bespoke fragrance

My life in perfume (and having my own bespoke one created)

As a baby, I didn't smell of baby powder and sick (well, I suppose maybe I did, just sometimes).

I smelt of Chanel No 5.

My mum's signature fragrance (and it still is), I spent so long held by her and nuzzled into her neck that it I smelled of it too.

It's so much my mum's perfume that I haven't ever worn it myself - although had a bottle of the new formulation some years ago, Chanel No 5 Eau Premiere, that I really liked - but I did turn out to be a Chanel girl too - at first.

My first 'grown-up' perfume was Chanel No 19 and this is the one I took with me to University. 

I tried Cristalle, I tried Coco (but my best friend wore it so I couldn't really - plus it was more her than me) and - one brave day when I'd actually got the money to buy what I think was a rare old Chanel if I liked it - I set off for Bond Street to the Chanel store, the only place they would have it.

It turned out to be my 'Pretty Woman' moment, when the snootiness of the sales assistants was bigger than my teenage courage, and I slunk away again with my Sinead O'Connor-style hair and my trainers.

In retrospect, an old, old Chanel smelling of leather and tobacco (I don't remember the name) might have been hard for a (late) teenager to carry off - but I'd really wanted to try it.

And then I loved Chloe - the old Chloe, that is - and wore that for a while. I dropped a whole bottle one day though that smashed, and that kind of put me off.

I fell briefly for some of the power scents of Calvin Klein - I'd had a sample of Obsession as a teenager when it launched and kind of loved it but was also a bit scared of it.

I remember reading about the launch of Escape and fell in love at first read. The first 'oceanic' scent? The smell of the sea? This was going to be ME! I bought it ... it was overpowering and I never got 'sea'. It must have been more a technical term maybe.

I went back to Chanel for a while with Allure. I did adore Allure.

There was a little dalliance with Clarins' Elysium - which was discontinued to the chagrin of both me and my sister.

I had a soft spot for Diorissimo for the fleetingest of moments (I think one is usually either Dior or Chanel, not both, ha - the way I think one usually loves travels to Africa or Asia - not both. Just my theory).

I also had a 'secret' perfume - one just for me - the one I wore at home on my own. It reminded me of our old house, in Norfolk, our big old creaky house with the barns and donkeys and the water meadows. The warm AGA, draped in cats. The freezing rooms so you'd have to take an eiderdown with you to watch TV.

Of life before my mum's accident. Something that just reminded me of comfort, sort of milky, sort of hay, sort of knitted gloves and your breath in the icy air, of our chickens, donkeys, of frost, of family ... Clinique's Simply (yep, also discontinued).

And then I found my long-term love, Jo Malone's Lime, Basil and Mandarin.

I've been wearing this both night and day for I think about 15 years now. Every now and then I'd try another - Tuberose, Peony Blush, Pomegranate Noir - but there was always also my Lime, Basil and Mandarin with me everywhere I went (still is, for when I don't wear MY scent).

I have always, always wanted to have a bespoke perfume created and this year I had the most wonderful opportunity to work with healer, perfumer, 'nose', aromatherapist and basically all-round magical alchemist, Karen Quinn.

She sent me a questionnaire which I absolutely loved completing - it made me think about all the scents I love and have meaning for me. An hour writing about me and things I love, over a glass of wine. Yup, I loved it.

I had such a long and disparate list I did wonder how she would make sense of it.

Some of my loved scents: limes, sea breezes, lime leaves, warm skin after a day on the beach, horses, haysheds, clean laundry on the line (but also musky sheets that have been lived and loved in perhaps a day too long).

Sun tan oil, bonfires and cold earth in my dad's garden, and some heady flowers.

The questionnaire also got me thinking about how I wanted to feel. Playful, mischievous, sexy, confident. 

Karen didn't baulk at the challenge but in due course arrived with her magical chemistry set and some samples. I was lucky that she was in London that day and came to me in person - but otherwise this would have taken place over Skype.

I was really nervous!

And even more so when I just wasn't sure I liked any of the three samples she had developed for me - but she reassured me this was part of the process of getting it right. 

Rachel Redlaw Karen Quinn perfume
Rachel Redlaw Karen Quinn perfume

It was fascinating. She had made an actual compound scent of 'warm skin on beaches' and another for 'cold earth and bonfires'.

They were incredible.

She used both compounds in the samples which then had different emphases on flowers, limes, citrus etc.

I didn't trust my nose any more an hour or so in ... as we played with making it 'more limes' or 'more sparkling, more playful'. 

When Karen left I felt almost dizzy but couldn't stop sniffing all the paper strips covered with different oils and scents.

A while later, she sent me two updated samples in the post and, again, I was strangely extremely nervous.

Now this was SO interesting!

I got them out, sprayed and couldn't tell if I liked them. I just couldn't tell.

I felt I was letting Karen down if I didn't like them, but I felt as if I just didn't know. This was so weird!

I told her how I was feeling though and her explanation made so much sense ... 

This isn't just a perfume. This is MY perfume.

The scents included in it all mean something to me - they have memories and occasions behind their inclusion - so my brain was overloaded with the meaning and couldn't quite process it all.

When I calmed down and tried them over a few days I just knew which of the two was the one for me. The second I liked but the first i couldn't stop sniffing, couldn't stop having just another quick spritz of it.

A friend came round and tried it and just said, 'IT'S YOU! AND IT'S THAILAND SOMEHOW TOO'.

Two people have asked me if they can buy MY scent they love it so much. (Er, NO!),

My perfume is called Rachel No. 11 in my little homage to Chanel (and to my birthday which is 11.11 - plus it's a number I see everywhere and an 'angel number').

But my bottle isn't labelled because I was too impatient and asked Karen to send it to me without waiting for her labels to arrive. And it's so me to have done this that I love my little naked bottle even more. I know its name, and that's what matters.

It arrived when I was at work, beautifully packaged, in the most beautiful bottle. 

Rachel Redlaw Karen Quinn perfume
Rachel Redlaw Karen Quinn perfume

Having a bespoke perfume has been a dream of mine for a very long time and an amazing experience to have had. And resulted in an amazing, dream perfume.

If you want your own, do get in touch with Karen. Yes, it's an investment but not as much as you might think at £500 for your very own, personal, one-off perfume (and then £80 to buy it again after it's created).

It would make a very special Christmas present or something incredible to give yourself.

Perfume, scent ... it brings back memories, and it creates memories. 

I am truly very lucky to have had this experience - and to have had Karen bring Rachel No. 11 to life for me.

I thought this post would be more emotional somehow, but it's utter contentment I feel. A feeling of arrival. All my memories wrapped up into one. No more 'secret' perfumes; no more 'over-powering' ones.

If you ever have the chance to do this, then all I can say is, DO.