In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, Estee Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder noted that his company sold more lipstick than usual. Now known as the “lipstick effect”, the widely-accepted theory holds that in times of economic turmoil, consumers will swap out big-ticket purchases for small luxury indulgences.

During the pandemic, this resulted in a boom in fragrance sales that has played into the hands of Jorum Studio, which bills itself as Scotland’s first and only end-to-end perfumery. With more than a decade of experience creating scents for other cult brands, the Edinburgh-based firm has doubled sales for three consecutive years with annual revenues now approaching £500,000.

Founded by Fife-born master perfumer Euan McCall, who was later joined by partner Chloe Mullen, the business began trading in 2010 as Jorum Laboratories after Mr McCall was asked to create some scented products to compliment the beverages of a large multinational drinks company.

“I grabbed that opportunity with both hands and decided from that point onwards that this needed to be taken advantage of, and the business snowballed from there,” he said.

With family interests in the extraction of aromatic oils, Mr McCall was exposed to the industry at a very young age and “fell in love and down the rabbit hole with it”. Rather than going the standard university route, he studied under a variety of professionals in a journey that took him to locations such as Barcelona, Paris and Dubai to absorb different cultural styles.

READ MORE: Scottish circular fashion specialist seals luxury technology tie-up

“You can go to university and study chemical engineering but I went through a more traditional route where I studied with master perfumers and trained specifically in perfumery rather than chemistry to ensure I would become a perfumer at the end of it,” he said.

“A lot of people study chemistry and chemical engineering and then go to work for a fragrance company, but they might not end up being perfumers, they might be scientists in some other part of the R&D chain.”

Ms Mullen joined Jorum in 2016 from another fragrance company and focuses on sales and marketing while Mr McCall oversees formulation and manufacturing. The two have a near-equal stake in the business, with the balance tipped slightly in favour of Mr McCall at 51%, and no external investors.

They have nearly 100 formulation clients, most of whom are based internationally and can’t be named because of non-disclosure agreements. They also undertake work on behalf of other luxury retailers, such as big-name whisky groups, who want candles or other scented products to sell alongside their main brands.

READ MORE: Scottish lingerie maker LoveRose seeks to capture Dragons' financial heart

The pair re-launched as Jorum Studio in 2019 with six of their own-brand fragrances, selling direct to consumers and via distributors supplying independent speciality beauty stores in various international markets.

The own-brand range has now expanded to 11 perfumes, led by the most popular Trimerous and Nectary scents, with three more to launch in the coming month or two. Thereafter Jorum plans to introduce its own line of scented candles and body products.

The company also continues with its B2B services: “We did initially think it would have to be a case of one or the other,” Mr McCall said, “but if anything both sides have accelerated.”

Progress has not, however, come without significant difficulties.

“We entered international wholesaling the week before the pandemic struck us proper, so our first major retailer had just received our products as we all went into lockdown,” Mr McCall said.

“We had spent a lot of time and energy speaking to a whole host of other stores which initially we had lined up to sell to, and then they got a little bit of cold feet which was understandable because they were having to close all their stores, so [developing the wholesale business] took a little bit longer than we had hoped or expected.”

READ MORE: Edinburgh sour beer brewery creating jobs to support growth

Prices for glass, paper and natural raw materials also increased, though the biggest issue in the early part of the pandemic was securing ethanol alcohol. With nearly all supplies going into hand sanitisers, prices rose by as much as 600%, and even at that ethanol was at times simply unavailable.

As difficult as that was, Mr McCall said Brexit continues to be a “nightmare”. Sales of Jorum’s own scents have fallen from 60% of direct sales revenue to almost zero as European buyers are faced with the uncertainty of import taxes on their purchases.

Fortunately, the lipstick effect has driven demand elsewhere, with the US and Australia now accounting for the majority of direct sales. Europe continues to account for about half of wholesale revenues.

Jorum is now looking to open additional stores to add to its current boutique in Edinburgh’s St Stephen Street. Though online growth was strong throughout lockdown, Mc McCall believes the future for perfume – which people prefer to try before they buy – depends on physical retailing.

“The who’s who of the beauty and retail industry are all focusing on perfume as a ‘golden item’ within their stores,” he said. “John Lewis is doubling down and investing heavily in perfume, and Harrod’s are opening stand-alone beauty stores because they know the category is experiencing dynamic growth.

“We are taking the temperature from these bigger operators. The outlook in that sense is very positive, we just have to be in a position to roll that out.”