A sense for scents

Ex-royal chef, now a candle maker, Lucy Hagerty gives Colette Sheridan some tips on perfume gifts

WITH Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt paid a reported $7 million as the ‘face’ of Chanel No 5 in a unique advertising campaign, it’s clear the perfume business is a serious and seductive one.

Buying perfume as a gift for a loved one at Christmas isn’t as straight forward as, say, purchasing a scarf. A woman’s fragrance is very personal. Find out what her preference is by asking her best friend, or do a little bit of sleuth work.

Ballinspittle-based perfumer and recently turned scented candle-maker, Lucy Hagerty, says her personal favourite is DKNY premium scent. “I think it’s like a Bloody Mary with an orange and tomato accord in it and I can smell vodka from it.” However, if buying perfume as a gift for someone, Hagerty “wouldn’t go for something as extraordinary as that. I would fall back on good old Chanel No 5. I love the story behind it. And I love the Marilyn Monroe quote where she said the only thing she wears in bed is Chanel No 5. Apparently, every six seconds somewhere in the world, a bottle of it is sold.”

Hagerty, originally from Oxford, trained as a perfumer in London and has the keen nose essential for this rarefied field. “I can usually walk into a room and identify who is wearing what perfume. I’m constantly in chemists and Brown Thomas trying out different scents.”

There is a plethora of celebrity scents on the market. Are they any good? “Some of them are actually very nice, such as Britney Spears’ one. It’s the kind of perfume my 14-year-old daughter wears.”

Of the celebrity perfumes, Hagerty says Sarah Jessica Parker’s product, called ‘Lovely’ is the most alluring. “It’s quite understated. I love the twist in it. She has this apple and martini accord which is clever.”

When buying a fragrance, it doesn’t have to be limited to perfume but can include body lotion, bath oil or bars of soap as well as candles. Also, as Hagerty points out, perfume is more expensive than eau de parfum or eau de toilette. Perfume is the most potent, its fragrance lasts longer.

Hagerty, who is married to an Irish financier, originally trained as a chef at Leith’s School of Cookery in London — “the Ballymaloe of England.” She has cooked for members of the British royal family as well as for Hollywood stars.

“My fascination with perfume came about when I was working for a Saudi princess in Switzerland. She gave me some oudh chips. Oudh is the most expensive perfume ingredient in the world, costing €18,000 per kilo. It comes from the resin of a tree, native to Asia, that is under attack by fungus. It’s the most exquisite fragrance that’s predominantly used in the Middle East for its aphrodisiac qualities. Luckily, a little bit of it goes a long way.”

After training, she worked with various perfumers in London. “With my cookery background, I tend to have extraordinary ideas and have tried combinations that other perfumers wouldn’t.”

When Hagerty and her husband bought a farm in Ballinspittle a year and a half ago, she decided to embark on a candle-making career and is in the process of building a factory to house the business, called La Bougie Candles. “There are different levels of candle-making. I come very much from the perfume side of things. There are crafty candle-makers who buy fragrance oil from the shelf. We don’t use fragrance oil. Our candles are made from aromatics from all over the world and essential oils and wax. They’re expensive to produce. The cost of the ingredients makes up half of the cost of the candle.”

Using foodie language, Hagerty describes her candles as “delicious. There’s a ginger and black pepper one which is very woody and spicy with a huge tuberose in the middle. That’s a flower from India. Young metropolitan-type customers pick that, which is quite interesting. It’s a scent that warms you. My older customers go for lichen with jasmine.”

For Christmas, Hagerty didn’t want to produce the usual cinnamon candle. “Instead, I used orange, Frankincense and Myrrh, which originally come from the Middle East. They’re used in incense all over the world. I wanted to turn the Christmas candle on its head and produce something with these ingredients which remind everyone of Christmas, but not in a cheesy way.”

“An extraordinary ingredient that I’m fascinated with is ambergris. It’s the faecal matter of a sperm whale and has been used in perfumes throughout the ages. You find it on beaches or floating in the sea. It’s often aged. I’ve held a 50-year-old piece. It has an amber-like taste.” It sounds off-putting.

“That’s why I find it so fascinating. It has a most exquisite smell. It costs around €2,000 per kilo and I use it in some of my candles,” enthuses Hagerty.


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