It is a great privilege for us to be granted an exclusive interview with Sue Phillips, one of the most renowned names in the world of perfumery and the owner of “The Scentarium” — New York’s first Custom Perfumery.
Globally-recognized and one of the most sought after experts in a range of industries including fragrance & perfume, cosmetics, and personal care fields, Sue Phillips is also the founder of Scenterprises. The company that made way for her to share her passion and knowledge for perfumes, while at the same time allowing her to contribute in her own way in improving the lives of people through fragrances.
Sue’s career started at Elizabeth Arden where she worked as training director before getting promoted into product development for Color Cosmetics. But as her heart and mind have been always set on fragrance, she found her way entering the world of famous perfume brands and some of these include Chloe, Lagerfeld & Burberrys, Lancôme, Fragrance for Magie Noire, Tresor, and Tiffany & Company where she developed the first iconic TIFFANY perfume for its 150th anniversary.
Apart from Scenterprises, Sue Phillips is also a motivational speaker, speaker, writer and teacher. She is the Adjunct Professor of Fragrance at LIM College in NYC where she teaches “The Secret World of Scent” course. In the past, she also taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), to help pave the way for the new generation of fragrance marketers and perfume designers.
Truly, it is nice to know experts who devote their effort and time in bringing improvements in the world of fragrances and enriching people’s lives.
Get to know more about Sue Phillips and her contributions in the industry through our exclusive interview.
Tell us something interesting about Sue Philips as the creator of Scenterprises.
I have always been involved in the Arts and was a singer and actress from South Africa. I came to New York and was captivated by the cosmetics industry and my career took a new trajectory, and I am honored to say I have been involved in the development of iconic fragrance brands for such companies as Tiffany, Burberry, Lancôme, Trish McEvoy, Avon, Lancaster, Diane Von Furstenberg and many others. The fact that I love art, music, and all the ‘sensory’ aspects gave me a greater understanding of how to incorporate those aspects into the fragrances I ultimately created. I feel it is very important to create fragrances that represent the beauty and magnificence of our most important Sense, rather than ‘me-too’ commercial scents. I am also Adjunct Professor of Fragance at LIM COLLEGE where I teach a course entitled “The Secret World of Scent” and always tell my students to expand their horizons and go to art galleries, museums, fashion events, concerts and to avail themselves of the wonderful cultural activities that are offered – and here in NY the choices are abundant.
What motivates you to create fragrances?
I love to create fragrances and to see the ‘light of excitement’ in the eyes of my clients when we create their bespoke fragrance. In terms of creating fragrances for brands, I become the architect of all aspects of fragrance development in just the same way as a conductor of an orchestra! Every nuance and detail comes under my direction – so there is a consistency and understanding of how all aspects work in harmony with each other. I love being involved in every single aspect of product and brand development, and as the CEO of my own company I am responsible for the final outcome of the fragrance.
Who is your inspiration as a perfume designer?
The niche perfume designers seem to be more innovative, as they are able to offer more creativity and not be as dependent on focus groups and market testing as in the commercial fragrances. There are many niche perfume designers and they are the ones who inspire us.
Can you walk us through your process of designing fragrances? You don’t need to tell us all the secrets though. 🙂
At Scenterprises, we are all about an intimate experience and customer service. At our perfumery in New York we schedule clients by appointment at The Scentarium, to give them a personalized, intimate experience. We take them on a “fragrance journey” and they learn about the magic and mystery of fragrance. It is educational, scentertaining™ and fun! We ask in-depth lifestyle questions, and based on their preferences, we then let them evaluate our exquisite blends, and they select the blends they love and we create their ‘formula’ for them, which they name. If people can’t come to NY they can purchase our Perfume Kit which is an ‘experience in a box”. We also offer our Fragrance Bars for large groups so that many people can enjoy unique personal fragrances at either a Corporate Event, Teambuilding program, Bridal Showers and Perfume parties. We are also expanding our reach by recruiting people who would like to be in their own businesses and to offer unique offerings to clients.
How do you think personality affects perfume choice?
Everyone has their own unique personality, and the choices are more available now than ever before. Many people want a fragrance that suits their personality and individuality, so no longer do fragrance lovers only have the option of buying commercial fragrances. They are really able to seek out alternative offerings, and so personal reflections are becoming more and more popular and available.
In your opinion, what makes a fragrance superior to others?
I truly believe it is all about ‘quality’. In the same way as certain wines and champagnes give headaches if they are not made with superior ingredients, the same is true for perfumery. High quality fragrance ingredients will be the great differentiator between a fragrance that has a similarity to everything else, and a beautifully created perfume that is made with superior ingredients. I understand that price is a factor, but we all know that you get what you pay for.
As a perfume expert, how would you differentiate niche perfumes from designer perfumes?
Niche perfumes, in my opinion, are usually more original and not as easily available as commercial fragrances. They are distributed in selective boutiques and perfumeries and are more exclusive. Niche fragrances are also created by avant-garde perfumers who are not bound by the rules and regulations of commercial fragrances, and therefore more cutting edge.
Designer fragrances reflect a brand image and the designer’s lifestyle, and seem to be more main- stream and therefore more widely distributed.
Of all your creations, what are your personal favorites?
I loved creating the Tiffany perfume which I believe really reflected the quality of the brand. It was very special working with Jacques Polge, chief perfumer of Chanel, to create the perfume. It was a heady sensual, luxurious floral bouquet of damascena rose, Indian jasmine, ylang ylang, fleur d’orange and iris. Another fragrance that I loved developing was Kyphi Spice with Diane Von Furstenberg for her ‘Surroundings by DVF’ collection. It reflected the famous Egyptian Kyphi incense which was burned in temples every evening at sunset and in homes at night, and the smoky vapors were believed to have magical powers as a relaxant and to protect. All the fragrances I have created are like my “children”.
What are your thoughts on the future of niche perfumery?
In the same way that social, economic and political trends inspire fashion designs, many fragrances represent the times, and today, some of the heavy fragrances of yesteryear are not as popular because the trend shifted to Ozonic and Aquatic scents or Ouds. Rose is now enjoying a return in popularity, whereas a few years ago, they were considered old-fashioned.
Tell us something about Scenterprises’ Design Your Own Perfume.
I am very excited about what we have created as we really offer an intimate, personalized, educational, ‘scentertaining™’ experience for people wanting to experience their own Bespoke or Custom Fragrances. We have created a range of exquisite fragrance blends that span the entire Olfactive Family of fragrances which can be worn alone, but the beauty is that when 3 or 4 are combined, an even more distinctive fragrance is created. Our clients are not just women, but 40% of our clients are men, as they love the intimacy and personalized approach to perfumery. Jamie Foxx met with us and created a wonderful fragrance and told his friends about us. We have also created a fragrance for Katie Holmes and her daughter Suri. The fragrances that we create are their personal fragrances which can be reordered, as we keep all formulas in our database. The Scentarium is an ‘oasis’ in the heart of the city and clients love the ambience – which is filled with music and beautiful art (by my mother Grace Phillips, who was a well-known South African artist www.2marvelous4words.com). For people not able to visit us in NY we have designed a beautiful Deluxe Custom Perfume Kit, which is a wonderful way for people to create fragrances in the comfort of their homes.
Please share some advice for those aspiring to become a perfume designer.
Read as much as you can about fragrance, take courses, and become a sensualist! I always encourage my students to explore museums, galleries, concerts, fashion exhibitions, and to visit interesting gourmet food stores and to immerse themselves in the senses. By understanding and experiencing the impact of art, music, and ingredients they will expand their horizons and learn what they love and ultimately how to express and develop different nuances of fragrance ingredients. Learning about different fragrance molecules and how they combine and interact with each other is crucial to becoming a perfumer. Fragrance Designers might not necessarily be Perfumers, or have studied Science, but it is very important to learn how to express and communicate their fragrance ideas to perfumers.
We’d love to know some tips that you can share to our readers regarding choosing and using perfumes.
To choose a long-lasting scent: Citrus, green, and floral scents are brighter than woodsy ones, but they don’t last long. If you want a perfume that you won’t have to refresh after four hours, look for words like ‘spicy’, ‘woodsy’ or ‘oriental’ in the description.
How to make it last:
Fragrance lasts much longer on moisturized skin, but don’t apply a scented moisturizer first—it will conflict with your fine perfume. Instead, use an unscented body oil, like almond oil, all over your body.
Where to spritz it:
Spray your perfume on your ankles, behind your knees, in the crooks of your elbows, on your cleavage, and on the nape of your neck. Your pulse points generate more heat—which diffuses the fragrance—than other areas on the body. And because scent rises, your fragrance will last a lot longer if you start on the lower points, like the ankles.
Where to store it:
The best place to store fragrance is in a cool, dark place away from any humidity. Contrary to popular belief, it should not be stored in the fridge and never in your bathroom or near air conditioners or heating units. The precious oils will become distorted when they’re exposed to extreme heat or cold. Also, always make sure the lid is on securely so the air doesn’t cause the perfume to oxidize.
How to tell when perfume is hitting its expiration date:
When your fragrance starts to get darker and more syrupy, it’s a sign that the perfume has a lot of natural ingredients, like vanilla and oak moss, and as a result, will get stronger. Think about how wine turns after it has been opened. When you go to a store, ask to see the testers, as they are have been on the counter for a while, and make note of the color compared to a new bottle. If the color is different because it has been exposed to air and usage, then you will know that there are a lot of naturals If the color is the same, then it likely has a lot of synthetics and won’t go bad
What not to do?
Never spray fragrance in the air and walk into it because the beautiful perfume will be disortorted by the hair products. Fragrance is meant to be worn on the skin -not on clothes or hair.
Also, after spraying fragrance on your wrists, don’t rub them harshly together – the beautiful fragrance molecules will be crushed and the oil from your skin will distort the fragrance. Let the fragrance dry down on your skin naturally.
Last but not the least, any words of inspiration that you can share with perfume aficionados?
Inspiration comes from all your experiences so capture the sights, memories and aromas of every place you visit; colors you experience ; foods you taste, music you hear; —-a magnificent beach, exquisite colors of the rainbow, the aromas of Moroccan Bazaars, the wild bush of African safaris, the musty smells of the attic – be open to all your surroundings and unleash and capture the passion of those memories into a bottle. Dare to be different and never give up.