by Grant Osborne, 02 February 2009
Basenotes interviews Victoria Christian, daughter of Clive and the company's publicist.
Can you give us some of the background behind your father's decision to go into designing luxury kitchens?
Clive began to release his furniture designs almost thirty years ago at the age of 26. His first design - the classic chandelier kitchen inspired by the Victorian era - is now the most recognized kitchen in the World. The Home Company was founded in 1978 when Clive bought a manor house in Cheshire built in the late 1800’s and began to renovate it with bespoke furniture as at that time the only other alternative was stainless steel and very 70’s stylings.
Gradually the demand for his designs became so great that he bought a factory and started to create these personal designs for his customers.
His revival of the perfumery came later, in 1999, although the perfumery itself dates back to the late 1800’s.
Clive is inspired by different styles of architecture from throughout history – mainly British – and mixed this with his own vision – the way he lives his life and the way he enjoys encouraging those around him to live theirs – in as beautiful way as possible.
Every Clive Christian piece is hand-made in the UK and then shipped to the destination wherever it may be in the World It is then hand finished, painted and gold-leafed on site with the chandeliers hung as the finishing touch.
Were you always interested in fragrances?
As many children do, I used to empty my mother’s perfumes down the plug hole to create empty vessels for my 'home made perfume'. This consisted of chopping off her prize roses and stuffing them in with a little water and plenty of wishes hoping to create the perfect scent…of course this never happened but I was intrigued and officially hooked!
I can say that I was equally in love with the perfume as with the bottle – however the two loves never really seemed to meet…I found that I had lots of beautiful bottles that I just had to have but the juice didn’t live up to my imagination or expectation. I had lots of perfumes that I couldn’t leave the house without and yet the bottles were nothing special to me. Safe to say that I had a large collection!
Tell us about how the Clive Christian Perfumery was created, and of the decision to buy the Crown Perfumery.
Although a perfume and an interior at first seem different in many ways – visibility and size – they are both used to decorate the most personal aspects of a person’s life – their body and their home. Both the furniture and the perfume company work under the same philosophy – timeless, luxury, design – so built to stand the test of time, beyond fashion and with no reference to cost or trends.
When I was four years old, my father and I discovered an original bottle from the Crown perfumery amidst the floor boards from our Victorian family home in what would have been the ladies dressing room.
Twenty years later it came to my father’s attention that this bottle was an original from the Crown perfumery, one of the most illustrious British perfumeries from the 1800’s crowned by Queen Victoria herself in 1872.
Unfortunately over the past 80 years the records of the perfumery were not looked after and so the recreation of the original recipes from the house were pastiches of the original - as archival material does not exist and many of the ingredients used in the 1800’s are now no longer available for use.
The Clive Christian company stands for ultimate British Luxury, and he did not want to see a company bearing the crown of Queen Victoria, go out of business, especially one bearing such special family history.
Therefore my father sought to revive the original values of the house – outstanding levels of quality and workmanship resulting in a resounding representative of British Luxury.
My first career was in the theatre – I studied ballet and performing arts in Covent Garden and then was fortunate enough to tread the boards on the West End Stages of London in Musical Theatre.
When I interviewed to join the company the only position available to me was as a ‘spritzer’ on the shop floor – which of course I took with both hands! Over the next three years I worked full time at Fortnum & Mason in London and then at Bergdorf Goodman in New York – where I actually met Ali from Basenotes and took part in the first ever Sniffapalooza at BG!
You've spent a lot of time on the shop floor dealing directly with your customers, what did you learn from this?
Looking back on my time at the perfume counter it really was the best introduction to the world of perfumes – this is where you come face to face with your client – men and women who are simply looking to fall in love with a perfume – and in turn I became intimately involved in each of the six perfumes in our collection – understanding the nuances year on year of the different ingredients, familiarizing myself with the way the perfumes unraveled and revealed themselves on different skin tones. I absolutely loved my time on the floor with OUR customers.
I worked out that I spritzed and introduced approximately 30,000 people during my time on the counters – and had the privilege to see many women skip out of the store with a bottle of 1872 or feel two inches taller instantly with a drop of No.1...although my favourite moment was when Goldie Hawn came into the perfumery at Bergdorfs dressed head to toe in white and pointed directly at the Clive Christian Perfume counter – “there it is – ‘X’ by Clive!” – and then came over and spritzed herself completely with the tester bottle and then bought one for herself! For me she is the epitome of X for Women – eternally youthful, sensual, feminine and a little naughty! Later that year she returned with Kurt Russell and they bought a bottle of X for each other on Valentine’s Day – a perfect match!
You boast the world's most expensive perfume - was this by accident or design that you created such a costly fragrance?
The World’s Most Expensive Perfume was certainly not the aim or objective – merely the rather surprising consequence of removing all limitations and budgetary constraints from the perfumer's brief to create the best and most precious perfume in the world.
I remember when my father received the figures for what it would actually cost to bring the No.1 Perfumes to market and he realized that this would be the most expensive perfume in the world – it was not an easy decision as it is not usual for a Brit to discuss money at all! However it must have reminded him of the time he launched his chandelier kitchen twenty years prior…he loved and didn’t care if no one else did, although had the sneaking suspicion that he loved it maybe someone else would too…he believed entirely in the perfumes and their quality and complexity that he just needed to know that they existed.
The decision to put the title onto the bottle was one that was also tough to make, however after much discussion we decided to do it in the hopes that this in turn would prompt the question ‘Why is it the most expensive?’
This in turn would enable us to open the pages of the history book and once again bring the subject of the lost art of perfumery back into the spotlight – the use of absolutes, high concentration and extraordinary longevity, complex formulas to give unusual and unexpected journeys to a drop of perfume on the skin, why Queen Victoria gave her crown to one house and one alone…
The motto from our coat of arms granted by the Royal College of Arms under the Royal Victoria order says it all, ‘Fax Anini Honestae Gloria’ – ‘In honourable thoughts and deeds, glory will be found.’
Are there any plans to add to the six fragrances you currently have?
When the perfumes were released in 1999 they were released as the definitive collection. My father was clear in his vision that this was to be a house that revived the founding philosophy from the 1800’s, not a commercial venture seeking to ride the waves of fashion and trend. Therefore the six perfumes released almost 10 years ago is how the company plans to remain – hopefully for the next 100 years!
One element that will develop and evolve is our exploration of the ‘art’ of perfume – visible and invisible. As Clive is a designer his world is very visual and for him the world of perfume is a conundrum – one a drop is placed on the skin it becomes invisible and yet it has such a story to tell.
This year sees the beginning of the exploration of this ‘invisible art’ as Clive chose one exceptional ingredient from each perfume that he felt best captured the spirit of the perfume itself;
From 1872 for Women, he chose the Rose de Mai – a rare so precious that it blooms just three weeks a year and so revered throughout the ages that it became known as the Painter’s Rose, often associated with the presence of an angel – it is this clear, open and innocent quality that represents the delicate elegance and femininity of 1872 for Women as a whole. The artwork of this ingredient has been painted using the soft pinks and peach tones of the Rose de Mai.
From 1872 for Men, Clive chose the Clary Sage herb – known as a sacred herb in the Roman Empire and administered for its invigorating and focusing properties. Emperor Nero is said to have dispersed drops through his troops before they rode into battle to bring courage and bravery to the fore – the artwork features the Roman Eagle which was the soaring image for the Roman Standard.
We are currently working on a project with the young composers of The Royal College of Music to translate these perfumes into piano music.
I would like to recommend to all the readers of this article on Basenotes to try a drop of the perfumes on their skin if they haven’t already – I could talk and write about them for hours on end, however the great thing about a perfume is that it speaks for itself.
Visit www.clive.com to find our more about Clive Christian fragrances and find out where your nearest stockist is.