Conversation with Jorum Studio

Conceived in Edinburgh, Scotland, Jorum Studio is the relatively new fragrance house of partners Euan McCall and Chloe Mullen, though they have been creating fragrances for the past 10 years, working with the likes of Penhaligon’s and NEOM Organics, among others. Since launching independently, they have the freedom to approach their handmade perfumes with an appreciation for all kinds of raw materials, even those that may be considered odd or unpleasant by some, and to have a dialogue with their customers through their collaborative Psychoterratica range – more on that later. We’re excited to announce that they are also the first fragrance house to list their line on Portives, so users can purchase directly from them through the site (Jorum Studio Portives Profile). Here is their scent story:

Interviewed by RJ Kaufman, founder of Portives

Can you tell me about one of your earliest memories strongly associated with a particular smell or fragrance?

CM: The earliest I can recall is being on holiday in Spain when I was very young. This is usually the part when people describe the scent of orange groves or cypress trees, but for me its hot tarmac and warm garbage bins. Hot tarmac is still one of my favourite smells and takes me back to childhood summers.

How did you become interested in the world of perfumery / why did you start Jorum Studio?

EM: Long story short, it has been an obsession for as long as I can recall – smells first and foremost and then, down the perfumery rabbit hole. 

CM: We decided to launch Jorum Studio in 2019 after a decade working with and for other brands intimately as Jorum Laboratories. Working with other brands is still very much an area we enjoy especially as we can choose the briefs we are interested in and importantly the people involved and we continue to grow that area of our practice. After a pretty gruelling, non-stop couple of years of formulation work for other brands we decided that we needed an outlet to showcase our creative point of view with complete freedom, so we invested all the money we had into launching Jorum Studio; no loans, no investors, no external funding just savings, divestments and a get to it attitude. 

EM: We have covered a lot of ground and have done a lot over the past decade quietly – we felt our self-directed perfumes had a strong point of view and a unique perspective in an ever-widening market saturated in copycat and now tired narratives and perfumery concepts. We are a tiny challenger brand challenging challenger brands, those whose narratives have homogenised. There are so many brands and even more perfumes now but very little progress – same old story… everyone bar a few seems averse to risk. As a truly independent brand, we can afford to take risks managerially and creatively – we only answer to our customers.

Perfumery is also plagued by, I suppose one may say, vanity projects for ‘founders’ living out ‘creative director’ fantasies. We have a somewhat unique position whereby we are perfumer led and manufacture all of our own products. We have complete control which allows us to carry out the focused vision of Jorum Studio.  

Can you explain how your native landscape of Scotland has influenced your line?

EM: Our first collection, Progressive Botany Vol. I and our newly released Psychoterratica project are inherently linked to Scotland through the choice of reference materials many of which are endemic plant species. It was important for us to have a strong Scottish identity, but contemporary and progressive. Removing stereotypes and only speaking about anything that is stereotypically Scottish if those references have been fundamental and when necessary rather than riding on them as a narrative. There are so many brands based here in Scotland that use this boring and lowest common denominator tourist trap lexicon – quite frankly its similar to white noise or marketing trends such as green-washing, before long the consumer is numb to it. Thankfully there are a growing number of young visionary companies based here in Scotland and also a handful of heritage brands that are thinking progressively with a diverse world view and Scotland’s position on that stage and what we Scots can add to the global conversation beyond whisky, shortbread and our spectacular landscape.  

With all that said, the Scottish influence is inherent and is evident in some of our works more obviously than others. We don’t expect that there will be as much a focus on endemic plants or our Scottish heritage with future launches, but it is hard not be influenced by our homeland on some level – the same can be said for any perfumer working freely I suppose, we always seek inspiration and reassurance from our surroundings or where we feel home is.  

CM: There are little to no raw materials produced for perfumery here in Scotland, and those that can be used are either protected (so could not be used at production levels) or the same species are grown more efficiently in other parts of the world – pines for example. So, we have had to do a lot of analysis work studying native flora that is not supplied by any oil producer, creating or rather recreating these specific sensory profiles. Many of our botanical references are indeed aromatic but require reconstitution or imparting through impression work rather than direct distillation. The distillation projects we have conducted have been too inefficient, it is better environmentally and more economically viable to purchase existing supplies of raw materials that originate in countries with greater yields, efficient extraction, supply chain infrastructure and higher purity end product. Those plants and subject materials we study can be recreated using other material more effectively in most cases. In time, we may investigate sustainable, low impact extraction of endemic species however this must be done sensitively and in a financially viable and sustainable way. 

What fragrance has been the most difficult for you to achieve?

EM: Our perfume Trimerous took the longest, on and off for a number of years. We were trying to formulate Trimerous in a novel way using fermented and acidic notes, making the orris sensation more pliable and lively – still very much orris but not the same way as has been done a thousand times. Beyond that point, we were trying to catch a specific quality in Trimerous, capturing a mood and a process – we wanted the wearer to feel the hand of the orris harvester and live through the many stages of the orris processing lifecycle. It is a perfume of fading memory and a hat tilt to a brilliant person who devoted their life to family and the care of plants and landscape. Someone whose mind left before their body. Their hands were impregnated by soil, roots and the memories of a million plants tended to over a lifetime. The image of ageing, soil covered hands pulling bulbs and rhizome from earth is a lasting memory of that person and the starchy, pulpy and vegetal aroma associated with that memory lives in Trimerous. 

With any fragrance I tend to work the formula to the point whereby the formula is widely accepted as complete and then I work this further, so it feels ‘lived in. A worn feel that is intangibly familiar and comfortable. Of course, there are unicorns like our perfume Phloem that is a one-formula wonder, it worked first time, no modification – some may say you can tell but it has a growing following and is one of our most popular fragrances.

What music goes along with this fragrance?

EM: Trimerous. Hmm… silence? As pretentious as that may sound. I think silence fits the mood of the perfume pretty well. Unlike many other perfumes that have a soundtrack throughout development, Trimerous was one formula that demanded attention, calculation, thought and articulation with every modification, so no music. I worked on Trimerous in the late autumn and winter exclusively over several years, waking extremely early in the morning when the city was relatively silent, that way I could really focus and have several hours each morning for two or three months a year to dedicate without interruption. Trimerous was a real labour of love and every time I come to batch Trimerous I look at the formula and think it is a very elegant and beautiful formula on the page.

Do you have a favorite fragrance note or essential oil and why?

EM: No, an affinity and attraction towards certain raw materials depending on the brief, yes, but a favourite is impossible. I am drawn to every material and I am obsessed by the infinite new sensations that can be created by any raw material, its relative inclusion in a formula and how varying levels can produce wildly different results and of course combinations with the thousands of other raw materials, it really is magical. 

The same goes for the flip side of that question, there is no material I dislike, some are more challenging to work with than most others but that challenge is invigorating. I see materials as such, necessary to produce the desired outcome. But, like a craftsperson, the relationship one has with materials is one of respect and admiration and no bias towards one or another. 

What fragrances have you been wearing lately?

CM: As it comes into brighter months, I have been reaching for Zara Home Acqua Bergamota, which is a pushed citrus note, not groundbreaking but still beautiful in its utilitarian and decluttered presentation. L’Artisan Parfumeur Seville a l’Aube is on rotation and Nez a Nez Atelier d’Artiste is getting a lot of wear just now in the evening, really beautiful, easy wearing perfume. And of course, Phloem is my go-to when the heat starts to rise, it has a cumin note which comes alive on sun-warmed skin.

EM: I have a sample of Hermès Galop and Cuir d’Ange on my desk – I don’t know how they got there but they are and I like smelling them. Cuir d’Ange is gorgeous buttery leather and supple spices that isn’t even a perfume. I love unperfumistic perfumes with an assured hand and an unspoken virtuosity. Galop is a perfect segue between the work of Ellena and Nagel. Both are faultless perfumers, very different vocabulary and vision but linked by understated prowess of the craft, articulation and wonderful curation in their material selection and writing of formulae. Galop feels like a proverbial baton being handed between peers of equal standing and the baton being graceful received. Nagel’s perfumery style and personality really shines through, I have been a fan of her work for years from her John Galliano perfume contribution and a host of Jo Malone perfumes, many of the brands best launches – very clever and astute work. In the context of Hermès it feels like a silent ceremony, an exchange from one artisans hand to another.

Can you recommend a book to our readers?

EM: Anything by Mishima. I tend to be bogged down in industry or business related reading but nothing noteworthy. When things calm down a little, I hope to reclaim the luxury of reading more and more. Of course these series of interviews by Portives are great. Hole & Corner and Port magazines usually have interesting profile type pieces. For those time strapped I recommend Quartz Daily Brief (drops into your mailbox at 6am), a snapshot mailing subscription SmartBrief and Morning Brew as well as Artnet, Perfumer & Flavorist and Cosmetics Business just to keep finger-on-pulse. 1stdibs to look at the beautiful things people create. There’s more but I can’t recall them.  

CM: I love any architecture and design non-fiction. The Language of Things by Deyan Sudjic, which was a gift from Euan, is one of my favourites. It explores the psychology of design and society’s intrinsic need for it. It’s a small book, not many pages, but very insightful.

What new projects or products are you working on or looking forward to starting?

EM: Currently working on the PEPR (PARFUMS EXQUIS • PRODIGES RARES) project with French luxury perfume brand Senyokô. I have worked with Senyokô from the start of their journey and I continue to create new works for them. I think its been around 4 years of continual work, each perfume takes on average 18 months of near constant development and there is always an overlap between perfume briefs. There is a new Senyokô perfume launching in the coming months, almost 2 years of work and I have just started a new journey with them a few months back too, which is coming together swiftly, it is a rather instinctual brief. Besides these works I will continue to assist other client works and push-on with our own self-directed work at Jorum Studio too. 

CM: We are very excited to begin the further development of our Psychoterratica project, which is in collaboration with our customers – our customers will directly impact this development, an ambitious challenge but why not give it a go! Beyond that, we are about to launch the Jorum Craft Fund in partnership with Scottish crafts charity Craft Scotland. We will provide micro-funding with easy access to other craft makers in Scotland. We started this discussion with Craft Scotland before launching Jorum Studio last year, but these things take a long time to realise.