Richard E. Grant is enjoying the sweet smell of success with his award-winning unisex fragrance, JACK. And it all started with a childhood dream and a jam jar of water and rose petals…
What inspired you to launch JACK? Have you always wanted to have a perfume of your own?
When I was 12 in 1969, living in Swaziland, Americans had just walked on the moon so all things Yankee were irresistible. I had a huge crush on an American girl and wanted to buy her perfume for her birthday, but it proved beyond my pocket money savings. So I tried to make some by boiling sugar water, rose and gardenia petals in jam jars, burying them in the garden and hoping that by some magical osmosis they would become perfume. Stink bombs were the sad result but the desire to create scent was firmly planted. I’ve been led by my nose all my life and sniff everything in sight, so it was a secret dream that one day I could create something.
We hear the designer Anya Hindmarch encouraged you to pursue your ambition to create a scent. How did you go about turning the dream into a reality?
We were fellow house guests in Mustique and Anya noticed that I compulsively smelled everything and asked “Are you going to do something about this?’ Do you mean psychiatrically?’ I asked. She laughed and said, ‘No, create your own perfume!’ When I told her it had been a lifelong dream, she took out her iPhone and tapped out a list of contacts and said ‘Do it. Passion is everything in business.’
When I got back to London, I made an appointment with Lynn Harris of Miller Harris who generously gave me great advice, then onto Marigay McKee at Harrods who introduced me to Roja Dove. He has been my mentor and introduced me to Catherine Mitchell at IFF. She asked if it was to be a ‘celebrity scent’ and when I said no, she took me seriously. We went to meet Gina Ritchie and Sarah Coonan at Liberty, which was like Dragon’s Den meets The Apprentice. They agreed to buy it on a year’s exclusivity if it came up to their standard, and now it’s one of their best sellers.
Which ingredients does JACK bring together?
Catherine Mitchell set up a meeting with Paris based ‘Nose’, Alienor Massenet in a restaurant. I took out all my favourite ingredients, including lime, marijuana, mandarin, pepper, nutmeg and clove and she made an initial tester from which we then worked together and refined till arriving at an almost but not quite perfect combination. She added Oud and tobacco absolute for the ‘Vroom’ base notes. At 2 am, I mixed the semi-final favourites together, called her at dawn and declared ‘Eureka’. The combination of citrus top notes alongside the sexy marijuana and pepper notes proved irresistible.
Your fragrances are unisex – why was it important to create a scent that appeals to both men and women?
Having grown up in the 60s/70s where everything was unisex, it seems Jurassic to still think of scent with that dated divide and it is my determination to continue to produce unisexy scents.
You’ve said that you wanted to create a fragrance that was ‘lickably-more-ish’ and ‘addictive’. Have you achieved that with JACK?
The moment I sniffed the final formula for JACK, I knew that it was my ‘signature in scent’ and had an indefinable quality that is the closest to addiction in that you keep wanting more and when I have smelt it on other people, I’ve had to restrain myself from giving them a good lick!
Your second fragrance, JACK-COVENT GARDEN conjures up the essence of the famous market. How did the idea come about?
I was a waiter in Covent Garden in 1982 when I emigrated from Swaziland to London. It was the epicentre of the theatre world and former site of the fruit and vegetable market, iconically preserved in My Fair Lady. So I wanted to create a fragrance that is a love letter to this historic area. Nell Gwynn, mistress of King Charles II, sold oranges in theatres before becoming the first legal female actor, thanks to the King changing the law in her honour. As opera singers and actors always receive flowers on opening nights and sometimes use ginger to clear their throats, I was inspired to use orange, ginger, and rose as top notes. I went to Grasse and sampled oils and came back with Oris, which is extracted from iris bulbs and very expensive but a great base note. Alienor then added carrot, which was inspired and brought everything together.
You scooped the prize of Winner of the Cosmopolitan Power Perfume Award 2014, and winner of the Fragrance Foundation Award, Best Independent Fragrance 2015. What do these plaudits mean to you and your brand?
To be taken seriously by the perfume industry was genuinely astonishing and their support and awards are absolutely amazing. All this after only a year in business, when 1,100 fragrances are launched every year still feels unreal. Having been advised not to invest my own money, it is truly rewarding to have proved my doubt sayers wrong and produce an award winning and commercially viable brand.
You recently launched a scented Jack candle. Can you describe it and how important is scent in your home?From the get go, people asked if I was going to make a scented candle, most especially Ed Burstell, chief honcho at Liberty, so I got going almost immediately after the fragrance launch. I’m about to launch the JACK-COVENT GARDEN candle in October. I’ve always used scented candles at home, so to have my own brand is an unexpected bonus of the perfume business, and I now have
Your brand encapsulates British luxury. What does Britishness mean to you?
Red is my favourite colour and inextricably linked to London – buses, post boxes, curtains of the Covent Garden opera house, telephone boxes, red coat uniforms, brickwork in Chelsea, on and on. Which is why my packaging is this iconic gloss red. For me, the Union Jack flag symbolises the all-inclusive cosmopolitan variety of people and cultures that have made London the unique global city that it is. I wanted a quintessentially British name, and when Dylan Jones at GQ Magazine saw my packaging and the Union Jack bag inside, he suggested I call my brand JACK. So I owe that to him.
Which other British luxury brands do you love?
Anya Hindmarch, Daylesford Organic, Roja Dove, Jigsaw, Jo Malone, Miller Harris, Burberry, Lobbs, Liberty prints.
What are your simple luxuries in life?
Walking along the Thames and across Richmond Park. I try to walk everywhere in London, and never take for granted this magnificent city that’s given me so much.
When will we next see you on the big screen?
I’m in a 10 hour series of Jekyll & Hyde for ITV playing the head of the secret service, which is showing this autumn, and a role in Game of Thrones.
What next for Jack? Products in the pipeline?
JACK-Piccadilly will be launched in 2016. Another unisexy scent combining Bergamot, petrol, patchouli and amber, celebrating the iconic area of London.
Jack is available at jackperfume.co.uk. Jack is proudly made in Britain, and not tested on animals.