Uncovering The Scent Of Yourself With Perfume Designer, Sue Phillips

Uncovering The Scent Of Yourself

With Perfume Designer, Sue Phillips

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Your favorite perfume has the ability to turn your day around, evoke a memory and finish off a look.

But even your favorite perfume isn’t truly yours. That Dior, Chanel, Marc Jacobs in your bedroom – they’re made for the public – mass produced and widely distributed. While they’re wonderful – they’re not unique to you.

The Scentarium

Sue Phillips, who started her career with Elizabeth Arden, then went to Lancôme, and then on to Tiffany as VP of Marketing – having grown within the industry ranks – realized there was an opportunity to go out on her own and tailor scents to your liking. “Being in the industry, and being a woman in an industry predominantly run by men, I felt it was very important to make a statement and to start doing one on my own,” she says. “Now, customization is everywhere.”

We met with Phillips in her “Scentarium” where she walked us through her formulation techniques and how our personality quirks would come to define our custom scents.

“For fragrance, much like in life, in food, in music, there’s a beginning, middle and an end,” she begins. “In food you have your appetizer, main course and dessert. In music, you have your overture, your main theme and your finale. In fragrance there’s a beginning, middle and end. So when you first spray a fragrance you smell the top note for the beginning and usually they’re the light, bright citrusy notes, and you can smell them from about 10-15 minutes on the skin. And then it mixes with your body chemistry and then come the middle notes: the florals, spicy and fruity. And then, after about two hours, the base notes begin to kick in and it should last for about 4-8 hours.”

The session with Phillips in her Scentarium (a magically-lit room filled with the potions, perfumes and scents of the world) is intended to be both engaging and educational, during which we build our perfume from beginning, to middle and end. We discover that the biggest difference between men and women’s fragrances is the base notes are much more prevalent and bolder in men’s. Where a woman’s fragrance is lighter, more floral letting the top agents do a lot of the work – the big base notes of men’s cologne define their scents.

Sue Phillips. Photo credit Crains New York

She also informs us as we roam through her collection of bottles that one of the world’s most beloved perfumes – Chanel No.5 – was created entirely because of a perfumer’s mistake. Coco Chanel’s perfumer’s assistant, Jacques, put too much of the ingredient “aldehydic” (a powdery scent) in the perfume and with that, became the most profitable mistake in fragrance history. It will celebrate it’s hundredth anniversary in three years, and is still in the top ten best-selling scents every year.

“This is all about you and your DNA and what matches your personality” she says. 

Upon arrival, we take the scent quiz. “I do the scent quiz for several reasons,” she says. “It’s to determine your olfactive personality. It’s a lifestyle quiz: it has nothing to do with fragrance, I’ll be able to tell from the answer whether you like fresh, floral or oriental.” And that she does. After collating our answers she’s able to direct us in the path of our preferred flavors and intuitively points out what these answers mean for our taste profile. 

There lay 18 different perfumes with which she uses to create our scents. Each of them are individually hand-made by her with an array of flavours falling into eight different categories: citrus, fruity, oriental, ozonic, chypre, woodsy, lavender and musk.

Phillips’s title is that of Perfume Designer – rather than perfumer (which involves a little too much chemistry and not enough personal interaction for this entrepreneur), which means that she can deconstruct your favorite perfumes into these 18 different flavor profiles and explain them back to you. For this reason, she has been commissioned by an array of corporate companies for events that invite an audience to participate in perfume deconstruction or creation.

Using scent strips, we co-ordinate our formulas. She informs our decisions based on how robust or round the collection of aromas are to her. If our top note is too sweet, she adds a musk, if bottom is too spicy, she adds a lavender note, all while keeping in mind our tastes and likings from the quiz.

“Isn’t it amazing how out of these blends you can find something that totally fits your personality, and out of these 18 we can find millions of scents.”

-Sue Phillips.

Phillips’s “Scentertaining” experience is really just that – a fun ay to understand what your nose likes and why it likes it. Your personality is fully reflective in the vial of liquid you walk away with.

It’s no wonder that her scentarium has played host to guests such Katie Holmes, Zendaya and Jamie Foxx among others – this really is a most unique and fun experience for anyone that loves fragrance.

Amy Corcoran

The Associate Editor of SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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