Interview: Odette Toilette La Scentellectual

The mysterious Ms Odette Toilette hosts the scintillating Scratch+Sniff nights at The Book Club in Shoreditch as well as hosting perfume parties around town to promote her scented-agenda. I’m a regular at her intellectual soirees where I have variously found myself huddled around a table sniffing scraps of paper with my friends; writing fake teenage diaries inspired by Lynx Africa and listening to a lecture on Calvin Klein’s Obsession while waiting to buy red wine at the bar (open throughout!). Odette makes learning about perfume very fun and also very stylish, so I wanted to ask her a bit more about why we should never think of perfumes as mere accessories. Oh Odette, share with us your wisdom! Here is the first part of my Q&A with her with part to to follow on Tuesday – I couldn’t bear to edit or cut it down at all because everything Odette has to say about scent is essential. I have so much to learn…

Do you have any favourite British perfumiers or brands?

Yes many. When it comes to department stores it’s trickier as most brands are French or global fashion labels. But on the smaller end of the scale there are many. Angela Flanders is brilliant. She’s worked in fragrance for years out of her studio in Columbia Road, London, doing her own thing, doesn’t give a fig what else is happening, and turns out these gorgeous perfumes and room fragrances. I am very excited to smell her new one, Aqua Alba, for which she collaborated with a whiskey distiller. 

Penhaligon’s have really revived the brand and run really quirky events around their launches. Their fragrance Cornubia is an early 1990s stunner which is the anti-cKOne and smells like Black Forest Gateau.

I love Ruth Mastenbroek’s signature perfume. Very limited distribution but worth seeking out.

On the historical side I am a fan of Grossmith London, a 19th century house who recently reformed and revived their fragrances. These did not correlate at all with my preconceptions about the Victorians. Hasu-no-Hana is an unusual, slightly brittle but refined perfume that’s fab if you like Guerlain’s Mitsouko.

For something very distinctive, Brit-in-Paris James Heeley produces perfumes that are a delight. If I tell you there’s one called Cardinal and another called Oranges & Lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s you’ll get the idea.

How do you organise your own scent wardrobe? Alphabetically? Or in another much more original way?

In my head, my scent wardrobe is extremely organised. I think of my perfumes like booze. There are the full-bodied heavy ones that come out when I want some oomph, the Sauvignon Blanc perfumes like Chanel’s Cristalle that I can wear all the time and reach for when I’m a bit tired and don’t want to have to choose. The Lambrini or Pina Colada ones that are a bit silly and fun. And then the challenging, slightly kooky ones like Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir, the biodynamic wines of the fragrance world. You will not be surprised to hear that I like wine.

This categorisation sadly does not extend to the actual organisation of my bottles which is chaos in boxes. Sorry, I wish I had a system to share. Mind you, I never organised my CD collection very well either.

At your recent Jackanory night I was happily reminiscing with my friends about Lou Lou, the classic 80s French bleu-bottle. Are there any slightly naff/old-fashioned perfumes that you think deserve a revival in 2013?

Lou Lou is the gift that keeps on giving. I also have a real soft spot for all the Avon scents from the 1980s. My mum used to get the Avon catalogue and I’d go straight for the fragrance section, ripping open those cardboard tester strips. They had a tropical perfume called Lahora which is now defunct. The bottle was the same colour as Lou Lou, and I remember the campaign had a woman having a shower in a jungle waterfall. They had others that reminded me of the 1980s Calvin Kleins; women in LBDs having dinner in restaurants at the top of skyscrapers with James Bond dress-alikes. I thought that was what happened when you grew up.

Also So?. That was the object of my desire for a few months. It’s always fun to go into the forgotten perfume bit of Superdrug or Boots and to peruse the likes of Exclamation for old times’ sake.

Would you ever make your own perfume – or have you already? And if you did what aromatic elements would it include?

I think there are enough perfumes in the world. As much as I love trying new ones, at this rate there’ll have to be the scent equivalent of a dogs’ and cats’ home to care for the overflow.

Instead, I am about to release a revival of real pot pourri as it used to be before the dodgy seashells and pinecones stuff. I’m love the idea of introducing fragrance via other objects, because this brings back a sense of fun and discovery that continues the way I run the events.

Part 2 of our Odette Q&A will follow on Tuesday. Odette Toilette’s next Scratch+Sniff nights are Penning Perfumes at Clerkenwell Tales on Wednesday 28 November and Scenta Claus’ Grotto at The Book Club on Tuesday 11 December.

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Co-editor and co-founder of Pamflet //

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