Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.
Today marks the launch of Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series that will run weekly for an initial series of five weeks on Perfume Polytechnic. Today’s interview is with Emma Leah, master perfumer at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in South Melbourne, Australia. Future instalments will feature O’Driù’s Angelo Orazio Pregoni, Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes, 4160Tuesdays’ Sarah McCartney and Paul Kiler of PK Perfumes.
I want to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, so without any further ado, I introduce you to…
Emma Leah of Fleurage Perfume Atelier
Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.
My olfactory memories are intricately linked to other sensory inputs. I grew up in a desert area in Victoria (in South-Eastern Australia) and one of the most surreal was the smell of the salt pans. The alien metallic tang that you could taste in your mouth, coupled with the blinding white light, tempered by the dusty red sand and bursts of dry green hay from the landscape were like nothing else I have ever experienced and something I draw on often when dealing with the abstract and unusual.
What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?
On the one hand I could say I have always been a perfumer but it was only a ‘conscious’ decision later in what I regard as my journey of study. It began with aromatherapy. I was creating different blends and frustrated by the limited palette and the exploration and learning progressed into high-end traditional perfumery. I officially called myself a perfumer when I founded my own company Fleurage.
Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?
I’m self-taught due to circumstances but had I been given the choice I still would have been self-taught because the schools don’t really teach traditional perfumery using botanicals anymore. I was inspired by three important industry names: Septimus Piesse, Edmond Roudnitska and the family Guerlain. The perfumery style I have embraced is 1700’s French.
Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?
Guerlain by far stands out in my mind and to my nose: exceptional blends and attention to detail in presentation. It was also a highly professional company who in my mind understood the intimate connection of perfume to the individual and designed, created, and marketed their range in line with this thinking. This ended when they sold it.
Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.
Fleurage Pty. Ltd. is an Australian company owned and operated by Emma J. Leah and Robert G. Luxford.
It began in June 2007 as a vision of a Parisian Parfumerie at 88 Millswyn St., South Yarra.
We were one of the only perfumeries that specialised in purely natural scents across our whole range and still stand as one of the largest range of botanical parfums in the world. Since those sleepy days in the Domain area in Melbourne we have grown by leaps and bounds fulfilling the niche scent market requirements as they have come along. Our perfumery in South Melbourne is double the size of our beginning location and we look to expand again in the coming year as we grow and evolve.
Along with our large original range of natural perfumes, we now offer custom scent creation for individuals and brands, a large range of bath and body products and an extension to our perfume range using modern commercial ingredients. Demand for information has seen us recently develop perfume making courses and experiences for the public and it is this unique application that has brought us to new exciting projects. Offering patrons the chance to explore and create perfume is rare and coveted and we are proud of our achievements in this area making it accessible to everybody with a desirable outcome.
Everything we do at Fleurage has a central core of attention to detail, exceptional quality, and taking the unorthodox approach. We believe in elegance, working hard and enjoying a glamorous life.
Anywhere Fleurage is located strives to be an oasis of gentler experiences, enlightenment and joy.
As a perfumer of Fleurage I create whatever is inspiring and holds a kind of beauty in the expression of the scent. This allows me to work with a wide range of ingredients for many and varied applications. I have worked with artists, theatre, fashion, cosmeticians and famous people.
How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?
Ideas come all the time in a variety of situations. Music, movies, people, fabrics, food, stories, snapshots of life, colours, paintings, books, feelings, times and eras. For me anything can be expressed in a scent.
What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?
I think many people know the mechanics of perfumery but the finer details of creation would probably surprise a lot. What I hear mostly is the shock at how many ingredients can make up a seemingly simple perfume and how few can sometimes create a complex scent. When the notes are listed on databases etc. they only pick out around ten highlight notes (or less) and I think many people assume that’s all that is in the scent.
Some people are also surprised that I work with a brief (and have the name first) for all of my fragrances and three-quarters of my process is writing and sniffing before I even contemplate mixing anything together.
What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?
Perfumery is changing so rapidly these days I find the biggest challenge is to stay true to my creative ideas and processes. I could complain for pages about the isolation, the cost and the frustration of shipping and competing with the giant companies that own 90% of the market but in the end I just get on with the job of doing what I love and trusting it will get to the right people.
How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?
I am captivated by smell and always have been. Being a perfumer has just meant I get to experience this joy on a new level every day. I don’t judge smells, I accept them and file them away for future use. Admittedly sometimes I find some odours and application of scent to be offensive but I am only human. I also find the “fashion” of fragrance to be very boring.
Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?
Without hesitation I would love to eat or drink Blue Lotus extract.
If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?
The 1700’s when new ingredients were being discovered and used and perfumery was an exploration of beauty and capturing desire. Or ancient Mesopotamia when perfumery was part of the rituals of the gods.
If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?
I actually don’t know how to answer this. I am not much of a futurist. I feel that we have forgotten so much and are losing so much that we need to revisit the past.
My personal favourite indulgence I am working on obtaining for the Fleurage Perfumery of the future is a perfume fountain. It has no use beyond being beautiful.
What is the purpose of perfume?
Scent is our primal messaging system, warning us to either stay away or encouraging us get closer.
Perfume (truly beautiful perfume) connects our brains to our hearts through the experience of pure joy and for a moment we are ethereal beings.
For me the purpose of perfume is to give ready access to joy and beauty.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the very first of our Perfumer Interview Series with Emma Leah of Fleurage Perfume Atelier. Many thanks to Emma Leah for her wonderful and interesting answers. If you’d like to find out more about Fleurage, the beautiful perfumes Emma makes, and the courses and creative experiences she offers, visit the Fleurage website.
NEXT WEEK’S Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series will feature Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes, an independent fragrance house from Adelaide, Australia. Make sure you visit Perfume Polytechnic again this time next week to find out how Mark answers the same thirteen questions!