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’s interview with Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors is the second interview in Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. Last week I interviewed Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï. You can catch up with that interview here. There will be five, weekly instalments in this series. Other perfumers to be interviewed include Yosh Han, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Hiram Green.
You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here, featuring interviews with Emma Leah, Mark Evans, Angelo Orazio Pregoni, Paul Kiler and Sarah McCartney.
For Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, I interviewed Mandy Aftel, Ellen Covey, Shelley Waddington, Andy Tauer and JoAnne Bassett. You can read those interviews here.
Today Josh Meyer answers the thirteen questions. Josh is an indie perfumer from Portland, USA, who started Imaginary Authors in 2012. Each Imaginary Authors fragrance is based on the concept of an invented novel by an imaginary author:
“Imaginary Authors is born from the concept of scent as art and art as provocation. Like a good book, these scents are meant to inspire you. In these bottles are layered narratives that are sure to generate stirring conversation, fragrances that might be capable of changing the course of your own personal story. The hope is that they not only invigorate and intoxicate, but also take you to new places.
Each Imaginary Authors fragrance follows a compelling storyline peppered with intriguing twists. These are scents to curl up with, to share with friends, to take with you wherever you go, and to return to again and again for a uniquely transcendent experience.”
(Source: Imaginary Authors website)
But enough of my introduction. As 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, without any further ado, let me introduce you to…
Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors
Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.
The first few scent memoirs that come to mind are not generally good ones! When I was in elementary school a friend’s mom would pick me up for the ride to school… She always showered right before leaving for school and her hair was so fragrant with Pantene Pro V, that on at least one occasion it made me so sick she had to pull over so I could throw up!
What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?
I didn’t start buying perfumes until about 10 years ago; before that, I was an adamant boycotter. It wasn’t until a friend started sending me really interesting niche fragrance samples from Lucky Scent and Parfum1.com that I was immediately hooked! I devoured Luca Turin’s The Guide and started buying even more perfumes. I met Josh Lobb from Slumberhouse, who also lives here in Portland, and was so enthralled chatting with him, completely enchanted to try and make scents that were different than what I’d grown up around, that it didn’t take long before I was spending lots of money on raw materials.
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 don’t have any formal training and even hesitate at the term ‘self-taught’… which sort of assumes a level of knowledge I don’t want to ascribe to myself. Meaning, I don’t think I’ve even learned enough to be considered finished learning this stuff. It’s so much fun to figure out the puzzle as you go, and that process of starting from scratch is one of most exciting things about this job.
Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?
So many! I started with lots of Nicolaïs, Le Labos and Montales, Parfumerie Générale, Knize Ten and Sec, and a few Lubins… their Le Vetiver is one of my faves. But of course, more recently Slumberhouse is exceptional and inspiring at every turn, so distinctive and rich. Bruno Fazzolari is killing it right now. Naomi Goodsir is really exciting, Sanae Intoxicants down in LA. Maai from Bogue is out of this world, I can’t wait to see what Antonio Gardoni does next. Each of the above perfumers are creating new olfactory palates that are a fresh treat to the senses.
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.
I want Imaginary Authors fragrances to be unique and wearable and interesting. My hope is that it’s a line that allows people to experience how vastly fun and different niche perfume can be from what is available at the local mall. I hope when people smell the fragrances they can tell how much fun it is for me to make them. It’s pretty extraordinary to be able to share in the language of scent all around the world.
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?
Generally, I think of perfume as more than the sum of the parts, like a painting or a piece of music. I have a small handful of fragrance accord ideas and concepts, and then my job is to build them and bring them together so that there is a whole new composition. Honestly, it’s completely thrilling. I love it so much.
What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?
The secretive nature of the perfume world used to, perhaps, add an element of intrigue, however in today’s world, I think transparency is more valuable and interesting. I get asked a lot if I’m a chemist, and I never feel that way at all really… the idea of perfume creation is more like painting for me than chemistry. Perfume creation simply feels much more like art than science.
What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?
There doesn’t seem to be a specific path for business success like there would be in the Hollywood film world with agents and screenings, managers and film festivals. But, I think that’s also part of the fun. Imaginary Authors hasn’t done any advertising, and yet it continues to grow. So, it’s also pretty thrilling trying to figure out what to do next.
How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?
I’m sure I’m more aware in some way now, however the people who I’ve met through the fragrance world, perfumers, collectors, and enthusiasts are all extremely sensual in a lot of ways. It’s always fun to chat about fragrance, but usually, there are lots of other things that tie in, such as cooking, coffee, tea, whiskeys, food of course, and other art forms like painting, photography, reading and writing.
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?
Labdanum would lead the pack! Also, Eucalyptus Absolute, Tobacco Absolute, Saffron Absolute, Tuberose C02, and not to sound too strange but even Castoreum in a squid ink pasta kind of way. And spikenard, or an aged patchouli.
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 1920’s. They were doing stuff then that was just utterly groundbreaking and looking back at the perfumes being released then, it seems like the mindset was that there were simply no rules as to what was possible. It’s the only time frame that feels like it does TODAY. It’s really an exciting time right now, and I’d choose today over the 20’s or any other period.
If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?
The first thing I think of is the smelling phone or computer screen, but that entire concept would be such a travesty. Part of the fun with perfume is that it’s so tactile and you need to be present; when you smell a great perfume it’s such a personal experience that your eyes close and you get to travel to a completely different place. So I suppose my answer is the opposite of a scent telephone or computer, what ever that is… perhaps a dark comfortable room where the scent and your mind are the only things present for your mind to wander and take you to the places of the perfume. Not ground-breaking, I suppose, but tech isn’t my strong suit.
What is the purpose of perfume?
New olfactory experiences to engage and delight in life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the second instalment of this third series of Thirteen Thoughts.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to Josh Meyer for his very interesting and lively answers and for taking the time to conduct an interview with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I love Josh’s ideas for edible fragrance notes and would also love to eat tuberose, labdanum and patchouli!
If you’d like to find out more about Josh and his fragrances (and buy them!), visit the Imaginary Authors website. Josh also has stockists in the US and around the world. You can also read about the concepts/imaginary authors/invented novels behind each of the fragrances at Josh’s website: it’s a fun site to peruse and is a work of art in itself!
Stay tuned to see how legendary perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Follow the blog here or over at Facebook so that you don’t miss out!
All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.