John Bailey Elected President Of British Society Of Perfumers - Interview

23rd May, 2012

John Bailey has taken over the presidency of the British Society of Perfumers. He was elected at the Organisation’s AGM in May, which featured international fragrance expert Michael Edwards as key speaker.

The Society will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013, preparations for which are already under way. The highlight of the anniversary year will be the publication of a book entitled ‘Perfumery...An Art and Science’, which, according to the Society will “tell a story of how British perfumers, chemists and purveyors of their art, science and profession have played an important role in the fascinating history and heritage of perfumery.” The book has received funding and support from a number of large companies.

Mr Bailey said that he intends the Society to play a leading role in helping to educate people about perfumery: “On behalf of its membership of qualified perfumers, olfactory scientists, research and development chemists, fragrance evaluators, educational training and marketing specialists, we intend to play a leading role to help meet increasing demand by the media and consumers for knowledge about the art and science of perfumery.”

With an increase in social media and web-sites about perfumery, Bailey said that interest in the Society was coming from many diverse groups. For those who do not qualify for full membership of the Society , the ‘BSP Friend’ category, may be a very good alternative, he said.

John Bailey is a longstanding supporter of the BSP and has been on the fragrance scene for more than 50 years.

His own entry to into the perfume trade was via a route that has long since closed – a route which owed more to the 19th century than the high tech production methods that are used today in perfumery.

At 15 he left school and was apprenticed to John Richardson &Co, a wholesale druggist and manufacturing chemist from Leicester, that were also distillers. In the days before take-overs and multinationals, establishments like these produced a wide range of products:

“My good fortune was that the company I started with was a company that made pills, potions, ointments, perfumes and veterinary products as well as doing dry grinding,” says John. “It was a very interesting start in life.”

Later he went to night school to learn pharmaceutical Latin and dispensing, going on to join Stafford Allen, a Quaker company with headquarters in London and Suffolk. The firm was the first to grow Lavender commercially in the UK. “That was another interesting company,” says John, “they manufactured galenicals (herbal/plant based medicines), essential oils, flavours, spices, perfumery compounds and insecticides.” Over the years Stafford Allen were taken over and later became what is now IFF (International Flavours and Fragrances), one of the big 5 global fragrance and flavour houses.

“I think that’s where I’m proud that my career is in its 50th year. A lot of people are either not working, or not around.”

John went on to have his own laboratory at Treatt’s, one of the then leading UK dealers in essential oils, who at the time were planning to enter the fragrance business themselves. When the company suddenly pulled the project, John was devastated and was left without a job overnight. Luckily the experience and huge number of contacts he had built up meant that, he was immediately able to set up a consultancy business with international clients, which eventually led to opening his own studio making perfumes, under the label ‘Perfumer’s Guild.’

Bailey’s perfumes have the distinction of being one of the first British niche brands to be listed in Michael Edwards’ ‘Fragrances of The World.’ (During the interview John let slip that Michael Edwards had asked him for a second bottle of his creation 'Espirit de Guild). Bailey’s long career has taken him all over the world: he knew the perfumer Jean Carles and worked with his son Marcel. He has also acted as a consultant for Arabian Oud and made bespoke perfume for celebrities, which famously included Barbara Cartland, with whom he became friends.

“We are at a very interesting point in the industry” says Bailey. “If you look at the brief and the pricing, no wonder perfumers working on a typical, major brief are hacked off. When you look at what’s in the bottle it’s nothing. When you are taking a typical brief from one of the big houses it’s: “We want another version of Pleasures or Angel.”

Part of the problem Bailey identifies is the obsession with the new.

“The average consumer is confused", he says. "What is the consumer seeking? The consumer is seeking a wow factor from the mediocrity that’s out there.”

For details of BSP Membership or events see their website

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About the author: Lila Das Gupta

Lila Das Gupta is a London based journalist with an interest in all things olfactory. Lila also organises the Perfume Lover's London meet-up group.


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    • Chris Bartlett | 24th May 2012 15:24

      Another good article, thanks Lila.

      John spoke about the plans for the book at the symposium and it sounds like it should be quite something - I hope so - in my view there is much to celebrate in British perfumery historically and now.

    • Nymphaea | 24th May 2012 21:24

      Mr. Bailey sounds like a great person to head the Society, with such insight and such a diverse and interesting background. Congrats to him! He may be the perfect person to rally appreciation for Britain's contribution to the fragrant world!

    • Sillage6 | 25th May 2012 20:09

      I can't think of a more deserving chap for this role!

      His background in Perfumery and his prestigious presence will lend a huge and bigger profile to the Society.

      Congratulations dear John!

    • Francop | 25th May 2012 22:13

      Congratulations Dear John,

      Sorry for the has been keeping me occupied...

      I am sure you will do a Fantastic Job !!! :o:o:o