You might not recognise Michael Boadi’s name, but you’ve almost certainly seen his work. Boadi has a background in high-fashion hair – names like Chanel, Gucci, Etro and Missoni litter his CV, and he’s worked his magic on the iconic scalps of Kate Moss, Madonna, and Jennifer Lopez.
Boadicea the Victorious is Michael’s first perfume line. Surprisingly, he’s had no formal training in either hair or fragrance, but this collection of curiously voluptuous, rounded perfumes is full of warmth and quality, and has a thread of personality linking each fragrance. This is a luxe range, with only high-concentration, pure parfum available, all extravagantly packaged in black tissue, lead crystal, lead-free pewter and silver. Boadi calls the vessel designs, heavily engraved with knotwork on both sides, ‘Year 3000 Celtic’. The line, he tells me, is inspired by the very feminine strength of Boadicea, as well as the ideas of Britishness she embodies – all the fragrances, candles and containers are made in Britain.
To my mind, the name Boadicea conjures up scent imaginings of blood, animal-hide tents, bronze and woad. Thankfully, Boadi has only taken the warrior queen as his starting point (and you’ll notice that there’s a bit of a pun on names going on here too), so woad doesn’t get a look-in – really, the collection of fragrances that he’s excitedly demonstrating for me on scent strips is about the idealised woman that, for him, Boadicea represents: strong, a little wild, extravagant and flamboyant. *
It’s obvious that he’s utterly passionate about fragrance, and he’s almost bubbling over with excitement at the opportunity to talk about the range. ‘I’m a fragrance whore,’ he grins. ‘I want to make perfumes that will make people feel.’ We have a very enjoyable few minutes of bonding together, bitching (the bitching was mostly me, to be honest – Boadi is scrupulously polite) about some of the celebrity fragrances and heavily branded stuff on sale at your local Debenhams. Despite his celebrity connections, he actively avoided any celebrity backing of the line, keeping the fact that the range was in production under his (very stylish) hat for the eight years it took to develop all the fragrances. He’s far too courteous to say so, but you get the sense he feels that slapping celebrity endorsements on the collection he’s so proud of would have been a bit...trashy. *
The collection is organised, conventionally enough, into three groups – citruses, florals and musks, each group with its own identifying knotwork pattern on the pewter flasks. The thing is, though, that while a few fragrances do fall precisely into the traditional floral/citrus/musk groupings, the majority of fragrances in this collection don’t, and as such, sniffing them is a very pleasant surprise. Explorer, one of the perfumes grouped loosely as a citrus, didn’t say ‘citrus’ to me at all – here is Tuscan leather, orris, violet and amber, with an oudh note that’s whisper-soft. Sure, there’s a little citron and cypress floating over the top of the perfume, but at heart this is very far from the eau de cologne I was expecting after reading the smart black brochure that accompanies the collection.*
Energiser, with its pink grapefruit and lime, fits its citrus billing more neatly – but here’s Vibrant, a lapsang souchong and vetiver confection that steers clear of the sharp, green notes that often accompany vetiver, resulting in a dark and rounded composition. Refreshing is a musky, bergamot-heavy scent that comes very close to the feeling of plush, freshly-cleaned skin. *
That sense of skin is intriguing, and I ask Boadi how much of his inspiration for these fragrances comes from personal experience – there’s a real sense of nostalgia about some of what I’m smelling (of the fragrances I’ve tried so far, Explorer in particular has a real edge of someone’s personality to it), and it doesn’t feel as if this collection has been formulated by someone who’s just trying to make something pretty. He pulls out a bottle marked Delicate and sprays. ‘This one is a scent picture of the wood near my friend Kate’s house in the Cotswolds. Tell me what you smell in there.’ *
It takes me a few moments before I realise that ‘my friend Kate’ is none other than Miss Moss. This is a wood full of bluebells, narcissi, green sap and moss. It’s an extraordinarily pretty fragrance, and one of the most successful bluebell perfumes I’ve encountered. Complex, from the (even pricier) private collection, is a gorgeous frankincense confection, balanced with herbs like basil and sage. Again, it’s reminiscent of...something, and that something feels very personal. I ask Michael whether he was, by any chance, raised Catholic – and indeed, his parents were Catholics whose son thoroughly enjoyed the visual and olfactory aspect of the religion. Seductive is another incense fragrance, but this time far dirtier, with bitter myrrh alongside the frankincense, patchouli, indolic jasmine and a round, vanillic drydown that has me guiltily licking my lips.
Taking the core collection alongside the larger (and even pricier) private collection, there are more fragrances than I can run through here, but you’ll be able to try them yourself at Harrods from November 15th, downstairs in the perfumery department. Check out the hair fragrances (Boadi wasn’t able to stay away completely from his other passion) which are, as far as I can make out, unique in the market. These aren’t watered-down versions of the perfumes for squirting in your hair, but full-strength, alcohol and silicone-free blends with panthenol, silk protein and pro-vitamins, along with something called kinetic hair agents, available in each of the scents in the line. Now, unlike Michael Boadi, I can’t resist a celebrity angle on these things – so if you want your coif to smell just like the bluebell woods behind Kate Moss’s house, you know what to do.
Boadi's fragrances are available from November 15th at Harrod's. (Complex and Intuitive will be available from next year.)