Karen Walker’s new fragrance launch – It’s easy as ABC

Most fashion houses begin with one perfume when they launch a fragrance, but not Karen Walker, whose new eau de parfum trio, A, B and C, launches on April 15, 2015.

In fact, she has a fourth planned for a future launch – but more about that later. As New Zealand’s most successful fashion export, Karen Walker is 
a globally respected name. A regular fixture at New York Fashion Week (after starting at London Fashion Week), her clothing, eyewear and accessories have garnered a cult following; her venture into fragrance seems to be heading that way, too. London department store Harvey Nichols has made an immediate commitment to it and will be its exclusive British stockist when the range launches in the UK on May 10.

“Karen Walker has somehow managed to bottle her exuberant and embracing attitude to life. These scents beautifully demonstrate the layers of her irreverent and fearless brand in a bold expression of fragrance. That’s why Harvey Nichols is so excited to launch her fragrances in the UK,” says Harvey Nichols beauty buyer Zahra Bishop.

It’s not unusual for a fashion brand to have a fragrance – most global brands have a stable of scents – but we asked Walker: why now, and why three? “Because we have something to say. We only take on new projects when we feel that we have a unique point of view or idea and with this, our first trio of fragrances, we feel we have that,” Walker says. “Having worked in the worlds of ready-to-wear, eyewear, jewellery et al for many years, we’re used to communicating stories in a body of work. It therefore felt natural for us to approach fragrance with the same storytelling style. Additionally, though, we believe the Karen Walker customer has multiple expressions of personality, and the trio of fragrances reflects that.”

True to form, Walker’s scents have a strong voice. The alphabetical reference of A, B, C is symbolic of words in literature and poetry, with touch points on joy and optimism. “We wanted to make a trio with an effortless expression of optimism. For us, A, B, C is the first thing that rolls off the tongue when we think about anything being possible,” Walker explains. “It’s about stimulating creativity. We wanted the names to describe the effect – a sense of inspiration and stimulation – rather than the ingredients.”

Walker used the same design process for the scents that she does when creating a garment or style of eyewear, or selecting stones for jewellery. “Creativity is about intuition and clear vision … it’s about having an idea of what you want to achieve and then trusting your instincts. Of course, this time with fragrance there was an even stronger sensory element, in that the three fragrances we chose were ones that grabbed me and I couldn’t shake off,” she says. “We had a clear vision for what the fragrance should make you feel. We also wanted to work with the best craftspeople in the world, which means you have to be in Grasse.”

The Karen Walker brand is known for combining opposites and when it came to creating fragrances, the team wanted to combine its modern vision with craft and tradition. This brought them to Charabot, a company that has been creating fragrances for hundreds of years. For Walker, working with Charabot was “hugely inspirational”. “I’m always inspired by working with extraordinarily creative people and with people who really value craft,” Walker says.

“Spending time with the team in their factories and labs was thrilling. Every inch of the project has been considered. It’s been very detail-focused throughout – from the juices themselves, to the quality of the glass, every detail of the graphic. How the pump looks and feels.” (They tested 20 pumps before they found the perfect one.) When it came to creating the juices, Walker gave the perfumers carte blanche, “as we wanted them to let loose their own olfactory expression of optimism”. They were given a clear brief of the idea, but no restrictions in terms of fragrance notes and ingredients.

As part of the background story they were also provided with a list of Walker’s likes and dislikes in plants, flowers, herbs and trees. One of the perfumers, Emilie Bouge, wove all the designer’s favourite flowers into one fragrance, C, which has become the most sensuous of the three. Bouge and fellow Charabot perfumer Dorothée Piot created the A, B, C fragrances: Piot, A and B; Bouge, C. A third perfumer created a fourth fragrance, which Walker says will be released later.

The whole process, from planning to conceptual briefing to final sign-off of the juices, took two years and included initial briefings, dozens of first samples to be sniffed, feedback, reworking and more samples. Walker worked closely with a perfume evaluator in Paris and then midway through the creative process she and husband Mikhail Gherman (Karen Walker creative director) and Miranda Waple of The Six Senses (Walker’s brand partner for the fragrance business) visited Charabot’s laboratories and factory in Grasse, as well as its offices in Paris, to work more closely with the creative team. Each of the three fragrances went through up to six reworks to perfect them.

Throughout the process Walker proved she also has a nose for fragrance, not just fashion. “Karen actually has an impressive olfactory sense,” says Waple. “At Charabot, the fragrance training manager presented various notes of natural essences. When presented with all the notes in one, Karen was able to spot that they made up the fragrance J’Adore Dior, which was impressive.”

Women in five different countries blind-tested the fragrances, “as this is a launch that’s happening in several markets at once”, says Walker. She changes her mind every day about which of the trio is her favourite. “It shifts continually. They’re designed to be like that as life changes so drastically from day to day and the fragrances are created with this in mind,” she says. So what does each fragrance mean to her? “A gives me ideas and inspiration; B makes me feel like the possibilities are endless; C makes me feel empowered.”

Alphabet eaux: A guide

A is the happiness potion. It’s sparkly, bright, herbal and fresh. It’s a sunny garden bursting with flowers.
B is feminine, lush and delicious, a warm, balmy breeze after the heat of the day.
C is opulent and generous. It’s the most sensuous of the trio, containing Walker’s favourite flowers.

ABC eaux de parfums, (50ml) $130 and (100ml) $175 each, from Smith & Caughey’s, Ballantynes, Kirkcaldie & Stains, and Karen Walker boutiques.

Fragrance pic

Jo Malone Style Editor Charlotte Stockdale

Uber stylist Charlotte Stockdale has just released a limited-edition home collection for Jo Malone London, for whom she is Style Editor, called ‘My Wanderlust by Charlotte Stockdale.’

Here she shares her path through fashion and scent with MiNDFOOD, while we present a gallery of her work.


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You are one of the world’s most celebrated fashion stylists, what was your path?

I grew up in the English countryside with a mother who was very fashion conscious. I had no idea about fashion at the time but looking back, she lived and breathed it. She was very humble but very opinionated too and knew what she liked. She was tough but obsessive about enjoying the now. While she cared about the yesterday and the tomorrow, the now was the most important thing to her and I think that’s what fuelled her interest in fashion. I inherited this interest from her one hundred percent. I left school and tried modelling, it was a total disaster but I knew I loved images. I was so unhappy that my father sat me down and made me write a list of the things I liked and the things
I didn’t, the things I was good at and the things I wasn’t. This made me realise that I was probably better suited to life behind the camera. I met a photographer and did some smaller shoots and then he introduced me to Katie Grand who was setting up a new magazine called Dazed & Confused. He gave me her number. We met for lunch, stayed on for dinner and went home at 11pm. That was the beginning of my fashion life. It was an amazing time, the mid nineties. We grew up together.
I lived in Paris and worked for Dazed & Confused which was very progressive. I worked on some of my favourite ever shoots like one with the photographer Phil Poynter inspired by school and university photographs with everyone wearing the same thing. It was very different at the time. My work there then took me on to Harper’s Bazaar.

When and how did you first become interested in scent?

My first memory of scent was my mother’s. She loved it and collected the bottles. There must be at least one hundred bottles at our family home that she collected over the years. I remember holding them, particularly the ones she wore every day. I really loved the visual side of scents, the imagery and design. I didn’t wear any scent myself until I was 21 though. My best friend at the time gave me a fragrance for my 21st birthday. It had taken her a very long time to choose but she got it just right, I wore nothing else for the next six years. I think the way that she captured me so well and my life at the time stayed with me. I think it’s one of the reasons I was so excited
to work with Jo Malone London and create scents myself.

How does fragrance fit into your life and how do you think it works with fashion?

I use scent in the same way as anything else that I adorn my body with. You clad yourself in things and they say something about you and whether you can see them, smell them or touch them, they are all a statement. You walk past a person in a hotel or airport and you always have a reaction if you catch their scent. It’s a similar reaction to fashion. It’s this instant, emotional response that I find interesting. To me it is like saying, ‘…this is what makes me feel good about myself and if you’re on my wavelength you’ll probably like it too.’ Whether it’s a scent, shoes or a handbag, these are all things that attract other people, whether consciously or subconsciously.

What inspires you most about scent?

For me, scent is like colour, it can make you feel good. The same is true of music too. Smells can calm you, excite you, make you feel confident or comfortable. Humans have a very emotional reaction to scent and it’s a comfort thing that you keep going back to. It reminds you of something. I love the idea of recreating a scent from nature. This is what I did with Jo Malone London with the Box Hedge Square Scent. There’s nothing happier than an English garden in the sun so we captured this smell using Headspace technology. Wood smoke, wet earth, leather. I love smells from life attached to memory, real life and history. Your happiest moments. I find scents can be instinctively health giving too. Aromatherapy is so powerful and personal. Certain smells just connect with you straight away. Your body responds to the scent and you want more of it. It can give you peace, energy or pleasure.

What is your signature scent?

I always return to the same Colognes, they just speak to me in a really fundamental and elemental way. I wear Jo Malone London’s Red Roses, Orange Blossom, French Lime Blossom, Lime Basil & Mandarin and Blackberry & Bay Colognes. I carry small bottles of them everywhere and I think Red Roses has become synonymous with me over the years for my friends and family.
I have recently bought an entire collection of fragrance oils. While some are very beautiful alone like rose and neroli, others really aren’t. I combine them to try to understand what I like. Lavender, neroli and oregano. It helps me to get back to basics and discover what I really love and then go from there.

What advice would you give someone trying to find their own signature?

It’s a gut feeling. Above all, your scent should give you pleasure. When you are trying a new one, make sure you spritz it on your own skin, leave it and then re-smell to see how it unfolds and how you settle into it. For me there are no rules when choosing a scent for yourself. I hate rules. If your pleasure is in the label, then that’s fine. It could be the name or how the bottle feels in your hand. In whatever way, your scent needs to make you feel good. It’s not a competition
or a judgement, it should be fun and totally about you.

How would you advise someone buying a scented gift?

I have always been incredibly nervous of giving scent as a gift. The first time I ever gave scent
to anyone was in the form of candles, with Incense & Embers and Green Tomato Leaf. I think they transcend particular tastes. When choosing for someone else I always advise to smell as many scents as possible but then be brave and go with your instinct and don’t feel wounded if they don’t like it. The nicest thing about receiving scent is that it is totally expressive of the givers perception of you.

If you had to choose one, what is the most evocative scent for you?

It has to be Night Jasmine from Greece. Since I was a small child I have spent every summer in Corfu and this scent is everywhere. It’s grown on the balconies in the towns, along roadsides. It takes me back to my childhood and to a really magical place for me where I now bring
my own children. This is why I used it in the Night Jasmine & Oregano Linen spray in the
 My Wanderlust collection. I liked the idea of the scent of holidays on your pillow.