A few weeks ago we organised a commemorative event with fragrance industry friends to celebrate Angela’s life and work.
Hosted by fragrance specialist Odette Toilette, this evening was the occasion to remember some of the highlights of her career.
Here are some of these milestones, in Angela’s own words.
The beginnings on Columbia Road…
“There is a Chinese proverb which says the journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step. I wonder how many people have embarked upon that journey without even knowing it, and are well along the road before they even realize that they are travelling! With hindsight this is what happened to me, when in 1985, I took on the lease of a small shop, 94 Columbia Road….” *
“We had to get a locksmith to let us in,” she recalls, “It was in quite a state. The roof was shot and there was a terrible smell, but it was full of all its original features and I was determined to keep as much as I could. I saw it as somewhere in need of care and attention. I fell in love with it.” **
“When I first came to Columbia Road I had no intention of working with flowers, for at that time I was a decorative painter, heavily involved with the magic of paint and faux finishes….and so my journey began. I opened the shop intending to sell small antiques and decorative furnishings and to decorate the shop I dried some flowers and to make it smell good I used some traditional pot pourri. The flowers and fragrances took off in a remarkable way and soon I gave up painting to concentrate on the flowers….On a busy Sunday before Christmas I remembered the the mix of pot pourri I had made and carried it into the shop. The reaction was extraordinary !” *
On making pot pourri, Angela’s first foray into perfume…
“It was something that just grew,” she says, “I suppose I loved doing it because I’d always enjoyed making things and transforming things. With the pot pourris I think I was enjoying conjuring up atmospheres for rooms – scents that might suggest the past or a mood. At first I’d go to Spitalfields Market and buy the odd box of flowers and I’d dry them out by hanging them all round this building. Then I went to Covent Garden and bought a few more things from a merchant and within a year the business had expanded so much that I was taking in van-loads of flower deliveries. It was then that I realised that I couldn’t take on any more furniture commissions, because this was clearly the right thing to do.” **
On finding one’s path in life…
“I’ve got this theory that if you are on the right path people help you and that certainly happened to me,” Angela confided. It was odd,” she said,“One day I was in an antiques shop and I felt myself guided, literally, to the back shelf where there was a book by a nineteenth century perfumer called Septimus Piesse. It’s mainly him holding forth on scent and his opinions and it includes some of his formulas too, one of which I have used. It has become one of my bibles.” **
On being an independent perfumer…
“I also think I’m very lucky because I don’t have to satisfy the concerns of the big companies. I can play, I can have fun and I can make very small amounts of a scent. Being tiny, you can afford to be brave! Very often perfumers are forced to work to a commercial brief and it can be difficult for them. I’m not bound by that – I can explore and I treat myself to that freedom every day. Really, I just pootle along here in Bethnal Green and it’s wonderful.” **
* from the book Aromatics, by Angela Flanders
** from Angela’s Spitalfields Life interview: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2016/05/06/so-long-angela-flanders/