This 'Scent Butler' Is Bottling the Smell of Scotland — and You Can Bring It Home With You
I wasn't expecting to cry at 9:30 on a Monday morning in the Bowes-Lyon suite at The Balmoral in Edinburgh. In fact, I didn't have any expectations — I had been told I was meeting with the "scent butler" who would provide an exclusive scent masterclass. Besides that, I went in with an open mind.
But then I met Imogen Russon-Taylor, the aforementioned "scent butler" and founder of Kingdom Scotland. Several years ago, while figuring out her next career move, Russon-Taylor posed the question, "Does Scotland have a fragrance house?" Through extensive research at the St. Andrews University history department and in the National Archives, she found her answer: Kingdom Scotland would be the first.
Fast forward to 2021. Now with four fragrances, each capturing "the history and majestic landscapes" of Scotland, Kingdom Scotland is bringing some of that bottled magic to The Balmoral, one of the capital's best hotels. The scent butler service, which finally came to fruition in October, after pandemic-related delays, allows guests who book a stay in the Bowes-Lyon suite to experience a scented side of Scotland — directly from the comfort of the suite's countryside-meets-luxury ambiance.
Like many introductions in this day and age, we began with our COVID-19 status: both vaccinated, and I explained I had the virus the previous month. Up until this point, I assumed I had fully recovered from it. I lost both my taste and smell for a few days but hadn't exactly tested to see if there were any lingering changes to my senses. Russon-Taylor suggested we play with some simple, individual scents first — many of which create the alchemy of Kingdom Scotland's perfumes.
As I took whiffs of vanilla, rose, and sandalwood, Russon-Taylor explained exactly why and how she became so passionate about perfume, and specifically, a perfume that could represent the entirety of Scotland.
For her, Kingdom Scotland is a true marriage of her background, interests, and Scotch-French heritage. After working in the whisky industry for many years, she was inherently familiar with how much people "love the world of Scotland." But, Russon-Taylor told Travel + Leisure, "Whisky isn't for everybody… Many people travel by plane [and don't have room to bring a bottle home], and some don't drink… Creating a perfume is kind of like bottling Scotland." Just in a more suitcase-friendly way.
I felt my emotions heighten as Russon-Taylor spoke to the importance of scent in the human experience and what would happen if we were to slow down and focus on the scents of daily life — whether it's our morning cup of coffee or the toothpaste we use twice a day. I began to think of the most notable scents in my own life: lavender, a scent I associate with comfort from my mother; burning wood, which makes me think of my dad; and honeysuckle, a smell a dear friend once described as being synonymous with childhood nostalgia.
From the simple, one-note scents, Russon-Taylor moved on to explain the origins of different perfumes, including the iconic Chanel No. 5, Le Labo's Santal 33, and her own brand's fragrances. Just as we were about to wrap up, she pulled out one last vial.
"Do you have this where you're from?" she asked. As someone born and raised in the southern U.S., my nose profile, she mentioned, would be influenced by "crops, landscapes, and the weather."
It took me a moment. My body identified the scent before my brain did. It wasn't lavender, burning wood, or honeysuckle. Russon-Taylor revealed it was, in fact, jasmine that I was smelling — but I still wasn't able to register how I knew the scent so profoundly.
Then it hit me, as the tears began to form in my eyes. From April until October, the streets of Charleston, a place I once called home, are lined with jasmine vines. It's an intoxicating scent that marks the arrival of summer and humidity and summons a plethora of memories.
"It does that, doesn't it? It gives you a sort of memory of someone [or something]; it's really powerful," Russon-Taylor said, acknowledging this reaction to certain scents wasn't out of the ordinary.
The moment passed as we discussed the partnership between Kingdom Scotland and The Balmoral — but it was clear there's something remarkable about the role Russon-Taylor plays as scent butler.
"The final perfume is much greater than the sum of its parts. With a complex scent, you'll smell something different every time," she said. And while she nodded to the parallels between perfume and a fine whisky, I couldn't help but notice its relevance to the human experience.
The sum of our parts — the places we live, the people we love, the decisions we make — come together to create a unique individual. Some of these parts will play prominent roles, influencing how we talk or what we want out of life. Some will only be featured at particular times, when we're going through something that requires them to come forward. Others remain integral parts of our greater being forever, even if they no longer take center stage.
Or maybe, just maybe, Imogen Russon-Taylor is simply exceptional at marketing Kingdom Scotland's story and perfumes. You'll have to book a night in The Balmoral's Bowes-Lyon suite to find out for yourself.
The Bowes-Lyon suite begins at £1,470 per night; the private scent butler experience starts from £450 and can be arranged by the hotel.