Wednesday, 3 September 2014

'Read my scent': The Library of Fragrance (aka Demeter Fragrance Library) gets a UK boost in Boots

That perfume looks decidedly fresher than my knob of ginger
I first encountered the New York-based perfumery, Demeter Fragrance Library, under (by any yardstick) very odd circumstances. It was during my visit to fellow blogger Bloody Frida's home town in the Mid-West, in March 2011. The full story of our extremely full-on weekend is recounted here, but the bit about the two perfumes from the Demeter line that I discovered back then bears repeating - to set the scene (and the requisite oddball tone) for this latest post about the line.

"As the night wore on, and my two bottles of beer somehow managed to be chased down (note the careful use of the passive voice) by a vodka martini that had been abandoned by one of our party (rude not to drink it, really), I started to feel a bit merry. Indeed I was probably not far off the state to which I refer in my 1984 diary rather more bluntly as 'pissed'. The rest of the evening is a fabulous blur, but we ended up back at the house of the Yorkshireman and his wife (friends of Bloody Frida we had bumped into earlier that evening), who live in a warehouse conversion tastefully decorated with a surreal assortment of art works in every conceivable medium, vintage 50s furniture, and reclaimed industrial materials repurposed as quirky ornaments - in short, a stunningly strange collection of artefacts that had been lovingly curated over many decades. We sat cross legged on the floor knocking back - and partly also, OVER - rather too many glasses of red wine, crunching wholegrain crackers with the gusto of people who hadn't eaten for a week, not just a few hours earlier, and spraying the entire length of our hostess's arms with the assortment of perfumes we had had the foresight to bring with us in case just such a consultancy opportunity should arise. We also got to try the only two perfumes she currently owned: Demeter Snow and Fireplace, and empathised over a lost chypre scent she had once loved."


That is rather a long preamble, I know, but I will forever associate the Demeter brand with the extraordinary house of the quirky artist whose perfume collection was so sparse by comparison, comprising just this duo of Snow and Fireplace. I remember Snow as being a cold, watery, slightly other worldly and faintly spring floral scent, that did a good job of conjuring up the sensation and smell of burying one's head in the white stuff. Fireplace I can't recall, but I think it might have been a woody spicy number.

In the intervening three and a half years I can frankly say I haven't given the Demeter range a single thought, mostly because it hasn't really been available over here - or only in fits and starts in places like Liberty's, say. But the brand popped back into my mind this week, when I received an email out of the blue from the MD of a distribution company called House of Blend, who is charged with launching the brand in the UK under the name 'The Library of Fragrance'.

As it happens, I have been doing some thinking lately about the various approaches I receive from what I shall loosely and collectively term as 'PR people'.  I alluded briefly to this topic in my recent Papillon Perfumery post, because exchanges with Liz Moores are a shining exception to the bland, impersonal, automaton-like communications I often receive from such quarters. Clare Rees, the MD of House of Blend, has a similarly down to earth manner. Hence I was immediately 'engaged' by her email (there goes another quid in the 'orrible business speak equivalent of a swear box...), also by the fact that she addressed me by name (a small thing you might think, but by no means a given!). Moreover she had clearly read my blog, and not just pretended to have done so in some glib throwaway reference. So the 'real sounding' and personalised nature of her overture immediately warmed me further to this offbeat brand I dimly recalled from that drunken night in Ohio...


In a press release accompanying Clare's email, I learnt that a 'capsule collection' of 28 'best selling' scents from the Library of Fragrance will be launching on 9th September in 400 Boots branches nationwide. Hmm, not sure why 'best selling' should be in inverted commas - unless there are some interpretation issues with the sales figures - but there you go. The rest of the range (there are a staggering 101 scents overall!) will be available to buy online from the Library of Fragrance's UK website. The price will be a snip at £15 for a 30ml bottle, and there will additionally be a '2 for £25' promotion at Boots, possibly as an indefinite basis.

For anyone not familiar with The Library of Fragrance, the brand is founded on the principle of creating perfumes that smell of everyday things.

"Rather than trying to capture the ‘essence’of an aspirational ideal or glossy advertising image, The Library of Fragrance presents scents that are ‘real’ and ‘familiar’ and can be chosen to reflect the preferences of the wearer, instead of those dictated by a perfumer or designer. Selecting a scent to wear becomes as easy as asking yourself, ‘what sort of things do I like?’"

Gin & Tonic the perfume cosying up to Aldi's finest

Well, I have nothing in principle against perfumes that reflect the preferences of a perfumer or designer - I just accept that I may or may not like their compositions, just as I may or may not like some of the everyday things The Library of Fragrance supposes I might care to smell. It is certainly refreshing, however, to get away for a while from that 'wafty, soft focus, chiffon-clad Keira Knightley / Scarlett Johansson' style of perfume marketing implicitly referenced in the quote above. And interestingly, this more prosaic approach to perfumery is exactly the kind embraced by my friend Clare - whom I recently featured in my 'perfumista protege progress report' series - in answer to the question about how her feelings towards perfume had changed since I started introducing her to more niche scents.

"I think that as a result of owning more bottles and trying more 'stuff' I have understood more about what I really like. I describe this as a perfume that smells of a thing. Something organic, not something perfumey."

Well, the Library of Fragrance concept looks right up her street...;)

The other aspect that will be promoted by the brand is layering. With such a humungous range to explore - even the shortlist of 28 available in-store is pretty darn extensive - I can't see me experimenting with layering any time soon. I suppose though that it is a logical extension of the philosophy of a person enjoying 'smelling of things'. You can basically mix and match your favourite smells to create more complex scented settings / scenarios. As the press release goes on to explain:

"The most basic rule of thumb is that if things smell good together in real life, they will smell good on you. For example, ‘Grass’ + ‘Sunshine’ + ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ smell incredible worn together, perfectly conjuring a summer day’s stroll in the park, whilst ‘Gingerbread’ + ‘Marshmallow’ is a comforting duo that gourmand fragrance fans will fall for."

So in Clare's case, as a diehard fig lover and the anchorwoman of Cake Club, she could perhaps combine Fig Leaf with Vanilla Cake Batter, say. To fully meet her tastes, however, the range has a glaring omission in the shape of Wet Dog.

Hypothetical Wet Dog & Snow layering idea? ~ Source: Clare Chick

As I say, I don't feel ready to layer yet, and am not a big fan of layering generally, for even with the relatively small Jo Malone range, which also sets store by the notion, the infinite permutations used to blow my mind and increase the anxiety levels I was already feeling from having so many perfume options to choose from in my collection as a whole. So I will just toss the idea out there for the moment in case any readers are more inclined that way.

Having piqued their curiosity about the upcoming launch, I am meeting with Clare and two other male friends - who are both delightfully eccentric and generally drawn to 'weird stuff' - down the pub shortly. Here I plan to hold an utterly unscientific mini-focus group about the Library of Fragrance line. I thought my mate David would be a good test subject, as he is an artist in the realist tradition and loves nothing more than to paint juxtapositions of food and flowers with other random objects. The other chap, Jim, actually suggested that on her recent sodden charity bike ride, Clare could equally well have worn the Demeter Rain perfume in place of her choice of Bradley Wiggins-inspired Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers. At the time he had merely found a link to it in Google, but now - thanks to the generosity of House of Blend - we have a 'starter kit' of scents representing various points along the 'orthodox to well wacky' spectrum for our focus group, including the very weathers with which Clare contended on that day, ie Rain and Thunderstorm! Then in my invitation, I initially wrote 'mini-ficus group' by mistake, which of course would only work for the Fig Leaf one.

David's take on things figgy

I am actually wearing eight Library of Fragrance scents at once as I write, and my initial thoughts are that each perfume faithfully smells of the thing it purports to represent, however abstract or concrete that thing may be. They are verily the Ronseal of the perfume world. Which prompted Jim to pipe up: 'There's one that smells of creosote? Oh good!" For the moment I have had to disappoint him, but who knows what line extensions may yet come down the pipe?

So I will report back with their - and more of my own - feedback in due course. I confidently predict that the comments from that trio will be as 'off the wall' as the perfumes themselves.

UPDATE - We have had the focus group now, and the predictably bonkers post about it is now up!

Oh, and the 28 scents that will shortly be available in-store at Boots may be found on their website here.


odonata9 said...

Demeter scents are fun, cheap, and usually pretty faithful to the scent, if not long-lasting. my favorite is Ginger Ale. The beginning actually seems fizzy, while it doesn't smell exactly like the drink, it is quite pleasant. I also have Wet Garden, which isn't quite dirty enough for me - I should just gotten Dirt!

Anonymous said...

Hiya Bonks,

Hmm - "The House of Blend" and "The Library of Fragrance" - The Stilted Naming is rather surprising. Wonder why they went for these and ditched Demeter?

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Anonymous said...

Demeter? What we buy in the local Reformhaus? They make tea as well? I would have to pass. Love the story though. Unless the came up with a bike oil and cookie fragrance. But then I have that anyway. Fabulous writing, as always. xxx

Vanessa said...

Hi odonata9,

That's a good summary of the Demeter line, as it still is where you are, based on the handful I have tried already. Dirt seems to be quite iconic from my background reading, and am sorry your Wet Garden wasn't earthy enough. ;) I am drawn to the lighthearted vibe of the company, I must say, and am keen to try more. They are a bit 'bonkers' - which hits the spot given the nature of the blog - yet are not unwearably weird like some of the more 'out there' niche creations.

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Seemingly the company does not own the Demeter trademark in Europe, and was therefore unable to market the perfumes under that name over here. 'The House of Blend' doesn't instantly compute with me, I must say. Makes me think of coffee before perfume, and I don't even drink coffee!

The US name is already 'Demeter Fragrance Library' in full, so the UK name is not a million miles off. Perhaps the snappier variant of 'The Fragrance Library' was taken as well? I am only speculating, but the answer may be more mundane than we imagine.

Vanessa said...

Hi Val,

No, not that Demeter, but that may be the reason the company is not called Demeter over here, hehe. There is a Chocolate Chip Cookie scent, though you have that in your own kitchen as you say. Oh, I see there is also a Saddle fragrance, though possibly not the right kind of saddle.

Undina said...

Good PR people are rare... Well, you know, strike that. Over years I noticed that good representatives of any profession are rare - that's why I feel good every time I come across one of them.

Demeter is a brand that I like as an idea but wouldn't have time to wear their scents: too simple. But I own three of them - lilac, rose and lavender - and use to scent sheets.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I know what you mean about the Demeter scents being simple, but I am hoping the listing in Boots will mean they are an interesting gateway to niche and/or more unusual scents generally. The brand is a long way removed in its ethos from the fruity floral flankers elsewhere in the store.

And yes, you may well be right about good representatives of any profession being rare - there have been many discussions about poor sales assistants on the blogs, for example

Tara said...

The "mini ficus group" gave me a giggle. After observing Jim and David via your FB status updates I'm fascinated to hear how this went. Can't wait for the update.

Like you, I have warm feelings for Demeter because they are quirky yet approachable. I acutally like the layering idea. I think it's fab they are coming to Boots and I checked out the range. Mango and Thunderstorm appealed the most at first glance. Though I'd like to try Snow and Fireplace too. I remember that brilliant BF post and can't believe it was 3 and a half years ago! Shocking.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

The ficus group is scheduled for next Wednesday ;), all being well. Both Clare and Jim are off on holiday on Thursday, but are able to just fit it in. When Clare learnt they were both going on the same day, she quipped: 'People will talk!'

If you are feeling more adventurous than me on the layering front, let me know of any good combos you come up with for the Library of Fragrance range. Given how simplistic the scents are in themselves, perhaps that is the way to go, even if I persist in resisting it. I thought you might fancy Mango with your love of Bombay Bling.

And yes, I don't know where the time goes. I remember my visit with Bloody Frida as if it were yesterday. Which isn't at all bad given how much I had to drink that weekend!

Anonymous said...

While Demeter perfumes are usually quite fleeting, they also has some mini perfume oils and they last longer. Honeysuckle is quite pretty.

Carol said...

Hello V! It still cracks me up that when we have talked about this - that I don't remember the Demeter and you don't remember Replique!! What a lovely time we had, and your visit was wonderful, and I miss you in person!!. xox

Vanessa said...

Hi Anonymous,

I agree about the fleeting in my testing so far, so that is interesting about the mini perfume oils. Not sure if they will be part of the launch, or maybe added later depending how sales go? I love honeysuckle, and had my eye on that perfume as it happens. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Isn't it funny how we have complementary memories of that amazing night? One of the best of my life, no question - though the corresponding hangover was one of the very worst. Miss you too! xxx

Suzanne said...

Vanessa, I remember reading the original post about your visit with Bloody Frida - it sounded like so much fun!

Now, thinking about Demeter fragrances, I have tried only a couple and they're not really my kind of thing, but the Gin and Tonic one that you have pictured in your post is one I'll try if I see it in a store. (It's my favorite mixed drink. And as crazy as it sounds, I think it would make a good sheet spray, since gin-and-tonics smell so much like pine trees and cool air, or at least to me they do.) :-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

You have a good memory - and are one of the 'old guard' too, as Bonkers readers go!

I can quite see that Demeter fragrances might be a bit linear / simplistic for your taste, but I can recommend the Gin & Tonic for your sheets. It is very refreshing and faithful to the drink, I would say.

Ddon said...

I like to wear dirt,rain and honeysuckle together. It reminds me of balmy summer evenings when I was younger. Donall

Vanessa said...

Hi Donall,

That sounds like a very evocative combination...