If you were to go to my home and open a cupboard drawer or wardrobe door, you would probably find bottles of perfume crouching in there, waiting to jump out.
As you might imagine, I’m a woman with an interest who even now, with far too many fragrances, probably more than I could ever wear in a lifetime, keeps on buying them.
Until a few years ago, this hobby had nothing to do with my job. I was working in events PR, having started out promoting restaurants and hotels. Scent was this thing on the side. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, but rather than defining it as a ‘thing’, it was more of a compulsion. It had been going on for years. Even when a teenager, in the heady days of dial-up internet, I’d drive my dad crazy, holding up the phone line looking at perfume reviews.
In 2010, all this time learning and absorbing, which had felt so indolent originally, suddenly became useful, when a friend got in touch to tell me about The Book Club, a new venue opening in London and looking for live programming. Out of nowhere I had this idea to host an event about scent.
Hosting it in a bar made sense – more relaxing than going to a department store, where there is a the feeling you’re being sold to. And theming the event took the pressure away from everyone trying to discern what notes were inside, which can be intimidating, and puts off enthusiasts who fear you have to be a connoisseur to ‘get’ fragrance.
I inveigled James Craven from London perfume shop Les Senteurs to co-host with me, and together we concocted a whistlestop tour through the twentieth century in perfume, a bit of an assault on the senses with visuals and music bursting out (which strangely came full-circle as my recent book is the story of perfume 1900-1999). We then gave out anonymous vials of perfume to each table, with alternative ideas on how to describe the mystery contents inside. There was a lot of wine, a lot of spills, and crucially, laughter.
That was originally meant to be a one-off, but after so many people came to the first event, I wanted to do more. That September, the events resumed as a regular series. You can see the vault for some of the themes that have come and gone over the years – everything from the scents of outer space to the history of male fragrances from Rakes to Rambo, and Perfumes and Mythology. Eventually, it turned into a business as I was asked to host events for private parties, corporate clients and festivals. And then it developed even further to move beyond perfume, leading me to explore the role of the sense of smell in society, the cultural history of smell, curation and production.
I still get as much of a thrill as ever from sampling an unusual scent, and it’s just so much fun bringing their stories, from the sublime to the everyday, to life.