Some places inspire art, others fashion, and others great fragrances. Last summer, Chanel successfully launched its Les Eaux collection based on three chic destinations close to Coco Chanel’s heart. This year, the destination inspiring the fragrance world’s latest story is a little less glamorous and a whole lot more unexpected. Jo Malone London’s limited edition Brit collection is influenced by the Hackney Canal, the landscape around the marshy waterways of East London. We’ve come to expect the unexpected from the fragrance house, but this latest collection is on another level entirely, not only delighting the senses but tapping into a global need to return to nature and a focus on the simpler things in life. The Wild Flowers & Weeds collection is inspired by the unruly plants and flowers that grow along English canal banks; surprising concoctions breaking through the cracks with no rhyme or reason. In the words of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, “Canal Bank Walk”, “wallow in the habitual, the banal, Grow with nature again as before I grew”.
There are five distinctive colognes in the collection, priced at €57 each: Willow & Amber, a woody pairing of cashmere wood and smoky vetiver, enhanced by softly sensual amber; Cade & Cedarwood, a smoky scent mingled with cedarwood and complemented by a mouthwatering hint of sensual vanilla; Hemlock & Bergamot, crisp and modern with a bite of cucumber; Lupin & Patchouli, a rainbow of lupin flowers, enriched by luxurious rose and deepened with rebellious patchouli; and my personal favourite – Nettle & Wild Achillea, a sparkling scent with bright bergamot, the greenness softened by a soft base of white musk. It’s not the most sophisticated of the five, but for me, it sums up the genesis of the collection, which is centred around finding beauty in the banal. “This is probably the quirkiest one from the collection,” says master perfumer Louise Turner, who alongside Yann Vasnier worked to interpret the brief set out by Jo Malone head of fragrance Celine Roux.
“It wasn’t just about making it smell green, but reinterpreting the greenness as well as trying to interpret the sensation you get when you’ve been stung by a nettle, that tingling sensation. We have spicy notes, pink peppercorn, elements of peppery notes to give that effect of light tickling. It was a real challenge to transform it into something you could wear as a fragrance. The wild achillea balances it out, adds very clean and fresh notes.”
For many, the magic of a good scent lies in its time travelling and evocative abilities, and Nettle & Wild Achillea instantly brought me back to playing along the banks of a small river in Brittas Bay in the 1980s, where I encountered my first nettle sting, which led to the realisation that everything in this world was not quite what it seems. While a bittersweet memory; I’m happy to report the fragrance itself invokes none of the pain and all of the innocence of a carefree childhood surrounded by nature.
As with all Jo Malone London fragrances, this latest collection has been created with layering in mind. “When you see the light through a fragrance, it’s easier to apply them together,” says Vasnier.
“It’s like taking two thick layers of velvet and putting them on top of each other – you won’t be able to see anything. But if you put lighter layered fabrics together, the layered effect brings something new. It’s the same with fragrance.” Turner suggests thinking about what adding a fragrance will bring. “If you’ve got something darker, perhaps it’s about contrasting that with something lighter. At the same time, if you bring two darks together, you may create another story, but it won’t be as contrasting. But there are no rules. Perfume should be about what the individual likes and it smells good.”
Jo Malone London’s Wild Flowers & Weeds, €57 each, is available from Brown Thomas from March.