Gallivant: a journey through scent

Fragrance brand founder Nick Steward on how he distils a city into a scent and why everyone needs a perfume wardrobe

Style 28 Oct 2019

Gallivant is a perfume brand inspired by travel
The Gallivant collection

Gallivant is an independent perfume brand launched by Nick Steward in 2017 following a long career in the fragrance business. The Gallivant collection has eight unisex perfumes inspired by travel and the world’s most exciting cities: Tel Aviv, Istanbul, London, Brooklyn, Berlin, Amsterdam, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Here Steward reveals the inspiration behind the brand, why travel is at Gallivant’s heart and why everyone needs a fragrance wardrobe.

Nick Steward, Founder of Gallivant
Nick Steward, founder of Gallivant

What was the idea behind Gallivant and why did you set it up?

I had been in the fragrance business for a long time and had worked for other people, including big global brands and small niche brands, and I wanted the freedom to do my own style of perfumery and be my own boss. And I also felt the fragrance world had gone a bit wrong – either it’s glossy and commercial and supposed to be aspirational but I don’t think it actually is, I think it’s a bit silly – or it’s where niche has became a by-word for expensive, high concept and weird. And you don’t want to smell weird; you want to smell something really beautiful and emotional on your skin. So I wanted to go back to basics and make elegant compositions that are sophisticated to wear.

Was it important that Gallivant perfumes would be unisex?

Yes, because for too long the fragrance world has been too much about ‘this is the target customer, she’s the uptown, downtown fearless person’ and I’ve never met her, who is she? Or ‘he’s the sporty man’ – we’re not these weird marketing typologies. I want to make fragrances for human beings and then you decide what you like wearing.

Are big brand perfumes losing their appeal?

I would never say that those perfumes are bad or wrong; if you enjoy wearing it then it’s a good perfume, but I do think we’re in a world where people want to go beyond those big labels. I think people are looking for something real and human and we’re a really human company. What a brand like Gallivant does is make something unique and special, so you don’t have to smell like anybody else.

Were you always into smell?

Probably not and actually I want to move away from that. In perfume there’s this traditional view that you have to be in it for generations and I think that’s rubbish. You can come to it later and you can come to it from not a perfume background. I think it’s a bit like music sometimes: you can connect with it, but it takes years to master it, so in some ways the earlier you start the better, but that’s not to say you can’t come to it later in life.

Gallivant perfumes are inspired by cities around the world

Why did you choose travel and cities as the focus for Gallivant?

It’s my great passion – I love cities and I wanted to do something I know, so it feels real to me. Sometimes I think niche perfume is too abstract, but I find people say about Gallivant, ‘I know that city’, so they’re coming with a memory to the perfume and it doesn’t feel too strange and outside their comfort zone. I always love it with our perfumes when people feel like they’ve gone somewhere by smelling them. It’s the nicest reaction that people have. Tel Aviv has a lot of jasmine and is full of white flowers for a white city; London is rose and leather: grit and glam, just like the city; Brooklyn is an urban playground, a bit like a cocktail; Istanbul is warm, amber and spice, very sophisticated and glamorous; Berlin is a bit sober and Germanic with notes of vetiver; Tokyo is an incense fragrance but Asian, not a Western, Catholic incense, and has notes of sandalwood, yuzu and wasabi; Los Angeles is a woody floral with notes of the sea; and Amsterdam is warm and sophisticated: flowery, spicy and woody.

Our bottles are 30ml and are made to be travel friendly. Thousands of beauty products are seized every day at UK airports and they get destroyed because they can’t be recycled. I want to make travel-friendly products and I want people to have a little wardrobe of perfumes as well: don’t wear the same fragrance every day, wear a different thing, and expand your palate.

What’s the process of creating a new perfume and how do you distil the feeling of a city into scent?

There isn’t one process, there are many depending on the project. With Los Angeles, for example, I was standing on Sunset Boulevard and took a picture of the sunset and that was the beginning of the project. Then it’s like cooking: it’s about choosing materials to start with and then playing with them. It’s a long process. On one level it’s really technical, it’s making a formula, it’s building a formula, it’s adjusting the formula. But perfumery is not just a list of materials, it’s like a piece of music. It’s how you make the chords work, it’s how you blend and it’s the dosing. It takes at least a year to do a formula and then from the formula being signed off to the production is another nine months, so it’s a slow business.

Is sustainability important to you and the brand?

It’s increasingly important for people to understand where materials come from and to know we’re working in a sustainable way. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes sometimes, but I was tired of seeing brands in beauty making claims about formulations that I know are untrue: what’s dangerous, what’s clean, what’s not clean, and I don’t want a part of that, I just want to do something that I know, when I go to bed at night, is honest.

The perfumes are also vegan and cruelty-free. We don’t use any animal by-products and never test on animals. That even goes back to us looking in minute detail at the formulas to see whether the trace elements of some of materials are going to meet the standards we want.

The Gallivant collection comprises eight different perfumes

Do you have any tips on how to smell perfumes?

Put enough on your skin, give a nice coverage: put some on your hair, put some on your arm and listen to it. Don’t smell quickly. When I see people in the duty-free section of airports spraying under very harsh lighting, which is heating everything, they’re smelling the perfume immediately, so all they’re smelling is alcohol and not the perfume. I want to stop them and say ‘slow down!’ Put some on your skin and walk around for 20 minutes and see what happens on your skin, slow, slow, slow, slow is better, the slow life is good.