My father was born in London in 1911. He always told me it was easy to remember, because it was the year before the Titanic sank (who knew?). His parents were both French, so his first language was French, and he learned English when he went to school at the age of five or six. He grew up speaking both languages. In 1939 he was conscripted into the British Army and worked mostly as a clerk, keeping records of supplies (his pre-war job was in a bank, keeping records). While still in the army, he met my mother in Edinburgh, and in 1943 they bought a four-bedroom house in London (£3,000 cash) and married while my father was on leave. Because he was only a private in the army, my mother’s parents did not attend the wedding, and never spoke to her again. It was a class thing, and a source of great sadness for my mother.
When Paris was liberated in 1944 my father was seconded to the Americans to act as a translator. While in Paris, he purchased a bottle of cheap perfume in a flea market. It was called Crème de Zofali. It came back home to London, and was still around when I was born in November 1948. I know this, because in 1949 I drank what was left in the bottle. Apparently I seemed to enjoy it, though maybe it was just the alcohol. Either way, thus began my relationship with fragrant substances.
I was very nearly called Charles Bruce Tisserand, but three days after I was born Prince Charles followed, and my mother decided to change my (as yet unofficial) name to Robert. She, a Scot, always claimed that naming me after the most famous Scottish king (Robert the Bruce) was an accident. While this has nothing to do with fragrance, it associates me tangentially with a heroic, albeit axe-wielding, figure.
In May 1967 my mother went to Paris to listen to a talk on aromatherapy by Dr. Jean Valnet, and came home with a signed copy of his book “Aromatherapie”. I was 18 then, and had already heard of aromatherapy, because my mother was an aficionado, but the book presented a very different picture to what I expected. This was not aromatherapy as beauty therapy, it was aromatherapy as medicine! In the pages of this book I found something incredible, a whole natural approach to healing that was virtually unknown. Within a few years I had decided that this was my passion. And, I decided that I wanted to introduce aromatherapy to the English-speaking world.
In England in the early 1970s, you could buy patchouli and sandalwood oils in the hippy shops, and you could find eucalyptus and wintergreen oils in the pharmacies, but other essential oils were simply not available. So practicing aromatherapy was not easy! I tried calling the listed essential oil wholesalers, but they all told me that 5 kg was the minimum purchase. This was not an option for me (even though sandalwood oil was a mere £20 per kg!)
One day, inspiration struck. I called a wholesale supplier, and simply asked for samples of five essential oils. Within a week, I had five one-ounce bottles, and had paid nothing for them! This scheme worked fine for a few months, but clearly could not go on indefinitely. I “borrowed” £300 from my dad, and in 1974 launched The Aromatic Oil Company, supplying essential oils by mail order. The company has been through several incarnations, and is now called Tisserand Aromatherapy. In 1976 I wrote “The Art of Aromatherapy”, and it was published the following year. From 1967 to 1977 a lot was going on in my head about essential oils, but the publication of my first book consolidated those thoughts for me, and made them available to others. It has proved to be a fertile seed. My mother passed away in 1995 aged 85, and my father in 2005, aged 93. I honor them both for enabling my career. And, good genes to have I reckon.