“People are individuals, with individual character, personality and style,” says Azzi Glasser
Born in London, but moved to India when she was just two years old, Azzi Glasser grew up surrounded by the rich smells of nature - the beach, the sea air, the echoes of a monsoon. When she returned to England, it was the smell of rain on earth that greeted her. Other smells she recalls from her childhood are those associated with her mother - a lipstick, her old powder compact cases after she had finished with them, and her perfume. “I would watch my mother getting ready for evening events,” Azzi says. “She would put on her false eyelashes, throw on her fur coat and spray her perfume on before going out with my father, which was quite often. When she kissed me goodnight, the fragrance would linger in the air. I hoped that perhaps one day I would own a bottle of this expensive perfume…” Fast forward to now, and Azzi doesn’t just own expensive perfumes, she creates them. And they’re not just perfumes, they’re exquisite concoctions that aim to capture the essence of the person for whom each fragrance is created. Self-described as a perfume designer, each note is carefully crafted in cohesion with her client’s personality, their personal style, and their overall desires. But at £1500 a pop, the scents are not for everyone, which is why in 2015 Azzi launched the Perfumer’s Story – a collection of 11 scents, each one designed to take their wearer on a journey. Old Books, for instance, is designed to recall the opening of an old book. Over the course of her career, Azzi has worked with world renowned brands including Agent Provocateur (she co-founded Agent Provocateur Parfums in 1999), Alexander Mcqueen and Bella Freud. Fresh from her role as Artist in Residence at the Mandrake Hotel, which saw her transform an area of the hotel into an immersive perfumer’s atelier, here we talk to Azzi about the power of smell and the future of fragrance.
What made you want to dedicate your career to fragrance? How did you get into the industry?
Azzi Glasser: I never imagined that I would be a perfumer. To be honest, throughout my childhood, I didn't realise that the job of a perfumer even existed. I have always been creative. When I was 19 years old, during the craze for scented wood chips, I invented the ‘fragrance rock pot pourri'. Cosmopolitan magazine published an article about me and this new creation that had taken particularly the UK by storm. I then had various fragrance companies at my door, wanting to work with me. One of them offered me a job I couldn't refuse. When the fragrance house tested my skills, I achieved one of the best results ever. It was from that moment I realised the power of my nose.
How has your career evolved since then?
Azzi Glasser: I worked with a British fragrance house as Global Creative Commercial Director for ten years. During that time, I met Joe Corré and Serena Rees, the founders of Agent Provocateur. While holidaying together in Costa Rica, we discussed launching a perfume. When we returned, we launched Agent Provocateur Parfum as partners. It won numerous awards, went straight to number one at Harvey Nichols and remained among the top three at Selfridges for some years. I had no idea it would be such a massive success, as it smelt so different from any other perfume in the market, and the concept and fragrance was the opposite to the industry trends at that time but it worked perfectly. I then created fragrances for the likes of Jasper Conran, Nicole Farhi, Alexander McQueen, Laura Ashley, Space NK, Monsoon, and Bella Freud, to name a few.
Why bespoke fragrance?
Azzi Glasser: I started to create bespoke fragrances around 12 years ago, first for Kylie Minogue, as she was a massive fan of the Agent Provocateur fragrance, followed by Helena Bonham Carter, Noomi Rapace, Cindy Crawford, and many others. My first male was Johnny Depp, followed by Jude Law, Orlando Bloom, James Lavelle, Jonas Akerlund, Rankin, Douglas Booth, Stephen Fry, and a host of others. There was an eclectic demand to start with, mainly because, individually, they found it hard to choose their signature scent from what was on offer in the fragrance market place. This is one of the reasons I create bespoke fragrances differently from most perfumers: I match the individual character, personality and their own unique style to the fragrance composition in the same way a bespoke dress would be made for them. The difference, though, is that the perfume does become the love of their life, their bespoke signature scent, and they enjoy wearing it loyally every single day.
Why do you think there’s a demand for bespoke fragrance?
Azzi Glasser: The fragrance industry is swamped. There are more than 1400 fragrance launches a year, and customers can get frustrated while finding one that suits them. Most people who approach me to design their signature fragrance are seeking something that truly represents them, their personality and their style. The process I use to create these is very different from the process for other fragrances you can buy, whether niche or mass market.
What has creating bespoke fragrances taught you about how we work as humans?
Azzi Glasser: People are individuals, with individual character, personality and style. I match an individual’s DNA print into the fragrance – a bit like telling their story through their scent – so the result works as a perfect match for them and also for those around them. The happiness that having a bespoke perfume for life brings – whether you are a top Hollywood actor, a model, an artist, or the girl or boy next door – is a fantastic feeling for me to share. I feel that I am adding some sort of value to people's lives, and it’s why I love what I do.
You’ve been referred to as a perfume designer, what does this mean?
Azzi Glasser: When I started as a perfumer, I just created the fragrance smell, the ‘juice’. I soon became unhappy about the way my fragrance creations were packaged and the story that would be told by various marketing departments. I am a perfectionist. I like to pay attention to the details in everything I create from start to finish. This is why I create not only the ‘juice’ but also the design of the bottles, the packaging, the concept story, and the way that it will be communicated. I feel a responsibility for the total package, not just one element.
How do you go about capturing the essence of a person and then translating it into a smell?
Azzi Glasser: I work very closely with each of my clients. Some say it's a bit like a ‘fun therapy session’, but really, it’s all about getting to know their personality and their character and how they would like to portray themselves to the outside world. When I have a clear picture of them – a bit like a DNA print – I then look at their own fashion style. I study their clothing, accessories, and hair and skin, and I match these elements when formulating their fragrance. I always explain how I select the fragrance ingredients. First I select the main characters, a bit like a film director chooses his main stars, and then I choose the supporting ingredients to help tell their story. This becomes their signature perfume. I then work on a design that they love and they feel loyal to. It becomes their scent legacy.
What is the significance of smell? What does fragrance mean to you?
Azzi Glasser: It is understanding the importance of smell to humans. We are all animals and you would not want to be with someone who did not smell good. Fragrance can be manipulative; it is very powerful when you get it right. It is, ultimately, the finishing touch. My own signature perfume, Sequoia Wood, which is now part of my collection, gives me so much joy that it has become a part of me. I get five or six comments every day on how wonderful I smell. This is one of the nicest compliments anyone can get.
What should a good fragrance be able to do for you?
Azzi Glasser: It should make you happy, feel confident and be in touch with your subconscious as well as your conscious.
Can you tell us a bit about The Perfumer’s Story? How did the collection come about? Who is it for?
Azzi Glasser: ‘The Perfumer's Story’ was born out of the encouragement I received from both Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and their total excitement about my fragrance creations. I saw a massive gap in the market. Nobody was creating fragrances that would capture an individual’s style and character. Most perfumes are based on fragrance ingredient trends like oud or neroli, rose or a ‘fragrance family’. I wanted my perfume compositions to be based on a person’s character and style, each with an artistic story and reference. I could see a demand from people to be more individual and to stand out from the crowd. My perfumes are easy to choose, as each of them gives you the fragrance character as opposed to the industry buzzwords ‘fragrance family’, which nobody seems to understand. They have this magical feeling, which always gets many compliments from others when they are worn and seems to have an almost magnetic quality. They are adored by others and totally loyal to the wearer, and that gives confidence and empowerment. They are a bespoke signature for that person, which creates memories for years to come.
Given you’ve dedicated your life to smells and fragrances, do you ever get bored or numb to smelling things? How do you overcome this?
Azzi Glasser: People always recommend smelling coffee beans to un-numb your nose. Well, that is just ridiculous. Smelling another strong ingredient just numbs your nose more. The best thing to bring your nose back to neutral again is to smell yourself – your arm, your own skin.
Fragrance is one of the most notoriously difficult products to convey online, how do you hope to challenge this?
Azzi Glasser: This is a very good question and one I am working on right now. It is a big challenge, but soon I will have the perfect answer for you.
How do you think younger generations’ demands for natural, clean and sustainable ingredients and packaging will affect the industry?
Azzi Glasser: I would hope the fragrance industry would take this into account more seriously. I like creating fragrances in packaging that you want to keep forever and re-use, or which looks so fabulous that it becomes an ornament piece. That makes it more sustainable than if you just throw it away.
What do you see as the future of fragrance?
Azzi Glasser: The fragrance market has been growing exponentially over the last decade. In the last five years we have seen an explosion of brands, or new fragrances from existing brands and fashion labels, so I’m sure that trend will continue. In terms of the luxury end of the market, I think the bespoke side of things will become more and more widespread, because people want uniqueness and they want to feel that the things they have – their homes, their clothes, their cars, their fragrance – all express something individual about them. In much the same way as you would have a suit made for you for a special occasion, having a scent made specifically for you is not just a status symbol thing. It’s an accessible part of everyday life and something that reflects the personality of the wearer in a subconscious and subtle way that nothing else can quite match.