Neela Vermeire Interview

Neela Vermeire invites you to “Discover Your India” through her delightful trio of fragrances inspired by the culture and history of India. Trayee represents the ancient Vedic era, Mohur is inspired by the Mogul empire, and Bollywood Bling captures the optimistic spirit of modern India. Together with perfumer Bertand Duchaufour, she followed her dream as a long-time perfumista to create the scents that tell her story.

Ron Slomowicz: What is your earliest scent memory as a child?
Neela Vermeire: My earliest scent memory is actually from my grandparents’ garden. They had a country home that had a lot of flowers. They grew stands of flowers, jasmine, and shrubs. My memories go back to the days that I was able to play in the garden. Growing up in a Hindu family, we had many religious ceremonies at home every couple of days and that is why we created Trayee. The smells of the incense and the sandalwood came from those memories. I would say that it’s a combination of the country home smell and also the religious ceremonies.

RS: What are some traditional fragrances that Indian or Hindu people wear?
Neela Vermeire: I have no idea. In India, we have a very mixed community. The main perfume makers are Muslims at the Attar-wallahs that make Ouds. I would say that most people wear natural oils straight on their skin. From a religious connotation they don’t always sell perfume with alcohol, they go back to the traditional use of oils. In general, there is a lot of fascination with western perfumery. When I was growing up in India, the people that used to travel would bring back named perfumes such as Guerlain as gifts, they were much appreciated. In general it is very tough to say, though; a lot of people know the perfumed oils and what they like. They go to the little perfume shops called Attar-wallahs where they sell oils like oud, sandalwood, and jasmine. With India being so big, it’s very difficult to give you an answer. It is like asking what people in America wear.


Brent Leonesio (Smell Bent) Interview

Scents inspire emotions and memories for all of us.  Whenever I see a Smell Bent bottle, they make me smile with the cartoony illustrations and fun names.  After working in the fashion industry, Brent Leonesio followed his love of fragrance and started experimenting with creating them.  Completely self-taught, he has built a wonderful brand of fragrances with the mission of bringing niche to the people.  With his ability of balancing creativity and experimentation with accessible price points and joy, it would seem that the big corporations could learn a few things from this talented perfumer.

Ron Slomowicz: What inspired you to start making perfume?

Brent Leonesio: I was a collector for several years. I fell down the rabbit hole and was obsessed. I read all the blogs, looked at base notes, and had an enormous perfume collection. I lost my job and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I had worked in the fashion business for a while and was tired of that. I knew that if I could do anything, it would be working with perfume because I was so passionate about it. I took my unemployment checks and bought some supplies. I tinkered around a little bit and figured that I would put up a website and see what would happen. It just went from there.

RS: What was the first fragrance that you ever made?

Brent Leonesio: Sunshine was the first scent that I ever worked on. I mixed it up and sent it to a couple people and they thought it was good. Someone actually bought a bottle and that shocked me since I was just playing around with it. That gave me hope that I could put other scents together. The first line came together pretty quickly. It was the end of summer and I was working and playing around, at that point there was no pressure and it was just fun and play. The scents were born out of that time.

RS: What training do you have as a perfumer?

Brent Leonesio: Absolutely none, I am completely self-taught. I think that I had a leg up having been so excited about it for so long though. I have read and smelled a lot, I have come a long way over the last three years. I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning which is kind of funny now. I have been immersed in the back end and the inside of the perfume world for a while now. I have learned a lot and I learn something new every day.

RS: Don’t we all! I noticed you are and were an active base noter, what effect do you think blogs have on fragrances in general and your fragrances specifically? 

Brent Leonesio: I know that I wouldn’t be a perfumer without the internet and base notes. I think the internet is exciting because it has connected us in a huge way. Perhaps people who were passionate may have been in isolation in the past and may not have found the resources to continue their obsession. I always knew that I was interested in perfume, but the resources and the connections with people on the internet allowed me to expand my interest to such a degree that it became my career. If it weren’t for finding like-minded fiends, I know my journey would not have gone as far as it has.

RS: What inspires a new scent that you are going to make?

Brent Leonesio: It depends. It is usually that I get an idea for a name, a collection, or a combination and it grows from there. I usually sketch out the rough structure of the scent in my head first. For example, if I want to pair two notes together or I want to make a scent about orange blossoms, etc., I tend to flush it out working with the actual components. That is usually how it starts, it starts in my head and it works its way out.

RS: How long does it usually take to go from an inspiration to testing to an actual release?

Brent Leonesio: It depends. Today I am in the middle of making 500 bottles of a perfume for a charitable event next month. I designed the scent back in October and usually, because I self-publish, the turnaround is a lot shorter. I can scrape a formula the night before a release and play with things up until the very last minute, but usually it takes a couple of months.

RS: Do you do testing where people sample for you and give you feedback on what should be tweaked, etc.?

Brent Leonesio: No, I am kind of the alpha and the omega. If I am really insecure about something I will get a guinea pig and ask them to smell it and give me their advice. I have thought about doing focus groups, but there is something so joyous about having complete artistic control over my product and I am not quite ready to surrender that.

RS: Speaking about joyous, I love the artwork. Do you make your own artwork?

Brent Leonesio: I do about half of the drawings, all the design work, the website, and all of my printed materials. My friend Matthew has been doing some of my drawings for the past year, he is just incredibly talented. We will get together for an afternoon and I will put out an idea and he will start drawing and come up with something. A lot of the art is collaborative which is fun. It started because I didn’t have anything to take pictures of. I decided that we should just do a drawing instead and it has just stuck.

RS: It totally fits the brand. I love your titles as well, is Smell Bent a play on Hell Bent?

Brent Leonesio: It is, most certainly.

RS: That makes sense. I also really love your price point, it is so reasonable. How do you keep the price there? I am imagining that if Violet Tendencies was bottled by any other manufacturer it would be two to three times what you are charging for it.

Brent Leonesio: Price has always been part of my business concept. I think that the perfume world suffers under the crushing status obsession that fashion is also plagued with. The idea of Smell Bent was to make perfume for real people and make it accessible. There are a lot of things that I avoid by not doing any marketing. When you break down the cost of the fragrance, the majority of the money is spent on the bottle and the packaging, the smallest amount usually goes to the formulation and ingredients. I decided that I was going to put all the money inside the bottle instead of outside. That is what I have been doing ever since. That is basically my philosophy on that.

RS: I see your line as a great introduction to the world of college students and young adults. I know that you don’t do any marketing but have you thought of doing anything with college students or going after that market?

Brent Leonesio: Do college students wear perfume?

RS: I think that they would have to; do they just wear deodorant or AXE?

Brent Leonesio: I don’t know. It’s funny; my brothers are in college and occasionally I give them perfume to give to the girls. I know that when I was in college I wasn’t spending money on perfume.

RS: I think that Violet Tendencies would be a create graduation gift for a student getting their first job. Which one of your fragrances do you think gets gifted the most?

Brent Leonesio: Perfume is such a challenging gift. It’s funny- when I do these shows I get to meet people, and they have a very strong idea of the things that they like or they don’t. When giving perfumes, I have a program that lets someone choose a bunch of samples to give to a friend with a voucher for a full bottle. I don’t like to assume that I know what you are going to like. That is how I skirt that problem, I don’t know about others.

RS: What has been your most popular scent?

Brent Leonesio: St. Tropez Dispenser is probably my most popular, and I do very well with Bollywood as well. Sunshine was the most popular in the beginning and has proven to still be very popular. It depends on the month; sometimes I have an unexpected hit. The scents that I did in the fall, North by Northwest have all be very strong.

RS: In addition to your website, your fragrances are on Indie Scents and at Lucky Scent, where else are they available?

Brent Leonesio: Most of my business is through my website, I have a handful of retailers, but those are the big web ones. The Soap Box Company sells online as well and they have some of my perfume oil.

RS: I am curious; when your line was picked up by Lucky Scent did you feel that you had arrived? How did it feel?

Brent Leonesio: It was incredible. Franco eMailed me six weeks after my launch. I live in Los Angeles, with the scent bar, and Lucky Scent had been my introduction to the whole shebang. Getting the call from the institution was like I had arrived, that was the feeling. Franco and Adam have been very generous to me, and I ended up doing a scent for them called No. 8 in their Entitled series. It proved to be the most controversial in the entire line.

RS: Why so?

Brent Leonesio: Just because of the composition. A couple years ago they found some Oud and wanted me to do a scent around it. So No. 8 was a scent around Oud. I decided to take it to the dirtiest extreme; you know how perfume people are kind of obsessed with the body and the skanky scents. I took it in and it turned out fairly dirty.

RS: Did you put musk and civet in it or how did you treat the Oud?

Brent Leonesio: Yes, it is pretty much all the smells of the body. There is a blend of musk, fur, leather, cistus, and all these dark kind of elements. It has proven to be very polarizing. I have gotten more fan mail about No. 8 than any other scent that I have done. It is one of those things where it either has one star or five stars.  The reviews are very funny and it always gives me a chuckle to read them.

RS: I will have to check it out; it’s kind of like your Secretions Magnifique.

Brent Leonesio: Yes, it is kind of like that!

RS: If you were to make Mocktail into a cocktail, what liquor would you add?

Brent Leonesio: Rum of course! That’s a tropical drink; you can’t put vodka in it!

RS: If you could join any perfumer in a lab to watch or learn from, who would it be?

Brent Leonesio: I would get in my time machine and I would go hang out with Edmond Roudnitska; he is my favorite. I got to meet Christopher Brosius about two weeks ago. It was lovely; I think that he changed perfume. It was very exciting to meet one of my idols there. I have never gotten to collaborate with anyone so anyone would really be fun to work with.

RS: I have some criticisms that have been made about your line, I wanted to ask you about them ,but if they make you feel uncomfortable just tell me to stop. One criticism that I have read about Smell Bent is that there are so many fragrances it is almost overwhelming. How would you respond to that?

Brent Leonesio: I love making perfume.

RS: That works. There was some feedback when you did the Vocabulary line about it seeming odd that it had simple names and notes, as opposed to other fragrances that are more playful and fantasy like. What was the goal of Vocabulary line?

Brent Leonesio: Vocabulary is meant to help people talk about perfume. It is not aimed at people who are incredibly familiar with the facets of the perfume world. What I was hoping to do with those fragrances was to broaden the scope of perfume knowledge, as well as the audience. Whenever you do something different, there is always a risk. They have simple names but I think the scents are lovely. They might not have the surface charm that some of my other work does, but if you had a chance to smell them you would agree that they are quite nice.

RS: Has there been a note combination that you have tried but not been able to achieve or be successful with?

Brent Leonesio: There are all sorts of things that don’t work together, at least at my hand. I still consider myself learning, there are always new things to learn from all the talented people out there. For a long time I had an aversion to vetiver and lavender. It took a long time to start working with those because they were so strong to my nose. Over the years when you do a large amount of work, you have to go back to those classical ingredients. Other than that I can’t think of something off the top of my head.

RS: Right now Oud is everywhere; it’s the trendy note of the moment; what do you see the next big note being?

Brent Leonesio: I think a powdery musk; it seems to be everywhere now. When I got into perfume, Iris was everywhere and now Oud, but there seems to be a return to the traditional powdery notes. For a long time there were kind of red old lady.  That is something that I have noticed, but who knows if it will conquer the way that Oud conquered.

RS: A random question.  Is there any significance to the vest with the wolf and the lamb?

Brent Leonesio: I love Moschino and I collect vintage Moschino, that is the significance.

RS: So that is from your fashion world.

Brent Leonesio: Yes, it is one of my idiosyncrasies.

RS: What did you do in fashion before you did fragrance?

Brent Leonesio: I was a designer and a buyer. I designed for Cynthia Vincent who has a pretty successful company based here in Los Angeles.

RS: Tell us about Liberty For All.

Brent Leonesio: I recently made that scent for an organization called Liberty Wildlife. It is to help raise funds to support their cause- helping to rehabilitate animals from the desert.  They are located in Arizona and I am working on this project with them.  The scent is based around the smell of orange blossoms in the desert. Half of the money from every bottle goes directly to Liberty Wildlife.

RS: What is your ultimate goal with Smell Bent?

Brent Leonesio: The goal is to bring Niche perfume to the people, to take some of the pomp out of the system.

RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?

Brent Leonesio: Thank you, and keep sniffing!

All images from website


Josh Lobb (Slumberhouse) Interview

Reading the forums at Basenotes, I came across a thread about a new indie house called Slumberhouse. We fragrance lovers are an interesting lot, and many of us have strange and unique tastes that are far from the mainstream; so when I saw the people posting passionate opinions, both loving and hating the different fragrances, I knew this would be a line worth exploring.  Of the six samples I ordered, all of them inspired extreme reactions – either passionate love or respectful distaste.  Slumberhouse fragrances are unlike anything else out there, with unique formulations, creative structures, and strong concentrations.  While not for the faint of heart, if you enjoy something creative that will serve as a personal signature, this line is worth exploring.  Perfumer Josh Lobb explained why Slumberhouse is such a unique fragrance line.

Ron Slomowicz:  How is the Slumberhouse set up? Is it a group of young gents or are you flying solo?

Josh Lobb: When it started, it was several people. I was the only one making the fragrances, but it was group of people that were involved in it. Eventually we all realized that where we wanted to take things was different. We are all friends, but one of them started a clothing line and that was a part of it. The idea was to be something greater than the sum of the parts. We wanted it to be a line of clothes and fragrances, a variety of things for a certain individual. It didn’t really work the way that we had hoped, so right now it is just me.

RS: So like a collective?

Josh Lobb: Yes, essentially a collective. We had a place where we were doing everything, but it eventually reached a point where we felt that maybe down the road it would be a more feasible option. Since we are all getting up on our own two feet and getting things going, it was more logical to develop our brands as individual entities. It would have been a little too confusing to have it put out as one thing.

RS: How are you trained as a perfumer or how did you discover how to make perfumes?

Josh Lobb: I am not trained at all. I am probably the most untrained and unqualified perfumer that there is out there. I trained myself basically by experimenting, I am completely self-taught. I think that is probably the only way that I could have become a perfumer since I really didn’t care for fragrance at any point of my life. I couldn’t stand to be around people that wore fragrances. It was only because a lot of people just wear fragrances that they have access to. I think that had I been trained professionally, I never would have come across the unique aspects of independent perfumery and a more unique approach that can be taken.

RS: How did you learn how to mix oils into a perfume or how to layer the absolutes and extracts to come off as base notes and top notes?

Josh Lobb: It was all experimentation; it was really trial and error. Most of my perfumes don’t actually contain any top notes. I don’t like to use them. Regarding learning things, I can’t really say that I have learned anything. I have come up with a method to make my perfumes. When I first got into it, I read a little bit about making perfumes. A lot of it was a really old school method of a fragrance pyramid and a certain percentage of base notes, heart notes, and head notes. I didn’t care to do it that way; I wanted to do it my own way. Had my perfumes come out and nobody liked them, you would consider me an untrained perfumer. I wouldn’t say that I am necessarily trained but I do have a method.

RS: How do you source your materials, what you use to make your perfumes?

Josh Lobb: I get them all over the place now, but I used to just have a few resources. There are a few small suppliers here in the west coast that sell small-scale quantities of ingredients, both synthetic and naturals. As I began to make greater quantities of perfume, I actually had a lot more access to the ingredients since I bought larger amounts. With more sales and more perfume being made, I had greater access to the various ingredients. Now I get them from many of the big suppliers that some of the large perfume houses get them from. It is kind of nice to have that stability. It is definitely something that I could not have done at the beginning of this.

RS: How much do you think the environment of Portland affects your fragrances and your inspirations?

Josh Lobb: It is hard for me to say without any other reference points. I will say that after living in Portland for about 15 years, there are elements of the city that have rubbed off on me. When I came here, aside from having no interest in perfume, I really didn’t know who I was as a person. I was just meandering around like a typical twenty year-old that has no purpose or ambition. I think being in the city has allowed me to open my eyes to different things and to always go back and revisit things that I initially didn’t care for. Perfume is one of the things that I really didn’t care for and somehow going back and revisiting that I realized that I liked it. That is something that I probably would not have been given the chance to do had I not lived here.

RS: What’s the first fragrance that you made?

Josh Lobb: The first fragrance that I made was called Sova. It was the first one that I ever put up on Etsy, which is where Slumberhouse actually started. I made a very small amount of it; it was a really unique fragrance. I have been working on it again and hopefully it will be out sometime later this year. That was the first one that I did for Slumberhouse.

RS: I have to ask, the names Soma, Vikt, Grev, and Mur, where do they come from?

Josh Lobb: They mean absolutely nothing! I feel that when you name a perfume, the person who is going to smell it already has an idea in their head of what they are supposed to be smelling. I don’t really care for that because I think that the interpretation of the fragrance should be completely up to the person who is experiencing it. I felt that giving very nondescript names that have no meaning or purpose was a good way to facilitate to where you almost have a blank slate when smelling the fragrance. I actually don’t like to give out a list of notes when I release a perfume but there is a point where you have to give out some sort of indicator of what the fragrance is or else people would be hesitant to even buy it.

RS: You obviously don’t care about labels, but would you consider yourself a natural perfumer?

Josh Lobb: No, I actually started off using many aroma chemicals, synthetics, and eventually I started to get more and more into naturals. Only the absolutes though, I really don’t care for essential oils. I don’t think that they are very interesting. The absolutes are really great, there is nothing like them. There are definitely drawbacks to using them though. They are very expensive; they tend to vary incredibly from batch to batch, so keeping consistence with the fragrance that is dependent on naturals is really a full-time job. With every new batch that you make, there are always going to be slight differences. There is additional time in trying to reduce and minimize those differences, it is a very in-depth process. Lately I have been veering back towards synthetics, so I wouldn’t say that I am a natural perfumer. I really wouldn’t aspire to be either; I would never want to limit myself to the kinds of ingredients that I use.

RS: Though one of your more recent fragrances Norne is all forest absolutes, is that true?

Josh Lobb: Yes, that one is completely natural. There is not a single synthetic or essential oil in it. It was created over a period of close to eight months. I was very much immersed in natural ingredients, not only your typical absolutes, but finding rare absolutes and sourcing them from different suppliers, companying and seeing which one worked best. It was a good experiment but it definitely wasn’t symbolic of any sort of direction that Slumberhouse was heading. I had never tried it before or seen many perfumes that are only absolutes. It was a challenge for me.

RS: I was thinking that maybe the forests of Portland could have been an inspiration for Norne, is that the case?

Josh Lobb: No, the inspiration behind Norne is related to a genre of music that came out of Scandinavia called black metal. It is kind of a campy genre nowadays, but there was a time that it was a very unique genre, and with it comes a very unique way of thinking. I wouldn’t say misanthropic or nihilistic, but kind of isolationist and nature plays a heavy part in that. I wanted to create something that was kind of poetic and dark, like an Edgar Allen Poe type of morbid, nocturnal, dusky feel to it. That was the primary inspiration behind that.

RS: Since Norne was inspired by black metal, do any of your other fragrances have musical inspirations?

Josh Lobb: Actually pretty much all of them do. I listen to a lot of different things, from old timey jazz to experimental things like the Rachels or the Clogs, to hip-hop; I really love hip-hop and turntabilism. Music always plays a heavy part. It is always playing when I create a fragrance. It is just one of those things; it goes hand and hand with scent. Music is a very important part.

RS: I read that someone described that your fragrance as “the brand has an overall post punk, DIY, indie rock vibe that’s irresistible”.

Josh Lobb: That is really flattering that people respond to it that way, and that they see it as being something that is different, outside the mainstream or even outside of smaller perfume houses. I try not to put too much of an identity to the fragrances. I want to keep it as much of a blank slate as possible so it doesn’t feel like it is a brand that is pigeonholed. I would never want Slumberhouse to be associated with luxury, or with being a ladies man. I don’t ever want people to feel like it is a certain type of perfume. I want it to be open to the person that is smelling it and let them decide how it makes them feel.

RS: What has been your most popular fragrance over time?

Josh Lobb: It’s hard to say because with each new release, they sell really well. I would say Jeke, Rume, and Norne have really sold well, those three do great. Vikt does okay, and I would say by far Grev sells the fewest. It is one of my favorites though and I have no desire to stop making it. I had to stop making one called Ore, it was by far my most popular one but some of the ingredients were discontinued so I had to stop making it.

RS: I noticed on your site that some fragrances are limited editions and some are the big five that you always sell. What transcends from a limited edition to a mainstream? Are limited editions in process or where you are going?

Josh Lobb: It is almost as if the fragrances that are put out as limited are in an incubation phase, where I am really confident in the recipe. I want to get it out there and see what people think, but I don’t ever want to flood the market with too much. I see a lot these perfume houses that are as old as Slumberhouse, even newer and there are thirty or forty fragrances out. I think that is overwhelming for your typical perfume fan to come across a new house and now there are forty perfumes to go through. If that was me, I would give up before really starting. I think that it is very important with all the perfumes that are released each year to focus on quality over quantity. When these limited releases are put out I really just want to make sure that it’s something that people respond to well and if they do, I want to keep it available. I don’t want to keep on creating scents and have them go away in a couple months. I try to keep the limited ones available as long as they can.

RS: Kind of like in the DJ terms, the limited edition is like the white labels and the five other ones are like the mainstream commercial releases.

Josh Lobb: Yeah, I am conscious about putting too much too soon out into the public. I am still a young perfumer, I learn so much every day and I feel like my best days are ahead of me. I don’t want to put too much out and have people formulate an opinion about Slumberhouse or have a negative one and dismiss everything that I do in the future. I try to focus as much as I can to create a quality fragrance first.

RS: It seems like every perfumer has their signature, like if you smell something that is a Serge Lutens fragrance, that is a Chanel fragrance, or a Slumberhouse fragrance, do you think you have a signature?

Josh Lobb: Probably, I think in every fragrance that I have done besides Norne there is some type of tobacco. Notes aside, I really try to go for something that is deep, dark, and kind of sweet, really comforting in the skin at the five-hour mark. That is really a more important time for the fragrance than the first part. That is why I don’t really care for top notes. I think that top notes should be totally disregarded in perfumery; they have absolutely no place in what I do. I think that they are misleading and I don’t see any purpose in putting something in a perfume that will last only a few minutes. The reason I don’t use top notes and the reason I keep the concentration at a fairly high level is because I think that these fragrances are best experienced after they have been on the skin for a few hours and sort of melted into your skin and you have the sweet, dark, smokey smell. That is the thing that I initially wanted to create when I got into making perfumes.

RS: Mainstream perfumery at the department stores is all about the top notes to entice you to buy it; you are selling more of a substance, which means that you are completely outside the mainstream.

Josh Lobb: I still can’t understand why anyone uses top notes. It doesn’t make sense that they would even exist in a perfume that is going to be with you for eight hours but they are only along for the ride for the first twenty minutes if you are lucky. Top notes evaporate really quickly. I like to experiment with them, ill test them out and I’ll buy them to see how they interact with other things, but typically I don’t ever like to use them. I don’t think I ever have.

RS: Just so you know, some words that have been bandied about regarding Slumberhouse are balsamic, resinous, clove, pine, and tar; that they must be Slumberhouse’s go to notes, or signature notes.

Josh Lobb: I love those descriptors of balsamic and resinous. I like really deep, dark, masculine, woodsy kind of fragrances. I like fragrances that inspire images of gentleman sitting around a fireplace with cigars and whiskey, sort of refinement like that. I have heard people say that all of my fragrances have a lot of clove, which is just how people smell them. Very few of my fragrances use clove, I think that a lot of times people will confuse things like nutmeg or allspice with clove. It basically all comes down to how one interprets it. I actually use more allspice in my fragrances than clove. I don’t dislike clove, I love it. I think that it is very evocative of a certain time of year and smokiness, it compliments my fragrances well. I must say that with a lot of my fragrances I am a huge fan of Iso E Super.  I know that it is kind of a divisive chemical and a lot of people don’t like it or can’t smell it in a fragrance. I think that it is a very dynamic molecule and should be in every fragrance. It does a lot to create a very rounded, warm overall halo around the scent and I think that it’s fantastic.

RS: One fragrance outside your house if you haven’t smelled, I recommend that you try Black Afgano from the Nasomotto line.

Josh Lobb: I have tried that.

RS: When I first smelled your fragrances that was my reference.

Josh Lobb: It is definitely in the same line. It has a dark color and it’s definitely a tobacco kind of black agar scent. I don’t wear it that often, I hardly ever wear fragrances. It can interfere with the work I do. People ask me if I wear my fragrances much but I really don’t. Maybe as someone who has dealt with music, you can understand. If you are a musician and you have spent months in a studio recording an album, the last thing you want to do is go home and listen to your album. By that point, you are so intimate with the composition that you kind of want to forget about it so that a few months later you can smell it and have the same reaction that someone who had never smelled it would have.

RS: Before you release a fragrance, how do you test it? Do you have other people wear it to give you feedback?

Josh Lobb: I used to do that. I had a small group of friends that I would give samples to and have them wear it for a few weeks and tell me what they thought. I got to the point where although I appreciate the opinion of others, I don’t ever want the work that I do to be influenced by anyone other than myself. I know that is probably a selfish thing to say but I think the best work comes when there is no interference from other people and the idea can be expressed and communicated in a way that is very pure. That is one reason why I started to put up limited scents. Instead of knowing what I should put out I can just release it and if people respond well, great and if not that’s fine. I really don’t care to let people smell things before I put them out.

RS: That makes sense. I read on your site that Brosse was created under unique circumstances. I am wondering what those unique circumstances were.

Josh Lobb: I might lose some fans for this! I am quite a big fan of hallucinogens and psychedelics and I think that a lot of these things can be used in a way to create on a different channel than you otherwise would. With that fragrance, I was composing it primarily under the influence. I am really happy with the result; it is one of my all-time favorite fragrances. There were a lot of strange nights and bizarre moments; it was really unique to create fragrance being completely outside of yourself. I am actually looking forward to doing it again.

RS: When you said that it reminded me of another quote from the Ca Fleure Bon ( site they wrote “when I tried Kote, Mur, and Verg, I thought that this might actually be the first real example of olfactory outsider art.”

Josh Lobb: To be honest I am not even sure what outsider art is, I do think that perfume is art though. When I got into it that was a real personal thing for me, I didn’t want any outside influence or anyone to pervert what I was doing. I was going through other perfumers that have created scents that I really like and Calice Becker the perfumer who did Back to Black which is a fragrance that I really like. I was listening to an interview with her and she was saying that as a perfumer she was not an artist but a designer. She said that she did not create out of thin air, but for the audience. I was so disappointed to hear that. I don’t want to sound like I am criticizing her because she is so talented, but that is definitely not the approach that I take to perfume.  I think it definitely sets the tone for how one does their work. When someone says that what I do is outsider art, although I don’t know what it means I take it as a compliment.

RS: As a DJ, I understand where that is coming from though. I can be DJ and only play really off the wall music that only I like, but no one would ever want to come listen to me.

Josh Lobb: Exactly. It’s to the point that if you are only spinning stuff that other people like and you hate, it would be good for the people and the club owner but are you enjoying it? If you are doing it day in and day out, weekends and after months of doing it, you may start to wonder what you are doing spinning music that you are not fond off.  I think it is sort of the same thing with perfume. I worry that if I become too focused on what the people want, then I become like Calice Becker said, I am creating for the audience rather than creating out of my own imagination. I think that is the difference between a lot of perfumers.

RS: With that being said, you are growing a fan base out there. There are people following you, how are you reacting to that? Is it odd, are you getting used to it?

Josh Lobb: It is very odd and very flattering. I can’t even put into words how much it means to me. This is my full-time job now and it’s all I do, I am doing well at it now. I could not be more appreciative of that. There is also a stress that comes with it. It’s not that I worry about letting people down, but I think when you are creating things it is important that the people who have an affinity for what you are doing, never find themselves bored. I think it is a good thing to constantly challenge yourself when you are creating things and to never fall into a pattern of repeating yourself. Again, it is the same with music, if you are a musician and you are putting up the same record over and over, you are not going to have much of a life span. It is the artists that are reinventing themselves that are successful. I am not a fan of Madonna but she is a good example of someone that consistently knows how to reinvent themselves. Lately it is somewhat insincere but then again to a degree, all art is.

RS: With that being said, what is coming next? What are you working on right now that is new and different?

Josh Lobb: Right now, the fragrances that I am working on would probably surprise a lot of people. They are definitely not as crazy. Right now I am really focusing on wearability. Make no mistake about it; I love the fragrances that I have made so far and I’ll keep them going for as long as Slumberhouse is around. I do want to focus on perfumes that are very wearable and could be more versatile in different situations. I think that a lot of the fragrances that I make right now, people are hesitant to wear them to work, or a meeting, etc. I would say now my approach is more streamlined and somewhat different than the perfumes that I have put out thus far.

RS: It is interesting that you say that you are going in this direction because you talk about doing it yourself and being out of the box, to trying to create something that is more acceptable, it seems like an oxymoron in a way.

Josh Lobb: You’re right, it totally does. I think if people hear that they will expect that I will be putting out things that smell like everything else. They are still incredibly unique, I have been using things that I don’t see many perfumers using. If anything, they are even more bizarre now with a very easygoing uniqueness. It is not so blunt and in your face. When thinking of perfume like a texture, I think that some of my perfumes have been very rough and spiky. There is a texture to them that is not very smooth and warm in the sense that it can’t be worn in many different instances without raising too many eyebrows or drawing too much attention. I think some people shy away from that. There is definitely a weird sort of paradox there with me not wanting to follow anyone’s lead and not wanting to go along with the mainstream yet creating things that are more wearable. Wearability and uniqueness are not opposed to each other. I think there are a lot of things that people haven’t smelled yet that they would actually enjoy but for whatever reason they really have not infiltrated the mass market yet.

RS: Give me an example of one of those scents that you think the mainstream has not discovered yet, please don’t say Oud.

Josh Lobb: One of my favorite to use right now is called blue lotus absolute. It’s a note that you will see listed, but the first thing you should know is that most notes list are complete frauds, they mean nothing. Though an actual ingredient will be listed, what they are really referring to is either an accord or a synthetic that represents that note. Blue lotus is expensive, around $500 an ounce.  For that reason alone, you probably don’t find it in any mainstream fragrance produced on a mass scale. It is very rounded and refined. It is sort of a floral for people who hate floral, a very unique note. I think a lot of people have seen the word lotus thousands of times when looking at perfume descriptors. I think that if they smelled it they would quickly realize that they have not actually smelled a real lotus absolute, not just blue lotus but pink and white as well. They are very specific and very rare to come by.

RS: With that being said, one thing that I like about your line is that your price points are accessible; they are not completely off the wall obnoxious. How are you able to maintain these high quality expensive ingredients and keep your price point so accessible?

Josh Lobb: With Norne, I actually lost a tiny bit of money. I am not a businessman at all; I am really bad when it comes to crunching numbers. I created the fragrance and started selling it, out of curiosity I did the breakdown. I shouldn’t say that I lost money but I am pretty much breaking even on that one. It is too late now. I think that some of the things that help me are that I don’t spend any money on advertising; I have never once bought a single ad. I think that is tacky and I have no interest in advertising Slumberhouse like that. I don’t have commercials; I don’t pay for celebrity spokespeople or have boxes for my bottles. There are a lot of things that I choose not to pay for that allows me to price these at a lower price point. Another thing is that I understand these are tough times for people and I understand that perfume is a symbol of luxury or decadence. There has to be an element of keeping it real with your customers and maintaining a sense of integrity with what you’re doing. I do like to sample certain new releases that interest me and there are brands that I like. I notice with a lot of them that the perfume itself does not at all reflect the price that they are asking for.  Some people are fine with that but for me that is not really what I want people to identify Slumberhouse with.

RS: With Norne, I smelled a sample and if any other house would have sold that it would be a $300 bottle, easily.

Josh Lobb: It is one of those things that at this point with what I am doing with Slumberhouse it is much more important to focus on what I am doing rather than making money. I really don’t know how to market myself anyway, so I just chose not to even bother with it. Part of what has made this a great experience and the reason people know about Slumberhouse is because of the customers themselves. They will go and tell their friends or write on a blog or message board and people will find out. That is why I am so loyal to my customers and why I want to keep my prices low.  I think that is a two-way street, if you allow your customers a chance to consistently check out your stuff without breaking the bank, you will keep them around longer. I just feel that it is the right thing to do. I am sure that I could double the price, sell a quarter amount of the bottles, and have an exclusive reputation but that is really not of interest to me.

RS: You mentioned some other perfumers that you like; can I ask who they are?

Josh Lobb: My favorite perfumer would have to be Christopher Sheldrake. I think that he is on completely different level. I don’t think that anyone comes close to the work that he has done. I haven’t smelled many of his new releases, the last ones that I smelled were around 2007, but there are so many fragrances that he has done that I admire. He is by far the most interesting. I mentioned Calice Becker, her style is not really my style but there is such grace and beauty to them that I could just wear them around my house. I think that she has a unique gift for having her own style. For other perfumers, I don’t know his name but the guy that runs Parfumerie Generale has done some really amazing scents as well. I would say that those three perfumers are people that I would love to sit down and have a dinner with.

RS: The Parfumerie Generale guy is Pierre Guillaume; he has a newer line called Phaedon you might want to look into. With what you said about Sheldrake can I take a wild guess and say that Cuir Mauresque is one of your favorite fragrances?

Josh Lobb: No, it seems like it would be a fragrance that I absolutely love. I hate when people do this, but it reminds me of a certain type of hand soap that they had in my school. It smells identical to it, I am sure that if I smelled it side by side now there would be much more of a difference. Every time I smell it, it has that identical smell and I can’t shake the association. I would like to like it though because I am a huge fan of leather scents. It is a very unique approach to leather and even though I don’t like it, it is still a completely masterful fragrance, it is so perfectly done. There are very few that he has done that I disliked.

RS: I’m just curious, let’s say that Christopher Sheldrake or Pierre Guillaume called you and said that they liked what you were doing and wanted you to work for them in their lab, how would you respond to something like that?

Josh Lobb: I would do it in a heartbeat. I would do it with the knowledge that I can do whatever I want in this life and nothing would restrict me. I could always come back to Slumberhouse in the future but I think that it is always wise to keep your ego in check. Although it is a critical point for Slumberhouse, nothing in this life is more important than experiencing and learning. If you have the chance to learn from someone that has knowledge that is vastly superior to yours, I think that it would be a huge mistake to pass it up. If I ever had the offer to get training from one of those guys, without a doubt I would jump on that.

RS: You said that it is at a critical point, what does that refer to?

Josh Lobb: It is to the point now that Slumberhouse is not a tiny operation that I am barely struggling to keep afloat.  If I stopped for a month, everything would fall apart. It is running along at a good pace but I think that it is a critical moment because a lot of people are discovering Slumberhouse and writing and wanting to check out what I am doing. To stop that, go off, and train somewhere would put a halt to that. It is a very fertile time for the company. It would be a sacrifice but I think that it would be worth it because at any given point you can always go back and create a perfume, even if your company goes away. If Chanel and Serge Lutens went down, Sheldrake could start a company out of scratch and with his talents within a few months he would be fine. While I am very appreciative of where Slumberhouse is at, I don’t want to think that it is more important than anything else. I think that learning and experimenting will always come first.

RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?

Josh Lobb: Just thank you! I wouldn’t even want to say anything; I would like to listen to what they have to say to me. I’d want to hear how the perfumes affect them, why they like them. I love it when people write and email me a YouTube video to a good song or a recipe that they like for dinner. I am really into the personal relationships that I have with my customers. I am not a very interesting guy, so if you want to communicate with me, tell me something about yourself.

RS: I can assume that if it’s a twitter from you, your blog or website that it’s all you doing it, you don’t have other people working for you.

Josh Lobb: No, it used to be a couple other people, but now it’s completely me.


Charna Ethier (Providence Perfume Company) Interview

Charna EthierWhen I attended the Elements Showcase, I was blown away by the wide variety of fragrances and companies on display. A highlight for me was meeting some of the perfumers,  the artists who create the wonderful scents that we inhale.  Charna Ethier is the creator/perfumer of Providence Perfume Company, an independent natural line based out of Rhode Island.  Her scent Cocoa Tuberose was one of the most buzzed about scents of the Showcase.  Her effervescent and engaging personality quickly won me over and I’ve been looking forward to speaking to her in a more in depth fashion ever since.

Ron Slomowicz: Before you started Providence Perfume Company, you worked for other cosmetic companies; what did you do and which companies?
Charna Ethier: One of my first jobs, between waitressing my way through college, was working at the perfume counter at Macy’s. That was my first foray into the world of perfume. I absolutely loved it; I was very young but very successful at it. I have fond memories of exploring all the different brands of perfume. Coming from a really small town in New Hampshire, it was a completely glamorous world that was opened to me at the Macy’s perfume counter. I sold my heart out there. To fast forward, I worked for some publishing companies and then I settled in working for Aveda for a number of years. I don’t know how familiar you are with Aveda, but I remember mixing perfumes for them. People would come in and they would choose a scent. Everything was already pre-blended and I was always mixing special perfumes. They were off-label perfumes for the customers, which my district manager didn’t really like. I would have all the scents saved in the computer. People would come in and say things like “I like this one, but I wish it was just a little sweeter” and I’d say “well, you know we have some tuberose and some vanilla; I could just add a couple drops.” I was always making up special perfumes for people.Providence Perfume Company

RS: That kind of makes sense as to why you started your own company. What was your inspiration?
Charna Ethier: There were two main reasons. The first was that I had my first child. I have this distinct memory of it being close to Christmas. I was balanced in the handicapped bathroom trying to use a breast pump, sitting there with people pounding on the door saying things like “Charna, the district manager called and you’re going to have to work on Christmas Eve.” Five seconds later another pound “Charna, the junkie is back and she is stealing everything, hurry up.” I just sat there at that moment and knew that it was going to be the end for me at Aveda. I thought, “I am going to leave here and start my own business.” The other reason was that I really wanted to launch a line that was 100% natural and botanically-based perfumes. Aveda is such a large company and they are so limited by the ingredients that they could use because of cost. I knew that if I started my own company I would have all sorts of different sources.  I could use all the exotic beautiful ingredients that I loved for my own line. A large company like Aveda doesn’t have that luxury.

RS: Just so I am clear, what is the difference between natural and organic? It always confuses me.
Charna Ethier: It is completely confusing and not well-regulated. People can kind of get away with saying whatever they like. Which can be really frustrating. I am not an organic perfumer, because I use absolutes in my perfume. I don’t know how much you know about essential oils and absolutes, but because of the way the absolutes are extracted from the flower there can be trace amounts of hexane. Sometimes up to 1% to 2%, and for that reason alone, I wouldn’t be considered an organic perfumer. I do choose to use absolutes as they are some of the most beautiful ingredients in perfumery. I feel if I were to not use the rose absolute, tuberose absolute, and jasmine absolute, I’d be missing out on such a beautiful array of ingredients. That is why I choose to use them. Therefore, I am not an organic perfumer. There are so many shades of differences. Some people call themselves natural perfumers or botanical perfumers, meaning that they don’t use any animal essence in their perfumes. There is not a lot of regulation in that. It is a confusing name
and classification for perfume right now because of the lack of regulation. I am a natural, botanical perfumer so I just use essential oils, absolutes, and handmade tinctures that I create myself.  I use things like lilacs, rose petals, black tea, basmati rice, and things of that nature to make my perfumes. I don’t use any synthetic aroma chemicals, which are the main ingredients in most traditional perfumes that you would find in a department store.

RS: How do you find or source your natural materials? 

Charna Ethier:
I sample as many different suppliers as I can. I tell students when I teach classes to do the same, so they can see what they like and find to be of high quality. Then go back and place an order for a larger quantity of that material as soon as possible. The suppliers turn over their essences pretty quickly and they don’t necessarily make a notification. You might get a sample of a beautiful French tuberose that is buttery, creamy, rich, and bright orange that smells amazing. If you wait a few months, go back, and place an expensive order for an ounce at maybe $400, and it may arrive and be a totally different tuberose because they ran through their supply. It may have rained a lot in France that year and their new supply is not as high quality as the sample that you received. They don’t necessarily put a notice on their website saying “it was a crappy year for tuberose; buy them quickly before we get the new stock in.” I really think that sampling is key and especially when you are starting out. For instance, I remember people raving about frankincense, especially in the natural perfumer’s guild. Yahoo chat groups and perfumers all over the world were chatting about where they ordered things from and what they liked. I didn’t know if it was because I was raised by hippie parents and didn’t spend a lot of time in church, but I thought that it smelled awful. I had a bottle of frankincense and I thought it smelled like a bottle of turpentine, it literally smelled like it would remove paint. It wasn’t until I bit the bullet and ordered a bunch of different samples of frankincense from other suppliers and realized that I just had a horrible quality of frankincense. That was sort of my first introduction into purchasing these ingredients for perfumery and realizing that there is a vast difference between suppliers, quality and the year in which they are grown, growing condition and where in the world they are grown.

RS: You just mentioned that you teach classes, what kind of training or education do you have as a perfumer?
Charna Ethier: I am self-taught. After working for Aveda for a number of years and then deciding that I wanted to start my own company, I put a lot into educating myself. I am one of those anal retentive people that won’t buy a new stereo or TV until I Google it and do as much research as possible and read in Consumer Reports. When I started I really spent a good two years educating myself with as many different avenues of education and information as I could. I read every book possible on natural perfumery. I really worked hard to learn everything that I could. This is not an inexpensive avenue; I sampled tons of ingredients and spent years’ blending, that is why I like to teach classes. In particular, to beginning natural perfumers because perfumery is shrouded in this cloud of secrets and mystery some times. I want to impart the knowledge that I have learned onto my students in a way that makes them feel like they can do this. I want everyone to love natural perfumery as much as I do, that is what I try to impart onto the students. I don’t try to give them a sense that “you are never going to be able to do it; it is so hard, it’s so difficult.” But more like “isn’t this beautiful, isn’t is cool that the scent of rose grown in Tunisia will change from year to year depending on if it is a dry climate or warm climate? Can you smell the difference between these two vials? Isn’t that incredible that there is just a year difference between the crops?” I love it; I just want to pass it on to my students.

RS: I can feel it just over the phone. What is the hardest ingredient for you to work with?
Charna Ethier: Right now, I have something called Choya Nakh. It is from India, it is roasted seashells, and it is incredibly strong. Probably the strongest ingredient that I have ever experienced. It is so strong that I have it diluted down to 1% and still almost one drop can overpower the perfume. Once you really dilute it down it has a scent of a smoky leather kind of aroma, which is very cool but very hard to work with. It doesn’t play well with other ingredients, if you know what I mean. It really tries to dominate everything, I am determined that I am going to get it right in the way that I want it at some point. Choya Nakh is very hard to work with.

RS: That sounds like Oud actually.
Charna Ethier: It is stronger, like twenty times stronger than Oud! At some point I will get it right, but often after I finish aging the mods and I think that I have it, I will discover it has overpowered the blend and it’s back to the drawing board.

RS: You mentioned aging, how long do you normally age a fragrance before you sell it or experiment with it?
Charna Ethier: I joke that being a natural perfumer is like being a vintner, because aging is such an important process to our perfumes. I recommend aging for at least a month at a minimum. That can sometimes be interesting with supply and demand. While I make my perfumes in larger and larger batches, it can be difficult because if there is an article written about a particular perfume there will be a run on that perfume, so I have to be conscious of that because I am going to need at least a month and a half to create another batch and age it properly and filter it.

RS: With the aging, do you find the shelf-life of a natural fragrance to be different of that of an artificial fragrance?
Charna Ethier: I do. I feel that three years is an optimal shelf life for natural perfumes. They don’t go bad, my students always ask that. They don’t go bad after three years but I have noticed that the top notes start to fade. I would say that three years is an optimal shelf life for the perfumes.

RS: That is actually similar to regular perfumes. If they are not stored correctly, the top notes are the first things to go, but your base is still there. What inspires you to create a scent?
Charna Ethier: I can be inspired by so many different things. I feel like sometimes when people ask me that question they expect me to say nature.  I wouldn’t always say that nature is always my inspiration. I can be inspired by a cold day with a down comforter wrapped around me because I am freezing. I will start thinking about the feeling of having a cuddly, close skin sense. Something that is somewhat warm but not spicy. It can be anything. I would love to create a scent that smells like Vermont in the summertime, which is where I went to college. There is a certain kind of scent in the summer where you can almost smell the water evaporating off the grass because it is so warm and it’s such a lush area and there is so much clover. I have a blend floating around in my head with a red clover, a little bit of tonka, something green like violet leaf or galbanum, and maybe a watery element like mimosa. It could really be anything, even a memory of a certain time. So many different things inspire me, I cannot pin it down to one thing.

RS: I have to ask about one in particular. At the element show, everyone was talking about your cocoa tuberose. I fell in love with it and am about to buy a bottle of it. What was your inspiration for that one?
Charna Ethier: With that scent, I really wanted to create a perfume that smelled like chocolate or cocoa. There are a couple other natural perfumes out there that have chocolate notes in them, but they are really quiet. I didn’t want mine to be quiet, I wanted you to be able to smell the cocoa but not too much of a sweet gourmand. As I was playing around with it, I really liked the way it had a buttery note in it and I wanted to boost it up. They can be a really creamy buttery tuberose but I didn’t want to make it feminine. You don’t ever associate masculine and tuberose together, that’s what I wanted to do. I brought a little bit of wormwood into it, which cut the sweetness, and I wanted the cocoa note to be there but for it not to be super-sweet. That’s what I was really going for. When I describe that it is a unisex scent they always make a face. They wonder how something that is cocoa tuberose can be unisex. That was really my desire.

RS:  You nailed it. when I first met you I was taken by your effervescent personality.  If you were to bottle your personality, what would the notes be?
Charna Ethier: That’s a really great question. I think there would be orange blossom; I really like it a lot. Like my personality, a little bit too much of it and it can get a little bit fecund, but if done the right way a little not too much Charna and its great. Small doses.

RS: Apply sparingly.

Charna: Yes, exactly, apply sparingly!

RS: What’s coming next, what are you working on now?
Charna Ethier: Good question. Remember how I was telling you that I really liked creating tinctures, which is just taking a botanical ingredient or spice, even dried fruit like peaches or apricots and you put it in a jar, add alcohol, and let it steep for a while. I really like doing this because I think it gives a really original edge to my perfumes. No one else is going to have a note in their perfume that is a squash blossom tincture. The notes that people really wonder what they are. I think that it really expands the palate of the natural perfumer by doing this. I have a basmati rice tincture that I have been working on and I am really excited about it. It has a really interesting lactone, a milky kind of note with a little bit of nuttiness to it. Milky notes are a little harder in natural perfumery because there are certain families of ingredients that are much more difficult for us to reproduce. For example, Oceanic and lactone type scents, so I am excited about working with this basmati rice tincture. I use it as the base alcohol for my blend. I am working on something that I would describe as leaning towards the more masculine end, with a creamy, rice back note that is really cool.

RS: What would you like to say to all your fans out there?
Charna Ethier: Thank you! Thank you for supporting a small, independent perfumer from Providence, Rhode Island, who doesn’t have a big advertising budget or a lot of connections and finances. I owe so much to my blogging community who supported me, and my customers who have supported me as well. It can be difficult competing with the big boys, if you know what I mean. I owe a lot to them for their support and all the bloggers out there that have supported me. I am a lucky, lucky woman!

Interview conducted March 2012.