Take a deep whiff of your favorite fragrance—now thank Sue Phillips, since she probably had something to do with it. The South African is a perfume pro, someone who has dedicated her life to helping people make sense of scents. After developing fragrances for Burberrys, Lancôme, Tiffany, Chopard, Davidoff, and Trish McEvoy, among others, Phillips launched The Perfume Studio in the United States. Focusing on bespoke scents, Phillips helps those who don’t know their nose from their face to mix a customized fragrance. NYLON was invited over the Phillips’ apartment for a one-on-one workshop (and to take a peek at her well-stocked perfume cabinet), and in the process got Phillips to spill her beauty secrets.Were you always obsessed with perfumes?
I’ve been fascinated with perfumes since I was a little girl. My first foray with fragrances was at a summer job at a store when I was 12 or 13-years-old. They put me in the fragrance department and one day I was reaching for a bottle of perfume—it was called Femme by Rochas, and it was very expensive—and it fell to the floor and cracked. I was so mortified, I went to the department manager and said, “I’m so sorry, I’d like to pay for it.” But that day there was so much fabulous fragrance in the air, he said, “Don’t worry, we sold more perfume than ever before.” So I’ve had a love affair with fragrances for many years.What was it about perfume that interested you?
Sense of smell is actually our second strongest scent, after sight. You can walk down he street and smell something that can remind you of anything—your first love, grandma’s kitchen—because memories are so tied in to scent. But it’s the most ignored. We live in such a visual world; we’re watching TV, texting, IM’ing, talking on the cell phone, working on the computer, and the sense of smell is really becoming lost.Is there something all beautiful fragrances have in common?
Yes, it’s just like cooking with food. You can be a vegetarian, you can be an omnivore, you can be into fish, but if you don’t have the real, fresh ingredients, no matter how much you like to cook it won’t work out well. You can make a fabulous omelet, but if the eggs or herbs aren’t fresh, you can make a lousy omelet. It’s the same with fragrances.What’s the next big fragrance trend?
One of the things I see in the industry is that people are really looking to express themselves more and more. I think that there are wonderful designer and celebrity fragrances, but there are so many—there are over 1,000 fragrances launched every year. People want something that reflects themselves, especially if they can be involved in making their own fragrances. If you’re going to spend a lot of money, why spend it on something that everybody else has? Why not customize it and make it special? I’m very excited by this whole idea of custom perfumery.Who would you say is the ultimate beauty icon?
Diane Von Furstenberg is a pretty cool lady. I worked with her when she was working with Avon for a fragrance, and she was so interesting. She knew different ingredients, she knew different notes, and she knew what she wanted. She was just amazing.What’s the biggest mistake women make with their fragrances?
This is funny—in all my experiences, I’ve met a lot of French women, and the truth is that they really do know how to wear fragrance. They know where their pressure points are, so they apply it on their ankles, behind their knees, on the inside of their thighs, in their cleavage, and at the nape of their neck. And you know what happens? The fragrance rises as the pulse points warm up. A lot of American women don't wear fragrances well. You don’t have to pour it on, but apply it on the right places and the scent will last and stay with you.Are people surprised when they find out you’re a professional nose?
When it comes to fragrances, so many people don’t know about them. So when they see that you do, they’re in awe. They’re like, “Tell me more!” It’s such a lost art. It’s really a combination of art and science, and it’s so extraordinary to have these people create fragrances. What I want to do is bring back the beauty and the magic and the aura of perfumer fragrances, rather than just, oh another launch. I want to make it more enjoyable for people.
REBECCA WILLA DAVIS
for more info on Sue Phillips and her bespoke perfume workshops.