Linda Pilkington exudes an energy and passion that seem difficult to be contained in such a petite woman – less than five foot tall. The only British female perfumer that owns her own house after more than 20 years, Linda’s brand, Ormonde Jayne, has become synonymous with the finest, gender and stereotype-free fragrances in the country.
Linda’s adventure into the world of perfume started with a commission to create a scented candle for Chanel’s boutique 20 years ago and has since evolved into 300 points of sale worldwide. It has been a long journey, but one that Linda treasures. “I enjoy all of it,” she explains with a big smile and dreamy eyes, “from going to the end of the world for a specific oil to greeting my customers here [her boutique in the Royal Arcade, London] or meeting other professionals in the industry… I find it all very exciting.”
Personal relationships are at the core of how Linda does things. “I’ve always been inspired by family-run businesses,” she explains, “I prefer them because decisions can be taken much more quickly and it is easier to avoid certain compromises. In the case of perfumes for example, working with cheaper essential oils to reduce costs is a classic one, or not letting them mature long enough before bottling them. I’d never do that.”
Ormonde Jayne’s boutique in the Royal Arcade, London feels like a chocolate box, luxurious, indulgent and full of wonderful surprises.
The truth is that I can’t imagine anyone telling Linda Pilkington what to do. However, she regularly seeks her husband’s advice. “He is the sensible one in the family,” she shares, “and he is very smart too, so I like running things by him. He gives me his opinion and then I decide, but unless what would probably happen with outside investors, his recommendations are not based on pushing profits but on helping me achieve my dreams for Ormonde Jayne.”
It is clear that Linda is driven by passion. I observe her while she tells me about pure flower oils and the faraway places she goes to find her ingredients and her face lights up. She brings Black Hemlock Absolute from the pine forests in North America, Frangipani blossoms from the tropical beaches in Kenya, Oudh from The Mekong river… the list is endless. She truly goes to the four corners of the world to source those magical compounds that make her fragrances truly individual and free from any stereotypes. For example, Linda made her collection gender free back in 2005, way before it became popular. “It was a decision based on observing our customers,” Linda explains, “I’d see women choosing perfumes I had initially conceived as male and vice versa. I realised that it was a mistake to assign gender to fragrances and that everyone should wear whichever scent they felt more identified with. So instead, I organised my perfumes in families. This is also why the design of our bottles is so neutral.”
Frangipani is one of the most fragrant flowers in perfumery, their scent reminiscing of something exotic, tropical and sultry.
It was for a similar reason that last year she removed the term “oriental” from all her perfumes and changed it to “amberesque”, to indicated those made with resins and ambers. “I agree with perfumer writer Tania Sánchez. The term ‘oriental’ is actually meaningless when it comes to fragrances and could be perceived as derogatory.”
These days, the Ormonde Jayne range includes five collections: Signature, Four Corners, Elixir, La Route de la Soie and Hair Mist, not bad for a perfumer that 25 years ago couldn’t get pass the receptionist of the companies she wanted to buy oils from. “I understand them. At that time, I could only buy tiny amounts of those precious ingredients so for them it wasn’t even worth doing the paperwork. Now I can just call and they’ll send me anything I ask for,” says Linda with clear pride in her voice, “but I must admit that I could have probably struggled if it hadn’t been for the Internet, which allowed me to research and investigate suppliers all over the world.”
“I realised that it was a mistake to assign gender to fragrances and that everyone should wear whichever scent they felt more identified with.”
– Linda Pilkington
I find fascinating that the Internet has been a fundamental contributing factor to the success of a company anchored in craftmanship, a company that produces all their perfumes from start to finish in their private studio in Kent, keeping the highest standards of sustainability – including refillable bottles – and observing every single rule dictated by IFRA (International Fragrance Association), the international body that governs the perfume industry worldwide. “We perfumers can’t just use any ingredient we want. “There is a long list of banned compounds and allergens and also limitations in the amounts that can be used,” Linda explains, “and every time you launch a fragrance in a market you need to send a sample to IFRA for their approval.”
But to Linda, all the effort and more is worth it not just because of the exquisite fragrances that come out at the end of the process but for the enjoyment they bring to her customers. “Most of our clients have been coming to us for years,” she shares, “I am working downstairs and hear their voices as they walk into the boutique. I then come to greet them and hear about their children, their businesses… in a way, they have become my family. I have known some of them for two decades!”
Montabaco Verano is a sensual fragrance, rich in leather, wood and tobacco leaf with a touch of grapefruit and cashmeran.
The popularity of her fragrances is also growing among younger generations. The Route de la Soi (Silk Road) collection has been a resounding success among this demographic, probably attracted by the allure of Eastern travelling, from China to Babylonia and into the Levant. Another one very popular among her younger customers is the Four Corners collection, which celebrates the creativity that stems from the multiculturalism of London. Linda reckons that the use of ingredients rarely seen in fragrances has contributed to the success achieved among Millennials and Zoomers. “Especially in the East, our buyers tell us that young people seem to understand very well our perfumes, made with unusual ingredients, like peonies, pure gardenia or ta’if. Maybe it is because they don’t have preconceptions about scents,” suggests Linda.
Always moving forward, Linda asks herself everyday how they can do better, so the Ormonde Jayne journey is one of constant evolution. “I never re-order automatically when we run out of a stock item,” she shares, “I first wonder if I can do anything better, may that be in the packaging to make it more sustainable or in the weight of the cap of the bottle or in the booklet inside every perfume box that explains the fragrance and our philosophy.”
That initiative to keep evolving took her to create Hair Mist, a collection of fragrances for your hair that I am absolutely in love with. They contain pro-vitamin B and keratine to protect the hair follicles and promote healthy growth. And in the last few months she has launched two new perfumes, Montabaco Verano, a seductive scent based on tobacco and leather with a touch of fruitiness and zest and the dreamy Gatsby 22, inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book. “At London Craft Week they asked me to create a perfume based on my favourit book, so I picked The Great Gatsby.” Linda admits being almost obsessed with this novel. She even went to stay in the hotel where Fitzgerald wrote it. “It is such an evocative book,” she says with dreamy eyes, “so the inspiration for Gatsby 22 just flowed from the idea of open top Rolls-Royces, pearls, white linen jackets, evening garden parties and champagne on the balcony. Hence the Sicilian lemons and orange blossom in the fragrance, the little bit of Vetiver to help it last longer, the touch of leather and tobacco…” I can’t help but smile, as my imagination has been taken straight to Jay Gatsby’s lawn and I can almost hear the tinkling of champagne glasses and the laughter of his guests.
Gatsby 22 personifies the stylish and sophisticated 1920s, a time of jazz, pearls, large evening parties and Rolls Royce cars.
I realised I have been taking too much of Linda’s time, so I come back to reality and say my thank yous and good-byes. As I am leaving, two customers come in, both greeting Linda by name and immediately perching themselves on two stools for what looks like a good catch up over a cup of tea (she sources not only the best oils in the world but also the best chamomile and honey tea). I reflect on what she had told me earlier about the importance of relationships and how proud she is of having been able to balance work and family life over the years. I admire her work ethic and her ambition, which is curiously entwined with honest modesty. “I am very happy with what we have achieved. Businesswise I’d like Ormonde Jayne to stand the test of time and be amongst the very best in the market. But the most important thing is that my family stays healthy and happy.”
Since discovering Ormonde Jayne about a year ago, I must say I’ve become a great fan of both the brand and the powerful woman behind it. I look forward to discovering what else Linda Pilkington has in store for the world of perfumery and her beloved customers.