Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen 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

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Josh Meyer

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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Some of the Imaginary Authors range of fragrances

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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Josh Meyer, finalist at the 2015 Art and Olfaction Awards

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

You can also find Imaginary Authors fragrances listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Next week:

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!

Intellectual Property:

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.

Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen 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 Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. There will be five, weekly instalments in this series, including interviews with Dana El Masri, Josh Meyer, 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.

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…

Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï

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Dana El Masri

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

Oh I have many! This is a tough one… I’ll go with one I haven’t shared before… back when I was about 4 or 5, I was on a flight from Dubai to Beirut. There were no tunnels upon arrival, just the stairs to descend out of the plane. The strong scent of gasoline mixed in with the unforgettable Beirut air (fresh, pine, lemon, slightly aquatic with a hint of pollution) struck me. That thought brings me back and undoubtedly every time I land in that city, I feel like I am four years old again, and every time I smell gasoline, with slight rubber notes off airplane or car wheels, I think of that moment.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

I am from the Middle East and grew up there; scents have always been a part of my life in one way or another. I moved to Montreal in my late teens with the hope of making my dream to sing come true. I graduated with a BA in Communications and felt like there was something missing. Long story short, I read a lot and had a moment of awakening: I wanted to become a perfumer. From there I did everything I could to get to where I am today and hopefully further in the future. Why did I become a perfumer? Well, it’s undeniably satisfying as an art form; it connects many different ideas and feelings… it feeds my creativity to no end. Being a perfumer opens my eyes, ears, hands and nose to the world even more vividly and don’t even get me started on how much I appreciate flavours as a result too.

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  1. 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?

Yes, I was classically trained at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery (GIP). Among my very special professors, I had Max Gavarry as a composition teacher and Philippe Collet of Expressions Parfumées guided my winning perfume the year I studied. We also visited Jean-Claude Ellena at his lab in Cabris as a class. My experience seeing Jean-Claude Ellena was unforgettable; much of his advice has stuck with me. Yosh Han has been very generous with her advice along the way as well. Without my education at GIP, and subsequently a trip to Pitti in Florence, I would have never met her.

Culturally speaking, I believe that my perception of scents has been influenced by my ethnicity even if it isn’t predominantly clear in my work. The fact that I have grown up with so many people from different cultures has also helped me stay curious and aware of how others perceive smells.

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

I have a list of that too! I’m a fan of many perfumers’ works; it’s inspiring and great to learn from others. What a group of extraordinary people!

My favourites would include Francis Kurkdjian whose work speaks for itself. As well as Olivia Giacobetti, Pierre Bourdon, Jean-Claude Ellena (his minimal approach rubbed off on me), Calice Becker, Christine Nagel (her perfumes are cohesive, romantic, with a strong point of view), Christopher Sheldrake (I deeply connect to Serge Lutens and his collection). Christophe Laudamiel is a total badass whose work I respect tremendously, this doesn’t just include his perfumes but his olfactory artwork and his championing of scent education. This is very important to me, bringing about scent awareness and channelling scent as art. A Lab on Fire, Indult, Neela Vermeire Creations, Mandy Aftel, Pierre Guillaume. In terms of old school scents, I really love Poême by Lancome, Tabac Blond de Caron, Idole by Lubin (the original and its reconstitution). I’m a sucker for most Florientals… Sophia Grojsman is a force and her view of perfumery is very interesting to me.

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The current Parfums Jazmin Sarai range

  1. 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 brand Parfums Jazmin Saraï is a collection of perfumes inspired by songs. I have four perfumes and am working on a fifth. The concept is simply scent & sound. Both are invisible, connect to emotions, are authentically direct and transport us elsewhere. The idea is to approach perfumes and scents in another way, since scent is subjective and music is a universal language connecting people around the world.

I want to help change perspective and bring attention to the nose, therefore appreciating and understanding oneself through the experience of these two mediums together. Also, I want it to be a fun experience; a new way to experience scent and a shot at hearing a song/artist you might not have heard of before!

  1. 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?

A little bit of both; sometimes the idea or the song chooses me almost right away and I can get the formula on the spot, other times I need to flesh out the concept or the juice itself a lot longer. I don’t look at trends to fill in the gaps; I just make what feels right. I will usually dissect the song, separate its ‘parts’ and translate timbre, pitch, melody, rhythm, tone, what have you, into scent form.

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

I make perfumes with a very small number of ingredients. Out of the four perfumes in my current collection, the maximum number of ingredients is in Neon Graffiti, which has 30, while the shortest formula belongs to Otis & Me, with just ten ingredients. Everything is made by hand, in small batches; every single aspect of my brand, actually, is authentic and straight from the source. Part of the focus of my work involves synaesthesia (merging of the senses) and intermodal perception; so I am being quite literal with the scent and sound continuum, I think that’s cool!

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Neon Graffiti by Parfums Jazmin Sarai

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

My biggest challenge is accessing ingredients in small quantities… anything in small quantities for that matter! It’s tougher going at it alone with limited access to supplies and things like that. In terms of distribution, the fact that perfume has been classified as ‘dangerous goods’ now has really made things a lot more difficult than they need to be (in terms of shipping). It’s a learning process though, many of the challenges from the beginning cease to get in the way as your business grows.

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

They are that much more heightened. I feel like my world is more vivid and more interesting. I feel like I am more present and more perceptive as a result of my stronger sense of smell. I smell therefore I am! Every environment I am in is a new chance to discover new smells; I seek little nooks and crannies to stick my nose in! Even with smells that are socially considered to be ‘bad’ – I now have even more curiosity and less judgement.

  1. 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?

Ambroxan is interesting, I love its scent: fluid, refined, slightly ambery, cool and sexy. Osmanthus is beautiful, however I think there are already very close flavour equivalents to the scent (apricot, tamarind etc…) Most musks too, they smell so comforting, it would be like eating clouds!

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How You Love by Parfums Jazmin Sarai

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

I would like to go back to when and where ‘perfume’ was created. I want to be surrounded by ancient alchemists and resins. The transformative, spiritual aspect intrigues me. If not, then I’m very happy with this period of perfumery. We have new technologies, more respect for the industry as a whole, more transparency and more access. People are writing about perfumes and sharing scents all over the world, and it’s a good time to be a female perfumer too. Times have changed; do you see how many women out there are noses now? It’s incredible.

  1. 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 love this question! Hmmm… it would definitely have something to do with diffusion and being able to share scent everywhere no matter where you are. They’re working on this for sure… Maybe being able to express my art through laptops. I want anyone who visits my website to be able to experience the multi-sensory message that I am trying convey. It would benefit perfumers because they would save on shipping and this would give their fans/clients a chance to experience their work immediately. Scent is the only medium that requires physical presence. It’s less about gadgets for me though, I’m all about sharing the world of scent and how special it is; accurately informing the public on how perfumes work and how special their own sense of smell is.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

To understand, treat and express oneself, to alter perception, to feel and smell goooood!


I hope you’ve enjoyed the first instalment of this third series of Thirteen Thoughts.

I want to extend my warmest thanks to Dana for her fascinating answers and for taking the time to chat with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I connect strongly with Dana’s use of synaesthesia in her creations and love the way she works with both music and sound to create her perfumes.

If you’d like to find out more about Dana and her fragrances (and buy them), visit the Parfums Jazmin Saraï website. You’ll find information on each of the fragrances, including the musical inspiration for each perfume. You can also find Jazmin Saraï fragrances listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Dana also has a blog, The Scentinel, full of interesting and regularly published pieces about her own fragrances, scent culture, and music.

I will write an article soon about Dana’s fragrances for my new Smell and Sound Series, which delves into the relationships between smell and sound that are currently being explored by perfumers, musicians and artists.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors 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!

Intellectual Property:

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.

Smell and Sound 1: A Scented Opera. Perfumer Sarah McCartney scents Handel’s Acis and Galatea

Smell and Sound is a new series on Perfume Polytechnic, exploring the relationship between smell and sound, including multi-sensory projects created in this field. As a classically trained musician and composer who is also a perfume enthusiast and a synaesthete, I am interested to explore the junctions and interconnections between the senses of hearing and smell, and between the art forms of music and scent. Multi-sensory art that engages people in new, corporeal ways is being embraced by artists, perfumers, and even multi-national companies. People are interested more and more in the interconnectedness of things, including creative modalities. As a composer and olfactory blogger, a creative cook, felter, knitter and textile addict, I am often looking for new ways to combine my creative skills. This series is a result of my personal research and will inform my own creative practice in the months and years to come. As always on Perfume Polytechnic, I want to share what I learn with you. I hope you find this topic as fascinating as I do.

Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays

Sarah McCartney

Sarah McCartney

Perfumer, author and classically-trained musician Sarah McCartney is no stranger to multi-sensory work that involves scent. The 4160Tuesdays perfumer has worked with BitterSweet, an organisation that hosts multi-sensory classical music concerts. For one concert that Sarah was involved in, the Phaedrus ensemble played Debussy’s String Quartet in G in a multi-sensory performance involving touch, movement, taste, smell (Sarah’s scents) and sound. This video featuring snippets of the performance and the audience’s reaction is fun, uplifting and moving. Please spend a few minutes watching it:

Sarah has also worked with poet Claire Trévien to scent her one-woman show The Shipwrecked House. Sarah created the scent of a house and the sea for the show and you can read here about some of the creative processes she used while making the scents for The Shipwrecked House.

Sarah has worked on other multi-sensory arts projects as well, and you can read about them all over at the 4160Tuesdays website.

A Scented Opera: Handel’s Acis and Galatea

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A drawing of Covent Garden (the Royal Opera House) in London. Created in 1808, just before the building burnt down and got rebuilt. This is how an 18th Century opera house looked. Public domain.

Last Monday, November 2, perfumer Sarah McCartney scented a performance of Baroque composer George Frideric Handel’s opera Acis and Galatea at St John’s Smith Square. This might seem an odd concept to modern-day opera-goers, who are used to sanitised spaces often scented with little more than the pleasant perfumes of patrons. However, it’s important to remember that going to the opera in Handel’s day was a smelly business: accidentally, because of the repulsive smells that abounded in Handel’s pre-sanitised 18th Century London, and intentionally: pleasant smells and fragrances were used to mask and detract from the repulsive smells of everyday life and the unwashed.

Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays says:

“A few years ago I read about the way early music was scented and wanted to give it a try, bearing in mind that people’s exposure to smell has changed completely over the last 150 years.

 In Handel’s time scents abounded – from animals, lack of public hygiene, both personal and civic, and from expensive perfumes used by wealthy individuals and establishments, including the church.

An opera would have been intensely scented, both accidentally and on purpose.

Posies drowned out the stench of the street; dried flowers and incense created a suitable atmosphere, the wealthy powdered their hair and clothes with costly iris root, and kept deterred fleas and moths with patchouli.

People generally assume that naturals are safer, but in fact it’s the other way round.

For this project I’m using pure synthetics to avoid even the slightest possibility of any kind of allergic reaction.

Rather than aiming for an authentic 18th century fragrance – which 21st Century audiences would find completely intolerable – I have created three light background scents to alter the mood, literally changing the atmosphere.”

Source: St John’s Smith Square website

If you want to read more about the opera and how Sarah’s scents were received by the audience, have a read of Sarah’s fascinating blog post Greek Gods & Monsters. It’s so comprehensive and interesting that I decided to link to her post rather than write anything else about the project myself.

Sarah was also interviewed on BBC Radio 3 about the project, and you can listen to the broadcast online (and download it if you’re in the UK) for a limited period. The broadcast expires on Saturday the 28th November, so get your skates on! You can hear extracts from Handel’s opera as well as listen to Sarah and musicians from the performance speak about the project. Click here to access the broadcast, and listen from the start of the program.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Sarah McCartney’s multi-sensory work as a perfumer and finding out about her recent, scented version of Handel’s’ Opera Acis and Galatea. Stay tuned for more interesting posts in the new Smell and Sound series, which I will publish regularly over the next few months.