Floris, the storied London perfumers, recently invited me to try their fragrance customisation service. And I have to say it was one of the most pleasurable bespoke experiences I’ve ever had, rivalled only by my first bespoke suit.
I’ve always been interested in scent, continuously sampling and accumulating over the years. And in the past 10 years of Permanent Style I’ve interviewed a fair few people in the industry – personal favourites being Lorenzo Villoresi and Frederic Malle.
(I have also written starter guides on the value of perfume and how to select one, partly based on these interviews.)
As a result, I came to Floris with a very particular aim in mind. As any customer of bespoke can attest, this can be both a blessing and a curse. It meant that I narrowed down the base scent very quickly, but also found it relatively hard to finesse the final product.
The bespoke service at Floris has undergone a bit of a transformation since they hired Nicola Pozzani (below) to lead it in early 2015. (I also profiled Nicola for a Mr Porter feature on London craftsmen recently – here.)
The service is split into two types. The first one, which I tried, is usually called customisation, takes two hours and concludes with the customer walking away with a personal fragrance. It costs £450. The second is much more involved, with at least three consultations and several tests over six months, and costs £4,500.
The two-hour session starts with a whirlwind tour of the major scent families, presented chronologically in order – to also demonstrate how perfume developed of the past 500 years (I’ll do a separate post on that later).
The scents presented during that tour come from the Floris archive. Nicolas has four shelves of them ranged up the wall next to him, filled with around 30 large bottles. Each contains an old Floris scent typical of a particular type – cologne, wood, marine, fougere, floral etc.
Some are finished fragrances (eg Limes); some simple combinations (eg sandalwood and cedarwood – a particular favourite); and some close to essences (bergamot or lavender). With each one, you smell a test strip, give Nicolas your reflections, and decide whether it’s something that could form the base of your perfume.
I found the whole tour fantastically insightful and educational. For example, I learnt that old scents were originally used to splash on the hands after eating or visiting the toilet – hence the weakness of cologne. And that the same combinations were often drunk as pick-me-ups – perfumes and liqueurs are closely connected in that regard.
Given the clarity of my concept for the fragrance, I narrowed down the scents I was interested in pretty quickly. I wanted something masculine and dry – not sickly like the ouds that are so trendy at the moment, but definitively an evening fragrance, nothing too floral or citrusy.
The best areas for this are the woods and orientals. Woods tend to be quite ‘dry’ (there’s a whole issue with vocabulary that deserves another post) while orientals are usually spicy and occasionally sweet.
I picked out four from the whirlwind tour: that cedarwood/sandalwood mix (smells like shoe trees, pencils and mud); an oriental blend (nutmeg, cardamon, pepper); lavender; and a Floris vetiver blend. I was asked to narrow that down to two, and then try two on the skin.
As anyone interested in perfume will know, scents often smell quite different on the skin than on a testing strip. And they smell different on different people – the warmth and oiliness of the skin in particular affecting how the molecules are released. This is another way in which the process is bespoke – you can tweak the formula to suit how a scent reacts with your skin.
It was the oriental blend that won out, so that became the base of my perfume. We then assembled the other scents that had been discarded, plus some new ones (amber, iris), and considered how to mix them together.
At this stage, Nicola takes far more control. He knows that lavender must be added in three times the volume of amber to have the same effect. And he knows how to ‘round’ out a scent with elements that aren’t obviously noticeable (eg bergamot for a touch of freshness).
I smell. I say what I think. Nicola makes a tweak, then we do it again.
- The bottle contains 30 fluid drams.
- We started with 16 for the base (oriental)
- Plus some of the wood mix. amber and lavender, making a total of 24.
- The lavender wasn’t coming though, so we added 2 more of that and 1 each of the other two.
- That made made 28.
- Woods, it was decided, were needed to settle the amber and would work well with the lavender. So that made up the final 2 ounces.
- Then we’re done.
It was a emotional, immersive experience – and fantastic value. For anyone that takes an interest in bespoke, craft and process, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Rather like bespoke tailoring, I’m still not entirely sure what I think about the scent. It’s different, spiky and warm – I’ll go back in next week and show Nicola what it smells like after a few hours on the skin.
But more than anything, it feels intensely personal.
Photos: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man
I note their website is equally silent on the matter, once you have your bespoke scent are you able to reorder your personal recipe scent at a lower price or is the only option to have the full £450 experience again?
You can have it repoured, yes. I’ll check what the price is
A refill is £160 (for 100ml)
Interesting post Simon. I read a while back that you wear Creed Original Vetiver. This made sense after reading your commuting by bike post. It’s a gym bag must which I use everyday (not a scent that receives huge compliments, but completely non offensive). I’m still searching for a signature evening scent after I stopped wearing Aventus 2 years back – it’s brilliant but everyone in my office + the city in general has jumped on the Aventus wagon. Perhaps bespoke is the way to go for me.
Interesting but I think better results can be achieved by finding the absolute classic that’s right for you as fragrances are notoriously unstable.
Most of the classics are developed by accident and finessed over time and in my not so humble opinion (IMNSHO) bespoke fragrances are more about animating flagship stores than creating something of a high quality.
A better result can be achieved by meticulously trawling the classics and finding absolutely the right one for you particularly given the fact that a fragrance smells slightly different on each individual.
Personally I studiously avoid the latest trendy House.
Fragrances like Aramis, the original Brut, Eau Savauge, YSL Jazz etc. have stood the test of time for a reason – they are all fantastic on some men. It’s more a question of matching the man to the fragrance.
For years I have worn Habit Rouge eau de parfum (NOT eau de toilette) by Guerlain. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea but the constant landslide of compliments from women have made me the envy of male aquaintances. And, at £65, you can buy a tie with your savings.
It’s rather a shame you’ve put up Habit Rouge EdP for so long, considering the EdT is not only the original formulation but a also far superior fragrance.
Having worked in that industry for twenty years I can assure you that neither are the original formulations.
Both have been reformulated multiple times to meet ever changing EU regulations pertaining to ingredients and preservatives.
For me, the parfum is as close to the original as makes no difference in terms of fragrance but if you prefer the less expensive EDT – more power to your elbow.
Putting reformulations aside for a moment, the original was of course a, rather strong, Cologne. The EdT of today is certainly closer to that than the EdP – which didn’t exist until 2003. Worst of all, the addition of entirely un-Rouge elements such as oud, and the complete overhaul of the citrus opening distance it even further from the original than one would hope. I don’t believe cost should play much of a role in discussion, though you keep mentioning it, in the same sentence as Brut, even. But if you enjoy wearing a flanker as your signature fragrance, then more power to you.
Your claim that Habit Rouge EDT is the original formula is simply incorrect.
Most experts think the EDP is closest to the original but opinions vary.
The fact is that both are ‘flankers’ insomuch as they are both range extensions.
This is the most subjective business of all and people should use what suits them.
Personally, I think price is a factor in this market as the value added will never be as demonstrable as in clothing or accessories were you really can get what you pay for. Happily my fragrance comes gratis but if it didn’t I think that the £60 mark would be some sort of limit.
This was a very nice article. Bespoke perfume feels so luxurious.
This is a fascinating post. I never knew of this side of the industry. I’m relatively new to the world of fragrances so I appreciate the time you take to share all of this. Thanks!
I have always been curious how a fragrance is created. Great article. I have been wearing Bulgari for about 20 years now. My search has always been for a fragrance that I like to deeply inhale several times, that’s pleasant yet understated. If it passes this test its a winner. I rarely have found such.
this may be a bit off topic but anyway thanks to your blog i recently transitioned from buying fashion brands to buying makers. So goodbye Gucci shoes and welcome Northhampton. You also introduced me to Drake’s and Simonnot Godard. That being said I have two comments:
1) Now that I am somewhat starting from scratch (in a way) it felt smart to buy non-novelty items, meaning a couple Drake’s ties and shirts in safe colors. Some rather understated C&J Oxfords in black and dark brown etc. I really enjoy getting quality and learning about the history of the makers and the finer details, yet sometimes I can’t help but at the same time feel… unexcited about the rather blandness. It’s hard to describe, has this occurred to you too?
2) The more i learn about clothing the more I am starting to alienate people at work and might need some alternative outlet. Turns out people really don’t care to hear about clothing and shoes (well not here of course). Most guys I work with simply lack any understanding in quality. I mean they all have cash, in fact some of them have a lot, yet they either simply refuse to try out, say, a quality tie. Instead they will get department store or nothing. They will get like sets with matching ties and hanks and then color-coordinate them to their shirts (think rosé shirt, red/white striped tie, same red/white striped hank). It’s a tragedy. I much preferred the times when I did notice this less.
Hey. Great to hear we’ve been so useful
1) I know what you mean. Partly I think I and similar fans of this area are excited by smaller, subtler things – like the way you polish those shoes and the colour that is created, or more importantly the confident, subtle style that comes with wearing classic things well.
2) Oh dear. Yes, this is why people come to forums and blogs, to share with that tiny slice around the world that cares. But it’s also a good point that you didn’t care before and now you go. It has a name: the Diderot effect. Diderot bought a new dressing gown that was much nicer than everything else he owned, and then began to hate all those other things and gradually replace them. Taste can be a curse.
Sounds like a lot of fun. Way out of my price range for perfume, but I agree on the principles; most off the shelf names are just citrus and grass cuttings in different variations.
What I use now is Marc Jacobs “Bang” – it was originally a gift from my wife, and is the first/remains the only very different scent I’ve come across. I wasn’t initially sure I liked it, but it quickly grew on me, and now I really love it and feel it has become of my… What’s the word? Visage?! Outward identify?
It’s very woody, dry and masculine, with quite a spiced note too.
I have a question: I have had a number of suits made by a particular tailoring firm (8 in all). All have been good and I have adjusted the pattern to where I now like it. Last 3 suits have followed that same pattern. However my the suit I just picked up did not and has not. I raised two issues in particular and they have not been satusfactorily fixed – one can’t (lapel width, notch placing), other (the roll) I’m not sure.
My question is – is it appropriate to ask for a new suit? I am frustrated as this was an error they made. It may seem minor but it materially impacts on whether I wear the suit!
I would love to hear your thoughts.
I think you should definitely ask for a new jacket, yes. You are a good, longstanding customer and they have made a mistake by the sounds of things. I guess there’s a chance you could have raised it at an earlier fitting, if it was obvious at that stage, but other than that they are at fault.
sorry to hijack your perfume post but thought I would let you know that when I called the tailor and explained the issue I had, they immediately said they would make me a new jacket. problem solved and am now an even more loyal customer!
Oh good. Thanks
your perfume posts are among your bests posts , especially when tailoring and bespoke tailoring has become so ubiquitous. such a great post. many thanks, N.
Is FLORIS still a family business? I lived in London in the 1980s and bought aftershave there (“elite” was my favourite). In those days (8th gen I recall) one paid with cash, and they would always place the change on wooden “coaster” (can’t think of a better word) topped with red baize. It made one feel like royalty. Everyone was treated the same in the shop, with real respect, as one should be.
Yes it is
Simon, what is your opinion of Floris and their range? I remember a comment in which you said it was a “decent” brand, hardly an encouraging thing to say in our world of refinement.
I think Floris perfumes are good. Not at the same level as some of the boutique makers but still nice and good for value for money
Number 89 was always interesting……and I think Elite came out sometime in either the late 1970’s or the early 1980’s……
Just as an aside, I still have a Shaving Brush which I purchased at the Floris Shop somewhere about the late 1960’s…….Long hairs which I never cut back…….
It’s as good as ever it was and the only thing that has cracked and peeled, (only partly over the years), has been the clear varnish coating on the handle….
I remember I paid £3 for it at the time……..which was fairly pricey for a Shaving Brush.
Dear Simon, Thanks so much for writing about this. My wife and I had our customization experience last week. It was extremely pleasant, and my wife, in particular, was over the moon about having her own fragrance. I feel that I got a great result as well. It was a great learning experience. We thoroughly enjoyed our three hours with Mr. Bodenham.
Lovely to hear Shawn, thanks