British perfumer Tom Daxon has all the right scents
Tom Daxon Bowers talks about his luxury fragrance house and the nuances of creating subtle fragrances
"I was clueless." It's not quite what I expected the young designer of a luxury niche perfume house to say, but Tom Daxon Bowers is candid about his beginnings. "I'd like to believe I've learnt something now. But I wouldn't have been able to set up my business without my mum," says the 31-year-old Britisher. "She'd kill me if I didn't acknowledge that," he adds.
In the business for six years now, Bowers started his luxury fragrance brand, Tom Daxon, straight after completing a degree in History and Politics from Nottingham University. The subjects he learnt had nothing to do with perfumes or luxury brands, but what he didn't learn about perfumery, he learnt from his mother, Dale. The creative director for Molton Brown for over 30 years, Dale also worked on fragrances and shower gels with Jacques Chabert, an independent perfumer. Having grown up smelling green vials in a perfumer's lab in Grasse, France, Bowers says his relationship with his mother has only grown thanks to his current line of work. "Of course, we disagree, and then I think, well, 'this is my brand'. But she's such a help. She is in Europe now, and I get to speak to her every day because of work and I cherish that. When I started university, I lived and worked with her back home. That was too much 'mum-time' but now, it's right, it's just right," he confesses.
Fresh off a plane from Saudi Arabia, Bowers only had enough time for a quick bite before making his way to Bloomingdale's in Dubai for day five of his tour of the Middle East. "We don't have oud. It's a question I get asked a lot and you can see the disappointment on some faces. I've been given so much advice about selling in the Middle East - to do an oud fragrance and one with the UAE flag or in gold bottles, but there's so much of that already. Tastes change and originality is key. You can't ask the sales assistant, 'What sells?' and recreate it; no one will buy your copy."
Dressed in plaid pants, an open shirt and white loafers, Bowers practices originality, too. His sense of style is all about understated luxury, quite like his fragrances. With all 12 of his simplistic and modern fragrances laid out along with their original ingredients, I get whiffs of lemon, saffron, iris and woody musk. A quick tour and 12 blotters later, I decide my favourite is Crushing Bloom - the most floral of them all and the only one with roses. "I love the smell of real roses and at home, mum's got huge - I have no idea what she puts in the soil - but she's got huge roses and they smell amazing. But it's very difficult to capture a very delicate, natural smell," he explains.
"To extract, you either have to use heat or a solvent and it changes the character of the smell. So, rose oil extraction can be disappointing. It's quite sweet and it's reminiscent of all those cheap fragrances that are marketed for 10-year-old girls in baby pink bottles. With Crushing Bloom, the idea was to make a rose fragrance that I would want to wear so that's why there's jasmine and iris and quite a bit of spice, too."
Oakmoss, silken musks and black pepper gives the fragrance a stronger touch, one that grants the perfume longevity. Though Tom Daxon, the brand, specialises in unisex fragrances, one would imagine that Crushing Bloom probably doesn't sell well among men. Interestingly, Bowers says it's quite the opposite sometimes. "In the UAE in particular, I'd say that men are more open-minded than in other countries. For people in the UK, as well, it's almost like a badge of honour that you're a guy and willing to wear a floral scent - more avant-garde. But the traditional bunch in England - they'll often say 'Oh that's flowers, that's for girls.'" And yet, the fragrance that sells the most is Iridium - a perfume rooted in iris, juniper, angelica and cedarwood.
Bowers reaches over, sprays some on a blotter and hands it over to me. "People can't wrap their heads around the fact that fragrances don't have a gender. It's ridiculous to say there's a male and female ingredient. It was a marketing construct."
Luckily, Bowers has had help from what can only be called family and friends, for Chabert and his daughters, Carla and Elsa, continue to help Bowers. When the first eight perfume bottles came out in 2013, it took them four to five years to perfect them.
Bowers unveils the process. "The inspiration has to come from me. Even the perfumers want that. They like to have some direction. They consider themselves artisans, so a good brief is something that gets their creative juices flowing. That collaborative process is important."
Bowers' inspiration is usually ingredient-led - from his mother's roses to the magnolia that lines London's streets to a drink in Greece that leaves a great aftertaste, "I write a brief or a mood board or say 'let's do something with this ingredient.' Then the perfumers try to produce the fragrance. Most perfumers specialise on the creation side but Jacques checks the quality before coming back with a dozen or so samples. From there, it's an empirical trial and error process.
"Sometimes, I consider myself the perfumer and suggest mixing. My perfumers indulge in my experiments and then we make a decision. Fragrances are presented like an art form, as though you are inspired to create them. For us, it is loads and loads of trial and error to refine a perfume until we reach a finished product."
Bowers is in the process of creating yet another fragrance and he is currently wearing one that he's still testing. "With niche perfumery, the best way to market it is for someone to smell it and ask what you're wearing. That's how it snowballs. I wanted a fragrance that would sit on the skin, and musks are the best for that. So, this perfume is for those people who want to smell nice, but don't want to be smelt from across the room."
In an industry awash with strong scents that attack our senses, Tom Daxon offers a range that is as subtle, as it is distinctive. So, while you pick your favourite, I'll be looking at getting my hands on a bottle of Crushing Bloom.
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