The Interview: Linda Jayne Pilkington, Founder and CEO, Ormonde Jayne

Linda Jayne Pilkington - Founder of Ormonde Jayne

British luxury fragrance brand, Ormonde Jayne is recognised for its use of unusual, exclusive and exotic ingredients. Linda Pilkington founded the Mayfair fine fragrance business in 2000, born out of a home-run candle making business.

Cheshire-born Pilkington is an instinctive entrepreneur who has travelled widely, living abroad for 14 years in South America, Africa, and the Far East before setting up Ormonde Jayne in London. Her travels inspire her perfume collections, such as her collection Four Corners of the Earth.

All Ormonde Jayne perfumes and scented candles are produced in Linda’s own state-of-the-art studios in Regents Park, every aspect of which, from the bottles to the packaging, is of the highest quality. Now distributed widely across Europe, Asia and the US, the demand for Pilkington’s exquisitely refined perfumes continues to grow, as does her business.

Founder and CEO, Linda Jayne Pilkington, tells TheIndustry.fashion’s The Beauty Edit about her eponymous fragrance brand and the launch of her latest collection, La Route de la Soie.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

I grew up in a small and quiet town based in Cheshire. My parents loved craftsmanship and they often gifted me with lots of home craft kits as a child to keep me occupied on the weekends.

This led to my passion for crafting from a young age and I was especially interested in beauty. By the end of the week, I would have 16 candles or room sprays that I created. I would go door-to-door selling these creations to my neighbours. This was definitely me channelling my entrepreneurial side.

My interest in perfume developed during my young teen years. Around the age of 13, my first expensive perfume was given to me by my mother – it was Madame Rochas – it had been gifted to her by a male patient as a thank you gesture, but my mother felt uncomfortable wearing a perfume given to her by another man and so she gifted it to me.

This triggered my interest in perfumes, particularly perfume bottles. I loved the bottle my mother gifted to me – it was a cognac colour with a gold top – it seemed like absolute treasure. I asked her for more bottles, and asked her friends for their empty bottles to decorate my dressing table with, and soon after I had formed a fabulous collection.

Thereafter, many people asked me which fragrances were my favourite, and this was something I didn’t give much thought at the time. I would smell all the perfumes I collected and think they were all nice; following this, I started to gain a deeper understanding of fragrances.

Ormonde Jayne Hero Signature Perfume

How did Ormonde Jayne come to life?

As I grew older, I travelled a lot and had always been quite entrepreneurial – owning several businesses before venturing into the agrochemicals industry. I worked in South America, Africa and the Far East, owning and running a boutique hotel, a soybean farm, and even a small chain of ice-cream parlours when I created my own exotic ice cream.

On returning home, a friend of mine who worked at Chanel’s fine jewellery boutique on Bond Street in London asked me to create some candles – he could still recall the handmade ones I once made as a child.

I was extremely excited about this opportunity and was given a very precise brief from Chanel. After going back and forth over 6 months, researching and working relentlessly, I created some candles which they loved! An order for 50 candles was requested and this was the start of my brand! Following this request, I had to issue an invoice and form a company to be paid by Chanel, so I established Ormonde Jayne.

The name Ormonde Jayne was suggested by my husband. He said, “Well. You’re Linda Jayne, and you live on Ormonde Terrace, so let’s just call it Ormonde Jayne”. I said, OK. And that was the beginning of everything!

When did you launch, what was the response like and what has changed since?

There was never an official launch per se, but Ormonde Jayne was founded around the year 2000. Before this, everything took place step by step. I started by making candles and room sprays from my kitchen and then I was literally going around Portobello and Notting Hill market, as well as small boutiques trying to sell my fragrances.

The next stage involved me taking part in trade shows such as Top Drawer in London, where I won first prize for best design. Thereafter I started selling my fragrances in leading department stores like Harrods and Liberty.

At this point I had become increasingly overwhelmed. My products were starting to take off with rising demand and I felt I had no experience in dealing with retailers, wholesale, distribution, and department stores. We were still making everything on our own (we still make them all today) and I’ve never had outside investors either which has given me great flexibility.

Around this time, I saw a small boutique on sale for rent on Old Bond Street and thought this would fit my mindset a lot better, where I could have my own store and be able to speak directly to my clients.

Although I was in leading department stores in the UK and abroad (such as Nieman Marcus in the US), I decided to withdraw the brand from all department stores as I just couldn’t keep up with the demand.

I then opened my boutique on Old Bond Street in 2001 and through a mere conversation with a client who wanted an unusual fragrance featuring a special flower (which I was happy to search for), I realised I needed to tailor all my Ormonde Jayne fragrances in this way.

My offering was quite standard at this time and involved common ingredients such as spring jasmine and sandalwood. I thought to myself if I could find ingredients that are not widely used in the perfume industry, I could set my brand apart from other perfume brands and have a unique selling point. I found my first four perfumes based on this concept and launched this new range.

When I felt I had something rather special and I was doing the right thing, I was ready to have my press day, and 18 years ago I got a full page in the Evening Standard (which was pretty major during this time).

What is your current route to market?

We are available online at ormondejayne.com as well as leading department stores such as Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Masons and Fenwick.

Ormonde Jayne is available in many top departments stores globally. We also have 160 privately owned boutiques across the world.

What sets you apart from other fragrance brands?

What sets us apart from other perfume brands, firstly is that we make our perfumes in-house which enables us to put the highest percentage of oils/ingredients permitted into our perfumes. Secondly, we’re able to do this as we are independent and have no external investment.

We have our own studios and laboratories, and 99% of fragrance brands in the market have their perfumes manufactured at places they have no involvement in. We as a perfume brand are very much hands-on.

Who is your target audience?

Our fragrances are targeted at all consumers and they are gender fluid. We began attracting niche shoppers initially but as time has passed on, our customer base has expanded to all age groups and genders.

What are your top 3 product recommendations for consumers new to the brand?

  • Ormonde Jayne – Montabaco.
  • Ormonde Jayne – Signature collection.
  • Ormonde Jayne – Osmanthus.

Does the fragrance market differ in the regions you are available in?

Yes, definitely! Our best-sellers differ across all the markets we are available in. For instance, Ormonde Jayne Champaca is extremely popular in Russia, but its not our best seller across the rest of the globe. In the UK, the Gold range is a favourite amongst consumers at Harrods and Selfridges. Montebaco is popular worldwide and at our boutique in Old Bond Street. US consumers are great fans of Ormonde Jayne Frangipani.

Every territory has a best seller perfume, which is important for a fragrance company as you don’t want only one or two best sellers.

Ormonde Jayne – La Route de la Soie

Tell us more about your latest collection, La Route de la Soie?

My newest collection, La Route de la Soie, is inspired by the many destinations on the famous Silk Road. The Ormonde Jayne La Route de la Soie collection allows you to travel vicariously through destinations along The Silk Road such as China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Europe.

This line is different to others, as it is based on the different flowers and scents along The Silk Road route, and so I have created seven perfumes to capture these different places.

La Route de la Soie contains a lot of spices and fruits such as apple and rhubarb, which is a very big departure from my genre and what consumers know of Ormonde Jayne.

This latest collection has been inspired by The Silk Road, a book which was a Times’ best seller in New York and the UK. This wonderful book explores a new history of the world which was very different to the history I learnt at school in the UK. It helped me discover another part of the world, that being China, the Far and Middle East, which were far more sophisticated than Europe, as they exposed us to The Silk Road and introduced us to the likes of fabrics such as silks, materials such as gun powder, and number theory such as maths.

But my main interest in life is perfume and fragrance so this prompted me to also buy the book, Flora of The Silk Road. This explores all the flowers on the journey of the silk road which was perfect for me!

Whilst reading this incredible book, I wrote down all the flowers and anything which grows on the The Silk Roads. After noting all these ingredients down, I then allocated all these groups of flowers and spices into regions, which turned into a massive project.

I then went to France and sat down with several other perfumers and discussed the concept and inspirations behind this collection. Following this, we allocated the perfumes into what was viable and came up with La Route de la Soie – The Silk Road collection.

The launch took place over Zoom because of the pandemic and it has been a great success!

You are the very first Western perfumer to use OUD in your fragrances. Over the past few years the perfume industry has been all about OUD. As a fragrance pioneer, what do you think the next ingredient trend is going to be?

I had been in the Middle East the first time I came across OUD and when I first smelled this, I thought it was awful! But I thought to myself, our philosophy at Ormonde Jayne is to use ingredients which are not widely used in the perfume industry. At the time OUD was never made into a fine fragrance, so to improve the smell I had the idea to put OUD into a fine fragrance along with other ingredients

I began researching and found OUD originated from agarwood and organised a trip to see a agar forest in Louse and then went to Nana in Thailand where all oud merchants were located alongside a couple of experts who knew the process of OUD steam distillation.

I took OUD back to the UK, wanting this scent to be accessible to the Western world, and decided to incorporate it into the Ormonde Man fragrance. As it turned out, it was a smash hit! I was making it at night in my studio and filtering it in the morning. I normally prefer my perfumes to mature 6-8 weeks, but I would bring it to the shop and as soon as I opened up shoppers would be asking how many bottles I had left and would take them all.

It was great for me and it wasn’t something I had planned. Everyone was interested in OUD at that time and 6 months later Yves Saint Laurent launched a perfume with OUD which was also well received. It’s now a confirmed category and every fragrance house in the world uses it. So, I’m quite proud of the fact I was the first to introduce it into the fine fragrance world. I found a lot of my customers have never experienced a perfume with OUD alongside 50 other ingredients.

I was also fortunate enough to tell my OUD story to a journalist from The Financial Times – How To Spend It. She was eager to feature my story, so Ormonde Jayne got three full pages in How To Spend It magazine which covered my whole journey of discovering OUD to introducing it into my line.

Since the discovery of OUD the next big fragrance trend I would say includes oriental notes but not just as pungent. Tobacco and leather are also very popular scents and have been trending.

Ormonde Jayne – Refill Perfume Bottles

Sustainability is becoming a crucial focus for the fragrance and beauty industry, in what ways is Ormonde Jayne incorporating sustainability into its business model and brand identity?

Our carrier bags come from a company which plant trees and manufacture the paper.

We have also introduced new reusable refillable perfume bottles – shoppers can choose their colour, have the bottle engraved with their name and then have the bottle cleaned and refilled at either Selfridges Manchester or London Oxford Street, or at our boutique, with a 10% discount.

Our packaging no longer contains plastic; we use a recyclable cardboard which is waterproof.

Sustainability is something we are constantly revisiting and improving.

Is the Coronavirus pandemic one of the biggest challenges facing the fragrance and beauty market today?

This is the most unusual situation I have been in, personally. I have encountered three major challenges in the last 20 years, but this has been a very different challenge.

On this occasion, Ormonde Jayne was lucky as we were in a strong position before the pandemic took place.

The fragrance industry has had to reduce their whole trail of thought as big brands and fragrance giants who usually expect to turn over several to nine million over the course of a month are taking in about 10% of these profits. Larger fragrance companies are definitely suffering the most and are having to axe jobs, adjust terms of conditions for employees, and rethink commission as a result.

Smaller and niche brands in stronger positions will be able to ride out this pandemic, but they will have to be careful not to spend too much and manage their cash flow strategically.

How has the Ormonde Jayne direct-to-consumer website been performing during such uncertain times?

Like-to-like sales were up 61% since last year. We have invested a great deal in our online presence, including social media and google adds.

How has Ormonde Jayne been adapting to such challenging times?

We had already made changes in the shop before lockdown – limiting numbers of customers in the shop, providing hand sanitisers and changing how our testers were handled and sanitised between each spray, door handles and counters cleaned between customers. We have testers available to those who shop online and in terms of the launch for my current range, we had venues booked all over the world but that has been changed to chatting to the press via Zoom.

We also have placed a greater focus on online sales. I had a discussion with my management during the pandemic and said we need to be prepared for challenges like this in the future, and consider having more of an online presence.

This also pushed me to think about the fact that Ormonde Jayne is only available in just one language and currency and that we needed to expand this offering if there is another pandemic in the future.

The brand is now is a better position since we have launched La Route del le Soie as we have had interest from different markets from The Silk Road. We have come from 200 points of sales closed to now hiring more than ever as our orders have soared. Our international and Europen markets have also recently began to pick up.

What’s next for Ormonde Jayne?

Tapping into the Silk Road markets and focussing on our online presence, making the Ormonde Jayne website more accessible to the whole world.

What advice would you give to anybody aspiring to run a perfume company?

  • Do not give up your day job whilst setting up your brand.
  • Believe in your brand and product.
  • Consider outside investors as now it is very expensive to enter the perfume industry. Doing so involves a great deal of testing before a perfume can reach the market. To launch a fragrance brand or just a few perfumes in today’s world you need at least half a million pounds, because of all the bottle over caps, packaging, testing and documentation.
  • Take things step by step!