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez  who are not easy impressed in their Perfumes The A-Z Guide – an accolade indeed, sharing that honour with Mitsouko (and other Guerlain legends Jicky and L’Heure Bleue) as well as Diorella and Poison.

Glass met Linda Jayne in her perfect jewel of a shop, based off Old Bond Street, London and which is lacquered like a black Bento Box, with orange acents harmonising with the packaging she uses for her range, and with black and white pictures of her travels decorating the walls of her office.

I met her on a torridly overheated day this summer, Linda Jayne was – I have to say – fragrant, whereas I was … less so. Linda Jayne embodies the perfectly poised English woman but once you spend any time with her you soon realise there is a certain sense of naughtiness and a subversive spirit bubbling away under her elegant and charming exterior.

Her latest fragrance Jardin D’Ombre which she has created exclusively to celebrate London’s oldest department store Fortnum and Mason was launched last month. The initial run of this has already sold out.

What’s a normal working day like for you ?
Because I am the sole owner of the company I have to divide up the week so I can stay in control of everything. Mondays and Tuesdays are for product development, which is where we discuss everything such as new ideas for the year after Christmas, what’s coming to an end and how we can improve it before we reorder. Wednesdays and Thursdays we do SEO, media, any promotions we want to design as well as online promotion etc.

On Friday morning, I do the accounts and in the afternoon I file and clean my office and check if I have everything ready for Monday. On Fridays, I leave around four o’clock and either I go off and do something quite pleasant or I just go home. One Friday a month I do a top-to-toe hairdressing, feet, nails, eyebrows, scrub-up – just to stay in control.

Media from Linda InterviewPerfumer Linda Pilkington the founder of Ormonde Jayne

Do you do the product development for Ormonde Jayne here or do you have a laboratory?
I have both so it depends. If we’re going to have a meeting with packaging people we tend to come here, but if it’s something that we are creating and making for the future, like a 24 carat gold dusting powder, we would be at the laboratory.

Is that in London?
That’s near Regents Park and we have five studios there.

What inspires you to make new fragrances ? Is it a person, an ingredient, or is it a place ?
I can be inspired by absolutely anything really. I could just see a beautiful woman on a beach with a beautiful bikini and a beautiful scarf and well, I could just look at somebody who’s absoutely gorgeous and get a bit fixated. Also I can see a beautiful home or a beautiful piece of architecure, piece of sculpture that I really appreciate and so I will want to put it into my work because it’s gorgeous. I’m very edited, like my home. I tend to really pin-point something I quite like and I don’t smell other people’s perfumes ever because I don’t have the time to, unless I’m in an airport or something as such.

I think it’s important to stay completely on your brand-track and not to be influenced. I haven’t deviated at all and kept it true, even when people ask me “Please make this, please make that”. I just say no because it’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to do something that somebody else owns.

ormonde jayne shopOrmonde Jayne fragrances on display in the Old Bond Street shop

I was going to ask you if you were inspired by any perfumers?
No, because ultimately any fragrance house should have their own signature look, and feel, and smell, which you have to stay true to. The moment you start deviating and looking at other people’s work, then you’ve lost it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going on which is really quite sad. There’s a lot of niche brands popping up that look around the market for the best-sellers in niche markets, then take it to a perfume house and recreate these like you make the packaging, you make the bottle, here is a couple million pounds and we’re going to launch a fragrance house. It’s very lazy, there’s no creativity, in my opinion.

What would you say is the essence of your brand?
would say that the essence of Ormonde Jayne is made of two things. One is using ingredients not widely used in the industry, and secondly, it’s the way we formulate so even our heavy perfumes that contain musk, patchouli, pink  pepper etc. they’re all complex and you can smell all the ingredients but you don’t hit a brick wall. They all open-up and travel through.

We have a basic core in all our perfumes which make our perfumes open-up. That’s the Ormonde Jayne signature, the Ormonde Jayne smell. You really do the Pepsi challenge where you smell, say, a high-street perfume, and one of ours. That’s where you understand the difference. It’s like the difference between your £4.99 bottle of wine at Tesco and your £38 bottle from Berry Brothers.

Linda Interview ImagesLinda at work

Do you think the market can sustain all these niche brands?
I think it probably will. The important thing is if you can keep your clientèle. If your clients come back for another bottle, and they keep coming back, then you can sustain the company. If people buy one bottle but not a second, they will fail in sustaining the company because they’re counting on people returning. We’re very lucky that the customers I was serving 15 years ago are still coming today and around Christmas Time the amount of people coming through the door, it’s great, and that’s after 15 years.

You have to build up that, and the problem is when you copy perfumes you don’t understand really what the idea or the philosophy behind it. I know what inspired it and why it is like that but they won’t know so I find it rather lazy.

When people take too much inspiration from around, they don’t really understand why, and I think it’s not really about can the market sustain them but more, can these niche companies sustain themselves. I think some of them will fall by the wayside because they’re not good enough.

You’re one of the first Western perfumers to use oud, you could even be described as the one who discovered it. Over the past few years the perfume world has all been about oud, as a fragrance pioneer, what do you think the next ingredient trend is going to be ?
I think the next natural step, for both summer and winter, are woods. The oud is very pungent but we don’t use a very strong one as we want to sell to all our clients. We want everybody to wear our perfume, not just Middle-Eastern people. I think businesses have lost direction in what was core to their brand DNA and not necessarily true to their perfume house. I had some companies phoning me and asking if I can make them an oud perfume but why? It’s really something they have to think twice about because what they do is great and they should stick to that. I don’t think there’s place for an oud perfume everywhere but everybody sort of jumped into it because they thought it was the latest thing. It’s not.

It’s an ingredient you ought to use very carefully and the right way. You have to stay focused on your brand and not deviate into what other people are doing, it’s always a mistake.

However, it’s essentially a confirmed category now, and so the next natural step would be sensual woody perfumes. I’ve had quite a few ladies coming in and asking if we had any amber soft or woody for summertime. They like the idea of something more delicate.

You launched Rose Gold earlier this year. How has this been received?
It’s gone very well and I got some interesting feedback. It’s quite strong and Joanna, who looks after my children when I am at work, wears it, and I can smell her around the house. It’s gone very well and we’ve done very well with it in Harrods, but what was interesting is that one of my senior fragrance consultant said to me that in his opinion it’s not a young perfume because all the men and women that are buying it tend to be 35- or 40-plus. I hadn’t given this that much thought, but when he gave me the feedback I thought I can definitely see that. It’s definitely a 35-plus perfume, not a 20-something skipping through the tulips.

ormonde jayne shop 2The interior of the Ormonde Jayne shop, London

What advice would you give to anybody who aspires to run a perfume company ?
LINDA: There’s lots of different ways you can start. If I had my time again I’d probably do it a bit differently, but that is because I have experience now. It depends how far you want to go. Step one is you could go to the perfume school ISIPCA in Versailles. The course is very difficult to get on, they take about 20 people, but it’s everything. It’s a big course, it’s five years and thirty percent is training to be a nose and a lot of it then is commercial marketing, PR, packaging, rules and regulations etc.

The second line after that is you could go to the Institute in Grasse. It’s a one-year course in English and they work you really hard. If you have the money to support yourself through the year and are willing to really devote yourself to perfume for 12 months, it’s well worth it. The third way is Modular in Paris. You go there at the week-end, get a lot of homework, come back for three-to-four weeks to do your work at home, go back to Paris with your homework for it to get marked where you then get another pile of work.

I think it’s about two years or three, but you go to Paris around eight times a year for a week-end. I have been on things like this, not quite like that. The problem is, with me, is that I should have done that before I started the company because I can’t just turn my back on it now. The bigger the company gets the less chance I’ve even got to possibly go. It might get to a point one day where if I have got a very strong executive team I could indulge myself some more. In the UK, I believe there’s a course at Plymouth University.

Then, the other way of getting into perfumery is to take on an apprenticeship which is really hard because the French are very protective and they tend to pass it on to their sons, daughters, cousins and aunts, best-friends and everything. Also now, a lot of fragrance houses have sold into the big ones so there’s like six big ones. There’s still quite a few little niche ones like Expressions Parfumées – Parfumeurs créateurs à Grasse which is still owned by a family who take on apprentices.

However, a fragrance house and the companies that make the perfume oils are two different things. Some houses have their perfumes made at IFF or Expression, who are the producers and manufacturers. For example, with Rose Gold, I know how it’s meant to smell, I know how the ingredients are going to be, the formulations we put them together, then we would have to concentrate, use ingredients we have sourced, but we would need to find a fragrance house to buy the rest of the ingredients.

That fragrance house would then take the formulation and make it up for us, which then has to go through testings. Obviously the perfume has always got to smell the same, so it’s computerised. Let’s say I was ordering 25 kilos of an oil, they would program it and the drums would sort of zoom around a train track, stop underneath an oil, and pass a green light to say that that’s exactly how it should be, which would then be shipped to the brand’s manufacturers and fillers, where they then pour it in alcohol water, filter it, let it mature, then put it in the machine and fill up the bottle, wrap it, put it into boxes etc.

At Ormonde Jayne, it comes into our studios and we deal with it. My team divides it up and we formulate it at the second level. We then filter it for around five to six weeks and later pour it by hand. They’re very competent and very fast.

Interview with LindaLinda Pilkington of Ormonde Jayne

Are you the only person doing that in the UK?

What challenges have you faced throughout your career?
I’ve definitely made some horrible mistakes. The challenges that I have faced, first of all, is that I’m one woman running a company so I have got to be in charge of all aspects and resources. I do have staff but it’s still quite small anyway. I have maybe made some mistakes but you learn from them.

What was the highlight of your career?
I’ve had quite a few actually. There’s the boutique, which made me really really happy to be working every day. I also love having my Bond Street address, and I love having survived fifteen years. Obviously due to the nature of its location, property in London makes it a constant challenge. 2007 and 2008 were quite good, there were a few down moments. But ultimately I’m a born optimist and I feel like I have lots of great ideas so I don’t feel pessimistic.

Do you do e-commerce and is that a big strand of the business ?
It was very big until the introduction of the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Act in 2009. When they came in I think it wiped off around 150,000 of our online sales, and because suddenly to ship to France and America, we had to pay this £45 surcharge on top of the cost of postage. You can’t say to someone “here’s a bottle of perfume, it’s £90, plus £45 and then postage, it’s £60 postage on a £90 perfume,” so we sort of got wiped out overnight. We had to react as fast as possible, but you can’t react that quickly.

We managed to find an absolutely fantastic woman in America to work with us and so in the morning we get internet orders from America and she’s five hours behind so we send the products to her and her team picks the orders up, and sends them  out again. There’s no dangerous goods on that.

It’s taken us over a year or so to recuperate that money and we’re finding new ways to overcome that problem. It’s a nuisance but it’s business. I have to say I’m not as emotional as I used to be. If things went wrong 15 or 18 years ago I would get really nervous about it. I still do a little bit but not as much as before.

Do you think your children will want to go into the business?
I think they do sometimes but I’ve got two boys and they’re too young to know what the heck they’re doing, but they do understand. They listen to me on the phone and ask me what it was all about, who it was, if it’s good for the business. When I’m talking about the rent on the shop, my son says to me ‘what’s the difference between freehold and leasehold?’ They are picking up bits of the business. They know what a rent review is (laughs), and they’re seven and nine years old. They know the basics of business just purely from listening to me.

Ormonde Jayne ShopThe exterior of the shop in the Royal Arcade, Old Bond Street

How do you balance being a mother and running a business ?
I get up in the morning at 6.30am. I wake them up, we all get dressed, we go downstairs, have breakfast, one of them plays the piano and the other one does a bit of homework. Then Joanna arrives and they go upstairs, I either go for a run in Regents Park and have a shower, or I take the children. I take them to school twice a week and we have our sing-song in the car, and that’s it for the day. Joanna picks them up, takes them to their hobbies, helps with homework. I tend to be here by 6.15 pm. and they’re just finishing dinner so I sit with them a bit, then we go upstairs for homework or reading stories.

They have to read out loud 15 minutes each night and then I read to them. So it’s from crack of dawn to school and then from dinner onwards. On Saturday, the boys have tennis in the morning, I play with them, then we do all our homework and we have lunch, they go to chess for two hours and while they’re there I have time to myself and I tend to go second-hand shopping.

Ormonde Jayne Boutique PiccadillyThe exterior of the shop in the Royal Arcade, Old Bond Street

Do you have any shops you like to go to that you want to share with us?
There’s a shop in Primrose Hill, at the bottom of Regents Park. where I buy lots of books and bits of furniture, a scarf or a broach from them. As well on the Marylebone High Street, the Cancer Research shop which is fantastic. I bought a library of antique books for my library here at home. At an antique store it would have been thousands but I paid around a £180 for it all. They’re all leather-bound, beautiful books. It’s my pleasure. I might also go to the farmers’ market, I love it.

You’re not planning any collaborations because you work with the German perfumer Geza Schoen, the founder of of  Escentric Molecules?
It’s an on-going relationship really, although we don’t see each other as much as we used to. He’s exceptional and we have a long relationship. We go back 15 years and he lived around the corner from where my studio was and he knocked on the door and said, “hey I’m Geza. Do you have any alcohol?” This is because one needs a licence and a certain type of premises and you have to get a certificate to purchase some things. I had that certificate through my studio so a lot of niche perfumers that work at home ask if I can purchase it for them

Geza and I have been great for each other. He had about 17 years of experience at an apprenticeship and now he wanted to do his own thing. He knew about putting his formulations together according to price-point, didn’t know anything about bottling, that was a different department. What I knew about was regulations.

We were filling for him by hand but he became so successful so quickly we couldn’t do it. It was time to become automated. So yes, we go a long way. I was picking the formulation, what the perfume would be and smell like, the ingredients and he would say yes or no, he’s the perfumer.

 So you’re still working with him ?
Yes, definitely. I couldn’t dare to deviate now because when other people have asked me to collaborate I would just think about how I need to stay to true to what I do and what I like, and he knows what I like.

I’m very interested in your use of hemlock.
Yes, it’s great, it’s from Canada. It all revolves around the idea of looking for ingredients no one else was using. The idea of Ormonde Jayne was that if someone comes into the shop and want jasmine we don’t have that, we have Sampaquita, it’s related to jasmine and it’s a bigger flower. The idea was to offer something that smells just as amazing but from ingredients we aren’t used to.

It’s like Champaca which is an amazing perfume. People had used it but they’d only use it in one part because it’s so expensive. I don’t think it was a mistake because about six years later there was champaca from Tom Ford and Comme Des Garçons. It was definitely a good thing.

by Caroline Simpson

Ormonde Jayne Old Bond Street, 12 The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4SL
Tel +44(0)20 7499 1100
Fax +44(0)20 7499 9911
Opening hours: Mon – Sat 10.00am to 6.00pm


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