Ph. Elodie Nizon / Foxall Studio
When it comes to stellar performances onscreen, the legendary British actor, author and director Richard E. Grant needs no introductions. Who can forget his leading roles in the cult classic Withnail and I, The Scarlett Pimpernel… or my own personal favourite – A Christmas Carol? And while this may come as a surprise to some, away from the cameras Richard has been quietly building his own perfume empire. His debut unisex scent ‘Jack’ launched at Liberty in 2014. A year later came ‘Jack-Covent Garden’ – a heady mix of spicy top notes including lime, mandarin and marijuana – yes, you read that correctly!
Meanwhile, Richard’s third fragrance, ‘Jack-Piccadilly’69’ launches this September, paying homage to London at the end of the 60’s. Says Richard: “When I saw the musical ‘HAIR’, people in see- through clothing in Soho, and the pungent smell of patchouli oil from the hippies crowded around the Eros fountain, it inspired me to combine patchouli, petrol, bergamot and leather into a hypnotic sexy scent. It’s one which Liberty MD, Ed Burstell, described as ‘utterly addictive’.”
Richard’s interest for making exotic potions began as a child growing up in Swaziland. “When I was 12 years old, I had a huge crush on an American girl called Betsy Clapp. I could not afford to buy her scent for her birthday, so I attempted to make my own by boiling gardenia with rose petals in sugared jam jars and burying them in the garden, hoping for magical osmosis. Fast forward four and a half decades and a fellow houseguest in Mustique, Anya Hindmarch, saw me sniffing everything in sight and asked if I had ever thought of creating my own fragrance brand. With her contacts and encouragement, I went ahead and took the gamble.”
With its pillar-box red packaging and Union Jack drawstring interior bag, Richard has created (and self-financed) a quintessentially British brand. So how does the perfume business compare to acting?
“The best bit is mixing scent combinations in my head and then mixing perfume oils together until you finally arrive at that ‘Eureka’ moment when it is precisely what you imagined. It’s very solitary and instinctive, led entirely by your nose, even though testing out various combinations on your friends and strangers is very social. However, the final decision is yours and yours alone. Whereas with acting, you have to rely on other people, not all of whom always have the same agenda in mind!”
Back home in London, Richard also likes to sniff out the finest Italian cuisine, art and fashion in and around Bond Street. He shares some of his favourite addresses from his little black book below:
Cecconi’s, 5A Burlington Gardens
No better place to retreat to after a visit to the Royal Academy around the corner. If I never ate any other cuisine till my dying breath, it would always be Italian. There is something inherently familial and un-poncified about it, which makes it so delicious. I had booked to have dinner with my long-time friend Steve Martin. I got there for 6pm, as Steve likes to eat early before it gets too crowded and noisy. He is punctiliously punctual, which is why by 6.30, I called him, assuming London traffic and/or jetlag had got the better of him.
‘Where are you?’
‘In Manhattan, are you here?’
‘No, I’m waiting at Cecconi’s in London, to have dinner with you’.
Long pause. Couple of expletives directed at his new iPhone for having put our date into the wrong month. The maître d’ was very understanding, refused to let me pay for my drink, crostini and olives. I have since returned many times with friends who have mastered their mobiles!
Richard James, 29 Savile Row
The moment I could afford to, back in the last century, I have bought jackets and suits from Richard James on Savile Row. The personal service, immaculate cut and ease with which you can shop, make for an irresistible combination. Without exception, his clothes have stood the test of time and I’m wearing jackets and coats I bought two decades ago, without being laughed off the pavement!
Pickett, 10-12 Burlington Gardens
Ever since my luggage got ‘lost’ at Heathrow some years ago, I have only ever travelled with a carry-on, saving time having to endlessly wait at luggage carousels. My wife and daughter violently disapprove of this policy. So Picketts is the one-stop shop for beautifully crafted bags and those Kilim slippers I’ve always fancied, but somehow never got round to buying. Maybe next time.
Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street
Because a man can dream can’t he? Not only can you get a close up gander at the great art, antiques and jewellery, but also you can fantasise about actually buying it, whilst being informed and guided by experts in their fields. The turnover means that there is always something new to see and discover, which for an inveterate collector, is a magnetic pull.
Roja Dove, 51 Burlington Arcade
When I investigated starting up my own unisex perfume brand ‘Jack’, three years ago, Marigay McKee at Harrods, introduced me to Roja, who instantly appointed himself as my mentor and benign Svengali. His generosity in sharing his story about how he started out and putting me in touch with Catherine Mitchell at IFF, directly led to my fragrance becoming a reality. His dream to open his bespoke perfumery in the Burlington Arcade recently came true, and I applaud his great success and am forever indebted to him for making mine a reality too.