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Kiwi fashion critics following their noses

Kiwi fashion critics following their noses

Yes indeed. This is going to be, as the subject of the interview so freely admits, “one of those depressing not what you know but who you know stories that enrages everyone”.

Then again, we must consider who we’re talking to.

Besides being a famous fashion reviewer, Blanks also happens to be a New Zealander.

And Blank’s partner, Jeff Lounds, who keeps making jokes somewhere in the background while packing his bags, is a branding expert who’s worked for the likes of Bacardi and Bourgeois Cosmetics Paris.

The pair, who’ve been together for 25 years, are based in London and together they along with two other business partners are responsible for their own fragrance.

Molecule 01, part of a range named Escentric Molecule, was the first scent Lounds created, together with “nose” Geza Schoen, a Berlin based parfumier, around five years ago.

“It was a meeting of his nose and my business sense,” Lounds quips.

Today Molecule 01 and its descendants are among some of the best selling perfumes in some of the fanciest, luxury department stores in the world, Harvey Nichols and Liberty of London in Britain and Barneys in New York, among them. Here in New Zealand it’s available exclusively at Karen Walker boutiques. Apparently there are even waiting lists for the stuff.

And tomorrow the couple will be appearing at Auckland’s Department Store, at an invitation only event, to talk about how they do what they do, and why the perfume is so popular.

Unfortunately some of their story is going to be pretty difficult for the average scent sniffer to replicate. Ask Blanks and Lounds how you can make your perfume as popular as theirs and Blanks replies, laughing a little, “Just give it to Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell! Naomi’s a big fan and she’s always saying: ‘Smell me! Smell me!”‘

Blanks also happily tells the story of how the late, unfortunate Amy Winehouse used to spray it on letters she sent to her errant ex, Blake Fielder Civil, in prison so he’d be reminded of their love. And how Beyonce bought two bottles at one of those fancy department stores once, drove around the block, and then returned to buy another six. And that was even before the magazine story about the perfume’s potential to help the user score a date came out.

Lounds and Banks seem a little less enthusiastic about this bit of the story. “It’s not a pheromone,” Blanks says, eager to correct any believers in smelly attraction immediately. “It has ‘pheromone like qualities’.”

“Well, Grazia magazine wanted to test it on a boy and a girl for the weekend,” Lounds explains further. “And we thought ‘this could be dangerous”‘. But really it was out of our hands. They did it.

“And then three weeks later there was this piece on fragrances that will get you a date. And apparently they [the perfume users] were hit on all weekend. And this unknown company had developed this magical fragrance.”

Now that’s far more exciting for anyone who thinks Kate Moss is kinda past it. So does it really work?

“I don’t know,” admits Lounds. “But I can tell you I have been chased down the street by both men and women. And I’ve had more taxi drivers turn around and announce: ‘I’m not gay but .’ And I always know what’s coming when I hear that. It’s quite flattering,” he announces cheerily. “It’s quite astounding.”

So really, the perfume’s success seems to have been the result of a pleasing confluence of buy me now factors: celebrities who loved it, the “romantic” potential and also, the fact that, at the beginning at least, Molecule 01 was pretty mysterious, very “boutique” as they say.

That is, nobody knew who was behind it and only small quantities were available.

“That’s the power of niche and I think that’s been happening a lot in fashion as well,” argues Blanks, who, in his fashion writing, has always been good at analysing populist movements and figuring out what comes next.

“People are customising their own spaces, using clothing and fragrance in their own way. It’s all about emphasising who they think they are as individuals. The ultra niche as an antidote to gigantism,” he muses, “that’s very alluring for a lot of people these days.”

And of course, one mustn’t forget the brand’s secret weapon: Blanks. “Because I have worked in the fashion industry, oh, since the Great Pyramid was built,” he chortles, “I really do know just about everybody. And I’d say, look at this, look at what my boyfriend just did.”

Despite his fashion writing work and his connections, Blanks doesn’t feel there’s any conflict of interest to worry about.

“Because I don’t write about Escentric Molecule,” he says. Full disclosure, always,” he insists.

Nor will he be giving up the day job anytime soon, no matter how much more successful the perfume brand, which is just about to launch its own body wash, becomes: “No, I would never. I don’t have that much to do with Escentric Molecule really,” he insists. The other thing neither Lounds nor Blanks will be doing anytime soon is making Escentric Molecule candles. And the way they both say “candles” in such a horrified tone makes keriophobia quite amusing. So why all the waxy hate, guys?

There’s laughter over the speaker phone.

“Well, Anita Roddick, who started the Bodyshop, was a very good friend of mine and we always used to laugh about candles,” Blanks explains. “I mean, the margins on candles, for God’s sake, they’re ludicrous. People can make tons of money on candles.

“People always say to me ‘why don’t you write a book?’ But why would I want to add a book to the pile of books that people are already not reading? And why would we want to add a candle to the pile of candles that people are already not lighting?

“Anyway people are running out of names for candles and perfume,” Lounds jokes, somewhere in the background. And with that, the fortunately perfumed pair go back to packing for their trip to New Zealand.

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