How does one describe the Perfume Society? I’ve been trying to illustrate the Society  in such a way that is accurate to its description, and to my understanding. If you are expecting candid behind-the-scenes photos of perfumers at work, or  a specialist clique that only those in the know get to join, well, this is not that type of Society (though I would eagerly await such candid photographs if anyone would be willing to start such a group…). The Perfume Society is an open online forum that offers an extensive catalogue of perfume related content: history, ingredients (my favourite go-to source, perfume families, reading material and an online fragrance generator. The Perfume Society also hosts events (perfume launches, meet-and-greets, and workshops for bloggers and aspiring perfumers), a monthly magazine “The Scented Letter”, and discovery sets where subscribing members receive monthly sample sets.

But who is the Perfume Society? Though the Society has been in the works for three years, it has only been online for over a year and has seen enormous success. Online web-forums aren’t particularly hard to find, however the Society is organised by two women who have lived and breathed the cosmetic industry for the better part of their careers: Lorna McKay and Jo Fairley.  Lorna McKay started her career as a buyer for Harrods which progressed to setting up commercial perfume halls of Liberty’s as well as a digital generator: FR.eD, a virtual fragrance advisor short for ‘Fragrance Education’.

Jo Fairley on the other hand is in her own right a business woman having set up Green & Black’s chocolate with her husband, and has been a journalist and editor for magazines such as YOU magazine and co-written the bestsellers: ‘The Anti-Ageing Beauty Bible’ and ‘The Ultimate Natural Beauty Bible’.

Together these two power house ladies stated the Perfume Society, and have brought their host of contacts with them. From an online portal, to the physical events, the Perfume Society is open to anyone who wishes to join, and aims to bring all perfume lovers together.

All of this leads us to this publication. I always knew that I wanted an interview with the leading ladies given their professional backgrounds. I mean, who would know more about marketing perfume than Lorna, and who would know better than Jo about perfume journalism? After perfumers, these are two areas that drive the industry. Therefore, please continue reading for my interview with Jo & Lorna.

To the ladies themselves, and Ines Soccaras for her help with arranging it all, I would like to say a big thank you! And for all those reading this who have not heard of the Perfume Society, please head over to www.perfumesociety.org and start exploring!

 

 

Q&A: Lorna McKay

 

“Nothing is better than trying it on skin … Memories have also a lot to do with what you like!”

 

H: What was the initial concept of the Perfume Society?

L: The Perfume Society is only 16 months old and has kept our vision of having a website for customers to enjoy independent advice and information about  all aspects of perfume and smelling. We wish to share our years of experience in fabulous world of fragrance.

 

H: Please tell us about how your experiences in retail and marketing helped develop the Perfume Society.

L: I had been the Harrods own label and International Buyer for 4 years before becoming the Beauty Buyer. I was eager to learn as much as possible about how to advise a customer. I realized it was very difficult to find independent reliable advice on how to choose a fragrance. After seeing a geneology chart I realized there was a way to help people choose fragrance and when I created the Liberty Perfumery I created FR.eD a virtual consultant who has been brought back to life and is at the heart of The website. Education has always been very important to me ( I qualified as a teacher before Harrods Exec Scheme) When people know more they engage more.

 

H : What do you think has been the Society’s greatest achievement to date has been?

L: Providing an authoritative “hub” for everything to do with perfume.

 

H: What aspect of the Perfume Society do you like the most?

L: The people involved -the customers , the team, the press and the suppliers as well as the fabulous fragrances – too difficult to choose. Sounds daft but my hobby is The Perfume Society.

 

H: Could you tell us more about the structure of the company, and what departments exist? 

L: We are a tiny company working with fantastic people .

Jo Fairley, Co-Founder /Editor-in Chief  primary focus Writing / Events

Lorna McKay, Co-Founder  – Business Development/ advertising/Discovery Boxes/FR.eD and finance  (with the help of my husband)

Ines Socarras –Business Development, PR and Marketing  -brilliant with timelines spreadsheets and generally making sure we are all doing what we should be doing.

Suzy our Senior Writer

Carson Fairley-Parkin – Editorial Assistant

Sharon Whiting – press relations and Enquiries

 

We all attend launches when we can to make sure we have news items and support the brands who are hugely supportive of us. II fact as we are a small team we all do the necessary to make it work for everyone! The magazine , the Discovery Boxes, Events are the result of the team ‘s efforts.

 

H: Currently the Society is in publishing, sales, and education. What do you think is next for the company?

L: That’s enough to be going on with – we are looking forward to launching Men’s fragrance next year on the site. We want to make what we do even better and bigger e.g. to have more events around the country. We will look continuously to improve our offer to the customer and represent the brands we work with as best we can.

 

H: The online community varies greatly and has a strong loyal following. What do you think was the biggest impact the Society has had on the community, and how have you gone about developing that bond?

L: Listening to customers/ bloggers etc. – asking their opinion and acting on their requests

 

Marketing:

H: With regards to both commercial and niche markets how have consumer relations changed between the perfume industry and their customers?

L: The perfume industry has had to give more information about the product they are selling – ingredients, sourcing etc.

 

H: What do you think the biggest change over in consumer demands over the years?

L: Consumers desire to know and understand product so they can make an informed choice. It happened some time ago in other sectors of beauty and I believe we are only now addressing their demands in perfumery

 

H: Of the various techniques used to sell fragrances, which do you think is the most effective?

L: Nothing is better than trying it on skin – the same perfume can smell so differently on different people. Memories have also a lot to do with what you like!

 

H: Over the years, the term ‘niche’ has become diluted in the perfume industry due to the growing number of artisan perfume houses opening. How do you classify a company that is truly ‘niche’ in every sense, from a company that is artisan?

L: I don’t – I am not interested in titles I am much more interested in smell. I think niche is often used to describe perfumes which are not too available – it means different things to different people therefore I try to avoid the term if I can. Artisan has a different connotation especially for me as I live in France and artisan can be considered a bit “home made” Again I try to avoid this terminology as it is too vague .

 

H: Given that niche perfumes use higher quality ingredients, do you think that the price tag placed on them is heightened in order to disassociate their market from the commercial fragrance market?

L: I think very often it is scale of economy and too many variables to comment. Not all “niche” perfumes use higher quality ingredients.

 

H:  Do you think that current marketing strategies used in the commercial sector will continue as they are? Do you see a change towards niche techniques?

L: Marketing strategies will have to change to relate to sociological change – communication through social media will increase and as the population gets older this can only increase. Rather than a change towards niche it will be people wanting more information about the fragrance they are wearing.

 

Perfumeries:

H:  Please talk us through your experience setting up perfumeries.

L: Evaluate your customer, have some theatre and provide the best customer experience and service to make sure they are loyal. Always have something in a perfumery worth seeking out whether it is experience of ingredients, knowledgeable staff or a new concept.

 

H: What makes the best retail space for selling fragrances? 

L: Knowledge and passion are more important than space because ideally the customer can walk around and try the fragrance or sample at  home before coming in to purchase. On the otherhand it is a luxury item so it needs to be welcoming and inviting.

 

H: If you were asked to curate a collection of fragrance brands to sell for a niche boutique, a medium size gallery and a large department store, what would be the defining factors you would take into consideration? And what would be the best marketing strategy to use?

L: Look at the customer profile and select accordingly. As a Buyer whatever you are selling the customer is King/Queen – they determine what you should be selling in the end. Understand your customer and their way of life.

 

Education:

H: Perfume education is clearly an important topic for you as throughout your career you have helped set up FR.eD (virtual fragrance adviser), the Perfume Society, and worked with QVC. So far perfume education has developed in different pathways for people looking to enter the business; from the traditional training at Grasse, to The Institute for Art and Olfaction in California, aromatherapy training, and even day-courses with perfumers. However, the system of continuous education for trained perfumers through workshops and mentoring is less developed.

 Do you think this is an area that will develop over time, or is it a case that professional competition and exclusivity hinders the development of such a structure?

L:  Professional perfumers are constantly pushing themselves to create a “new “ smell/ ingredient – surely this is their ongoing training?

 

H: Do you think that a worldwide professional accreditation board should be set up?

L: YES! Without a doubt.

 

H: If you were to train as a perfumer, which path do you think is the most successful in today’s market?

L: Mentoring from and working with the great perfumers whilst experimenting on one’s own area of passion. Being a perfumer is more than just creating the smell today – they must think of the marketing too in such a competitive market.

 

The Future & the Industry:

H: How do you see Perfume Society developing in the next thirty years? 

L: More people engaging with The Perfume Society around the world to help them understand more about themselves through the knowledge and information we will continue to provide. (Hopefully I will be there to find out)

 

H: Where do you see the perfume industry going in the next thirty years?

L: New ingredients and more knowledge about the sense of smell in wellbeing. I think it will be used a lot more in health and medical conditions.

 

H: Where would you like to see the perfume industry going in the next thirty years?

L: I actually love it how it is and if we can help people along the way even better.

 

H: Do you have any advice for a person in my position who is trying to develop a career in the perfume industry?

L: Talk to and meet as many people as possible involved in all aspects of the industry. Read as much as possible about people and product. There are many books written on the subject and last but not least join The Perfume Society.

 

PERFUME SOCIETY

 

PERFUME SOCIETY discovery box

 

Q&A: Jo Fairley

 

“I believe good perfume writing is more instinctual, rather than just intellectual, however. Fragrance is about emotion rather than reason.”

 

H: What was the initial concept of the Perfume Society?

J: An organisation such as ours – a ‘hub’ for perfume-lovers – quite simply didn’t exist anywhere in the world, which is extraordinary considering how much is spent globally on fragrance and the hugely important role it plays in our life. Our aim was to create an authoritative website, but to ‘bring the web alive’ through sampling and real-world events.

 

H: Please tell us about how your experiences in business and being an editor have helped develop the Perfume Society.

J: The Perfume Society brings together all my skills: my business background, my editing background – and my fragrance contacts, through writing about scent for 25+ years. All of this meant that when it came to creating a ‘hub’ for the perfume world, bringing together brands, perfume-lovers, writers and creators of all types, we could knock on doors – and not only have them open but be invited in, to find ways of doing exciting things together. It’s as if everything I’ve done has been building up to this point.

 

 

H: What do you think has been the Society’s greatest achievement to date has been?

J: Frederic Malle has called us ‘the most authoritative perfume website in the world’, which means a huge amount. And our breakfast conference with CEW on The Future of Fragrance, bringing together fascinating futurologist speakers from around the world, was a landmark for us in terms of industry awareness.

 

H:What aspect of the Perfume Society do you like the most?

J: I love every aspect of it, especially the events and putting together The Scented Letter – but my true ‘guilty pleasure’ is our Instagram account!

 

H: Has the business model for the company had to change as the business develops?

J:We didn’t expect to be printing a magazine so soon in our growth cycle, but the capacity for print-on-demand has made that possible, and it’s an exciting step. Otherwise we’re doing exactly what we wrote in the business plan that we’d be doing.

 

H:Currently the Society is in publishing, sales, and education. What do you think is next for the company?

J: That’s quite enough for now…!

 

H:Have you notice in a change in the demographic that The Perfume Society is appealing to in recent years?

J:We have only been going for just over a year, but there’s no question increasing numbers of people are waking up the huge amount of enjoyment that exploring the scented world can offer, and are keen to explore the stories behind fragrances, ingredients and brands, particularly the creative who play a role in making scents. We do see increasing numbers of men wanting to explore the world of fragrance – a quarter of our subscribers and readers are male even though we only scratch the surface of men’s perfumery.

 

Perfume Journalism:

H: What do you think the greatest benefit perfume journalism has achieved for the perfume industry?

J: It is vital not only for informing but for ‘bringing alive’ fragrances in the public’s imagination. As a result, they’re encouraged to go out and spritz, sniff – and buy.

 

 

H:One of the reasons I started to research perfume was because I was interested in its composition and history. Some of the best reviews I’ve come across have been able to toe the line between fact, emotion and understanding. What do you think makes a writer exceptional?

J:An ability to tap into emotion, as well as research well.

 

H: In order to capture people’s interest with online publications, what advice do you have for people starting their own website/blog?

J: Try to think what your point of difference is. There are many great bloggers out there; what makes your approach different? I’ve never been interested in doing anything ‘me-too’ – I want to pioneer. Any would-be blogger should think the same way.

 

 

H:With the Society’s The Scented Letter, did you have any particular aspirations or goals for the magazine?

J: It amuses me now that when we talked to perfume houses about what we were doing, I told them: ‘… and we’re going to produce a regular newsletter.’ I had a vision of an 8-page monthly mailout that I’d design myself. But at some point – and I literally cannot tell you how this happened – putting this ‘newsletter’ together I found that there was so much incredible material, so many ideas and so many great writers and photographers that it somehow became a beautiful, fully-blown magazine almost without me realising it.

 

H:Is there anyone you want to collaborate with in the future on The Scented Letter?

J: I’m hoping to persuade Luca Turin, who is taking part in a Perfume Society event for our VIPs in October, to write for us. He and I go back a l-o-n-g way to a time when I interviewed Luca in his molecular biologist role at UCL for a feature I was writing about music and fragrance. I introduced him to some perfume brands and he and I began doing events together – and he went on to become the most revered fragrance writer in the world.

 

H:What do you think the next step will be for perfume journalism & the online community?

J: No idea.

 

Business:

H: For anyone who wants to set up a company related to the perfume industry, how would you advise them?

J:Find an unexploited niche, and be prepared to work incredibly hard. As I saw one business writer observe recently, ‘If you’ve got a business and you’ve got a life, you’re not working hard enough.’

 

H: Because the perfume industry is quite a closed market, what do you think is the best way to go about building contacts?

L: Network at CEW events, come to Perfume Society events, use LinkedIn.

 

H: Please tell us about your work as a brand consultant.

J:As the creator of Green & Black’s and two further successful ventures before The Perfume Society, I know what works. Consultants are useful when they bring an outsider’s perspective – I often spot mistakes companies are making that they’re entirely blind to, because they look at them all the time. But my most valuable gift is that I remain, above and beyond anything, a consumer – and am able always to put myself in customer’s shoes.

 

H: When working with a company as a brand consultant, what is the first thing you tend to focus on?

J: No one thing. The whole package, as an outsider/customer.

 

The Future & the Industry:

H: How do you see Perfume Society developing in the next thirty years?

J: I would like to find the right international partners – ‘insider perfumistas’ with the same sort of access-all-areas contacts in the perfume world – to take this idea and run with it, globally.

 

 

H: Where do you see the perfume industry going in the next thirty years?

J: I think by then we’ll see the ability for customers to try fragrances via their computers/mobiles, via innovative technologies. There’s already an oNote ‘phone’ created by a Harvard professor which transmits scented messages, and I think there’ll be further innovations which are a quantum leap forward from that. I believe the pace of innovation will continue, and that demand will rise as well as the world wakes up to the fact that it has an extraordinary sense – the sense of smell – which is simply not being used.

 

H: Where would you like to see the perfume industry going in the next thirty years?

J: I hope that the current awareness and move towards sustainability of ingredient production is maintained, and spreads throughout the industry.

 

 

— Thank you for reading–