Talking Sex and Scent with Azzi Glasser

"I think that all perfumes should be sexy - as that’s what perfume kind of means. We’re animals at the end of the day, so you 'sniff' your partner out. That’s the core understanding of scent. If you really had to break it down “what does smell mean?” - it basically means that."

If anyone can create a ‘sexy scent’ it’s perfumer Azzi Glasser. When she last featured on Scents and the City, we spoke about her range The Perfumer’s Story which includes Tuscan Suede ("You can imagine this white suede sofa and then two bodies ... you can feel the leather and suede and their textures, it just smells really beautifu.") and Grey Myrrh ("the embodiment of every young girl’s fantasy: he could be a builder, the mechanic, the window cleaner. You know the type - whenever they walk past, there’s a sensual muskiness coming through the white t-shirt.")

We once again paid her a visit - partly because there’s always an excuse to visit her delightful studio in Camden (a miniature apothecary, with countless bottles lining the walls and other delightful perfume paraphernalia) – but mainly as the bottles for The Perfumer’s Story have acquired some stunning new packaging, inspired by 1930s Art-Deco (more on those later). She has a range of scented candles– a new perfume with photographer Rankin called S&X (below) and her latest addition to her collection of perfumes for Bella Freud - Close To My Heart together with a candle Art inspired by the studio of Freud's painter father, Lucien. It's safe to say this lady doesn't rest on her laurels...

Credit: @ Rankin

Credit: @ Rankin

But back to the idea of sex and scent. It's interesting to consider that S&X and Close To My Heart are two very different scents, but one may argue, both equally sexy. "I base all my perfumes around different characters of sensuality and sex," Azzi explains. "Different people have different experiences of it, some people want to be sexy in a pretty-pretty way; some people want to be sexy in a kind of glamorous way; some in a soft way – others in a cool-edgy way; or a mysterious/magnetic way – others want to be sophisticated and classy. I could go on forever!" First, there's S&X - a raunchy, out-there exploration of hedonistic, t-shirt-ripping, hair-grabbing sexuality as made evident by the below campaign video. 

Photo Credit: Chuck Noble

Photo Credit: Chuck Noble

How did the Rankin collaboration come about? "I’ve known Rankin for years and years, since the 90s I suppose. He doesn’t really change his style that much - he’s very sexy yet he brings a rawness and an edginess to it. When you look at his style, you can see if something’s been shot by Rankin. He’s really good friends with Jonas Åkerlund, whom I collaborated with last year. Jonas sent us both an email and suggested we collaborate as our studios were really close. He came over and we just got on – he loved it in here. The scent I created - S&X, is all about bodies intertwining. When I gave him the first sample, he told me I didn't need to tweak it, he loved it just as it was. He wears it himself, his partner Tuuli really loved it too – it’s unisex it’s quite fun but it smells different on everyone. The trail it leaves behind is fantastic as well. You can’t pinpoint an ingredient in there, that’s the idea with this one. It’s got a load of greatness but it’s very conceptual as well. It has that feeling that desirability that you know, one has."

Yet at the other end of the scale, Close To My Heart is softer, more subtle exploration of sex as an expression of love and intimacy. It's based around the white floral note of tuberose with whispers of sandalwood and oud. "I like tuberose to be rich as opposed to fresh, as otherwise it doesn’t smell right." Azzi explains. "If you smell tuberose oil itself, it’s almost like a bubblegum note! But at the same time its quite heady, there’s a medicinal note to it."

Indeed, it's a very different scent to the more earthy and intoxicating creations Azzi has concocted for her friend Bella Freud in the past. "It's a kind of a different story to perfumes like Ginsberg is God etc. It’s more of a sensual sexy fragrance." She remarks on her use of oud in the bouquet - an ingredient which has quite literally saturated the fragrance industry in the last few years. "You only need a tiny bit of oud to use it properly, if you use it too much it’s like walking down a souk! The thing with these oud scents is that they often make them too strong or too chemical. They either put too many fruity sweet notes in there, or they put so much oud that you can’t smell anything else. With mine, there’s a subtlety to them and there’s also a longevity to them – to me that’s where the art of perfumery comes in. You can’t always guess what's in there half the time."

Azzi has also created a new candle for Freud - Art, based on her famous father Lucien Freud’s studio. "Hardly anyone’s allowed to go in there. You can smell the linseed oil ... the paint ... the canvas. It’s completely bizarre. There's also a note of lilac flowers, as he always liked to have them in the corner of his studio." It smells incredible - you can really imagine yourself in the studio, watching Freud the elder busy at work behind his canvas." 

As exquisite as the Bella Freud candles and perfumes are, Azzi's own collection - The Perfumer’s Story ("my world") is somewhat different. "It’s more about me, as I like heritage a lot. I like the birth and the history of fragrance. For me it’s a mixture of having that kind of heritage and edginess brought together in one. You’ve got that olde-worlde element, but there’s also a quirkiness about it as well. The new packaging is designed to mimic my formulation book!" Indeed, each bottle is encased in a box designed like a book cover, with a bookmark describing the fragrance itself. There's also a black pouch inside, so that each precious bottle can be carried around in a handbag too. "There's something a bit Dickensian about it." Azzi notes.  "Then there's the Art Deco-style bottles with the star shapes engraved into the glass on each side. It's definitely more of a perfumer’s-type thing, as opposed to ‘fashiony’." 

Going back to the idea of sex and scent, are people now veering towards more seductive concoctions as opposed to traditionally pretty perfumes? "Well, I think that all perfumes should be sexy - as that’s what perfume kind of means. We’re animals at the end of the day, so you 'sniff' your partner out. That’s the core understanding of scent. If you really had to break it down “what does smell mean?” - it basically means that."

Is sex and sensuality easy to capture in scent? "Yes it is, as I meet people all the time and you understand different connotations of it I think for me, you’re never going to run out of ideas." 

Aside from just adding sex appeal, Azzi remarks that perfume plays a very strong part in our personal style too. "Some people - when they come out of a relationship - they change their hair, they change their smell and they want to forget what they’ve just been in. They smell different, they’ve done their hair differently, their make up‘s different. It’s a new identity really."  

"And I think smell actually can help you manipulate certain situations and scenarios that visual things can’t do. You could be sitting wearing like a pretty-pretty dress and flower in your hair and suddenly smell like the Ditch [a scent she created with director Jonas Åkerlund]. Suddenly you become fascinating and interesting ('What’s that weird smell she's wearing?') You’re suddenly very artistic. Scent can be something haunting, something which creeps up on you."

But Azzi is nothing if not a versatile perfumer and "bedroom scents" are not her only forté. She recently created a fragrance for the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition ("Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick") curated by artist and DJ James Lavelle at Somerset House.

"The whole thing was unbelievable, one of the best I’ve ever seen. You had lots of different artists such as Polly Morgan and Mark Quinn, they all did kind of different interpretations of Kubrick's work. The corridor was like the carpet of The Shining. This scent I've created is based on the smell of [Kubrick's film] Space Odyssey 2001. It’s space: it’s dark, cold and black. Obviously you don’t know what space smells like, but I know it’s quite lonely and really scary. I also wanted to capture that smell you get at the back of a TV and a computer, so I’ve put that ‘technology’ accord into this, as well as the plastic that’s used in space suits. There’s something about everything Kubrick does is completely trippy, but there’s also something about what I do that's completely trippy! I think you can say that about anything to do with the senses, what you see, what you smell, what you eat – it just depends how you interpret life really."

The Perfumer's Story is available at The Conran Shop and Harvey Nichols

Shop Close to My Heart, the Art candle and the rest of the Bella Freud fragrances at Cult Beauty 

S&X Rankin is available at Harvey Nichols