The Lowdown: The Library of Fragrance

With the sad news that one of our fave brands is closing its UK distribution, we’re running the interview we did with them a little while ago so that you can read it whilst you bag yourself a bargain in their closing down sale...

We chatted to MARK CRAMES, CEO & Chief Perfumer, The Library of Fragrance

SM: How did the brand come about?

MC: The concept for Library of Fragrance was first developed by Christopher Brosius – a perfumer who hates perfume! Brosius had worked as a New York cab driver in the 1980s – a decade synonymous with many notoriously overpowering fragrances. Finding the clouds of his clientele’s perfumes too much to bear, Brosius set out to launch his own collection of single note fragrances that would, quite simply, capture and celebrate the wonderful smells that surround us in everyday life.  

SM: In the 90s the fragrances were quite quirky, right?

MC: Outside of Europe, The Library of Fragrance is known as Demeter and the brand just celebrated its 20th birthday, last year. The first three scents to launch in New York, in 1996, were Dirt, Grass, and Tomato. From there the ‘library’ of fragrance expanded rapidly and in the brand’s native USA, there are now over 300 scents to choose from. Over 100 of these are currently available in the UK within The Library of Fragrance – ranging from the expected, like Jasmine, to the completely unexpected, like Play-Doh.

SM: But now there seem to be a lot more ‘elegant’ ones?

MC: Whilst there are many quirky and unusual fragrances in the collection, as a brand, we strive to celebrate the scents of objects and experiences from life – no matter how odd or unusual – and ‘bottle’ them in wearable fragrance form. Colognes within the library range from the expected, like Jasmine and Bulgarian Rose, to the unusual, like Rain and Gin & Tonic, to the completely unexpected, like Thunderstorm and Play-Doh! We don’t discriminate – if you can smell it and it’s a pleasant smell – at least to some people – we’ll try to make it!

SM: Which are your best selling fragrances?

MC: Our best-seller in the UK – and indeed globally, is Baby Powder, which is inspired by the iconic scent of Johnson & Johnson baby talc. The scent of baby powder commonly makes those of us, from a certain generation in the western world, feel calm and cosseted. ‘Baby Powder’ is the best-selling The Library of Fragrance scent in the UK and enjoys a top three position globally, and this wouldn’t be the case if only those who had cared for young children and used baby powder were associating with it. Our olfactory system is the first to develop and we have a fully functioning sense of smell by the time we are twelve weeks old in the womb. This compares to our visual system, which takes several years after we are born to become mature enough to store and recall visual memories.  This likely means that whilst we may not have visual memories of baby powder, our brain connects the scent of baby powder to when we were cradled, soothed and cared for by our own parents & guardians. Interesting, Our Baby Powder cologne is not our best-seller in Germany, where the market-leading baby talc has a different fragrance.

 Other fragrances can be very popular in some countries and cultures, and not in others. Gin & Tonic, for example, is our third best-seller in the UK, enjoying significantly better success than in other countries where it is also available.  Naturally, this makes sense because Gin & Tonic is a popular drink in the UK.

SM: Are there any that you are surprised are so popular?

MC: Yes! We are constantly taken by surprise and we often have no idea about how popular a new fragrance is going to be before we launch it. A good example is Pixie Dust cologne; it’s a great fragrance, but we didn’t really expect it to sell at the rate it did, because it’s not really in line with the brand’s habit of creating ‘tangible’ scents (alas, we haven’t smelt actual Pixie Dust!) – but it obviously speaks to the more whimsical amongst us, and if anyone could prove what Pixie Dust actually smells like, I’m quite sure that our cologne would hit the mark. That said, we believe that the best-performing fragrances for us are those that tick at least three of the following boxes:

  • An enjoyable, long-wearing scent
  • Recognisable and ‘tangible’ to many different people
  • Relates to commonly held, positive memories
  • Represents a ‘thing’ that can remind us of people and their interests, hobbies or personalities, making it an ideal gift (ie: our Baby Powder and New Baby colognes are often bought for expectant mothers and our Gin & Tonic is very popular at Christmas – possibly because everyone knows someone whose favourite tipple is its namesake!)

SM: What inspires a new fragrance and how long does a new idea take to reach the shelves?

MC: Inspiration can come from anywhere – a place, an object, an email from a customer or a new material that’s created in the perfumery industry, which allows us to create the scent of something, accurately, for the first time. A good example is our Kitten Fur cologne, which is due to launch in the UK next month. I have been trying to create this scent for 15 years but it continued to allude me. Last year, I was sent a new material to smell and I just immediately thought of my own kitten, Dreads – and knew it was the ‘missing piece’ of the scent puzzle. However, much of the time, inspiration is closer to home. Pure Soap was created by me to capture the scent of my wife, who does not like to wear perfume but always uses Ivory Soap. In a similar breath, our Mountain Air was inspired by a family holiday to Alaska. The air was so pure and fragrant and I was moved to capture the scent in a bottle so that I could cherish the memories from that trip, anytime I liked. 

SM: The fragrances are blendable: create a bespoke combination for Slick Mummy Magazine please?

MC: For the Slick Mummy scent, I will take a punt with Orange Blossom + Rain + Gin & Tonic. It’s a fresh, summery and uplifting blend that’s instantly reviving, crisp, feminine and clean. And there is not a mother I know who does not deserve a gin & tonic!

SM: The bottles haven’t much changed in 20 years, have they?

MC: Not really, no. We believe that to achieve our mission of expanding the use and enjoyment of scent, each and every day, great fragrance has to be affordable. We bottle all our fragrances to order, at our own factory, in Pennsylvania, USA, which is how we are able to have such a vast collection of different scents to choose from and yet, keep our retail prices affordable. We also keep our prices low for our customers by keeping packaging to an absolute minimum – which allows us to spend money on the actual fragrance, rather than packaging that will be discarded.

For more info visit the website.