The perfume shop
Bourton is well known for its perfumery - The Cotswold Perfumery - that has been blending perfumes for over thirty years. To call it a factory is probably misleading. No steel structures or lorries here, and the only chimney to be seen is from a gently crackling log fire in the shop.
The company is based in a magnificent eighteenth century traditional stone building where oak beams and crooked floors are the norm. But behind this idyllic facade is in fact a thriving company that that has grown steadily over the past thirty years and now manufactures fragrances for some of the most famous perfume houses in the world. John Stephen is the perfumer and owner of the Cotswold Perfumery. It was John?s father who in 1965 decided to turn what was up until then just a hobby into a family business. John remembers those early years with mixed feelings. "We started with just one perfume. it was dreadful. It was a poor perfume in terrible packaging and we opened a shop in the wrong place. Needless to say it failed!" Later the family split up, but John's mother needed an income. With the benefit of their first failure they decided to give perfumery another try - this time in the village of Bourton on the Water, near to where the family lived.
A small shop was purchased on the riverfront for ?6,000. Using better quality raw materials was a crucial step in the new range. Being a family of animal lovers, a decision was made right at the beginning not to use any animal ingredients, or to test on animals, and this was at a time well before animal welfare became the issue it is today.
In the mid 70's John's mother died leaving him in sole control of the business. Soon other products came - Talcum Powder, Soap, Bath Salts etc. - and fragrances for men too. Then other perfumeries wanted fragrances made that they could sell under their own name, and this led to fragrances being produced for a wide range of applications. Products were only available from the one shop in Bourton on the Water so mail order became a popular choice for those unable to visit and also for the growing number of overseas customers. With no computers to deal with customer lists, the task of handling the names, addresses and orders required dedicated attention, with stacks of drawers of paper record cards, and wax stencils for printing envelopes. Soon the business was straining at the seams with the retail shop, perfume laboratory and mail order department in three separate premises around the village. Relief came a couple of years later a fine old traditional Costwold stone building on a 1/3 acre site came up for sale - not 25 yards from the original shop.
Everything was then on one site and it provided enough room for the now famous Perfumery Exhibition and Perfume Garden that opened in 1983/4 - an Exhibition dedicated to the sense of smell that attracts many thousands of visitors every year. In 1990 the adjoining property was purchased allowing further expansion of the Perfume Exhibition, and a new "Garden of Science" was created.
By this time it was clear that fine fragrances was where a small business could compete with the world's largest. Work had already been done with a London perfume house (Czech & Speake) and in 1992 the Cotswold Perfumery was proud to announce that Buckingham Palace had selected "Pallas" over all the competition - a beautiful Jasmin perfume.
In 1998 the first wins were achieved with a French perfume house (Fragonard) against competition from French perfume manufacturers. In 1999 John was commissioned by the Queen to produce two perfumes for Her Majesty as well as other fragrances for the Royal family. Today John still passionately believes that maintaining the highest quality raw materials is the only path and goes to great lengths to ensure that all of the 600 essential oils, absolutes, gums and resins are the best available. The product range has increased to 116 products.