You’d be hard pressed to visit an Irish house for an evening and not get a whiff of a scented candle as you enter, and, equally, to be able to discern the difference between something made from natural essential oils, and the sometimes sickly, migraine-inducing, chemical versions.
Making the real thing since 2012, with an international reach that stretches to some of England’s royal palaces, is Lucy Hagerty, owner and ‘nose’ of La Bougie, a perfumery which has brought fame once more to what was once the moving statue capital of Ireland — her husband’s hometown of Ballinspittle, Co. Cork.
Home fragrances, though, are not something she came to early, having initially trained as a chef and worked for Sarah Ferguson in the 1990s, but once she married and had her son and daughter, long hours of being a chef didn’t fit in with family life.
“The hours were horrendous,” she says, “and I had always loved scents so I trained for seven years in perfumery and started La Bougie when we came to live in Ireland in 2012.”
Fast forward to 2017 and she has a range of scented candles, diffusers, and more recently personal fragrances informed by her perfumery training and also her cheffing, and she’s opened a fragrance boutique in the chic coastal town of Kinsale.
She cites the atmosphere of particular places as her inspiration and tells image-conjuring stories filled with evocative fragrances including how she wanted to recreate the aroma of an Italian barber shop. “I took my dad there one Saturday morning for a wet shave, and sat waiting, scribbling down what I could smell.” Sage and bitter orange it would appear.
More recently she’s launched into personal fragrances - 10 in total - with one which includes bitter orange because, she laughs, “I imagine this is what George Clooney smells like.”
She also takes bespoke commissions and is currently working with a hotel and on scents for brides to have in their weddings. But this bespoke fragrance conjuring takes time. “It’s like being fitted for a wedding dress where there’s going back and forth,” she says. “It starts with a consultation and I would take along phials of oils for the bride to consider and to know the direction they want to go.”
The whole process costs around €8,000, but there is the La Bougie retail collection for those of us who want the luxury of natural fragrances. Candles start at €20 and diffusers €30, with names like Mission Fig, evoked by lunches under fig trees in Tuscany, and Honeysuckle and Sea Salt as a nod to summer in west Cork.
Next year brings them closer to Cork city, to Belgooly where visitors can see the perfumery and have coffee and cake, an activity to please more than one sense.
Meanwhile in Galway, Maggie Mangan owns and runs Cloon Keen Atelier, something she came to having been in the film business where she worked on, among other things, the Harry Potter series.
But a love of fragrances which stemmed from her first job in a perfume shop in Newfoundland, (where she was born to Irish emigrant parents), prompted her to train as a perfumier and to come to Galway to start the business in her returned, retiree parents’ garage.
Now with an atelier in Galway city, her home fragrances are developed, not by attempting to replicate something she has smelled elsewhere, but by using her film industry training and making a mood board.
The results are as intriguing as they are heady. Antique Library is inspired by Trinity College’s library to achieve a mix of mystery and awe. Bright Spark is what she calls “a jungly sort of scent” with sandalwood. Gooseberry is popular in summer, and is evocative of an Irish garden.
But it’s the story of Mountain Flower which provides a back story to engage guests around the dining table. It’s a heady combination of sandalwood, grapefruit, magnolia and orange blossom, named in tribute to James Joyce’s Molly Bloom and her monologue at the end of Ulysses.
The text speaks of Gibraltar’s atmosphere, the Andalusian girls and her own ‘breasts all perfume’, all of which are revisited in this narcotic scent.
Maybe slightly less exotic but no less intriguing is Maggie’s new project: A fragrance inspired by what she calls the mood and spirit of Cork and Corkonians. “Creativity,” she says, “started in Cork with its art and food culture.” Yet to be named, yet to be launched, mark it in your diary as a Christmas present for an ex-pat.