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Sue Phillips on the Power of Olfactive Storytelling

Published January 24, 2023
Published January 24, 2023
Mark Grgurich

Beaming with an aura of charisma, elegance, and perseverance, Sue Phillips has been flourishing in the fragrance industry for over four decades. A determined and business-savvy South African native, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in theater, with her talents for public speaking and performance landing her a role as the National Training Manager in Elizabeth Arden’s fine fragrance division. From there, she rose through the ranks in the corporate luxury fragrance industry, confidently standing her own in a male-dominated business.

As Vice President of Fragrance at Tiffany & Co., she developed and launched Tiffany Parfum, a white floral scent with notes of Damask rose, Indian jasmine, iris, orange blossom, and ylang-ylang, created to celebrate the jeweler’s 150th anniversary. Other best-selling fragrances bearing her creative touch are Burberry for Men, Society by Burberry, and Lancôme’s Magie Noire, with Phillips acting as Marketing Director in Fragrance & Men's Treatment for Lancôme.

She struck out on her own in 1992, founding global consultancy Scenterprises Inc. Today, she creates both bespoke and ready-to-wear fragrances under the brand Sue Phillips Fragrance from her Upper East Side space, Sue Phillips Atelier, for celebrity and everyday clients alike.

Her namesake fragrance line, Perfume Blends, comprises 18 scents for customers to wear solo or layered with each other. While the product names are straightforward—Balsamic Vanilla, Heady Floral, Aldehydic—the compositions are multifaceted. Phillips also devised a range of five complex perfumes, the Artisan Scents, in floral, fruity, fresh, woody, and spicy stylings. Curious noses can take a 13-question scent personality quiz, which incorporates factors such as preferred furniture style and favorite fabrics, to pair them with their ideal scent.

For those suffering from anosmia (a loss of smell), a side effect of COVID which affected many, Phillips has harnessed her scent knowledge to help others, training them to rediscover their sense of smell with an 18-part Scentertaining journey that spans the entire olfactive palette. The program also benefits those suffering from dysgeusia (alteration of taste) and parosmia (alteration of smell).

As the author of The Power of Perfume, published in 2021, she brings her knowledge of fragrance history, creation, and culture to readers, with everything from behind-the-scenes anecdotes of her creating fragrances for famous clients to fragrance-wearing tips for perfumery newbies as well as aficionados. Phillips has also lent her expertise to legal cases around perfume copyright infringements, licensing, distribution, trademark cases, and more for over 30 years.

BeautyMatter sat down with the fragrance maverick to discuss her keys to success and longevity in a challenging industry and her enduring love for the transformative possibilities of perfumery.

When did you first discover that you had a passion for scent?

I would say that like most little girls, our mothers were such an instrument in our lives. But the truth of the matter is that when I was 12 years old, there was a store in Johannesburg called The Belfast. This was like Bloomingdale's. It was a beautiful, top-drawer store, My mom was an amazing artist, and was doing an artistic installation for them. Somehow or other, she asked them or I asked her if I could have a school holiday job there and they hired me.

I was enjoying the whole idea of fragrance and a customer came to me at the counter and said, “Oh, I love that fragrance.” It was a scent called Madame Rochas. I was leaning into the counter to get the tall bottle off the back of the counter and the bottle dropped on the floor. I was mortified. It was about, at that time, maybe 135 Rand, which was probably $350. It spilled on the floor and I was so upset.

Well, that day so many people walked by the counter and smelled this beautiful perfume. Honestly and truly, it was the first time that the idea of fragrance wafting in the air became such an important factor, because people would stop by, wanted to know what it was, and bought fragrance. I didn't have to reimburse them for the broken bottle because we made up for it in sales. It really punctuated the whole idea for me that fragrance is so important, and it does diffuse in the air, and when it does, it's this beautiful aroma that captivates people.

Years and years later in New York, I was working for a company, and that did a lot of scent diffusion work. We used to go to Las Vegas all the time because they developed the fragrance, and the technology of scent diffusion with the HVAC system. But at 12 years old, I first experienced that power, captivation, and intoxication of fragrance diffusion and ambience setting.

And what a full circle moment too to have your book come out with the title The Power of Perfume. You came to New York to do theater and then by way of that having that stage presence, started teaching other cosmetic retail staff and then segued into the corporate side of fragrance. What was that journey of entering the fragrance industry like?

Coming from South Africa, at the time in the late ’70s, things were not so wonderful politically. In 1976, my brother was living here and I came with my family on a vacation to New York and just fell in love with the energy. Seven months later, I arrived. It was a bitterly cold day, and I had no idea what I was going to do. But I thought, I'm here, I'm going to try and get into theater.

A friend of mine had gone to get his work visa with an American immigration attorney and told me to go see him. I did and he asked me what I did for work. I said I was going to be an actress and a singer. He said, “Well forget that. You don't have a green card. You don't have citizenship. There are millions of out-of-work actresses. What else do you do?” The way he asked me, something came into my head. My mother had always said, if you're going to be in theater, you have to have something to fall back on because it is such a difficult life. I mentioned to him I had done the secretarial course, and he had an immigration attorney friend that was looking for somebody, so I went to see him. He said that he would petition me for a green card and that I would work with him for a year. I gave him my word and at night would go find singing and acting gigs in clubs and off-Broadway.

After a year, I got my green card and went to different headhunters and I got three job offers. One was to work for a bank, and that was not for me. One was in fashion and I didn't feel, at that time, that I knew anything about fashion. The third one was to work at Elizabeth Arden for the president as his Administrative Executive Assistant. So I did, and it was great.

During that year or two, I would go singing and acting every sales meeting. So they knew that I could stand up in front of people and speak. After two years, he said to me, there's a position in fragrance training, you would be ideal for it. So I went to orientation at the different fragrance houses to learn about perfume, work with perfumers, and work at Macy's to really understand the customer.

Lo and behold, after three months, I became the National Training Director. I traveled around America, and by this stage, I had learned the beauty, the magic, and the power of what a beautiful fragrance could mean, and how to sell it. Not just teach the fragrance advisors, this smells beautiful—they wanted more than that. They wanted a story.

When you put on a fragrance like Chloé and it has beautiful fragrance notes of rose and jasmine and a little hint of bergamot, what does it make you feel like? Does it make you feel coquettish? Does it make you feel sexy, sensual? Does it make you feel confident? All those adjectives, descriptions, and the evocation of how a fragrance makes you feel were very important.

When I was in a training seminar and different training schools, locations, and stores around the country, I would always create an ambiance. I created a beautiful room with music and gorgeous visuals that reflected the brand. I would tell stories, and by the end of the hour or two of training school, they were so motivated to get out and sell that when they went back to the counter, they were able to understand the fragrances and explain them to the customers. Now they were armed with knowledge of how the scent came to be, and the power behind it.

Sales went sky high, so it was really exciting to embed that. I also knew that training wasn't where I wanted to ultimately be. I had to be at the forefront of fragrance development and fragrance marketing. They then promoted me to color cosmetics, which is great for product development, but ultimately back to marketing. Then I was in fragrance marketing. I was at Elizabeth Arden for six years, and then my career took off. Lancôme heard about me, and hired me to be the Marketing Director of Fragrance and Men's Skincare.

The fragrance that Lancôme had at the time was a very small, tiny little brand called Magie Noire. It was very beautiful and unique, not a commercial fragrance. It was a popular brand in Europe, but not in the US because it is a green chypre, very sophisticated, and at that time, people were more interested in light florals. But I was so determined to make something of this brand, that I promoted it and marketed it. We came up with an amazing marketing program. But at the time, because fragrance wasn't such a huge percentage of Lancôme’s total business, they gave me a program on a men's treatment line to work on. So I did, and I loved developing the products for the men's line.

After four years, we brought Magie Noire from a total of maybe 6 percent of the total volume of Lancôme to 15 percent, which was huge on a small base. Then a headhunter, who was actually Brooke Shields’ father, contacted me for Tiffany & Co. I got the position there as Vice President of Fragrance and developed the Tiffany perfume [to commemorate the brand’s 150th anniversary].

There's also such interesting parallels between theater and fragrance: the production, the acts. A good scent takes you on the same journey that a theater show might. Was it that transferable skill, having that enthusiasm and evocative way of speaking about scent, that has been the key to your success?

The key to my success has been understanding how important our senses are in this interactive sensory experience between the word, theater, visuals, sounds, sights, touch. Understanding that fragrance is so intangible. You can't touch fragrance—it's not like putting on a beautiful lipstick and your whole face changes because you wear red lipstick or beautiful black eyeliner and suddenly you become bold.

With fragrance, it's all about a feeling. It's so intangible, but it's so powerful. The idea of how fragrances are described, how the actual ingredients can transform your mood, intangibly. You're not putting on a robe, a dress, a mink coat. You're putting on beautiful liquid bubbles that can transform your mood and your whole position.

The fact that I can experience that and help people understand how fragrance can make them feel: the mood, the emotion, the evoking of different memories, how certain fragrances can take you back to past memories that are so powerful. Just walking down the street in New York City sometimes, when the weather is changing from summer to fall, and there's a shift in the breeze, suddenly I can smell something that literally will take me back to a moment in South Africa 40 years ago. There's a similarity of an aroma that stops me dead in my tracks. Trying to understand that, and then to impart that knowledge and let people know that our sense of smell is our most powerful sense.

Rising to the position as VP of Marketing in a male-dominated industry, what were the challenges along the way?

So many. I'll give you three instances.The first one was when I was traveling around the country and checking into a hotel. I'm talking about the late ’70s, when glamorous women in cosmetics, the hotels were not really used to that. I was checking in and reception would say my room number in such a loud voice. The men behind me heard my name and room number, so after a few times of getting unwanted phone calls at two and three in the morning, I would go into the hotels and say “Here's my card. This is who I am. Do not say my name out loud and do not mention my room number.” I’d mention I’d had issues and then they understood. That was a challenge. Today, women traveling in business today is so commonplace, nobody ever says your room number or name out loud. So maybe I have something to do with it, I don't know.

The second thing is that after a week of training, I would enjoy the last day of my trip and order room service or go to a restaurant. I would do these breakfast, lunch, or cocktail training sessions and then I'd take a plane, get to the next location, and start all over again. So by the end of a week, I was going back to New York and decided to go into a restaurant and order dinner. But I got there about five o'clock and the restaurant was fairly empty. I sat in the lobby where they were having drinks and ordered a cup of tea. The waiter looked at me and said, “Nobody comes in at five o'clock and orders tea.” He looked around and then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed security guards sidling up to the door where the entrance was. I figured, he thinks I'm probably a lady of leisure. The security guard comes up to me, asks if everything is alright, and what brings me there. The first thing that popped into my head was, “I'm an immigration attorney. I want my tea please.”

Then one time, I was with a company and we were doing all these sales meetings and I went to one of my bosses and I said, “Look, this is ridiculous. I’m being hit on left, right, and center.” And he said, “Oh Sue, I’m sure you’re used to it, just live with it.” That would never fly these days because of the laws, and so there were many, many challenges.

Do I regret anything? I just regret that I wasn't strong enough at the time that I could go and do something about it. But in my own way, coming from South Africa, it was a different culture. Women didn't speak up. You swallowed it and that was it. You went on with it and didn't make waves, unless something really bad happened, then you would. But it was just the way things were.

"For a long time, obviously because of the pandemic, people weren't going out or wearing fragrance. Now suddenly there's a reemergence of the power of fragrance, also because of all these niche brands that are coming up."
By Sue Phillips, founder, Sue Phillips Fragrance

Thankfully the tides are slightly shifting with that, slowly but surely. As someone who now does bespoke fragrances but spent a lot of time in the commercial realm, how do the stakes compare when you're crafting a fragrance for a brand like Tiffany or Lancôme versus for a single individual customer?

When you’re creating the fragrance for a brand, it’s so important to understand the brand's ethos. You cannot put your own personal preference in. Creating a fragrance for Tiffany’s was interesting because when I got there, they had already been in the works for about a year or two with fragrance consultants and branding people. Lliterally the day that I got the job, it was a Friday afternoon, and I was still, of course, at Lancôme, my boss handed me the fragrances. There were two submissions that were finally in the works and I couldn't wait to try them. I was in the elevator, just got the job announcement, and tried the fragrances in the elevator and was so disappointed. It was so not what I was expecting. I was expecting something very beautiful and glamorous, luxury and quality, and honestly, they were very inferior as far as I was concerned. Very commercial and very metallic.  When you understand what a brand's ethos is, the philosophy, quality, and luxury that has to translate into the actual fragrance, and it didn't. I called my new boss about five days later because now I had agonized about these two submissions.

During those five days, I contacted people I knew whose opinions I really valued: perfumers, a CEO, a branded marketing person, friends and colleagues in the industry. I said, “Look, I've got something very exciting, and I'm working on a project. I can't tell you what it is, but I'd like to see what you think of these fragrances.” Nobody knew what it was for; all I said was that it was a very high-quality, luxury, special fragrance. And they all agreed that they were very commercial.

Armed with this, I called my boss and said I'd love to see you about the fragrances, a week or so before I was starting my new position. My feeling was, I could either say nothing to her and go along with one of these fragrances, and eight or nine months later launch one of them. But by this stage, I knew how to speak up. They had hired me for my expertise. I could say to her exactly what I felt: that I didn't feel this is the right quality, but if she was really committed to either one of those as the final arbiter of the choice, I would do whatever I could to make it work.

I said to her I didn't feel that these were the quality of the Tiffany perfume. She said to me, “Well Sue, let's go down and talk to the chairman, William Chaney.” To her credit, she had worked on the fragrance for a long time. She wasn't in the fragrance industry, she was in advertising; she didn't really understand fragrance and was relying on consultants. He said, let her fix it when she starts working. So that was really a vote of confidence.

When I started, we put together a big joint venture with Chanel because Tiffany, obviously, wasn't in the area of fragrance and perfume distribution but Chanel was. We wanted to do something with a like-minded brand: two quality, luxury brands coming together. When we met with the chairman and the owner of Chanel, Alain Wertheimer and Arie Kopelman, they both agreed those two submissions were inferior. Wetheimer told me to go to Paris and work with Jacques Polge, the chief perfumer.

When it came to understanding the finesse of what a luxury fragrance should be, it had to have really high-quality ingredients. How can you tell what ingredients are really there? How do people tell whether it’s a silk blouse or a polyester blouse? They look the same, they kind of feel the same, but when you actually wear them, the silk breathes and makes you feel beautiful and luxurious. The polyester doesn't breathe, it traps the perspiration, starts to feel contrived, and doesn't feel good on the skin at all. The same is true with fragrance. A beautiful, high-quality fragrance can make you feel exquisite. There's no strident notes, no chemical notes that are going to give you a headache or an allergy. Understanding how to create a beautiful quality fragrance, whether it's for a luxury brand or a mid-range brand, I always believe that quality ingredients will win out in the end.

The same is true for bespoke fragrances. When I started the bespoke fragrance initiative, I created 18 perfumes that spanned the entire olfactory palette: fresh, floral, woodsy, spicy, top notes, middle nose, base notes. From the light refreshing top notes all the way down to robust bold notes. I couldn't do anything that was going to be that expensive, but my whole notion and reason for the success of the bespoke fragrances has been the quality. I have met with so many people, and I cannot tell you honestly how many people have told me, in the last seven years, that they get headaches and allergies from fragrances. In the 40-something years I've been in the business, I never used to hear that.

There's something going on in the industry, which I think is threefold. The first is the ban of allergens by the European Union. I will come back with the analogy, that if peanuts cause people anaphylactic shock, why are they not banned? They're still being sold. People just realize that they have to not wear it or eat it, so I don't understand why certain ingredients have been banned. These ingredients are not killing anybody. They might give you headaches and allergies, but they're not killing people. So number one, ingredients have changed.

Number two, many companies are actually trying to cut costs, and instead of creating the fragrance of the beautiful Bulgarian rose oil, which is very expensive, they'll cut corners and do it with a geranium, which has a similar feeling, smell, and aspect of a rose, but it's not a rose. Or they'll do something synthetic. That is the reason, honestly, that so many people are turning away from fragrances and wanting something bespoke, because it suits them. It's more in line with what their feelings are.

The custom fragrance is not bespoke in the true sense of the word, in that I'll start with the fresh ingredients, it'll take a year and a half, and cost $20,000. I've created these 18 beautiful perfumes that are high quality, each one is a perfume on its own, but the beauty is that they can be combined. If you take a citrus, mix it with an exotic rose and maybe a sparkling green note, and then an amber, you get something so exotic, different, and unusual, that suddenly people can go through this fragrance journey with me. They select the layers that they love, that really reflect who they are and what they want. That becomes so incredibly powerful, that they finally found a fragrance that really suits them, that is unusual, unique, and nobody else has it.

It's interesting how the industry has shifted. Think back to the ’90s, a lot of the groundbreaking perfumes were coming from, say, Calvin Klein. Now the breakout fragrances come mostly from the niche side: Le Labo, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Creed. Granted, those aren't small brands anymore, but they started out in the artisan category. Mass market is trying to play to everyone and artisan is the story first, then the fragrance. Do you have any thoughts on that evolution of the industry?

I do different presentations about fragrance through the decades: the economic, social, and political trends that influence it. In the 1980s, you had these big fragrances that reflected the time: big hair, big shoulders, big fragrances, and big designer brands. Then in the 1990s, it was a retro feeling about everything being very watery, atomic, transparent, and not overt at all. Then in the 2000s, we had the millennium and everything was going back to the classics. What emerged after the designers and celebrities from the 1980s to the 2000s basically was this whole idea of the ingredients story. There was such a proliferation of designers and celebrities that suddenly the artisanal brands started to emerge and talked about the effect of an ingredient story that was different.

The whole idea of oud came about, nobody knew what oud was [back then in the Western world]. I developed a fragrance when I was a consultant at Avon with Diane Von Furstenberg in the 1990s and she loved kyphi [an ancient Egyptian incense blend], and one of her fragrances was kyphi and oud, it was so unusual. So suddenly in 2000, and now 2010 and 2020, it’s the ingredient story. I also think that artisanal brands do not really have to worry about—well, everybody has to worry about the bottom line—but you don't have to worry about your shareholders, because they are able to really come up with beautiful, high-quality ingredients and a gorgeous fragrance that is so different. Whereas a lot of the big companies, obviously, the cost of goods is a huge factor, and they want to make sure that the fragrance cost appeals, goes in line with their margins, and all the rest of it. But what happens is the fragrances that are created by niche brands and artisanal brands become so popular, that guess what, the big companies acquire them and start chipping away at the creativity and quality. With so many of the brands that have been acquired in fragrance, the actual formulations have changed.

You also discuss the legal ramifications of scent. Fragrance is interesting because it doesn't seem like there's a real copyright in place. Especially recently, there have been brands whose whole business model is imitation fragrances. That is sitting in this gray zone because fragrance doesn't have any legal framework in the same way that a fashion designer can sue other fashion designers who have copied their design. What are your thoughts on imitation fragrances or creative copyright in the fragrance industry?

I am considered an expert witness, so I'm hired by companies in fragrance distribution, trademark infringement, copyright, infringement cases. You're sworn to secrecy, and you can't really talk about cases because you’re under a nondisclosure. But the interesting thing is that the copycat fragrances started many years ago; it's not recent. The whole idea of, if you like Giorgio Beverly Hills or Eternity by Calvin Klein, you'll like this. I don't think those companies were ever sued for copyright or trademark infringement because you can't trademark a formula.

It’s a shame. I think the industry has to do something about that because from that standpoint, I agree that if a formula is created, and it's a beautiful, interesting formula that is so groundbreaking and so revolutionary, it would be a terrible thing for that fragrance to be copyright infringed. It's so easy. You do the gas chronometer, GC, testing, you can see exactly what's in that formula, change one, two, or three of the ingredients, and it becomes a different formula. Instead of worrying about ingredients that are causing headaches and allergies in some of these beautiful classic fragrances that are no longer able to be created because of the oakmoss or some of the ingredients supposedly giving you allergies, let’s really focus on making beautiful fragrances, and keeping them at a level where they can't be copied.

Given the recent emergence of scent training, especially for people who have gone through COVID, how do you think our relationship to scent has changed through the pandemic? It feels like that's shone a new light on this often neglected sense of ours.

I will tell you that the only positive thing that COVID has done has been the acceleration of the awareness of how important our sense of smell is. I cannot tell you how many people have said to me, “it's devastating, my life has changed so much because I cannot smell. I cannot taste. I can't enjoy my life. I can't enjoy going out to restaurants with my family. I can't enjoy celebrations.”

People are now understanding how important our sense of smell is, because of this worldwide phenomenon of COVID, which has caused people to have anosmia at a huge pace. Anosmia is not new; it's been around for centuries. But people weren't aware of it because it wasn't on a global basis, and COVID has accelerated that awareness.

I will say to people that from the second we're born, we smell. We connect with our mother’s scent and that's how we go through life. It's an automatic response. It is so automatic, we don't think about it. Then suddenly, one day it's lost, and people's lives are devastated. The fact that I've been able to help about 150 people now regain their sense of smell after COVID anosmia has been extraordinary.

It all happened quite serendipitously. I'd written my book [The Power of Perfume] and NBC wanted to do a story about it. The day before the interview, they asked if I thought I could help somebody who's a COVID long-hauler regain her sense of smell. I'll be honest, I didn't even know what a long-hauler was at that point. The woman came in and I had my 18 fragrances there. I always say to people, “Look, I'm not a doctor. I'm not a scientist. But I know the power of perfume, having been in the industry for so long.”

I took her on this scent-healing journey, and after the 13 fragrances, which she couldn't smell, on the fourteenth, she said “Oh, I smell something and it's beautiful!” She started to cry, and I teared up and the cameraman too. It was such a powerful moment because it was so authentic. She could actually smell something, and it was very, very groundbreaking for her.

I think a couple of things happen. Number one, if fragrances are complex, and you don't know what they are, I'm engaging the brain, which is a very important thing to do. When I do scent healing, I don't even put the names on them, it’s all numbers, because it's not just going through the olfactory system, it's trying to connect the brain. I say to my clients, I want you to smell with your brain. When we do these sessions, and I do them via Zoom, because a lot of people can't come into New York, I ask them to go into a room with no noise, be in a little cocoon where you can engage with the senses and really train and connect with your brain, so that the aspect of the smelling will ultimately help you connect with the limbic system.

It's interesting, though, you say “smell with your brain,” because especially when it comes to perfume, the product, there’s so many subliminal influences, whether it's the bottle, the name of the brand, the price tag, that influences how we smell it, even if we’re not completely aware of it. Scent is an art form meets chemistry meets psychology.

Look for instance at Chanel No. 5, which, as we know, is an iconic fragrance. But when you smell Chanel No. 5 blind, the first thing that people say is, “Oh it’s powdery. It's old-fashioned. It reminds me of my grandmother.” The sad thing is that when people actually smell a fragrance like a rose, they smell powder or their grandmothers because 40, 50 years ago that was an ingredient in face powder. I have a beautiful rose in my lineup, but it's a modern rose. It's got the exoticness of cognac, clove, and a hint of violet leaf, it's not traditional.

When people smell a fragrance and don't know what it is, they might say they love this powdery note. But as soon as they know what it is, they might be a little bit influenced by, as you said, the name, the price, the bottle, the packaging, the position, the marketing. So smelling a fragrance blind is the best way to really engage with your olfactory centers in your brain, to understand what that fragrance is, without all the sort of external things that go into it.

When you create your own fragrances, do you have any ritual in that development process? Or is it down to the individual that you’re creating the scent for?

Yes, the ritual that I have is I start with a scent personality quiz, which you can take online, on my website. When you meet with me in person, I give it to you in the format of a printed page. I want you to think about what you are writing and which questions appeal to you, so the olfactory scent quiz helps determine the fragrance family that you like, because I do give an overview in person about the eight different fragrance families, but there's a lot for people to absorb and consider. I tell everybody, I narrow it down to the four main fragrance types—the fresh, the flowery, the woodsy, the spicy—and it is amazingly accurate.

We go through the results, I explain the different notes and fragrance families, and then we go through the fragrance journey, all 18 of the blends. It’s lovely to see how people react to the different notes, how everybody is different. That is what is so exciting, that every time people finally go through the olfactory journey, and they select the three, four, or five blends that they love and give them to me, each one is different and unique to them. It's absolutely amazing how people find their inner fragrance persona. It’s so remarkable because they say to me, “I go to the stores and  buy something I like, and after three or four hours I hate it.” I say, “Well, that’s because you don't know what's in it. You don't know what the top notes, the middle notes, and the base notes are, what their formula is, because it changes so much.” The nice thing with what we do is that the fragrances are the same from beginning to end, which they happen to love.

With The Power of Perfume, what do you hope is the key takeaway? What made now the right time to be doing it?

When COVID happened, I was downtown in Tribeca, and where my former perfume studio, the Scentarium, was. Everything stopped. I couldn't go downtown. There were no more consultations, and I did eventually start on Zoom, but I wrote the book during COVID. It came out last year, at a time when people were starting to get back involved in fragrance, having been through COVID and learning about their sense of smell. I just felt that this was the right time.

I'm now in the process of writing a second book with a neuroscientist who contacted me after she heard and saw what I was doing with COVID clients. It’s going to be interesting because I'll do it from an olfactory standpoint, she's coming in from a neuroscientific standpoint. It’s great. It endorses the work that I'm doing from an olfactory standpoint, which I'm very excited about.

I have always loved to write. I feel that the expression of creating something out of the passion that I feel for fragrance is important. It’s really not a tome; it takes into account all the things that I talk about, the origins, the history, fragrance through the decades, the different aspects of it. It’s a fun read, and people learn a lot from it in a way that is not heavy or overbearing. There’s a fun pictorial thing with some of the celebrities and people I have worked with—Jamie Foxx, Katie Holmes, and so on.

The final question is a bit twofold. It’s about the future of fragrance, for your company, but also what you think we're going to see happen with the industry in the coming years.

The great thing is that fragrance now is so, so popular. It's incredible. You look at all the trends, forecasts, sales results, and fragrance is really alive, which is wonderful. For a long time, obviously because of the pandemic, people weren't going out or wearing fragrance. Now suddenly there's a reemergence of the power of fragrance, also because of all these niche brands that are coming up. Some of the new celebrity fragrances, like the Billie Eilishs of the world, are not just a celebrity fragrance, but beautiful fragrances. I'm happy about that, that there is an acceleration of good fragrances.

What I will be doing is launching my own Sue Phillips Collection. I've been in the industry for many, many years, and I feel now—with all the work that I've done, and having created bespoke fragrances and all these fragrances for brands—I have expertise, a following, and I just want to create some beautiful perfumes that reflect who I am, my background, and the knowledge and experience that I've gained over the years. That will be something beautiful, whether it's one or a collection, I'm still working on that.

When I first came to America, the strategy at that time for brands was to come up with one beautiful signature fragrance. Remember Chloé, Eternity, Giorgio, L’eau d’Issey. Then you go back to the chypres of the world, Arpège, Shalimar, they were all signature scents that are still memorable today. Then everything shifted. Everything came out in collections of 40, 50 fragrances, and that becomes so confusing. So I have some ideas that I am working on and it'll be this time next year.

It will be exciting to see them, especially after having worked for so many other companies and now being able to let your own creative vision run free.

It’s just the way things have evolved for me. I never planned any of this, but now, for the first time in my fragrance career, I'm actually planning something, which is terrific.

It's also a very, very inspiring journey. It's interesting how life works out.

It really is. I've always promoted sensory celebrations, and so late October, I’m going to a retreat in Malibu to be doing a series of fragrance presentations, scent workshops, and scent dinners over the course of a week. Then I'm going to the Perfume Passage in mid-November.

It is the most remarkable perfume museum, just outside of Chicago. It is the only privately held, huge perfume museum. I was there last year doing a presentation, and now I'm doing a scent dinner on November the 12th. I'm so excited about that because this is an extraordinary, magical place.

Then in late November, I'm going to Lisbon and doing a whole discussion and talk about fragrance, so all the things that I love to do incorporating fragrance, but also the sensory aspect. Not just talking about fragrance, but scent and wine. And I call my scent dinners Sip, Sniff, and Savor. You sip the wine, you sniff the fragrance, and then you savor the food. There's an integration and a weaving of the different notes and the ingredients in the wine throughout the course of the evening, and at the end, I create a fragrance based on all the notes that people have tried to give them a beautiful, memorable gift of a custom fragrance. I love those kinds of things.

Especially nowadays, we're so much online and there's something about connecting to our primal human senses that is really special and often gets overlooked. Sip, Sniff, and Savor is a perfect example of that.


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