Richard E. Grant Actor. Director. Screenwriter. Perfumer
Acting legend Richard E. Grant has done it all, but his ventures into the world of luxury fragrance has been a long-standing childhood ambition, which resulted in the launch of his unisex scent JACK in 2014. Originally released as a stand-alone luxury product which has won a variety of fragrance awards, Richard E. Grant has now developed JACK into a thriving fragrance empire.
Emma Harrison speaks to Richard to find out how a simple jam jar was the inspiration behind JACK and how his friend Anya Hindmarch helped make his fragrance dream a reality.
What inspired you to launch a fragrance range?
‘I’ve been led by my nose all my life’ – which is the tagline printed on the back of my JACK packaging. I had an American girlfriend when I was 12 years old when growing up in Swaziland and wanted to give her scent for her birthday. My pocket money didn’t stretch to that so tried to make it by boiling gardenia and rose petals in sugared water and sealing the concoction in jam jars. So, it’s been a lifelong secret passion to create my own perfume.
Please can you tell us how your friendship with Anya Hindmarch helped with the creation of JACK?
Anya and I were fellow house guests in Mustique in 2013 and she took me aside and asked why I missiled my nose at everything in sight. I confessed that I had always wanted to make a bespoke scent and she took me seriously, tapped out a list of contacts in London on her iPhone and encouraged me to pursue making my dream a reality. Her enthusiasm, loyalty and discernment have proved invaluable.
Anya’s contact list led me to work with Catherine Mitchell at IFF, suggested by Roja Dove, who has been a real benign Svengali. I met with professional ‘Nose’, Alienor Massenet who transformed my ingredients list into the formula that precisely matched what I had always imagined – which was JACK – a combination of lime, marijuana, mandarin, clove, pepper and musk.
What came first – the name or the fragrance itself?
I spent six months creating the scent, testing it back and forth until arriving at two (almost, but not quite) finalists. I couldn’t sleep and at 2am had a Eureka moment, combining them and called Alienor in Paris at dawn and said, ‘This is it!’.
Once I had the formula, I then had to figure out a name. My packaging design was pillar box red and includes a vintage style Union Jack drawstring bag to ‘sleeve’ the bottle inside, so wanted a quintessentially British name to match. GQ editor Dylan Jones, who published a monthly diary of my A-Z journey creating a business, suggested I call it JACK – so I owe that to him.
Your fragrances are unisex, was that a deliberate move to appeal to both ladies and men?
As I was a teenager in the early ’70’s when everything was unisex, it struck me as antediluvian to create a scent that was deemed masculine or feminine.
Can you describe your typical customer that wears JACK?
From the direct response via Twitter, Instagram and online sales, there is no common denominator that I can discern. Selling directly to customers at the Spirit of Christmas Fair at Olympia every November, my daughter and I have been struck by the wide age range of our clients – of both sexes!
The Jack perfume range now has three fabulous fragrances, the classic JACK ORIGINAL, JACK COVENT GARDEN and your newest fragrance JACK PICCADILLY ’69 – how has your fragrance line evolved and how far do you see your range expanding in the future?
Everyone advised me not to invest my own money and that launching a perfume at the age of 57 with no track record or provenance, was foolhardy. However, I took a gamble as I am so passionate about my business, and it’s paid off, beyond all expectations. Launched exclusively at Liberty in 2014, it was an instant best seller and went on to win Best Independent Fragrance at the FIFI Awards.
The financial success enabled me to produce a second and third scent. Each has a very specific personal story behind it.
Talking of Liberty, how did you get them to stock JACK when you first launched the business – was it quite an arduous process?
I discovered that Liberty were looking for a unisex British scent brand, so had a meeting with their head beauty buyers and pitched my story and they agreed to launch it exclusively at Liberty for the first year in 2014.
Can you tell us about your decision-making process when deciding to launch a new fragrance, do you have specific notes in mind from the offset or are you literally ‘led by the nose’?
I love cooking and in the same way that I think of food combinations, the same process applies to scent and am always thinking about which scents combine to create the essence of a time and place.
JACK PICCADILLY’ 69 is the latest fragrance in your range, please can you tell us a little bit more about it?
I visited London when I was 12 in 1969 and the Eros Fountain in Piccadilly Circus was covered in patchouli scented hippies, alongside the smell of petrol fumes from the traffic. I went to Fortnum’s for tea with my parents and sat on leather banquettes. Earl Grey tea is flavoured with Bergamot oil, so in homage to this eye-opening visit, I’ve combined bergamot, petrol, patchouli and leather, which smells like sex in a bottle.
Each of the fragrances has its own candle, does every room in your house have a JACK candle in it? How important to you is having scented candles in the home?
Every room in my house has regular candles as there is no electric light that can compete with it in my view, and yes there are Jack candles everywhere.
You have recently launched JACK body wash, what is next for the ever-expanding JACK fragrance line?
My plan is to launch JACK- MUSTIQUE next and JACK Body Lotion.
The design and packaging of your fragrances seems to be a pure celebration of all things that are British. How important to you was the overall styling and how did you start the process to achieve the final design?
Red is my favourite colour and have collected Union Jack flags and vintage bunting for years. Whilst filming HOTEL SECRETS in Japan, I was in a lift near Hakone, which was gloss red from floor to ceiling and it felt like being inside a box. I knew in an instant that this is what my packaging had to look like. Referencing pillar boxes and London buses.
You have achieved so much already with your fragrance range, winning awards such as the ‘Best Independent Fragrance 2015’, you are stocked in the likes of Liberty and Fortnum & Mason, does it still give you a huge thrill when you see your product on the shelves and being so positively received?
Having survived in business, albeit niche, for almost four years, amidst the competition of the giant conglomerates with vast advertising budgets, is beyond anything we dared envisage. I run the company with my daughter and we rely totally on social media and editorial to promote our brand. Customer feedback and interaction via Twitter and Instagram makes everything personal. Getting orders online and seeing the fragrances in stores is an enormous thrill. As I failed all my maths exams at school, it is nothing short of miraculous to me, that we have a thriving business!
If you could sum up your fragrance range in three words – what would they be?
‘British is best’
What are your top tips for someone wanting to launch their own business?
Passion for your brand is paramount. It’s a like those migrating herds crossing the Mara river in the Serengeti – many crocs waiting to take a bite. Surviving your first year requires great faith and perseverance, as the odds against you succeeding are very high.
You have some incredible projects coming out in 2018 such as Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and Can you ever forgive me? Are you able to tell our readers a bit more about these projects and any more projects that you have on the horizon?
NUTCRACKER is a huge budget Disney version of the story starring Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and two teenage newcomers. I play Shiver, Regent of Winter, covered in icicles. Released for Christmas this year. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME is a true story starring Melissa McCarthy. We play a pair of unlikely con artists who forged and sold literary letters in New York in the 1990’s.
Richard’s fragrance range is available from his website www.jackperfume.co.uk.
Interview by Emma Harrison firstname.lastname@example.org