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Two English Eccentrics (pong makers btw)


Mark Buxton was born in England but grew up in Germany. One day, when he was studying geology at Göttingen university, a friend suggested they appear on a TV game show with the challenge that they can recognise any perfume the presenter gives them to sniff. They did, and they won, and that night they spent getting drunk with Falco and Leonard Cohen in the studio bar. For Buxton, the next step was an invite to go to Haarman & Reimer, now Symrise, which ended with him being offered a place at their perfume school.

His first commercial perfume was made for the cartoon elephant Babar; the second was Laguna for Salvador Dali. It's a powdery aquatic-mint tobacco, and (except for a gassy opening - which you sometimes get with aquatic chemicals) the technique doesn't overshadow the joyous creativity that shines through in the same optimistic way you get in some 4160 Tuesdays'.

Although Sarah McCartney is self taught (as well as being english) I think the main point they share in common is a natural gift for perfumery; theirs is a practice where vivid - and in McCartney's case - adundant ideas take precedence over commercial considerations.

McCartney also came to perfumery in a roundabout way, being head writer at Lush for years, where she would write 50,000 words a quarter for their website (and eventually a novel - about a perfumer) before she took the plunge and started making the stuff herself, which as anyone who has smelled it will know, is not polished high street fayre. McCartney is clearly a heart and soul perfumer, not one who - before dipping a pipette - sits down and calculates what will give the best return on the market.

Buxton says he is rubbish with figures, and can't remember names (so he's probably not a corporate type either).
He grew up in his parent's commercial kitchen, and - because he likens perfumery to cooking - this would explain why he is 'good at everything around odour'.
Not forgetting a prodigious perfume memory, which he says allowed him to learn hundreds of perfumes in the six weeks before the TV show!
Being the son of entrepreneurial types, Buxton typically decided to leave a safe career at Symrise, where things were becaming too comfortable, and he set up his own studio, where he could have creative freedom over his work. He's also a co-founder of Nose boutique in Paris.

Buxton and McCartney have both arrived in perfumery by round about means, and perhaps this bears on the work they produce; which may not be that similar, but their perfumes can still feel more similar to each other (compare Laguna with What I Did On My Holidays) than they do to the work of some of the big name perfumers who have worked for the Big Five composition houses.
But this is not just a question of formal perfumery training, Alberto Morillas is self taught and he has risen to the very top of the corporate ladder.
Instead, I think it's a question of attitude: or art-itude, could I say...?

Whatever it boils down to, the case of these two independent perfumers shows how success in perfumery no longer depends on being born in Grasse, or belonging to a French perfume dynasty, but on having the guts to follow your nose, wherever it may lead.

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