Perfume is not an easy product to market. Scent is subjective, and not something you can physically spritz across a television screen, so brands are essentially selling a lifestyle. One that has become increasingly aspirational, stylised and sometimes extravagant.
With refreshing frankness, British perfumer Nick Steward is obviously keen to cut through the industry’s more tiresome tropes.
Steward’s label, Gallivant, may be a relative newcomer to the fragrance scene but he has been in the perfume-making business for two decades as creative director of French brand L’Artisan Parfumeur. During his 20 years’ experience, he began to feel that the industry had simply gone ‘a bit wrong’, he explains.
‘Perfume is either glossy and commercial and supposed to be aspirational (but I don’t think it actually is), or it’s where niche has become a by-word for expensive, high-concept and weird. And you don’t want to smell weird; you want to wear something really beautiful and emotional on your skin.’
This candid mindset underpins the concept of Gallivant, which Steward launched in 2017. ‘I had been in the fragrance business for a long time and wanted the freedom to do my own style of perfumery and be my own boss,’ he explains. ‘I wanted to go back to basics and make elegant compositions that are sophisticated to wear.’
Gallivant is a collection of eight unisex fragrances created by Steward in collaboration with two Paris-based perfumers and Venice-based Giorgia Navarra, the protégée of French perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. All products are handmade in Britain and, as the name suggests, the collection is inspired by travel, with each scent named after a global city from Tokyo and Los Angeles to Berlin, Istanbul and London.
‘I love cities and I wanted to do something I know well so it feels real to me,’ Steward explains. ‘Sometimes I think niche perfume is too abstract, but with Gallivant I find people are saying, “I know that city”, so they’re coming to the perfume with a memory and it doesn’t feel too strange and outside their comfort zone.’
But how do you capture a city in a scent? For Steward, there’s no obvious starting point or particular route, but he is meticulous in his craft. Los Angeles, for example, began with a photograph Steward took of the sunset from Sunset Boulevard. Creating the final blend is a diligent process, something Steward compares to a piece of music. Some are more obvious, such as the amber, wood and spicy notes of Istanbul, others are a little more abstract – such as the ‘sober, Germanic’ vetiver notes of Berlin or capturing the smell of London’s ‘wet spring and second-hand leather jackets’. Each one is unique and evocative, and made with passion.
As well as being travel-inspired, the Gallivant collection is also conveniently designed for the modern explorer. Bottles are a flight-friendly 30ml, and Steward hopes to inspire people to adopt a ‘little wardrobe of perfumes’. Another contemporary touch is that the fragrances are gender neutral, with Steward keen to steer clear of ‘weird marketing typologies’.
‘For too long the fragrance industry has focused on the “target customer”. I want to make fragrances for human beings and then you can decide what you like wearing.’