Exploring the Future of Perfume with Olfiction

Listed as one of Fashion & Beauty Monitor's 'Top 10 UK fragrance influencers', Nick Gilbert, co-founder of unique fragrance consultancy Olfiction, is one to watch in the perfumery world, with a wealth of experience under his belt working for brands accross the world, an engaging scent-based Youtube channel and a roster of incredible packages, from fragrance training to custom perfumery. Here, we chat to Nick about how he got started in the industry, and whats next for the future of smell!

1. Give us a little insight into your background; what led you to work in the perfume industry?

I started a job at Boots the Chemist in my teens, and after my first month or so, the management team asked me what I wanted to do, and I told them that wanted to work on the perfume counter. So, the next shift I was scheduled onto the perfume counter. I sold perfume at Boots through college and my degree, and started training other colleagues whilst I was there. Turned out I was pretty good at selling perfume, because I had a knack for describing scents to people. Whilst I was at Boots I started writing for Basenotes.net - the founder of Basenotes is a former Boots perfume counter veteran himself. As result, I was discovered by specialist perfumery Les Senteurs in London. I helped open their second store, to relaunch their website, and run events and training with them - working directly with many of the perfumers and brand owners to launch their products and collections and so on.

2. Why did you and Pia start Olfiction (and why the name Olfiction)?

I left my job at two niche fragrance brands at around the same time as Pia left her job at a fragrance consultancy - we’d both had freelance clients along the way and just around that time we spoke about ‘maybe one day’ setting up a business as a pair. It seemed like a viable idea since we knew we got on so well and worked well together - we’d previously co-arranged a few tours of London perfumeries together. Within a few weeks we’d both been approached independently by some of the same clients, and then a client came along that happened to need both of us. We decided to take a leap of faith and start a business. We were rolling around a bunch of ideas, and Olfiction came up. The name is a combination of olfaction (the sense of smell) and fiction (storytelling), as we help our clients tell their stories through scent.

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3. What have been your favourite brands to work with, and your favourite projects to work on?

I’ve loved the challenges and projects from all of our clients - as long as the project is ’smell’ related, I’m into it! But I love fragrance development most of all, and seeing those in finished products - the scent I’m proudest of is the Gardenia candle launched by True Grace. Some of our other projects are yet to launch, so I can’t talk about them yet!

4. We love your Youtube channel! What made you start it and how do you come up with so much great content?

In the same conversation Pia and I had after leaving our jobs, we thought it would be great fun to film some videos and see how they went. We’ve evolved along the way, seeing what has and hasn’t worked, and the process has sped up significantly. We are so in love with perfumery as a subject, and such big proponents of sharing the experience of sniffing with other people. Every time we sniff a fragrance, we’ve got plenty to discuss. So, we just keep sniffing new things together and cracking each other up!

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5. How does Ofliction go about developing a unique scent, and how long does the process take?

We start much like any other perfume house, but we offer a lot more help to our clients than you would get from a fragrance house – and can work on projects in a more bespoke and integrated way. For example, we sometimes help clients develop their ideas from a concept to a viable ‘brief’ (a set of requirements and creative guidelines for a fragrance).

Many clients might be great at business but less experienced in fragrance, so we are there to either facilitate the process or to help them with all of it, as we also have the capabilities of creating scents for them ourselves - and having our partner in France supply the finished fragrance.

We start by really getting to understand what story the client is trying to tell with their brand and fragrance, and then go on to create a set of guidelines for the perfumer including a mood board, defining an olfactive direction or profile, expected cost, and translating cues into raw materials.

Then, depending on whether we are briefing other perfumers or creating the scent ourselves, the brief becomes the guide against which submissions are checked.

If we create the fragrance, Pia creates an initial version, which we evaluate together. We’ll refine that until we’re happy it’s to brief, submit it to the client, get their feedback, and repeat the process until we have sign off on the fragrance.

The length of time depends on the complexity of the project and the client’s needs! It’s possible to create a scent in a matter of days, but more typically the process takes from a few weeks to even a few months, depending on how many versions and trials we go through with the client and the base product. We tend to create mostly for fine fragrance and home fragrance applications, but have also got a couple of projects on for cosmetics and toiletries.

6. How did it feel to be listed in Fashion and Beauty Monitor's '10 UK-based fragrance influencers you should know’?

It was a welcome surprise, to be honest! It was great to be listed with some people who I’m fortunate enough to count as friends.

7. In today's digital era, why is scent important, and how can it stay relevant?

Scent is hugely important and it feels like we are on the precipice of scent becoming the next ‘big thing’ in terms of appreciation. The digital era has shepherded in a huge sea change in the industry - allowing niche and artisanal brands to thrive and be discovered by an audience that would never have found them otherwise. It’s given a voice to people to passionately discuss their favourite subject. The brands that haven’t successfully figured out the online world are really the designer brands. Their fragrances aren’t telling stories or communicating the scents effectively online - they are desperate to remain aspirational. I’m waiting for a brand to ask us to help them create VR experiences that really work with fragrances.

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8. Tell us about your work with Penhaligon’s

I had such a great time at Penhaligon’s! Initially when I arrived I was brought on as the scent expert within the marketing team, and because of my social media experience (it was how I was found by them) I was put onto running social for the brand, and also developing the window displays. When I arrived, it was a small team and we all worked across things that now are several separate peoples’ roles. I was part of the team that developed the Trade Routes concept and scents, where I got to name my first fragrance, Lothair - and worked across several developments and launches. I was sent to learn about creation and to recreate workshops with the Parisian L’Artisan Parfumeur team including what was at the time two incredible perfumers and a trainee who is now a full-fledged perfumer in his own right. I also developed the in-house training programme for the brand and was tasked with reworking the training for the sister brand, too. I was sent all around the world training for the brands and even delivered the first fragrance lectures at sea aboard Cunard's Queen Mary II.

9. For you, what makes a great scent?

The most important factors to me are quality of raw materials - it’s easy to tell when a fragrance is rich in quality naturals - and the construction of the fragrance. A great fragrance should be novel, interesting and avoid clichés. And of course, it should just smell great - if it smells ‘ok’ or ‘fine’, then it’s not good enough.

10. What are your favourite smells, and what are your top three perfumes/colognes?

My favourite smells are pink grapefruit, Ribena, burning incense, forest floors and roses.
My top three fragrances vary all the time, but at the moment they are Copal Azur by Aedes de Venustas (the best incense fragrance I’ve ever smelled), Tea Tonique by Miller Harris (a gorgeous, easy wearing fresh tea fragrance with a smoky backdrop) and Wood of Life by Anima Vinci (which contains one of my new favourite raw materials, and smells unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered).

Find out more at http://www.olfiction.com

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Ruth MacGilp, 20, UK. Fashion Communication Student and Fashion Blogger.
Edinburgh Website