Scents and sensibility: Les Senteurs director Chris Hawksley tells Tempus about the power of perfume
London’s oldest perfumery has championed the world’s most unique independent fragrances since 1984
In 1984 Betty Hawksley had the revolutionary idea to open a perfumery in London that stocked no big-name brands but, instead was devoted to the creations of small, independent fragrance houses. With her husband Michael, she founded Les Senteurs as a specialist shop in a tiny jewel-like space in the heart of Belgravia.
Wanting to spotlight these unique brands, the couple aimed to curate a collection of little-known but innovative fragrances from all over the world; little did they know that Les Senteurs would change the face of British perfumery and become a premier institution in the fragrance industry.
Nearly four decades on, their son Chris Hawksley has taken the reigns as director of Les Senteurs boutique, a recently refurbished store just a few hundred yards away from the original shop. “It is a space of pure indulgence for the senses,” Hawksley says, “a place in which to be transported into the evocative world of perfume and enjoy a relaxed browsing experience.”
There is a strong emphasis on discovery here; the brand is open to all those who love scent, whether they are a fragrance connoisseur or a complete novice. Staff members work closely with clientele to find the right fragrance for them no matter how far along they are on their scent journey. “For those that do want to learn, we give them the space and time to explore, discover and appreciate how different combinations of ingredients and scents can stimulate our imagination and how they can make us feel.”
Les Senteurs stocks more than 350 fragrances from all over the globe, “created by the best noses in the business.” Consignments of perfume have arrived in store from France, Russia, Austria, Thailand and Italy, to name just a few. “Once upon a time the Les Senteurs team went out to comb the vineyards of the world for fruit,” Hawksley says. “Now international perfumers often come to us, laden with fragrant treasures.”
The boutique prides itself on offering a blending of styles, genres and cultures in its products, particularly enjoying the discovery of brands with a strong identity or connection to their birthplace. For example, Kingdom Scotland’s expression of the experiences, personalities and landscapes of that wildly romantic enthralling land of legends or Mizensir’s use of typical Andalusian natural ingredients. “We may have come to expect fresh citrus scents from the Mediterranean and opulent ouds from the Middle East, but our brands often surprise and delight us with something different,” explains Hawksley.
Working with sophisticated labels such as Tauer Perfumes, Papillon and Marc-Antoine Barrois, the interactive relationship with the perfumer is especially important for Les Senteurs, with the individual’s personality and creativity behind the scent just as important as the fragrance itself.
“Rather than follow trends, we choose to celebrate artistic perfumery and, I think, that really is the key to Les Senteurs’ success,” says Hawksley (pictured opposite). “The brands put their trust in us to ensure that we are aligned with their vision and that they are reaching the right target audience. Our collection is always carefully curated to ensure that each has its own time to shine. Our partnership is a cosmopolitan meeting of minds and emotions.”
Like many other companies, Les Senteurs has also been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, having had to close its doors due to the national lockdown. Despite this change in operation, they have seen a huge increase in online sales, updating their website to bring the boutique experience to clients at home. In fact, perfume has proved to be the perfect mood booster during these difficult times, raising morale and being a stimulating or comforting force depending on an individual’s needs.
“A soft, gentle perfume such as a mandarin citrus or rose can relax and elevate, while lavender scents are always reassuring, familiar and encouraging,” recommends Hawksley, “Tom Daxon’s Laconia and Moment Perpetual by Les Eaux Primordiales are both wonderfully uplifting.”
Having celebrated its 36th anniversary last year, Les Senteurs is now the UK’s oldest independent specialist perfumery. This was, of course, an immensely proud moment for Hawskley, who sees the brand as more than just a business. “Perfume and the shop were always a part of our family conversations, so Les Senteurs is extremely close to my heart.”
With this in mind, Hawksley makes every effort to preserve his parents’ ethos. “The purpose and approach of the store remains the same: To offer the very best of these lesser-known fine fragrances and scented goods, combined with expert advice, education and exceptional service.”