John Bailey – A Aromatic Epitaph

It was with nice disappointment we discovered 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 your entire perfume trade. He was beneficiant with that in depth expertise and huge information, too, and will at all times be relied on to assist us with analysis – typically throwing in scented snippets of data that made us gasp. Jo Fairley, who co-founded The Fragrance Society, and counted John as an expensive pal, commented:

‘John was a life drive inside the trade, 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 drive behind the writing and publication of the guide celebrating the fiftieth Anniversary of the BSP. He remained lively on Council and organised a number of latest 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 retaining in contact with associates of the Society. He had a ardour for the historical past of perfumery particularly within the UK and researched a lot 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 effectively lived.💔’



You may learn our assessment of that sensible guide within the hyperlink, above. It’s totally important studying for anybody thinking about perfumery, and but represents a scented slice of his encyclopedic information.

Some years in the past, Jo Fairley and I had the nice pleasure of spending a day with John at his house, with a view 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 will consider no higher method 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 folks 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 unimaginable seven many years of scent. As you would possibly anticipate, alongside the best way, this perfume knowledgeable, scent historian and behind-the-scenes guide to main manufacturers all over the world has amassed fairly a group – which he shared with Suzy Nightingale…

Photographs: Jo Fairley


There’s no person 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 best way 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 method via all the important thing firms within the fragrance world.

Later, he rose to turn 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 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, crammed 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 prepare and see John on his house turf.

From the second we stepped into John’s automobile – fragranced by one among his personal stunning blends, wafting via 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 wedding ceremony card from Her Majesty The Queen propped on a aspect desk), John chuckled as he mirrored on the timeline of his skilled life, ‘I feel the best way to elucidate it to you truthfully is that my profession has developed slightly than been deliberate.’ And evolve it most definitely did…


John Bailey and his beloved spouse, Sheila


Humbly reflecting that he ‘wasn’t a lot good at something in school… my sister was the brainy one,’ it was John’s dad and mom who gently nudged him to turn into an apprentice to John Richardson & Co, an old-established agency of producing chemists, druggists and distillers in his house city of Leicester. ‘They made every part, tablets, 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 right. Later, I found it’s t’s precisely the identical approach once you’re weighing out substances for perfumes. It’s important to be correct.’

Quickly it turned clear that John’s ardour lay within the botanical/aromatics aspect 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 outlets often purchased them from the identical provider they sourced lozenges and different medicinals from – and earlier than lengthy, John was studying find out how to mix perfumes.

The following 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 historic apothecary allowed John to be skilled in each single facet of gross sales, advertising, sourcing substances, the merchandising and making of fantastic fragrances, cosmetics and toiletries. (There’s in all probability no person in your entire fragrance universe who’s had so rounded a coaching.) Maybe his biggest stroke of excellent 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 turn into a perfumer you’re required to go to ISIPCA or do specialised coaching,’ John displays. ‘This was studying on the job.’

Apparently, this offers 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, “effectively these folks haven’t been skilled at such and such a spot” – as a result of that was typically the previous method, 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 temporary is fulfilled to their satisfaction. ‘It was a lot to the disgust of the perfumers, who thought “who the hell are these folks coming in and telling us to tinker with our formulation?”’

From 1979-1981, he then went to work for the perfume home RC Treatt, establishing a perfumery from scratch. To the misery of John and his crew, nevertheless, out of the blue the entire enterprise was axed – and for the primary time he discovered himself out of a job. ‘However it gave me the push to go unbiased’, John asserts. ‘I believed 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 aside from Dame Barbara Cartland – she of the pink frocks, the fluffy canine and the Rolls Royce. (Later, additionally stepgrandmother to Diana, Princess of Wales, via 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 effectively 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 title of Scent of Romance – ‘an Oriental, very decadent and wealthy. She additionally had me fragrancing bookmarks and scenting her letters.’ On one event, he recollects, he even discovered himself being introduced at a overseas reception at a five-star lodge 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 exhibits us an impressive gold steel chest, containing a pile of this valuable 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 pal Michael Edwards (writer of Fragrance Legends and the fragrance trade ‘annual’, Fragrances of the World). Michael launched him to the brand new Italian homeowners, after they’d purchased Atkinsons into their fold. ‘He mentioned to me: “These folks have misplaced lots of their historical past they usually’re unsure 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 part 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 bought. A number of hundred I suppose. It’s not at all times about what’s within the bottle – for me the bottles themselves maintain a fascination, the tales and the folks 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 – ‘Properly, to be trustworthy with you I’m not that bothered about it, lately!’ – made us snigger, 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 appeared across the in any other case immaculate home, with its research filled with what should be each perfume guide ever written, its enormous factices (outsized show bottles) and numerous fragrance flacons from each period on show. (By no means thoughts that shed itself.)

‘Properly, alright,’ he lastly smiled, ‘I suppose you might say I’m obsessed…’



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

Atkinson’s 24 Outdated Bond Road ‘An exquisite relaunch and redesign – they’ve been so intelligent with the flask.’


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


Coty (a number of classic treasures) ‘We have now a pal 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 advised me a few years in the past, once 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 form of a twist on Eau Sauvage.’


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


Miss Dior Authentic ‘Such a cherished title. I labored with the perfumer Jean Carles’ son, Marcel, at one time. I feel I nonetheless have a duplicate 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 perpetually.



Written by Suzy Nightingale