Fragrance expert Michael Donovan has launched a new luxury perfume inspired by London and named after his south London roots. Available from Selfridges, the St Giles collection answers the question rarely addressed in perfume; how does a fragrance make you feel?
South east Londoners rejoice! You now have your very own collection of fragrances. Founded by Peckham-based Michael Donovan, the St Giles collection of luxury perfume is actually named after the ancient Camberwell parish in which he was born. Having worked with fragrance for over 20 years – as both a PR and as an essential cog in the fine machine that is Roullier White, East Dulwich’s boutique department store and niche fragrance specialist – this is a lifelong passion for Donovan.
‘I’ve learnt something along the way from everyone in my PR life, so it has been a fantastic experience and I’ve enjoyed it a great deal,’ says Donovan. ‘But because I’m so passionate about perfume, I’ve found myself being asked about creating my own fragrance brand on a number of occasions, but I just wasn’t sure I had anything unique to say so I suppose that is why it never came about.’
Until now, when suddenly, Donovan had his eureka moment. ‘When you work in perfume you realise that the thing that people always find overwhelming is the choice,’ he says. ‘You can see that customers are like rabbits in the headlights when it comes to choosing a specific scent. I was thinking that the thing that the perfume industry doesn’t do very well is explain to people how a fragrance makes you feel and, at the end of the day, that is really important.’
A labour of love, then, Donovan has spent the last three years creating five scents with the help of master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour: ‘I chose Duchaufour because he’s such fun, has a great sense of humour and will try anything and everything,’ he says. ‘He let me try things even if he thought they were never going to work.’
The five resulting scents are: The Tycoon (the scent of success), The Actress (modern glamour for centre stage), The Writer (the scent of inspiration), The Mechanic (celebrating the physical, the sex fragrance) and The Stylist (dress to impress).
He goes on to tell me how perfumes often have a very tenuous and silly name, or simply a list of ingredients that doesn’t speak very well to the consumer. ‘A perfume isn’t a shopping list, you’re not making a curry – it’s a very different thing.’
I wanted to create a floral that was powerful. I wanted it to be about glamour and not sex. This is: you may look, you can applaud, but you don’t touch
‘So I thought I could do that and my fragrances are designed specifically to help people make a choice. Everyone needs an old factory wardrobe. Gone are the days when everyone had just one perfume from cradle to grave. You need to choose fragrance the same way as you would choose clothes – occasion, season and mood.’
This means that he has a power fragrance for when you need a little bit of confidence, luxury and old-fashioned intimidation. The Tycoon is designed to make you feel just that. Next up, was something for the women – although Donovan is quick to point out that all of his scents are unisex.
‘All of my female friends don’t like floral, as they feel it is too girly,’ he says. ‘So I wanted to create a floral that was powerful and I wanted it to be about glamour and not sex. This is: you may look, you may worship, you can applaud, but you don’t touch. It’s called The Actress and it comes with a spotlight.’
Donovan secret to testing how good a fragrance is, is to wear it to a restaurant and see if the waiting staff loiter. He assures me that because they smell so many awful fragrances every single day that they will notice when a good and well-matched scent comes along. ‘When I wear The Tycoon, I always get stopped and asked what I’m wearing,’ he grins. ‘It makes me so, so happy.’
Inspiration was clearly something Donovan wasn’t short of in the making of these. ‘I made them in many ways for the sheer joy of it. All of the scents have my personality as a signature to them but they have very strong individual personalities too – I didn’t make them strictly for me, I was trying to convey a feeling,’ says Donovan.
‘I was going to introduce them only locally but then Selfridges called me and they have been so supportive. I can’t quite believe it.’