Secrets of the Liberty Fragrance Room
Liberty perfume expert Stuart tells tales from our emporium and celebrates his favourite scents
Almost 20 years part of the Liberty family, Stuart is just as iconic a fixture in our fragrance room as the fresco-style ceiling mural it looms under. An unconventional matchmaker with an encyclopaedic knowledge of scent, for Stuart, guiding customers towards their perfume destiny is no less than an emotional matter. In fact, over the years, scenting brides- and grooms-to-be for their big days has become somewhat of a speciality. Here, Stuart pays homage to the beating heart of our beauty hall (and his second home), decoding the complexities of our most precious blends and celebrating the perfume greats that make it one of London’s most treasured destinations.
On his love affair with fragrance at Liberty…
It was initially the bottles that drew me into the world of fragrance. I love shiny, bright things! When passing the Liberty windows, they reeled me in – and naturally, I then began to investigate the fragrances inside. I started studying oils and massage, then I worked for Parisian fragrance house L’Artisan. After that, I was offered a job at Liberty, and here I am 19 years later.
We’ve got great products and such niche, unusual brands. And of course, I love the customers – we get such a diverse, artistic mix, from very young people who have taken a recent interest in fragrance, to fragrance obsessives who have been coming back for years.
On our bestsellers…
Escentric Molecules’ Molecule 01 is always number one. There’s nothing else quite like it – it’s made using a single synthetic ingredient, Iso E Super, and created using science that works with the individual’s own skin chemistry, so the scent is unique to each person. In the collection, all of the Molecules are single-note formulas, so they’re more reactive with the skin and they develop over time, while the Escentrics are the traditional fragrance equivalent.
Another brand that does really well for us is Santa Eulalia from Barcelona. Obscuro is the bestseller, with notes of amber, musk, leather and star anise – it’s spicy but not at all overpowering.
Many people look to buy a fragrance as a memoir – sometimes they keep it to spritz occasionally, and sometimes they’ll wear it.
On his talent for matchmaking…
I’ll start by asking a customer what they wear currently and what it is they’d like to change. People don’t tend to stray too far from what they’re already wearing. It can sometimes be difficult to articulate exactly what it is you like about a fragrance – a customer might come in thinking they’re looking for one thing, and leave with something totally different. My job is about listening and getting a feel for the customer’s taste, then I’ll guide them through recommendations to help them find The One. It isn’t always love at first sight – some customers will come back over a course of days to allow themselves time to reflect, as it can be quite overwhelming for the senses in here! I always advise starting with three fragrances, comparing them against one another, then taking it from there.
If you’re seeking out fragrance solo, do your research! People often fall in love with a brand or fragrance based on the backstory. Read about the brand’s founder or the perfumer, because they always have a beautiful tale to tell. Here at Liberty we’re lucky enough to meet them, and it’s getting to know these people that gives us such a close connection to each brand.
On making memories…
A bridal fragrance should be in-keeping with the wearer’s taste and a true reflection of their character, yet distinctive enough to evoke the specific memory of their special day. It’ll likely be worn again for anniversaries and other special occasions, so it should be an authentic representation of the individual.
Florals are the top choice for a wedding, Nassomatto’s Narcotic V. being one of the most popular. It’s a light, heady floral that lasts; a pure perfume extract that you won’t need to top up throughout the day. It’s said that Princess Diana wore Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs l’Original on her wedding day, and people often buy it to keep a memory of her. We’re one of the only stores that stocks it.
One of my customers was gifted a bottle of Carthusia’s Fiori di Capri by her husband when they honeymooned on the Italian island just after the war. Her husband passed away and she wears the scent as a memoir, returning here to buy a new bottle each time.
On his personal signatures…
I wear Molecule 01 because it’s so light and natural-smelling. Since I’m surrounded by fragrance all day long, I’m not looking for anything too heavy. It’s guaranteed to fetch comments from others – people are always chasing after me to ask what scent I’m wearing!
To go out, I wear Maison Francis Kurkdijian’s Amyris Homme or Nassomatto Duro – with a very heady, woody character, it’s more of an evening scent.
On fragrance structures…
Most fragrances have a pyramid structure to illustrate how the scent develops over time. Top notes are what you smell first with the strong, alcoholic hit of the initial spray – they’re usually light, fresh and uplifting (often citrus), and they disappear quickly. The heart notes are the main body of the perfume, revealing themselves right after the top. They’re usually deeper – often florals, woods or spices. The staying-power is in the base notes – musks or leathers reveal themselves after an hour or so of wearing the fragrance, and they linger on the skin. Some fragrances, like Molecule 01, are just a single note, and some don’t have a pyramid – there’s no superior fragrance structure, it’s all about what works for you.
Fragrance need not be pretentious, because it’s very personal. My dad used to wear Maurer & Wirtz’s Tabac Original and Old Spice, and I wear them sometimes. I also still keep a bottle of Dior Fahrenheit, because it takes me to my happy place
On a nose he admires…
When Nasomatto first launched in the UK at Liberty, Black Afgano flew off the shelves – people used to buy it in 10s and 20s! It’s striking because of its jet black colour, which is thanks to Alessandro Gualtieri and his amazingly eccentric character. He doesn’t believe in disclosing what ingredients are in his perfumes, and focuses on the story instead. This is to challenge peoples pre-conceptions about what they do and don’t like – with these, it’s all about instinct.
Another of Gaultieri’s brands, Orto Parisi, features a collection of fragrances that are coloured to match their character. Terroni is the most popular at the moment – we were once out of stock for three months! It’s deep red in colour, and smells earthy, spiced and sweet.
On working with Richard E Grant…
I’ve got so many amazing memories from working here. A highlight for me was working with Richard E Grant because I’ve always been a huge fan of his. I was fortunate enough to play a part in the creation of his debut fragrance line, Jack. He created the collection himself from start to finish – he’s fanatical about scent – and he approached Liberty to assist him in the process. He’d bring rough drafts of his fragrances, and we’d give feedback based on our knowledge of the customer. The finished signature scent is stunning, with masculine notes of citrus, spice, tobacco, white musk and resin.