Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadowThirteen 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 is the second of five weekly instalments of Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Today’s interview is with Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes, based in Adelaide, Australia. Future instalments will feature O’Driù’s Angelo Orazio Pregoni, 4160Tuesdays’ Sarah McCartney and PK Perfumes’ Paul Kiler.

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…

Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes

Mark EvansBW

Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes

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

I’d love to be able to regale you with stories of fragrant holiday locations and smells that tear me back to momentous events in my past, but I’m afraid the truth is I was raised in a regular English immigrant family in the seventies in suburban West Australia where money was short and such things as perfume, holidays and aesthetics just didn’t play a part (proven by the lurid purple bedspread and orange carpet in my bedroom as a teenager). Two smells that I guess do take me back to those times are the smell of woodchips and potting soil from my first ever job in a plant nursery and the other would be the smell of body filler putty stuff that was used in a panel beating shop where I had another job sweeping the floors. Not sure I could get more prosaic if I tried but really, the world of the senses or art of any sort was just not a thing back then – you worked hard, ate a meal, watched TV and went to bed. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I managed to shake off that mindset and discover that there was so much more to experience from life and the senses and the world around me. The gradual discovery of perfume was certainly a driving force behind this revelation – it corrupted me completely.

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

One day in my thirties I found myself re-reading over and over the chapter relating to smell in Diane Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses, particularly the part where Sophia Grojsman visits IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances) and describes experiencing perfumes being developed there. I had no idea why, but I found the whole idea fascinating and I became incredibly excited to throw myself into this completely unknown world – it was like something inside my psyche that had lain dormant had stirred, woken up and started shouting at me! I remember being confused and even a little concerned at the time; nothing had prepared me for the strength of this sudden obsession that was so foreign to my normal life as a geeky computer tech. Maybe this is just how it is when you stumble across the thing you were destined to do. Just a pity that it happened to me so late.

This new obsession was magnified ten-fold when I finally managed to obtain samples of some actual perfumes (I certainly couldn’t afford whole bottles and wasn’t confident to go into a shop to smell the testers) and was incredulous that such beauty could be contained within a smell!

Being of a scientific bent and having a huge curiosity, I needed to find out about how these smells were put together and so I started exploring any way I could. And so here I am, ten years or so later and that excitement hasn’t abated in the least. By the way, I have no qualms about waltzing into Mecca Cosmetica and spraying with abandon now!

  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’m completely self-taught. Thank goodness for the internet, hey? There’s a bunch of communities online devoted to learning perfumery and it’s only because of their existence that I was able to make any progress at all. I was also lucky to come along at a time when these communities were still young, very active and enthusiastic. The learning curve has been incredibly steep and it has taken many years of fanatical devotion, but I like a good challenge and here’s hoping that I’ve managed to succeed a little. Of course there have been many influences and diversions along the way. It seems that every few months I smell something and decide that the rest of my training needs to head in that direction. Until the next influence comes along, that is.

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

Without thinking too hard, names that come to mind include Christopher Sheldrake for Serge Lutens, Jean Paul Guerlain, Isobelle Doyen for Annick Goutal & Lez Nez, Thierry Mugler, and Jean-Claude Ellena for Hermès.

I’m thinking about what could be the common factor between these (and many others, of course) that appeal to me. I think it must be that the perfumes they create or release are all extraordinary, as in extra ordinary. The perfumes grab your attention and force you to think about them. You can’t spray them casually.


Evocative Perfumes’ range of Eau de Toilette 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 guess when you study perfumery, there naturally comes a point at which you think about taking the scary step of baring your soul and letting others smell and even pay for your creations. I’m an introvert and so taking this step was especially scary – more like a headlong leap into the unknown.

When I was thinking about some sort of consistent brand image and name (I certainly couldn’t use my actual name for the brand like many other indie perfumers do, can you imagine – Evans Perfumes, hahaha) I wondered if I could use the actual descriptive word evocative – it described what I wanted to achieve with my work and when I found that no one else seemed to have used the name (and the internet domain was available) I went for it. It’s kinda daggy I know but I’m hoping the Evocative name will eventually become associated with quality and creative perfumes.

The perfumes themselves are a mix of different styles and types that are released as I experiment with and learn about different styles of perfumery. One day in the future hopefully they will settle down into a more consistent range when I find a style that particularly suits me.

  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?

Yes to all of them. Ideas can come from anywhere and at any time but I think that they mostly result from smelling incredible ingredients and wanting to ‘do something’ with them. Like my Olibanum which resulted from smelling an amazing frankincense and needing to break it down to its elements and highlighting them within something that is wearable as a perfume.

It’s also true that I would like to fill in gaps in the range: it would be great to have a leather and a woody aromatic masculine.


Olibanum perfume oil

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

Maybe your readers would be surprised that an indie perfumer with limited funds has to do it all themselves. Everything. Not only do you have to actually learn and practice perfumery itself for years, you have to source small amounts of the hundreds of hard to find ingredients from all corners of the globe. Researching where the best quality ingredients come from and then begging, borrowing and stealing what you can and even making your own when necessary.

You have to liaise with suppliers of these ingredients as well as the producers of bottles and label printers etc. Then comes learning web design and eCommerce, creating the website yourself and then handling all the logistics from payments to packaging and shipping. Then there’s the marketing side of things, getting your name out there and answering interview questions 😉 coming up with a brand, an image and so on. It’s a lot of work and there’s a lot to learn!

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

I could go on about the mundane reality of never having enough funds to fully realise my dreams for Evocative Perfumes, but I guess that’s the case for any venture – you do the best with what you have available to you. Funnily enough, although it has been a huge challenge getting my hands on the many, many ingredients needed to make perfumes, I really enjoy that side of it. I think of it as the same way that a collector loves scouring around and finding their prized items. I’m a collector as well, it’s just that I collect smells and I love the thrill of the chase and the excitement of finding that one rare extract that no-one else has.

Another hard thing for me has been the whole business of getting the finished perfume from the big flasks here into the hands of the wearer. Hassles of sourcing bottles and labels and packaging and dealing with restrictive postal services and taking money from people and so on and so on. So tedious.

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

It has affected my smell perception to an amazing degree. After the years of concentrating on how my experiments are smelling, the relevant parts of my brain must surely have laid down new pathways and I’m aware of the smells around me constantly now, like you on one of your smell walks, Polly.

I’ve also started occasionally perceiving smells that I know aren’t actually there. Sometimes I’ll actually get a whiff of bacon if I see an advert on TV or something. Not often but it does happen.

I read somewhere that a study was done on the brains of perfumers and although their olfactory nerves were normal, they had more neural pathways leading away from the olfactory part of the brain to other parts. So it wasn’t so much their sense of smell that was enhanced, but the associations that resulted from the smells.


Siberian Fir perfume oil

  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?

Patchouli – can you imagine? And labdanum absolute!

A lot of the materials used in flavours are exactly the same as used in perfumery so it’s highly likely that we’ve all consumed most of them in our food already!

Here in Australia we have musk candy that really does taste like ethylene brassylate smells.

  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’d have to say the 1940s and 50s: such an amazingly creative time for the couture houses and perfumers.

  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?

This is a hard one. You hear of the new technologies attempting to transmit scents via phones or the internet, but knowing what goes into complicated smells, this simply could never work for perfumes – they might work for a range of generic smells, but nothing too complex or original. In fact I think that these devices are a bad idea. I really don’t see much use for them beyond novelty – surely they could only promote the standardisation and cheapening of scents.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

Talking about fine perfume as opposed to functional perfume…

I’d make a distinction between deliberate and casual perfume wearers here. For those who grab and spray a trendy celebrity scent on the way out the door, perfume is just an additional part of the wardrobe – a final touch, a boost to self-confidence and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

For the deliberate wearer, though, I think perfume is first and foremost about personal pleasure. Whereas the casual wearer wants to smell good for other people, the deliberate wearer sprays or dabs firstly for themselves and if those around catch a whiff, then that’s fine too. So in this case the perfume acts more as an artistic medium – the wearer is sharing the perfumer’s vision and it’s our job to try to take the wearer on an emotional journey through bliss and remembrance and even intellectual curiosity.

That’s what it’s all about for me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the second instalment of Perfume Polytechnic’s Perfumer Interview Series with Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes. Warm thanks to Mark Evans for his fascinating answers! If you’d like to find out more about Evocative Perfumes and Mark’s fabulous creations, visit the Evocative Perfumes website. For those seeking more in-depth information about Mark’s creative practice including detailed information on how his fragrances are made, visit the companion blog to his website, which is great reading too. You can also find Mark’s fragrances listed on Fragrantica.

If you’d like to catch up on last week’s instalment of Thirteen Thoughts with perfumer Emma Leah of Fleurage, click here.

NEXT WEEK’S Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series will feature Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù. Make sure you visit Perfume Polytechnic again this time next week to find out how Angelo answers the same thirteen questions! You are in for a singular experience.

Shop Local: An Australian Perfumista’s Christmas List

Since the Australian dollar has been strong, it’s been tempting for us in Australia to do most of our perfume shopping online in order to find the best price. While this is nice for our bank balances, it means that sometimes we don’t pay attention to all the gorgeous scented products being made and sold right on our doorstep. As Perfume Polytechnic is an Australian perfume blog, this Christmas I’ve compiled a list of fabulous, fragrance-related gift ideas from specialist Australian perfume stores and Australian perfume makers. There’s a wide range to choose from, including gorgeous fragrances, creative experiences, books and scented products for your home. Better still, there are options for perfumistas and non-perfumistas alike. I hope you enjoy this list, get some inspiration for your Christmas gift shopping, and support Australian makers and shops in the process!

1. Kleins Perfumery’s Moor Street Gardenia Eau De Parfum


Kleins Perfumery’s Moor Street Gardenia

If you’re a Melbourne person, you will already know and love Kleins – the legendary little store on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, stacked literally to the rafters with an eclectic and exquisite range of high-quality niche perfumes and beauty products. Relatively new to the scene is Kleins’ own range of fragrances, including this gorgeously realistic gardenia fragrance, Moor Street Gardenia. Fitzroy locals will know Moor Street (located only a few hundred metres from Kleins), and may even know of the very gardenia bush that inspired this fragrance. Imagine buying this for a local! Adding further kudos to this Australian-made product, Kleins’ fragrances are created using distilled grape alcohol from the Australian Barossa Valley. The fragrance is richly creamy and heady, and is perfect for summer.

Moor Street Gardenia comes in Eau de Parfum strength and you can buy a 50ml bottle for $110, online at Kleins, or wander in and buy in store, if you’re a local.

2. One Seed Scent Bar Fragrance


One Seed Scent Bar Fragrance. Photo courtesy of Liz Cook.

One Seed, based in Adelaide, is the natural fragrance company of perfumer Liz Cook. One Seed’s fragrances contain 80% organic materials, use recyclable packaging and are cruelty free. As well as making a range of wonderful fragrances and offering a bespoke fragrance service, One Seed offers a Scent Bar Fragrance service to appeal to the creative soul lurking in all of us. The Scent Bar service is a satisfyingly easy process in which you choose the top, middle and base notes (single ingredients and accords) of your handcrafted fragrance. Perfumer Liz Cook then does all the hard work, blending these ingredients to create a beautifully balanced creation just for you. Make a custom fragrance for a friend or loved one, and try your hand at making a fragrance!

At $29.95 for an 8ml bottle, it’s a steal. Scent Bar Fragrances can be purchased online here.

3. Create Your Own Perfume Experience at Fleurage Perfume Atelier


Create Your Own Perfume Experience. Photo by Emma Leah.

If you know a creative type or perfume enthusiast who is keen to make their own unique fragrance from scratch, under the guidance of a trained perfumer, then the Create Your Own Perfume experience at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in South Melbourne is the perfect gift. Readers of this blog will know that I was lucky enough to be gifted with a Create Your Own Perfume experience a few months back. You can read more about that experience in this blog post, and also here. I can’t recommend it highly enough! This two-hour, one-on-one experience is a great introduction to perfume making. Best of all, you end up with a one-of-a-kind fragrance, and you can order refills once you’ve used it all up! Master perfumer Emma Leah, who also creates sublime, botanical, vintage-inspired fragrances, will guide you through this process.

The experience costs $250; for that you receive 2 hours of personalised, one-on-one attention from Emma, and take home a 40ml bottle of fragrance. You can read more about the Create Your Own Perfume experience and make bookings here.

4. Siberian Fir Perfume Oil and Eau de Toilette by Evocative Perfumes


Evocative Perfumes’ Siberian Fir. Photo courtesy of Mark Evans.

We all love the smell of a Christmas tree, don’t we? Adelaide-based perfumer Mark Evans’ camphoraceous yet surprisingly rich fragrance, Siberian Fir, will satisfy all longings for that wonderful smell, while offering a fragrance that is much more interesting and complex than that. Siberian Fir is a rare variety of fir from Russia with an unusual complexity and richness, and has a green fruitiness that adds sweetness and depth to any cool, camphoraceous notes that one usually expects from fir. The fragrance is balanced out beautifully with notes of Poplar bud, Australian Buddha Wood, chamomile and rose. Siberian Fir is a great fragrance to wear in both warm and cool weather. The cool, green freshness of the fir, while evocative of winter, snow and Christmas, is refreshing on a warm day too.

You can find Siberian Fir online here, priced at a very reasonable $40 for 12ml of perfume oil, and $50 for the newly released Eau de Toilette.

5. Mud 01 and Mud 02 Scented Candles by Ainslie Walker


Mud Candles by Ainslie Walker and Mud Australia. Photo courtesy of Ainslie Walker.

Ainslie Walker really knows her stuff: she is a Jasmine Award winning writer, fragrance journalist and perfumer. A recent collaboration with Australian ceramics company Mud has resulted in two scented candles created by Ainslie and encased in Mud’s serenely clean and minimalist porcelain vessels, in a range of edible colours.

Mud 01 features tuberose, along with notes of green ginger, jasmine & tolu balsam. This lusciously creamy and narcotic fragranced candle is available encased in either red, slate, or milk coloured porcelain, and refills are available. The candles are 100% hand blended and poured in Australia.

Mud 02, released only two days ago, features a warm blend of amber and woods, complemented with animalic notes of leather and musk, heady neroli, fresh orange and sun-dried hay and herbs. Divine! Mud 02 is available in the following colours: bottle, plum and dust. Refills are also available.

Mud candles range in price from $100-120, with refills costing $50. Mud 01 is available at the Mud Australia website and directly from Ainslie at her website. Mud 02, which is brand new, is currently only available in store. See the Mud stockists page for details.

6. Fragrances of the World 30th Anniversary Edition by Michael Edwards


Fragrances of the World 2014 Edition

Not strictly speaking an exclusively Australian item, but as Michael Edwards’ legendary book, Fragrances of the World, was conceived and born in Sydney in 1984, and his publication team is still based here, I am claiming it as Australian! Edwards, an Englishman, now divides his time between Sydney, New York and Paris. This year marked the 30th anniversary edition of Edwards’ now legendary Fragrances of the World, an industry guide-book suited to perfume retailers and enthusiasts alike. Fragrances of the World classifies thousands of commercially available fragrances into categories as defined in Edwards’ equally famous fragrance wheel. Retailers can use the guide to recommend new fragrances to customers, based on their existing preferences, however the guide is also an invaluable tool for perfume enthusiasts to help them learn about fragrance families and classification, and their own tastes. A must for any perfumista!

Fragrances of the World 2014, 30th Edition, can be purchased online for $195.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this list and got some ideas for your gift giving this year. What do you want from Father Christmas this year? Are there any Australian fragrances or perfume-related goodies on your wish list? I do hope you feel inspired to shop locally and support Australian perfume talent!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Polly Technic