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 is the fourth of five, weekly instalments in Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts. Today’s interview features Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes. Shelley’s fragrances are adored by perfume aficionados and critics alike, and her fragrance Zelda (inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald) has gained a cult following. En Voyage has won multiple international awards, including several prestigious Gold Artisan Fragrance Salon Awards. As well as being a talented perfumer, Shelley is also a musician — she plays keyboard, woodwinds and guitar — and has worked as a music teacher. As a synaesthete, Shelley experiences smells in colours and shapes. I hope to write more about Shelley’s synaesthesia at a later date on this blog, as part of my Smell and Synaesthesia series.
The intention of Thirteen Thoughts is 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, let me introduce you to…
Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes
Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.
My Aunt Bobby was tiny, rich, glamorous, and wore the highest heels I’d ever seen. One day she gave me her bottle of Schiaparelli’s Shocking, right off of her dressing table. The bottle was shaped like a little glass dressmaker’s dummy, and was under a glass dome. My parents were horrified at the idea of their 5-year-old wearing such a fragrance. I thought it was all perfectly wonderful.
What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?
My early life in an artist colony was involved with music, textiles, clay, charcoals, paint, jewelry making and sculpture. Eventually I needed more income, so I entered the corporate world. During those corporate years I missed having something to hold up at the end of the day and say, “I made this”. It was like living in a sensory deprivation chamber.
As a diversion I bought a few essential oils. I blended a few little things and put them in pretty bottles. I had some talent and wanted to learn more. So I took a vacation to Paris and Grasse to study, learn, and to find better oils. I gradually collected an extensive reference library, a fully stocked perfumer’s organ, and developed rewarding relationships with other perfumers and helpful suppliers.
My first business, Beau Soleil Perfumes (in 2000), was an all-natural perfume, bath and body outlet. It was the early forerunner of En Voyage Perfumes and remains the parent company.
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?
My only formal training was in 2001, a small workshop in Grasse where I learned some new things that helped me to progress.
My most significant learning comes from ongoing curiosity, study, practice, and immersion in the arts.
During my early years I frequently corresponded with other perfumers in online study groups.
We didn’t realize at the time that we were to be the Emergent New Perfumers. We learned together, competed against each other. We delivered our version of “Ted Talks” among ourselves before anything like that ever existed. We were the first of the new West Coast indie movement.
Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?
My favorite perfume house is frankly my own. We’re acknowledged as being at the cutting edge of perfumery, as daring to innovate, and to take the risks to make unique, lovely, quality fragrances for wallet-friendly prices. We use all the beautiful essences that the big commercial perfume houses avoid due to cost and unnecessary restrictions. We aren’t beholden to shareholders, investors, or corporate creative directors. We’re one of the few places in perfumery you’re going to find this.
My favorite classic perfumer is Ernest Daltroff who founded Parfums Caron in 1904. He was a young Russian Jew who immigrated penniless to Paris, and then trained himself to make perfume for a living. His assistant, muse and beloved life partner Felicie helped him to escape to America when the Nazis occupied Paris during WWII. His masterpieces include Tabac Blond, Nuit de Noel, and Bellodgia, trendsetters of their day. Today they’re treasured classics that radiate the poignant authenticity of his life. I like his story because he was the real deal who succeeded on his own merit despite not having a wealthy family or a famous mentor.
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.
My philosophy is simple: artistic independence, honesty, and transparency. That translates into gorgeous materials, quality, and a fair price point.
I am closely connected to my perfumes and to my customers.
It isn’t unusual for me to hear from a customer who feels as if one my perfumes was made especially for them.
Each of my perfumes tells a new fragrance story – about a person, a place, an ethos, an element or a legend.
Memorable people whose story I’ve depicted in fragrance include Zelda (Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald) and Makeda (the real name of the Queen of Sheba).
Stories of fragrant places include New York Man, and Fiore di Bellagio (Lake Cuomo, Italy).
Go Ask Alice is the story of Hippie drug days of the 1960’s Summer of Love. Captured in Amber tells of ancient and exotic resins of Persia, Egypt and India. Lorelei tells the tale of the mythical Gallic water siren.
I also explore stories of water, fire, sand, a Japanese peach, and a special wood named Oudh in (respectively) A Study in Water, Chang Chang, Durango, Peche Noir, and L’Hombre.
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?
I constantly evaluate new ideas. When an idea has a heart, my passion quickly develops and I follow that. It’s always nice when something new fills a gap, but I’m not always that practical.
What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?
I’m not sure how interesting or surprising this is, but I’m the author of a well-known perfume textbook, Perfuming With Natural Isolates. I also teach and mentor other perfumers.
Also, I devote blocks of time to evaluating new fragrance materials. I’m always looking for something that speaks to me in a new way.
Lastly, sometimes a fragrance I seek isn’t available commercially. So I make it myself, using resins, woods, leaves, and blossoms. I use traditional methods and also some new techniques I’ve developed myself.
What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?
Hand-crafted perfume was once the standard, and it’s now experiencing an exciting renaissance. Global demand for quality non-commercial, artisan perfumes continues to grow. My challenges are to create market awareness of my small brand and to find distribution without compromising the quality and price – which are the very soul of my product.
The best part is that fragrance lovers are an incredibly beneficial, well-wishing audience. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive encouragement from a person or a company who appreciates my work. My adverting budget is tiny, and having so many kind people spreading the word is a huge help.
How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?
I sometimes notice smells that aren’t noticed by others. And when I try to describe smells I probably sound a little crazy to non-perfume people.
My language often includes references to fragrance families, such as chypre and soliflore; and sometimes use names of specific fragrance materials like liatrix and hedione and Lavandula augustifolia.
I also use other words that aren’t always a part of everyday language, such as agresic, hesperidic, indolic. I sometimes say something like, “This smells blue”, and I use descriptive similes, such as, “This smell reminds me of dawn light shining yellow through a blooming pussy willow.” I also speak comparatively on the basis of other perfumes, such as, “This smells like the rustic coumarin note in Aramis, if it was mixed with the new-mown hay note in Ralph Lauren Polo Sport”.
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?
Ambergris is the ultimate in elegant flavor. It was once a custom of Marie Antoinette and the French Royals to flavor their creamy hot chocolate with ambergris. In fact, that is the fragrance I depict in my perfume Café Cacao.
And once I combined ambergris, patchouli and musk into my homemade almond Roca and brought it to a party of perfume colleagues. Lots of perfumers wanted the recipe.
If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?
Each era is so terribly romantic! And each one influences and inspires me by their materials, styles and innovations.
I feel very privileged to have access to the work and information of those who went before me. I learn so much from them. Using that knowledge as a point of departure for new ideas and interpretations is the Ultimate Artistic Freedom.
If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?
That’s a hard question. Olfactory gadgets for marketing are interesting and fun, such as fragrance booths that have scent piped in. But my own interest is focused more on making perfume. I’m less interested in bacon-scented alarm clocks, olfactory smartphones or smell-o-vision.
I have invented a couple proprietary things for my own use, mostly to improve efficiency. Many perfume houses do this. It sometimes has the side-effect of contributing to identifiable brand characteristics. People often comment that my brand is recognizable, that they can smell something and tell that it’s a “Shelley”. Part of that comes from technique.
What is the purpose of perfume?
For me, the overarching purpose is to deliver unexpected beauty that moves someone deeply.
I hope you have enjoyed today’s interview with Shelley Waddington. I would like to thank Shelley for the time and care she took to answer the thirteen questions. I enjoyed the email communication we had in the process of conducting this interview; Shelley has been such a lovely, warm and friendly person to deal with. I will also be reviewing some En Voyage fragrances on Perfume Polytechnic in the near future – follow the blog to stay in touch!
Shelley is also an author and perfume educator: she penned the textbook Perfuming with Natural Isolates and runs an online course on the topic.
To find out more about Shelley and her En Voyage perfumes (and to purchase them), visit En Voyage Perfumes. If you’re in the US, you can also purchase En Voyage fragrances from Tigerlily Perfumes in San Francisco and at the Indigo Perfumery in Lakewood, Ohio.
Shelley enjoys connecting with the fragrance community through social media. Here are some links to her Facebook pages:
- Shelley Waddington’s personal Facebook page
- En Voyage Perfumes Facebook page
- Perfuming With Natural Isolates Facebook page
Previous & Future Instalments of Thirteen Thoughts
Last week, Andy Tauer of Tauer Perfumes was interviewed. You can read his answers to the thirteen questions here.
In week one of this second series of Thirteen Thoughts, Mandy Aftel was interviewed. You can read her answers here.
In week two, JoAnne Bassett of JoAnne Bassett Perfumes answered the thirteen questions. You can read her interview here.
You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here.
Visit Perfume Polytechnic next week to find out how Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfumes answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Sign up to follow this blog so you don’t miss an episode of this series with fabulous perfumers from around the globe.
All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer. All interviews remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic and the perfumers. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.