Creating Bespoke Perfumery at Bloom

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AnOther meets the no-nonsense nose who's transforming the luxury perfume landscape with her accessible composition service

There are few experiences as extravagantly enticing as creating your own, bespoke perfume: Roja Dove will perform the service for "at least" £20,000; Francis Kurkdjian for €25,000; Miller Harris founder Lynn Harris will accompany you along a three-month process for £8,000. However, a new project offered by niche London retailer Bloom charges only £150 for a session with Oksana Polyakova and her omniscient computer algorithm, a brilliantly bizarre programme developed in conjunction with a woman who spends the rest of her time as a nose for Galimard.

What Polyakova offers is the complete freedom to develop whichever scent you choose – using the scores of top, base and heart notes she provides – under the direction of the computer which somehow, almost magically, manages to conjure up the appropriate measurements for each ingredient. It is an experience like no other: for the price of a high-street coat, you can deconstruct the mysterious mythology that surrounds scent, refigure it to your specifications, and leave with a 50ml bottle of your own. Analagously, Polyakova is a woman like no other: her Soviet directness is antonymous to what one might expect from someone who founded a perfume store. She is blunt, no-nonsense, and her approach to buying the (genuinely excellent) selection of brands that Bloom offers is equally so. 

"At the moment, niche is taking off – or it would be if it wasn’t for all these quasi-niche brands spoiling it for everyone," she explains. "People are getting confused, and thinking that niche is not special because so often it smells like any other high street scent. That's where I come in and say this is proper niche: the perfumes that we stock offer personality, talent, quality ingredients, concepts – they are truly different from everyone else. And this other stuff is quasi-niche, copying bestsellers, cheapening them, applying a daring concept and trying to sell with marketing." During a time when the market for high-end perfumery is exploding, and strategic marketing proclaiming individuality and innovation is all the rage, she is right.

Perhaps what sets Polyakova's attitude apart from this new approach to perfumery is that she doesn't have the classical background of a perfumier; she grew up in the Soviet Union, where the only fragrances on offer were Russian and "not very luxurious". However, some Western magazines did trickle in through the strict censorship laws, and they were passed around groups of women who would cherish the "feel of the life abroad" that they offered (travel outside the Soviet Union was forbidden to citizens until the fall of the USSR in 1991). The advertising these publications contained – and an empty bottle of Dali's perfume that her mother was given by a friend, the scent still left in the cap – inspired a love of fragrance in Polyakova that she placed on hold until later in her life. Bloom is now one of the few retailers that stocks the Dali scent, because "it still smells true to what I smelled 30 years ago – but most of the classics don't, the companies tend to cheapen the ingredients."

Before founding Bloom, Polyakova started on a very different path: studying at Cass Business School and getting a masters degree as an investment manager. "Then, somehow, I fell pregnant" she explains. "And I know what finance people are like; they never see their kids. So I looked for something different." After a friend of her's dragged her around department stores, "making me smell this and making me smell that," she picked up Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez – and that was it. She found her calling, and set up Bloom. 

"Having a degree in investment management ticked some of the boxes for banks" she explains of taking the first steps to setting up an independent company. "And back then, Shoreditch was quite welcoming to new businesses." So, she set up shop on Hanbury Street, just next to the Truman Brewery, and established herself as a haven for perfume aficionados. Recently, her success has resulted in opening a second store in Covent Garden, which is where her bespoke workshops are offered. It is a small space, lined with glass cabinets filled with often-unfamiliar bottles: modern and unassuming. As she laughs, if she were to get some fancier decor, she could charge like Roja – but you definitely get the sense she's joking. That's perhaps the greatest thing about Bloom: not only that it facilitates the sort of experience previously inaccessible to the significant majority of us – but that it does so with a straightforward approach so rarely found within the beauty industry. Yes, you can create your own perfume – but you leave not only with a bespoke fragrance, but also with a thorough understanding of its components and the industry it inhabits. Perfect.