Castle Forbes - About Us, Our Ethos and how and why we developed our products
Andrew French is the MD and the perfume and product creator for The Castle Forbes Collection Ltd.,
Judy French is a Director and the Design Creator for all artwork etc
Castle Forbes is a family company owned jointly by Malcolm and Jinny, Lord and Lady Forbes and Judy and Andrew. (50% Forbes and 50% Frenches)
Our journey started more than 28 years ago when Jinny, Lady Forbes, a family friend asked Andrew to create fragrances for the Castle. This was originally to fragrance vast bowls of Pot Pourri that Jinny had created from her garden which, in her words ‘Needed livening up as, although they look very pretty, they don’t really smell of anything!’ So Andrew, ever up for a challenge, created some Pot Pourri fragrance ideas (for free/fun) which Malcolm and Jinny’s friends really liked and kept asking for ‘Just a little bit!’ Eventually Malcolm called Andrew to discuss the fact that ‘it was costing him a fortune in plastic bags and boxes to keep all his friends happy and all for free!’ That is when we decided that we only had two choices, either to stop or ‘do it properly’. We decided to do the latter.
The brief was to make a range of high quality fragrance and toiletry products which emulated the upscale image of Scotland worldwide vis Scotch, Cashmere, Food, Golf and, of course, Castles.
So what started out as a bit of fun morphed into a proper range when we were encouraged by many people who had smelt our original ideas to develop these into a range – especially for America, hence Castle Forbes was officially born on the 8th March 1996. We were also enormously encouraged by Mr Christopher (Kip) Forbes of Forbes magazine fame who invited us to join ‘The Forbes Collection’ which we were honoured to do until it’s natural demise when the Forbes family sold their Faberge Egg and Artifact collection.
Although we launched with a range of women’s and men’s fragrance we expanded into toiletries, bath products and candles (All of which we sold, in the USA exclusively in Nordstrom) we even developed a range of hand-made pewter Christmas Tree decorations, but our passion was always for men’s fragrances and shaving. Originally all of our fragrances were created and made, by hand, in the Private Perfumery at Castle Forbes. Unfortunately, we had to stop this once we started properly supplying the US as we couldn’t get Public Liability Insurance for the North American market unless we outsourced our production to a ‘specialist’ manufacturer. Also, FYI, our Insurance Worldwide was £400 per annum Worldwide excluding the US. Once we added the US our insurance Premium at Lloyds of London rose by £10,000 for the same level of cover as everywhere else!
Approximately 20 years ago we started developing shaving creams using only Essential Oils not fragrances. Essential Oils because they have skin benefits and, as a perfumer, with terrible shaving problems, Andrew had always used them to soothe his skin after shaving.
Also we didn’t just want to take the route to market based on a similar product profile to our competitors with fragrances and standard, predictable ingredients, using the one main factory who specialised in making British shaving creams for all of the well known brands (Creighton) though we did approach them with a brief. We asked them, above all and our first priority, to make for us ‘the best shaving cream on the market’ but we want to use Essential Oils and not fragrances. It is true to say that Creighton, politely, turned us down on the basis that Shaving Cream is ‘difficult enough to make as it is’ and they were not prepared to change their formulation very much (No more than 1 to 2%). This figure didn’t include fragrances or colours.
We wanted to be different, not just for the sake of difference, but to make a superior quality product which performed better than what was currently on the market.
So, the challenge was to find a manufacturer in the UK, who shared our passion and vision for difference through sustainability, purity, simplicity, efficacy and traceability. These were considered ‘crack pot’ ambitions all those years ago (very trendy today though I am told) So with the help of a cosmetic chemist friend and an enthusiastic factory which he had recommended we achieved this after 5 years and a lot of failed trials and discarded product and the occasionally frayed temper, we eventually perfected the manufacturing process and launched in Fortnum and Mason in London. So the shaving range was born.
The Shaving Range Products had: No Animal Products (Or Testing) No Added Artificial Colours, No Fragrances and No Parabens (This change came a few years later). The Range only uses plant based ingredients and alternatives (ie glycerine) also we only used Pure Essential Oils (all sustainably and ethically sourced) in fact that is why we have a Cedarwood and Sandalwood (for Normal Skins) Shaving Product because at the time the ‘best’ Sandalwood came from Mysore in India but the Government became involved and the price and quality fluctuated madly and nothing was sustainable with many of the plantations not being replenished and the land often being used for building or agriculture, so that is why we combined it with Cedarwood Oil from Virginia. Our Sandalwood is now from a completely sustainable source in Australia. We created the Lavender Oil (for Sensitive Skin) using French Lavender Oil and Lime Oil (for Skin Prone to Nicks and Cuts) using Mexican Lime Oil. All of the Essential Oils we use are of the highest quality and purity as well as being wholly sustainable and traceable.
Our determination to only use Essential Oils caused us the major production problem, which still pertains today, as we were very restricted in the actual number of pots of shaving cream we could reliably produce. Originally, all those years ago, we wanted a minimum of at least a thousand of each. In fact, we managed to produce approx. 500 to 600 Lavender (our latest production was 558 units) and nearer 500 units for the Lime and found that even to achieve those quantities we had to modify the base to work with each Essential Oil whereas normally (D.R. Harris, T and H, Trumpers, Floris, Pehaligon and Taylors) it is the job of the perfumer to create the fragrance for the base modifying it where necessary. Unlike fragrances we ONLY have one ingredient to modify and if we did that it wouldn’t be a pure EO anymore…hence the modification of the base to suit the oil. Naturally we did try to increase the production batch size but in endeavouring to produce that elusive 1,000 + units the Lavender was so solid we had to dig it out of the mixing vessel and the Lime so liquid that, had we turned the mixing vessel upside down it would have run all over the factory floor. (We didn’t make the Ced/Sandalwood version at this time). The cause of these ‘opposite’ results was eventually narrowed down to the simple fact that to make a 1000 + jars we needed a bigger mixing vessel than to make 500 pots (surprising!) but you also need a much bigger stirrer to mix ‘the juice’ and that was the problem. After much experimentation and disposing of several batches of ‘bad’ product we ascertained that the bigger, more powerful mixer was putting too much air into the mixture causing the Lavender to take on the consistency of concrete and the Lime to be more like water than viscous Lime shaving cream!
We always set out to produce a rich, thick, harder, creamy yet extremely fine lather for a superbly close shave. Having put Wet Shaving (metaphorically) under the microscope we realised that, historically, our Grandfathers (Now Great Grandfather for some of our patrons) used shaving soap and we wanted to produce a more modern moisturising, less drying, slicker medium so we created a cream with the molecular fineness of a soap, also, we believe, something that no one else is doing to this day. Certainly no one in the UK is making an Essential Oil only based shaving cream. Claims of Essential Oil inclusion is always, in our experience, allied with the use of a fragrance compound.
Our Shaving Cream filling technique is as follows: By Hand or not by hand…
Lavender SC - always by hand.
Cedarwood and Sandalwood SC - Mostly by hand depending on the weather. (I will explain below)
1445 SC - Mostly by hand depending on the weather.
Lime SC - Usually by machine.
I know that this is probably not considered a ‘success’ commercially speaking but it is the only way we can stick to our principles and, of course, we can make more than one batch!!
Production affected by ‘The Weather’: FYI, the melting point of our cream in the mixing vessel is 36 Degrees Centigrade so if we produce in the Summer the filling process is easier as the base is more malleable but less so in the colder Winter when it’s consistency is inevitably thicker. This is why, if a customer has one of our shaving creams in the Summer and it gets too hot and becomes soft, we recommend that they put it into the fridge to re-solidify. This might be helpful advice for the US etc though most customers there have highly proficient (too cold!) aircon.
So going back to our ‘About Us’ history at this stage we were still in Nordstrom and Fortnum and Mason who took on our new shaving products but this coincided with the ethos of the main Specialty Stores (both in the US and Europe) to separate Men’s products from Women’s products often putting them on different floors. Because of this we found that our men’s products were selling well but we were less successful in Women’s partly to do with ‘The Collection’ being split up but mostly due to all of the immense number of new, well resourced women’s products and fragrances arriving on the market, drowning out a small Scottish family brand. Also, with men’s products once a customer ‘finds you’ he is likely to be much more loyal to your brand which isn’t always the case in the women’s sector. In short we decided to concentrate on developing our Shaving Range and fragrances for Men and allowed our ladies products to ‘disappear’.
At the same time ‘in men’s’, especially in the US, we had the impetus of one major rising star ‘The Art of Shaving’ and this brand led the way in garnering sales and heightening interest in proper wet shaving.
We had also identified that part of our remit was to create grooming products which could last for 5 or 6 months.
Men are not necessarily born to shop and although repeat purchases may have been established as the norm in grooming we were very aware that many men can find this a chore.
Our After Shave Balms: We had already developed an extremely effective non greasy aftershave balm in our original range of toiletries which has great reliance on the fantastic properties of Witch Hazel and we decided to do this using only the same Essential Oils as we use in our Shaving Creams. With just a little bit of tweaking to guarantee stability these materials worked incredibly well in conjunction with each other giving a non alcoholic product that gives the benefit of each specific Essential Oil, conditioning and moisturising the skin whilst giving the added benefit of gently closing the pores thus giving extra protection against pollution etc.
Originally we called our ASBalms Alcohol Free but we have recently changed that as the IFRA ingredients listing rules give us the option to be completely honest in declaring Alcohol in our ingredients listing as all witch-hazel naturally contains alcohol as the carrier as that is the medium which is used to extract it from the original tree or be slightly skulduggerous and not declare any alcohol because we are already declaring witch hazel. We decided to be completely open and honest and declare Alcohol but confirm that none is added to the product formulation just what is naturally there because of the witch hazel.
Also with the 1445 ASB we decided to create this a little differently as well. Normally ancillary products such as ASB or Shaving Cream use a different version (Usually cheaper) of the fragrance compound from the EDP or EDT version. As mentioned this is mostly for price and sometimes for stability reasons. We looked at it differently and decided to create a product which used the EDP fragrance in its ASB
So that anyone who wants to be properly ‘fragrant’ can use this product on their face without the potential of suffering from the drying and ageing skin effects and the pain and discomfort and for certain customers even the allergic reaction of putting alcohol directly on the face. By using 1445 ASB you get the same exact fragrance we use in our 1445 EDP but without any risk to skin. (Actually we use the same fragrance in our shaving cream too which is also not the norm!) NB Our other ASBs incorporating the Essential Oils do not have long lasting scents the oils are there to do their skin improving job but, as we are often asked, do not ‘clash’ with any fragrance you want to use as most men’s scent use Lime, Lavender Cedarwood and Sandalwood somewhere in there construction!
In America we have been called ‘The Rolls Royce of British Wet Shaving’ and have won awards for the Best Shaving Cream (Badger and Blade 2015 for our Cedarwood and Sandalwood SC). Ahead of its time, we only use sustainable Essential Oils and our products are free from Parabens, Sulphates, Palm Oil, added colours and definitely no animal products or testing. All of our materials are plant NOT animal based/derived ie Glycerine. Also are packaging is recyclable too. This format now seen as a ‘good marketing strategy’ in the modern era. For CF this is our ETHOS and we have been manufacturing our products in this way from the beginning not just because it has become ‘fashionable’. Our products are based on ‘Passion’ not ‘Fashion’ and to try and make the best. We are very proud to say that many people rate our Shaving Creams amongst the best in the world which is very rewarding but we are not sure that they truly understand the thinking and ethos behind our brand.
At Castle Forbes we also have a range of 6 Eau de Parfums for men.
Our 2 Special Reserves NEROLI & VETIVER are restricted to a worldwide annual production of 1,500 bottles and will only be made when the ‘proper’ quality of ingredients are available. We buy our especially high quality and rare oils from small, specialist grower/distillers for our Special Reserve range and it is the perfumery equivalent to buying wine from a Specialty Vineyard with a small terroir producing limited quantities of highly prized, wonderful tasting wine.
NB We will not make any of our products with, often inferior ‘substitute’ materials just to make a product to put on the shelf as we think it is unreasonable from our customers point of view. We accept that this can be annoying for our stockists but it is a credible and respectful approach from our point of view.
In our range of Classic Scents we have a fragrance called 1445 which we use as an example of how we create and develop our fragrances and the thought process behind them.
The Stag’s Head ‘logo’ which identifies our brand is from the Forbes family Coat of Arms and Clan Badge.
1445 is named after the year that the Forbes family were made the first Lords in Scotland, and being the first family to have that title bestowed upon them our Clan Chief is officially Scotland’s Premier Lordship.
1445 was once described, I think amusingly, by an American Journalist as smelling like ‘Freshly Scrubbed British Aristocrats’. (I don’t know how many Aristocrats she knew, scrubbed or otherwise!)
From a perfumery classification view point it should be described as being in the Fougere or Fern Family.
With TOP NOTES of PETITGRAIN – BERGAMOT - LEMON
MIDDLE NOTES of TARRAGON - LAVENDER
DRY DOWN NOTES of VETIVER – CLOVE - PATCHOULI
Worldwide 1445 is our most successful fragrance.
We were asked so many times that we finally gave in to customer demand and added Aftershave Balm and Shaving Cream in the 1445 fragrance.