John Bailey – A Aromatic Epitaph

It was with nice disappointment we realized that John Bailey, former President of The British Society of Perfumers and famend artisan perfumer of The Perfumers Guild, died on Wednesday twenty second February 2023.

John was one of many kindest and most insightful males in all the perfume business. He was beneficiant with that intensive expertise and huge data, too, and will all the time be relied on to assist us with analysis – typically throwing in scented snippets of knowledge that made us gasp. Jo Fairley, who co-founded The Fragrance Society, and counted John as a pricey buddy, commented:

‘John was a life pressure inside the business, and his ardour for perfumery was unrivalled. These of us who knew and revered him will miss him – and his scented missives! – very a lot.’

The British Society of Perfumers assertion learn:

As one member of the society put it: ”John was the beating coronary heart of the British Society of Perfumers”. He joined the society in 2009 and was president from 2012 to 2014. He was solely the second President to tackle two years on the helm after Robert Favre in 1963.

Throughout his Presidency John was the driving pressure behind the writing and publication of the e-book celebrating the fiftieth Anniversary of the BSP. He remained lively on Council and organised a number of current occasions together with the go to to the lavender farm in 2022.

John was the primary to obtain the title of Honorary Ambassador to the Society. He took on this function with gusto, giving new members a heat welcome and preserving in contact with pals of the Society. He had a ardour for the historical past of perfumery particularly within the UK and researched plenty of manufacturers. His profession in perfumery included working for Stafford Allen, Naarden Worldwide and RC Treatt. This wealth of expertise lead him to discovered his unbiased consultancy; The Fragrance Guild in 1981.

With sorrow for his passing and pleasure for a life nicely lived.💔’



You’ll be able to learn our assessment of that good e-book within the hyperlink, above. It’s completely important studying for anybody interested by perfumery, and but represents a scented slice of his encyclopedic data.

Some years in the past, Jo Fairley and I had the good pleasure of spending a day with John at his dwelling, in an effort to interview him for our #ShareMyStash characteristic for The Scented Letter Journal. It was a joyous day of sniffing and reminiscing which we’ll always remember, and we are able to consider no higher means than for us all to recollect John than to share that piece with you, right here…



‘Barbara Cartland had me fragrancing her bookmarks and scenting her letters’

‘It’s not about what’s within the bottle ­– it’s additionally the tales and the individuals behind them’


Table of Contents

[This feature was originally published in issue 28 of The Scented Letter Magazine]

Celebrating his 90th birthday this 12 months, John Bailey has had an unrivalled skilled profession – spanning an unbelievable seven a long time of scent. As you would possibly anticipate, alongside the way in which, this perfume professional, scent historian and behind-the-scenes advisor to main manufacturers around the globe has amassed fairly a set – which he shared with Suzy Nightingale…

Images: Jo Fairley


There’s no one fairly like John Bailey. It isn’t simply the sky blue eyes, nonetheless twinkling mischievously as he enters his 10th decade. It isn’t merely the way in which he lavishly perfumes the handwritten letters he nonetheless likes to ship (together with, recurrently to The Fragrance Society). And it isn’t simply the size of his profession which makes John distinctive in fragrance circles, however the breadth. He started as a ‘lowly laboratory assistant’, as John places it, apprenticed on the age of 14, and labored his means by way of all the important thing corporations within the fragrance world.

Later, he rose to develop into Dame Barbra Cartland’s ‘private perfumer’ and located his personal perfume home, The Perfumers Guild, to create bespoke fragrances for a choose clientele. Extra just lately, he held the function of President of the British Society of Perfumers. Fairly merely, if the British fragrance world had a nationwide treasure, John Bailey is it.

And when John despatched us a photograph of his ‘summerhouse’ (a really precisely-packed shed on the backside of the backyard, stuffed together with his fragrance stash), The Fragrance Society’s co-founder Jo Fairley and determined we couldn’t wait any longer to hop on a practice and see John on his dwelling turf.

From the second we stepped into John’s automobile – fragranced by one in every of his personal stunning blends, wafting by way of the air filters – we realised that fragrance pervades each space of his life. Over tea and biscuits, served by his spouse Sheila in an immaculate conservatory (a congratulatory diamond marriage ceremony card from Her Majesty The Queen propped on a facet desk), John chuckled as he mirrored on the timeline of his skilled life, ‘I feel the way in which to elucidate it to you truthfully is that my profession has developed quite than been deliberate.’ And evolve it most actually did…


John Bailey and his beloved spouse, Sheila


Humbly reflecting that he ‘wasn’t a lot good at something at college… my sister was the brainy one,’ it was John’s mother and father who gently nudged him to develop into an apprentice to John Richardson & Co, an old-established agency of producing chemists, druggists and distillers in his dwelling city of Leicester. ‘They made every thing, drugs, potions, lotions, tinctures, veterinary preparations; lozenges…’

All of it started with these humble lozenges – which he spent his days hand-making completely for the Brompton Hospital London. ‘The combination was kneaded and ready with a particular share of the important oils – issues like English peppermint oil –  then rolled, lower out and stamped. An apprentice like me must re-do that many times, weighing them precisely. If the load wasn’t proper, it meant the dosage of the important oil wasn’t appropriate. Later, I found it’s t’s precisely the identical method once you’re weighing out substances for perfumes. It’s a must to be correct.’

Quickly it turned clear that John’s ardour lay within the botanical/aromatics facet of the enterprise. As he explains: ‘In these days pharmacies would bulk purchase fragrances which they’d pour into their very own bottles to promote.’ The chemists retailers regularly purchased them from the identical provider they sourced lozenges and different medicinals from – and earlier than lengthy, John was studying easy methods to mix perfumes.

The subsequent step of John’s profession was ‘excellent fortune’, he displays. He joined a famend retail chemist, Cecil Jacobs, who’d arrange store beneath the Grand Resort, Leicester. Jacobs’s subsequent takeover of an historical apothecary allowed John to be educated in each single side of gross sales, advertising and marketing, sourcing substances, the merchandising and making of high-quality fragrances, cosmetics and toiletries. (There’s most likely no one in all the fragrance universe who’s had so rounded a coaching.) Maybe his biggest stroke of fine fortune was assembly a fellow worker, nevertheless – Sheila, with whom he has three daughters.

From there, it was a leap to the old-established Quaker firm of Stafford Allen (SAS), growers and distillers of important oils. ‘I spent months in each single division there earlier than they despatched me out as their technical consultant. I by no means stopped studying. It wasn’t like at this time when to develop into a perfumer you might be required to go to ISIPCA or do specialised coaching,’ John displays. ‘This was studying on the job.’

Apparently, this provides him nice respect for the rising quantity self-taught area of interest perfumers round at this time. ‘To my thoughts there’s no level getting in your excessive horse and saying, “nicely these individuals haven’t been educated at such and such a spot” – as a result of that was typically the previous means, too!’

He clearly remembers the time when the function of ‘evaluator’ was devised – the people whose function is as a bridge between shopper and perfumer, to-ing and fro-ing to make sure the transient is fulfilled to their satisfaction. ‘It was a lot to the disgust of the perfumers, who thought “who the hell are these individuals coming in and telling us to tinker with our formulation?”’

From 1979-1981, he then went to work for the perfume home RC Treatt, organising a perfumery from scratch. To the misery of John and his staff, nevertheless, out of the blue the entire enterprise was axed – and for the primary time he discovered himself out of a job. ‘Nevertheless it gave me the push to go unbiased’, John asserts. ‘I assumed proper, that’s it, I’m by no means working for anybody once more. So I launched my firm, The Perfumer’s Guild…’

John’s first bespoke fragrance was for the Royal Nationwide Rose Society – a quintessential English rose scent, merely known as Society, with the primary bottle going to Penelope Keith, then to Felicity Kendal and different celebrities who’d had roses named for them.

His subsequent shopper? None apart from Dame Barbara Cartland – she of the pink frocks, the fluffy canine and the Rolls Royce. (Later, additionally stepgrandmother to Diana, Princess of Wales, by way of the wedding of her daughter Rayne to Earl Spencer.) Having learn a newspaper article through which the eccentric, bestselling romance authoress bemoaned the decline in requirements of perfumery, John wrote her a letter providing to make a scent specifically for her. It went down so nicely that he was retained – like a modern-day Jean-Louis Fargeon to Marie Antoinette, maybe – to create all of the fragrances in her wardrobe. The primary fragrance he made for Dame Barbara had the suitably Cartland-esque identify of Scent of Romance – ‘an Oriental, very decadent and wealthy. She additionally had me fragrancing bookmarks and scenting her letters.’ On one event, he remembers, he even discovered himself being introduced at a overseas reception at a five-star resort by a uniformed footman as ‘Mr John Bailey, Ambassador to Dame Barbara Cartland!’



John was one of many first Western perfumers to make use of oudh – and reveals us a powerful gold metallic chest, containing a pile of this treasured Arabian wooden. By no means resting on his laurels, it seems he was additionally concerned in reviving the celebrated British fragrance home Atkinsons, by way of his buddy Michael Edwards (writer of Fragrance Legends and the fragrance business ‘annual’, Fragrances of the World). Michael launched him to the brand new Italian homeowners, after they’d purchased Atkinsons into their fold. ‘He stated to me: “These individuals have misplaced a number of their historical past and so they’re undecided what to do with this treasure” – so I turned the officially-appointed researcher, earlier than the relaunched. I’m thrilled that they’re now going to open in Burlington Arcade – actually simply across the nook from the place this fragrance home first began.’

However leaving apart his fascinating private historical past, we had been additionally right here to see John’s assortment. So John led us to the summerhouse through which he shops his jaw-dropping stash, glass cabinets and cabinets groaning with every thing from Potter & Moore Lavender to Esteé Lauder Dazzling Silver, an authentic Youth Dew, Military & Navy Eau de Cologne, Triple Extract Wooden Violet and extra. ‘I’ve no concept what number of bottles I’ve obtained. A number of hundred I assume. It’s not all the time about what’s within the bottle – for me the bottles themselves maintain a fascination, the tales and the individuals behind them.’

Again in the home, Jo and I needed to ask if Sheila (who fuelled us with tea, biscuits and mini mince pies all through the interview) was equally into fragrance. Her throaty chuckle and candid reply – ‘Nicely, to be sincere with you I’m not that bothered about it, lately!’ – made us snicker, as did her affectionate assertion that John was ‘obsessive about perfume’.

At first, John tried to disclaim this. However then this gentleman and scent scholar seemed across the in any other case immaculate home, with its examine filled with what should be each perfume e-book ever written, its enormous factices (outsized show bottles) and numerous fragrance flacons from each period on show. (By no means thoughts that shed itself.)

‘Nicely, alright,’ he lastly smiled, ‘I suppose you may say I’m obsessed…’



Or quite, 11. As a result of after seven a long time within the fragrance enterprise, it appeared churlish to disclaim John Bailey an additional ‘decide’…

Atkinson’s 24 Previous Bond Road ‘A beautiful relaunch and redesign – they’ve been so intelligent with the flask.’


Chanel ‘From the aesthetic viewpoint, their simplicity is totally good. All they’ve needed to do is tweak the bottle over time – as a result of it’s perfection.’


Coty (numerous classic treasures) ‘We now have a buddy who was a flight engineer for Concorde and he discovered this bottle for me at a flea market in Ludlow. Similar to the classic Molton Brown, isn’t it?’


YSL Opium ‘The bottle designer Pierre Dinand instructed me a few years in the past, after I was working with him, that only some of those authentic necklaces had been produced and so I treasure this.’


Guerlain Mitsouko ‘One of many biggest fragrances ever created.’


Cartier Panthère ‘A fully distinctive bottle design.’


Clarins Eau Dynamiste ‘An excellent instance of a perfume completely suiting the model. A tonic scent that’s type of a twist on Eau Sauvage.’


Jean Paul Gaultier Le Mâle ‘Sensible packaging and bottles – so outrageous placing it in a tin! The perfume that launched Francis Kurkdjian’s profession, after all.’


Miss Dior Unique ‘Such a cherished identify. I labored with the perfumer Jean Carles’ son, Marcel, at one time. I feel I nonetheless have a replica of the unique system for this, someplace!’


Givenchy Ysatis ‘Gorgeous bottle – one other Pierre Dinand particular.’


Perfumer’s Guild ‘Except for “Society”, we used household names for the perfumes – together with these of our daughters.’


John Bailey – In our scent reminiscences eternally.



Written by Suzy Nightingale