Interview: Linda Pilkington, Ormond Jayne

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With good reason I’ve championed London Perfumier Ormonde Jayne. Not only do I like what they do, I like the way they do it. The scents are original, bold and elegant; it’s one of the few houses to offer Eau de Parfums for men; and everything is made in their London laboratory. What’s more, the business is real enough that you have a good chance of being served by the owner and creator Linda Pilkington. You really can’t say that of most brands.

Until now I’d only met Linda fleetingly, but the opening of her newest shop in London’s prestigious Sloane Square afforded an opportunity to find out more about this up and coming brand that refuses to sell out, and the woman that created it.

When you started out did you ever imagine you would be where you are today?

Linda Pilkington: Selling flowers 40 years ago, there was never a moment where I imagined I would own a perfume house. I bumped into a friend of mine who was working for Chanel [Bruce], he knew me when I was a child (he was a neighbour) – he remembered when I used to sell “scented things”. [Growing up] We lived in Cheshire in the middle of no where, so my parents filled the kitchen with hobby books with endless things to do, art boxes, dressing up boxes etc. I leaned towards making chocolates which I enjoyed, as well as making scented products. I sold flowers outside our home to get money so I could decorate my room.

That’s how it all started. When I met Bruce, he said to me “I’ve bought these scented candles they don’t burn very well, could you melt them down and re-set them for me?” It was amazing, we hadn’t seen each other in 25 years. I thought “this is getting quite serious, they obviously think I’m better than I am, I really ought to do a bit of research”. Eventually after 6 months I showed my wares to Sophie (who also worked for Chanel) and she said “these are great I’ll buy 30”, and I’d created Ormonde Jayne.

And where did the name come from?

Linda Pilkington: I thought my name was boring and my husband said, “well, you’re Linda Jayne” and I live at Ormonde Terrace. There wasn’t really a great deal of thought or market research, anything is better than Linda Pilkington.

So I decided this could be a good thing for me to do for a living. It was very slow progress, I actually made room sprays because I didn’t have an alcohol licence, so I couldn’t buy alcohol to make a perfume. When I moved into a proper studio I applied for an alcohol licence which allowed me to take the company to the next step.

But you never had any formal training?

LP: I did invest in quite a comprehensive studio and the alcohol licence. A lot of people knew I had these premises, and a lot of perfumiers used my premises. This was at a time when people started getting into niche perfume. So over 2-3 years I had a lot of people from the industry coming and going, which was great for me because I asked them lots of questions. It was fantastic for me, a great learning time. I was able to come into contact with some very interesting people at the top of their game.

It strikes me that in the last 12 months things have really taken off, what one thing got you off the launch pad?

LP: I have a mentorship from Walpole (the luxury branding group), they have certain criteria, for example, you have to be British owned. You have to present to them, a bit like Dragon’s Den. 30-40 company’s go and they pick the 5 company’s they feel will be a luxury brand of tomorrow. My mentor was very bullish, he was from a City PR company – he said “what are you going to do with your brand? If you don’t grow your brand you won’t exist in 10 years as bigger investors will copy you and do it bigger and better and faster”. That’s what you have to do. You have to grow your company. Even the other niche companies, Clive Christian, he’s got 300 points of sale but they’re not making the products themselves, it’s all manufactured for them. I told him I can’t [have 300 points of sale] and he said, “lets work out what you can do. You could have 50 points of sales and still be able to make it yourself”.

Where are you in terms of opening your branches abroad?

LP: Well I think I have to babysit this [Sloan Square] for now. Because I’ve opened in Harrods and this shop in one year I don’t want to take on investors or become forced to sell part of my company because I can’t meet my commitments. So I have to make this shop work and make sure Harrods makes money.

With this expansion are you still managing to make your own products? One of the things I like is that you make your own products here in London.

LP: My critical mass is 50 points of sales for me to still make the products myself. I would have to get more staff at the studio e.g. one in charge of making candles, one filling, one mixing/making. They’d also do the internet orders.

I love the fact it’s such a hands on and personal business.

LP: I enjoy that part as well. The thing is with investors they always say the right things and nice things when they want your company, then they turn into beasts. They just want to roll it out for 5 years and sell it on. They want anybody to buy it. I know people who have done it and regretted it.

As you become better known, and you’re known for your original and unusual scents, is there a temptation to go more ‘mainstream’?

LP: I hadn’t thought about that actually. I haven’t made a perfume in quite a while. I think the next time I do decide to make a perfume I won’t be thinking like that. I’ll be thinking, “what should I have in my library or perhaps what’s missing”. For example, I don’t have anything with Tobacco or Sandalwood, so I’d be looking to see what’s missing from my repertoire. It would still be an Ormonde Jayne perfume because that’s what people expect, especially the Blog and internet people. They would post very quickly if something smelt a bit commercial.

Do you still manage to serve in the shops?

LP: As of next week I will work in this new shop [Sloane Square] so I can get to know the customers here and they can get to know me. They’ll get the whole “this is Ormonde Jayne, this is what we do, this is who I am”.  I used to work in the Bond Street store as I didn’t have any staff and found it a good thing to do because you really get to understand customers and who they are.

What can we look forward to in the future?

LP: I think we will definitely maintain our integrity, what you’ll see is Ormonde Jayne staying true to Ormonde Jayne.


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Andrew Williams blogs at BespokeMe and is based in London. His clothing label Bulldog & Wasp represents his philosophy that style is a frame of mind not just a state of dress.

Comments

  1. Barima says:

    I quite like Ms. Pilkington’s independent trait: she knows that some compromise is necessary, but she sounds wholly committed to producing in-house and growing within that direction. I also think the relationship with Walpole could prove quite an asset if applied correctly. I’ll have to drop by the store sometime
    -
    B