• Ian McClellan

Week 47: I will smell fabulous.

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

I believe in hitting redial two-hundred times to secure concert tickets. I believe in flipping through records in a charity shop in case there is some Neil Diamond in there. I believe there is meaning in the spines of books. I believe in queueing at midnight for a video game.

It is not that I believe in an analogue life.

It is more that I sometimes want to be reminded in the effort of life. I want things we buy to be hard to get sometimes, because it reminds us that bigger is not always better, and that ubiquity of a click does not always give us the gratification that we crave. And that creating something of meaning to someone, is something to be treasured.

I am not saying that things should not get big because they are better, because they often do and deserve to be. When more people hear about a cool thing, and they want it, then the gift of scale is something that not many entrepreneurs would give up.

I’m just saying there is a difference between big and good.

The trap is when we begin to make decisions around something that is amazing, just to make it big. Or that we so often we set out to make something big, rather than good - usually that means we make something that isn't very different. Big brands are called exactly that, whereas being a good brand is earned and nurtured.

Many of the things that are big and good, did not set out to be that way.

They just made something so amazing, that it made a deep emotional connection with whoever consumes it? Content, products, services, that are so flawless in their quality and execution that we immediate want to tell people about it.

The best thing about those that do big well in my opinion, is that they have seen it as a chance to make that same connection with more people, and strive to scale quality, not number.

Yet it is always the question that we ask ourselves or each other as a lazy shortcut for quality. How big is it? Have I heard of it? How many have we sold? How will you scale?

The inspiration for this week’s change, came from the idea of seeking out the good, and because I have recently had what I believe is the perfect reminder of what seeking quality can bring. It really began back in week 28 when I began to ask the greatest question when we make a purchase, that can help us eliminate the things we don’t really love.

The question of purpose in brands and products in our lives.

What’s it for?

Not practically. But in my life. What is it for?

Asking this question, also helps to understand that you don’t have to be against progress, or against capitalism, to be kinder to the planet. You can even indulge yourself. Because if it means something to you, it is important and it is human. Finding how to do in a kind way, becomes the goal.

One of these indulgences for me, is that I like to smell fabulous.

I don’t really want for much, but I do want for that. I love fragrances. I think I always have, and it is not particularly for anyone else. I think it just makes me feel more confident and alive, and if there is a deep rooted reason for this then I am absolutely certain that I don’t really care.

This week, I will smell fabulous.

It is also going to be a discovery, as I have not bought a fragrance for myself for over a year, because I can’t work out what they are for any more.

I am absolutely certain I am not buying exclusivity, given that I have been buying most of my fragrance from the duty-free or major online retailers. And I am equally certain that I am not buying the art of blending pure and natural oils, which is where modern perfumery as we know it began.

Mass fragrance brands are now closer to the industrial scale chemicals industry than to artisan roots, no matter how much the bottle might say otherwise. This is another trick of big, is that you can often afford to tell everyone what you have is amazing. In fact you can shout it, spam it, plaster it.

If someone tells you something is incredible, we should not automatically believe it or feel bad if we disagree. Just as disagreeing with me right now is OK too. Incredible is in the eye of the beholder.

So, am I buying something intangible when I buy a fragrance? Is it the image of a sports car in the desert? Or a stormy coast at sunrise? Is it the promise of a life that is better than mine? I’m really happy with my life, if not exactly with the grey hair and the softer waistline but I am under no illusion that a fragrance can fix that. I also don’t particularly want to smell like a man, or a woman. I’m also not sure I want to smell like every third person in a bar. I just want to smell like me. I want to enjoy what I smell like, and for it to make me and those around me happy.

Faced with this dilemma, there seem at first to be two main options. You can make something yourself, or you can have something made specifically for you.

But ... spoiler, there is another way. Please read on.

In terms of the first option, to make my own. I would imagine this is lots of fun. I can imagine playing around with fragrances, and putting them together in a way that I think I would like and calling it something ironic.

I even wondered about doing this, and when you start to think in this way, you end up sniffing almost everything you pass that has a fragrance for inspiration. You end up lingering in restaurant bathrooms to get a good read of the soap or the hand cream. Candle stores can take hours to browse. I learned from this that I like citrus notes, and I’m a big fan of calendula.

But on the other hand, I know that I like the colour blue, but I’d never try and make my own suit. If you are going to smell fabulous, in my opinion it is not as simple as doing it myself. I just don’t have the nose for it.

The other extreme, is to have something made specifically for you. To have someone come to your house, or for you to go to theirs, and specifically consult on the exact and individual things you would like to go into your fragrance. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say this appears to be something that lead singers and movie stars do. This is all you need to know about the economic transaction required.

But as I mentioned, there is another way. It is to ignore the mass, and to seek out the artisan. Just as you might if you seek to source the perfect drop of whiskey, or coffee bean. Because at its heart this is what perfumery is – it is the art of sourcing and blending natural ingredients to make something fabulous.

To find an artisan, is to find a fragrance that is prepared in a kind but accessible way. One that is prepared for example in small batches, that is vegan, organic, or even seasonal. But also one that is prepared with love, because in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about with things that bring aesthetic beauty to our lives? To create with love. To craft our art and bring joy to the world.

As I continued my research and as I was losing hope, the answer for me seemed to fall into my life, in the way only art seems to be able to do. It sometimes takes someone to bring a different kind of magic to something, to make you see.

This magic was brought to me through an artisan fragrance house called Ffern. Ffern is a small batch organic perfume maker based in Somerset here in the UK. Ffern release four fragrances per year at the turn of the season.

That is as far as I am prepared to go to use my own words to describe Ffern. I cannot tell their story, because when you create something as they have, you should experience it from the point of view of the creator. Their story is generous, authentic and you can read and watch about the magic here.

However, the creation is perhaps only the second best thing for me about Ffern. The best thing, comes from the authenticity of how quality is controlled. It is controlled through knowing how much can be produced, and producing that amount. By making very carefully sized batches, and making sure that scale does not compromise quality and that availability is limited to what is needed for each release.

This is done through a production ledger. And if you would like to experience their creations, you have to be on the production ledger. This ledger is a list of names, that is used to plan each production.

If you are not on that list, then you have to wait. There is a waiting list, and you have to put your name down and wait until others drop off, or that space is made for another reason. You don’t have to know someone, or have the fastest broadband, or have the most money.

You have to wait.

I put my name down a little while ago, and I’m happy to say that I have been accepted for the next release, which will be on the Winter solstice. As a name on the ledger, I also have the ability to purchase previous season creations from the Ffern archive, which is a very limited collection of historic fragrances. I could not help to dip into this, and today received my package of Spring 20 and Autumn 20 fragrances. Beautifully packaged in conscious materials. Each release with a story, and a sample vial to make sure that if I don’t enjoy it then it can be returned and the production is not wasted.

It even more fabulous than I imagined.

It is an example of the emotional toil and care that goes into creating something that makes a difference. And if you are reading this and thinking that luxury is thing you do not need, then you are right. I have even myself written about nothing being an alternative to a purchase. But I would also suggest that luxury and indulgence are different. We can all indulge ourselves, this is a privilege of being human.

However, I also have a strong opinion about the privilege and the deal we have on the planet. We have the privileged to do many things in our lives. And one of these indeed is that we have this unique fortune to be humans to have organised ourselves to make and buy stuff for ourselves and each other. It’s OK to recognise this human flaw, as long as we remember that the more frivolous the stuff we can buy is, the more privileged we are. It is easy to forget that sometimes.

But the other part, is the deal. It is that when we create a society and whatever our position in it, this privilege only works if we recognise it and we recognise how lucky we are. And that we use it to look after each other.

We choose carefully, for the moments that really count. And that you do everything you can to make sure that whatever you do, does not lead to the person next to you, or along the road, or over the ocean, having a bad day.

The things we love in our lives that are an indulgence, we should seek out for quality. Our capacity to understand and appreciate art in all its forms, should not be wasted on things that are big, or loud, but not good. It should instead be used to immerse ourselves in a quest to find the story that has been created with the kind of love that matches the love we need.

If we do this, I believe it leads to a natural reduction in our consumption and it brings to the surface those who care for what they make. I have talked about fragrance, but this can be anything. I believe we all have things in our lives that we really love, and I also think that if we explore ourselves we will realise that it is only a few things.

I am convinced asking what something is for in my life, has helped to eliminate more than I have continued to consume, and to consume in better ways.

If you don’t really love it, try to never ever do it, or buy it, again. It is liberating.

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