We chat to scentaholic Michael Donovan, champion of cult fragrance labels, about his own London perfume brand St Giles...
BY AMY BRADFORD
Passions run high in the perfume world: spend half an hour talking to a serious scentaholic and you’re likely to encounter a level of knowledge and enthusiasm that might be considered geekish if it weren’t so chic. One such person is Michael Donovan (right), who, as founder of perfumery Roullier White and PR firm Profile, has championed an array of cult scent brands including Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, D.S. & Durga and Ideo Parfumeurs (all of which you have read about in DesignFizz's Looking Glass beauty section over the years). Now, Donovan has poured 20 years of love and expertise into his own perfume collection, St Giles (named after the London parish of St Giles where he was born), launched in December 2017.
Created with French master nose Bertrand Duchaufour, it consists of five scents, each designed to answer this thorny question: how does a fragrance make you feel? ‘Having listened to the difficulties that journalists face when writing about fragrance – and owning a perfumery myself – I realised that this important question is almost never addressed,’ Donovan explains. ‘It’s what we all really want to know. Perfume is not a shopping list of ingredients nor an ephemeral title hinting at desirability. We are all multi-faceted personalities and need an olfactory wardrobe that is multi-functional and fulfils the needs of our daily lives – a scent to make us feel empowered and successful, inspired, glamorous or stylish.’
Donovan’s elegance and wit come through in all five scents, which also exude originality – when you’ve smelled as many perfumes as he and Duchaufour have, you know how to bring something new to the party. ‘The Actress’, for instance, is an alluring narcotic floral based on oriental lily. Gorgeously creamy from the outset, it gradually reveals layers of sensual warmth in the form of jasmine, honeysuckle, sandalwood and musk. What makes it unique, though, is the addition of pear and vanilla-custard notes, which bring a truly addictive sweetness. If the Dance of the Seven Veils could be incarnated as a scent, this would be it.
At the other end of the scale is ‘The Writer’, a woody-leather accord with a cool, dark intensity. A tribute to great prose, it includes notes such as rosemary, rhubarb and clary sage that are reputed to stimulate the intellect (tests have shown that exposure to rosemary essential oil improves performance in memory tests by several percentage points). ‘It’s not aromatherapy, but I like the idea of being cleverer when I wear it,’ says Donovan.
The remaining scents take their place in your scent arsenal thus: ‘The Mechanic’ is, as Donovan says, the magnetic ‘sex scent’, a feverishly erotic blend of geranium, patchouli, leather and musk, with allusions to hot rubber and engine fuel. ‘The Tycoon’ is the ‘power scent’: a fizzy green chypre with dynamic citrus notes and a steely heart of black pepper, woody cypriol, tea and labdanum. Last but not least, ‘The Stylist’ is all about feeling well put-together, with a dash of eccentricity. The opening of sparkling aldehydes and bitter-orange bigarade is as clean and crisp as a tailored white shirt, but notes of mango, rum and creamy vanilla inject real flamboyance.
Donovan designed the Twenties-influenced grey glass flacons himself, as well as the black crystal stopper, which he had sandblasted for extra tactility ‘and to stop it from slipping out of your hands’ – too many expensive scents are spoiled by cheap bottle caps, he says. All in all, this is a very impressive debut – we counsel you to spritz it and see.