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Isamaya Ffrench
courtesy of Isamaya Ffrench

Tobacco, soil and sweat: My life in perfume by Isamaya Ffrench


TextIsamaya Ffrench

Dazed Beauty’s Creative Director on the fragrances that shaped her life

We were a very anti-cosmetics family growing up. My mum didn't even own a mascara and the only fragrance my dad could tolerate on her was Givenchy L'interdit because he fancied Audrey Hepburn for whom the perfume was apparently made. I wasn't even allowed deodorant. My parents were from the hippy generation and were totally ok with BO.

The first scent I can remember is my brother's bottle of Dior Fahrenheit and when I moved into his room, age six, I kept the bottle along with the Terminator poster and a glossy topless girls Budweizer poster above my bed. I think growing up in a room that was filled with boys’ stuff shaped my aesthetic. I religiously read his FHM subscription back to front every month and could recite a whole page of barroom jokes which I would rip out and take to school. Loaded was also regularly floating about.

When I was about eight, my friend and I would nick flowers from people's gardens and squish them into small water bottles and try to flog them as perfume down the street... I think my friend got a rash on her neck so we had to stop doing that.

"I have always wanted to find a perfume that smells of wet earth, and finally, I have"

The first proper perfume I ever bought was Cacharel from Debenhams. It was when all the girls my age were wearing Charlie, So… and Impulse. I was kind of secretive about the fact that I was wearing an adult perfume. It had an iridescent bottle in greenish pink and I'd spray it onto my school uniform.

I love to change my scent depending on my mood. If I'm feeling masculine I'll wear something like Chanel Sycamore or Serge Lutens L'Orpheline, which is part boy, part girl. It's a fragile fragrance but is full bodied and musky. Those perfumes remind me of when I lived in Paris and seemed to end up in cemeteries quite a lot. They are very warm fragrances. I used to wear lots of tobacco and leather but I began to find them one dimensional and predictable. Now I opt for more unusual scents that work with my mood.

When I'm working and focused, I like to wear several fragrances that sharpen your senses and your mind like 1996 by Byredo or Etro Patchouly. I don't like girly or floral perfumes. I like to smell serious and alert! I have always wanted to find a perfume that smells of wet earth, and FINALLY I have – it’s called Undergrowth by Rook Perfumes. It’s a bit sloppy in its balance, veering on the muddy side, but it’s so unusual, I love it.

"If you're going to hang around someone all day, you may as well make sure they smell amazing too"

If I'm feeling seductive or romantic I'll wear something nostalgic. I like to trick other people into a false nostalgia. Tom Ford Orchid Soleil is perfect for this! It smells a bit like suncream. You immediately evoke happy, warm memories on the beach and feel attracted to a false intimacy about that person.

My boyfriend is more experimental with fragrance than me. He wears Etat Libre D’Orange by Magnifiques Secretions. The first time he made me smell it, I literally almost vomited. There is something grotesquely carnal about it - almost like fresh rotting flesh, but it plays a trick on your brain and leaves you wanting to smell it again and again. Though I begged him to never wear it around me, he persisted and oddly enough, now I really love the smell and it carries a completely different set of connotations because I associate it with him. If you're going to hang around someone all day, you may as well make sure they smell amazing too.

Right this minute I'm wearing Molecule 01, a fragrance that was pretty groundbreaking when it hit the market. It transforms with your pheromones, giving everyone an individual ‘smell’. The best thing about it is that the wearer can barely smell it on their skin, but to everyone else, it’s extremely potent.  

Deodorant, on the other hand, is simple. My go-to is Old Spice Fiji. It's the only one that cuts through it.

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