10.03.17

21st Century Fashion Scents
She’s brilliant, brainy and she edits The Gentlewoman, the most discerning fashion magazine on the planet. Penny Martin explains why her latest issue calls Escentric Molecules ‘the scent sensation of the twenty-first century’.

– Can you describe The Gentlewoman?
It’s a personality-centred woman’s fashion magazine that profiles women of note and purpose through quality journalism and beautifully art-directed photography. We’ve won awards for our design and journalism but I think people like it most because it’s upbeat, ambitious and it rarely repeats itself.

– How did Escentric Molecules first cross your path?
Writer Susan Irvine introduced me to Geza before the fragrances launched. I remember Molecule 01 being described to me as a “dark hovering presence” rather than bearing a likeness to a recognisable scent like flowers or amber. That had me intrigued. And then I smelled it. And it felt like the olfactory equivalent of a long drink of red wine. Warm, rich, faintly narcotic.

The uninitiated would invariably ask what on earth was that strange, heavenly smell.

– Did you wear it?
I don’t think I wore anything else for a year – during which practically everyone reeked of Escentric Molecules. True converts could barely recognize that they or anyone else were wearing it but the uninitiated smelt us coming and would invariably ask what on earth was that strange, heavenly smell. The most insistent enquirer I ever had was a Sikh taxi driver in New York – he wasn’t unlocking those doors until we told him what my fragrance was and where to get it. I think we wrote it down for him in a blank receipt.

– Have you ever worn other fragrances?
Yes. The first one I bought was L’Air du Temps, would you believe, when I was 13. My friend and I went halves on it, so we each got to wear it only every other day. The big one for me was Chanel No. 19. Those irises really remind me of being 18 and wayward.

He wasn’t unlocking those doors until we told him what my fragrance was.

– What is the idea behind ‘oral history’ in The Gentlewoman?
‘Oral History’ is a more ambitious form of Q&A. Our company, which publishes BUTT and Fantastic Man as well as The Gentlewoman, is really good at conversational journalism. Those multiple interviewee conversations are also a good way of dealing with a subject that’s in the past while keeping the context and content feeling contemporary in spirit. I really love it as a form.

– What inspired you to do an ‘oral history’ of Escentric Molecules?
The particulars of its launch tell you as much about the fashion industry and culture and those who work in it as the launch of Mitsouko did about the inter-war period. I love the idea of subjecting that recent history to the same scrutiny as one might an event that occurred a hundred years ago.

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The Gentlewoman
Spring/summer issue 2017

The Juice
By Richard O’Mahony

Iso E Super was never meant to be a perfume…That was until a novice perfumer, enamoured by this enigmatic ingredient, struck upon the idea to bottle it and sell it as a pair of fragrances in its own right. It would be called Escentric Molecules 01 and it would become the scent sensation of the 21st century.

[Our extract begins in early 2006…]

The Package

Tim Blanks, fashion journalist and partner of Jeff Lounds, EM sales director: A few years earlier I’d met Daniela Rinaldi, the cosmetics queen of Harvey Nichols, at a Jimmy Choo dinner. We both got screaming drunk and had a fantastic time together talking perfume. She said to me that if there’s ever anything I think she ought to know about then to call her. So I set up a meeting for Jeff and Escentric Molecules with her.

Daniela Rinaldi, controller of perfumery and concessions, Harvey Nichols, 1996–2009: I met Tim and Jeff, and to be honest, when they came to present the perfume, my immediate reaction was disappointment. Firstly, it was a stock bottle with no cap. Harvey Nichols sells haute perfumery, so we were used to super luxe, beautifully crafted bottles with etched glass caps. Caps were being engineered so that they had a soft click — you know, like with the doors on luxury cars?

Anna-Marie Solowij, beauty and health director, British Vogue, 2002–8: At the time, it was all about the big-brand fragrance houses, the blockbusters. Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue was one of the biggest-selling fragrances then. Celebrity fragrances were big business: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Sarah Jessica Parker, among countless others, all released perfumes. Gourmand fragrances like Calvin Klein’s Euphoria or Nina Ricci’s Nina… it was all quite fruity and sweet.

Chandler Burr, perfume critic, The New York Times, 2006–10: By contrast, Escentric Molecules is a direct descendant of the minimalist school of Jean-Claude Ellena’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert and Jacques Cavallier’s L’Eau d’Issey, both masterpieces of the form.

Frenzy

Daniela Rinaldi: I left the office that night wearing Escentric 01, taking a black cab to Paddington station, and as I get out of the cab, the driver says to me, “You smell gorgeous, love. What is that?” On the train from Paddington to Reading, the very nice gentleman sitting next to me says the same thing. At Reading station, it happens again. We placed an order for 5,000 units of Escentric 01 and Molecule 01 with Jeff the following morning.

Geza Schoen: Tim was wearing the fragrance everywhere he went — fashion shows, parties, openings — sharing it with all his fabulous friends. And Tim pretty much knows everybody.

Tim Blanks: People were captivated by the fragrance. We gave a bottle to Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop Boys before it was launched at Harvey Nichols. He wore it out one night and told us he’d never been hit on so much in his life…

Daniela Rinaldi: The launch toolkit that would normally be used for fragrance didn’t apply. There was no print or outdoor advertising campaign, no splashy displays across the store windows… we decided to approach it subtly, a bit covert, like it was a club — you had to understand it to be in it. We’d grow market share by word of mouth. We had a private dinner in the restaurant at Harvey Nichols on 29 March 2006 to launch Escentric Molecules, and Jeff and Tim did the guest list.

Tim Blanks: We invited a bunch of our friends: Christopher Bailey, Janet Street-Porter, David Furnish… at one point Siouxsie Sioux, Lulu and Sharleen Spiteri were all chatting together, and I thought, Wow, there’s a girl group.

Geza Schoen: It wasn’t the worst way to launch a new fragrance.

[Read the whole story in the s/s 17 issue of The Gentlewoman … out now]