What does London smell like? An answer can be found in the first fragrances from Handsome London, a new brand founded by two young Londoners, Jason Leonard and Richard Holmes. The unisex perfumes, 'Redchurch' and 'Master Jojo', have been conjured up by British perfumer Sarah McCartney, and each aims to capture a different aspect of the city.
'Redchurch' is inspired by a spring morning in hipster-central Shoreditch. ‘We’ve spent a lot of time Redchurch Street,’ Jason explains, ‘and have watched its transformation from a gritty street in east London to something more like the West Village, and we love the fact that both flavours are still present.’
Describing its genesis, Sarah McCartney says that ‘we all went to Redchurch Street together, smelled what was there and combined it, from the spicy cardamom Indian restaurant scent, via roasting coffee, the trees in nearby Arnold Circus, wooden benches, then fruit and vegetables at the grocery store. I made a few different versions, and after trying them out on themselves and their friends, they settled on the one we have now.’ It’s a light, slightly fruity scent with a distinct hint of apple.
'Master Jojo', by contrast, evokes the slightly seedier surroundings of Soho, as its tongue-in-cheek name (referencing a legendary drag bar) suggests. ‘We wanted something which was the opposite of "Redchurch",’ says Leonard, ‘something that captured Soho’s eccentricity and rawness. It's unusual in being composed entirely with base notes, using patchouli and sandalwood to add intensity.’
By happy coincidence, it turned out that Sarah McCartney had already been thinking along the same lines. ‘When Rich and Jason described the dark back streets of Soho at night I took out a jar of fragrance I’d been working on labelled "Dirty Soho". They smelled it and both said, “Oh my god!” It was exactly what they wanted, so I let them take it because they loved it so much. It would have been mean to say no.’
With square glass bottles in concrete-grey cardboard boxes, the packaging – by graphic designer Andrew Jackson – reflects their home city as well. ‘London is often grey and a little rough around the edges,’ Leonard says, ‘and our packaging is a nod to that. Our emblem is a simple letter H, yet when flipped on its side it takes a new form: the symbol for “not equal to”, which is how we think of London too: a global city to which nothing else quite equates.’
Though they’re evidently passionate about their brand and full of entrepreneurial beans, Richard and Jason had no experience of the perfume industry before they began. ‘We’ve both worked in tech companies for much of our careers,’ Leonard explains, ‘and we realised that a lot of our time both at work and together was spent gazing into our laptops and our phones. Handsome London started as a project to celebrate our love for the city, to prise us away from our screens and reconnect with the physical world.’
Sarah McCartney is obviously a fan. ‘They were so easy to deal with because they knew exactly what they wanted,’ she enthuses, ‘but as techies they had no idea that perfume took such a long time: they’re accustomed to pressing a button to make everything go live. Having to wait a fortnight before testing the fragrance was like a lifetime for them.’