It is more difficult than you can imagine buying someone a fragrance. Men buying perfume for their enamoradas can be the sartorial equivalent of scratchy red lace lingerie. They buy what they think is sexy but without taking the soul and the essence of the person to heart.
Even if you have a signature scent the scent can change as companies get bought and ingredients vary, or the person has changed. Carnal Flower was my go to for several years – I remember Denzel Washington thought it was like a sexy Hawaiian retreat. He liked it so much I bought him the scented candle (many times). It was heady and in your face and one day I wasn’t that person anymore. Years before that my signature scent was Agent Provocateur. People would smell it and know I was there, to me it was about sex. It smelt like a sexual invitation.Agent Provocateur was sexy. It was well crafted and sophisticated but I loved it because it said I’ve arrived. Entering any room with Agent Provocateur was like a smack in the face for people you didn’t like, or the most delicious flirt for those you did.
Azzi Glasser (of The Perfumer’s Story) created that scent and many others. She is all about designing the exotic, the luxurious. A rebel in a traditional industry. She is renowned for creating Bespoke perfumes (for Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Cindy Crawford, Helena Bonham Carter, and also creating scents for some of their iconic characters to help them flip into that other being). You wear her scent and you feel more of yourself or, after lockdown when everyone’s world got small and claustrophobic, you feel yourself again. You can access your own soul and step into it, just like an actor stepping into a role.
My lockdown life was so small I was’t able to do the things that defined me – go out, go to work, touch people. When, with the help of Azzi, I found my fragrance DNA, I stopped being a ghost of myself. We found this with a quiz given to me by her perfume robot, a kind of Artificial Intelligence version of Azzi herself. It asked various questions like did I want a fragrance for him, her, or unisex? Was my mood sensual, edgy, confident, cool, eccentric, caring? How do I like my notes? Woody, floral, oud, animalistic, fresh, sweet, musk? What are my passions? Art, film, travel, books, music, fashion? What is the signature style? Bohemian, edgy, classic, glamour or street? My fragrance turned out to be something called Build and Destroy. It’s hard to describe scent, it does smell animalistic but in an extremely elegant way. I think the reason I love Build and Destroy is because it’s extreme in that it is about opposites and I relate to that. It’s woody and it’s earthy, it’s edgy, it has a fresh polished side which is quite cool and its opposite warm note comes from the incense. The base note and the top note in constant juxtaposition. It’s many things. It doesnt not pin you down.
When I went into hospital recently, I didn’t pack an overnight or rather 3 day bag because with a broken leg I had to be very specific in what I could carry with me, but I took the perfume because I feared feeling anonymous and because I needed to know who I was. Literally I needed to put my scent down. It was animalistic.
For me, this hot and cold thing is also about sex. I like lovers who are cold because underneath the chill, there’s heat. I like it when you feel the heat and the chill both at once. I love ambiguity because it just keeps me hanging on.
I always used to like asking people in interviews do you prefer to be loved, understood or respected? Dustin Hoffman put it best when he said that he wanted to be understood because without understanding you couldn’t have love or respect. The perfume robot is a virtual version of what it’s like to have Azzi design a fragrance, her Bespoke version costs around £15,000 and it’s an intense process where she gets to know who you are and how your fragrance best expresses that. The robot resembles the woman. The Robot is called AI.zz
“I wanted it to look like a robotic but not an exact version of me. My designer worked with pictures of me to create the 3D digital version, but it wasn’t a scan, that was too realistic – I wanted it to look like a fantasy, I made the hair longer though I had AI.ZZ’s nails painted my signature yellow. The biggest way it resembles me is in the way I think and profile my clients to find their perfect scent. My brain and nose had to be the key for resemblance.”
How did she come up with the questions?
“This idea is something I have dreamed of for a long time, the challenge was how to translate it to work for a customer. Fragrance language with traditional descriptions by ingredients and notes can be so confusing and hard to identify with. I did it in the same way I develop a Bespoke scent that I know will really connect with my client by understanding their character, style, personality and passions.
“The Perfumer’s Story range has fragrances that represent characteristics and stories that the customer can immediately relate to and scent evokes connection and confidence. However, I knew I needed to help that fragrance DNA discovery journey further and direct the client to the perfect fragrance and I wanted it to be fun and personal as if I was there with every customer. Since that is not possible the idea of a virtual robot represents me.”
How did she work out what the most important questions would be that the robot would ask?
“I kept the quiz short, since no one has time these days, and I wanted it to be easy. I translated the same questions I always ask my clients to get their scent DNA.”
In other words, she distilled her process to an essence, a bit like the process of making a perfume itself.
“Who is the fragrance for is important because, although all our fragrances are unisex some are more masculine or feminine and some are truly universal. What mood are you in helps describe who you are and more importantly what mood do you want this fragrance to take you into. You might want a wardrobe of scents to match your different moods. The robot has been carefully programmed to think like me, so it can map out, eliminate, and choose the fragrance match by the answer to the questions. When I created each of the perfumes in my collection they were based on these characteristics. That is why you cannot simply create an Artificial Intelligence digitally on a perfume collection unless all the perfumes were designed with this in mind. You can answer the questions for yourself or someone you want to give a gift to that they will actually love. To gift a new fragrance, as scent is so personal.”
The robot version of Azzi replicates what it is like to be here in her perfume den, luxuriating over her various perfumes notes and having characters like Johnny Depp hang out there.
“He is truly like no other. He is funny, intelligent, handsome, super stylish and charismatic and his knowledge of history and art are beyond. The fragrance I created for him is very sexy, edgy and manly. When you smell it, it is like nuzzling the neck of a man you just want to get closer to.”
The fragrances she created for his roles are all very different. The Mad Hatter scent smells of a mad hatter tea party scene, it’s eccentric; tea, sponge cake, icing are all captured in the scent.
Depp say of Azzi, “Azzi possesses a certain sorcery in that she is capable of capturing the perfect essence of a character in scent. So much so 300 years ago I suspect she would have been hung for witchcraft.”
For his character Barnabas he played a 200 year old vampire, the character was dapper, dark, but sweet. The scent mirrored this. Azzi met Stephen Fry at a BAFTA lunch at the Chiltern Firehouse.
“I just love listening to him talk, his views are so fascinating and funny. Stephen loves wearing Old Books. It smells of paper and poetry and sex and rock and roll, and also Tuscan Suede.”
She created Cindy Crawford’s scent as a birthday surprise. She met and adored Helena Bonham Carter, her own scent is quirky and intelligent and since then they have worked together on a number of roles.
“She doesn’t always have roles where she smells great, one time she had a role where she had to smell of cigarettes and whisky, that was her part in Dark Shadows (dr Hoffman)because she was a chain smoking alcoholic. The cigarettes she smelled of is a French cigarette called Gauloises. She would go on set at 6am reeking of cigarettes and bourbon. Princess Margaret is based on the actual scent Princess Margaret wore, I was working with her son, David, so he was very helpful in making a scent for him which was based on his mother. It is quite floral and classic, 1970s. It was a Diorisimmo
They don’t make it anymore, or if they do it smells completely different. The original one had more expensive ingredients. She ordered quite a few bottles when she was working on Princess Margaret. Elizabeth Taylor is really strong, confident, it smells of mink coat and red lipstick.”
Every brand likes to have celebrity clients to draw in others that might identify, but this is different. If you want your scent to be the role you step into, if you want to smell like a rock star or impress as if you are Elizabeth Taylor entering a room, you can. She has got the questions all you’ve got to do is find the answers.
Azzi is also doing a Scentysational Box (The Love Box) especially for Valentine’s Day, everyone’s least favourite day of the year, but if you do the test for your partner with the robot, you’ll know who they are and you can show love, connection, appreciation and desire all at once. If you get the fragrance right it shows that you really know another person and understand them.
There are 3 sizes of boxes that contain your specific scent, and a candle and /or room spray.