What real 'celebrity scents' actually smell like ...
In terms of glamorous Instagram snaps and A-List chums (she talks about "Daisy", "Kate" and "Sadie" as if they worked in the launderette up the road) one might call perfumer Azzi Glasser a socialite of Dorothy Parker proportions. Yet despite her enviable connections, she possesses an integrity and uniqueness in her work which justifies the prestigious reputation she holds. ("When you have endorsements from really fussy people, it really does help!") Despite constantly jet-setting to LA (most of her clients are based in Hollywood), she is grounded enough to spend the rest of her time in her little Camden studio with her loyal assistant Victoria. The duo run everything from that one space, from scent creation, to bottle design, to liaising with her celebrity clientele.
Having created fragrances for celebrities and big brands such as Agent Provocateur and Illamasqua, she attracted the attention of Harvey Nichols who have enlisted her as their in-house bespoke perfumer. You may have read our previous article about her bespoke service, but now we're turning our attention to her collection of scents - The Perfumer's Story. These are 11 mini handbag-sized bottles which get passed around at A-List soirees like bags of cocaine. One is even called 'C' inspired by a certain drug (one can guess which one) yet is more delightful in its addictiveness as opposed to life-ruining.
A Londoner born and bred, Azzi spent part of her early childhood in India. "I had the sea and the beach - everything was outside life to me. Even in the Monsoon, we’d play in the rain. I can’t remember that much of it, as I was there from 18 months old to four and a half but it probably had a big effect on my life."
"In a way, that's why my collection is called The Perfumer's Story, as most creations have been inspired by many different stories and adventures in my life. I’ve got stories to tell about all of them - hence why each bottle comes in book-style packaging. The bottles are small enough to fit in a girl’s handbag or a man’s pocket. It becomes one with the wearer, you have to have it with you and on you the whole time when you get as many comments as you will get with these perfumes."
"I don’t formulate thinking about anything to do with the industry or the marketing, or the trends. Instead I just focus on what's really happening in the world. We do live in a bloody awful world when you think about it. At the same time you can’t change it - but you can certainly create your own world and be in control of that, which is something."
"C is a really interesting one. I always wanted to create a fragrance that was like a drug, once you’ve got it, you get addicted to it, as does everyone else. Yves Saint Laurent did Opium – and I’m sure you can guess which one this was based on. This has got ridiculous fans, Kate [Moss] loves this fragrance. The thing is, it smells different on everyone - it’s based on three different molecule accords: you’ve got a woody one, an amber molecule and a musk/resins molecule. When you wear it, it’s just like an attractor. It depends on your own DNA, it can smell sweet on one person, woody on someone else, like incense on another etc. It works with your own pheromones and your own body heat - you’re in control of this one. It smells really expensive as well at the same time. It’s very magnetic, it’s confident and it’s totally edgy."
"A lot of young people wear C, actually. I was at Sadie [Frost]’s the other day, and Raff [her son with Jude Law] was wearing C - and Sadie also wears it. He said, “it's weird my mum wears this too, but I really like it.” I told him not to worry, as it will smell completely different on her to the way it will on him."
"Old Books – this is like one that Stephen Fry loves, actually a lot of actors and artists like this. I’ve always had this great memory of picking up an old book and have it fall apart in your hand. I love heritage, it smells old fashioned and there’s a real kind of eccentricity about it. It’s really sexy on a man this smell – oh my G-d!"
Would she see this as a scent specifically for men? "The thing is everyone’s different, so you can wear what you like! I’ve got men who like some fragrances that some would class as very feminine. The character and style for Old Books, is intelligent, eccentric and unique, which can apply to anyone, can't it?"
Sequoia Wood is the scent Azzi herself frequently wears. "It's sexy but not 'pretty pretty', there's a deep sensual, deliciousness to it. You’d have to be a creative type to wear this, as it's not your usual commercial thing. For me, I’d wear this and nothing else! It’s got neroli on the top which gives it freshness, then the main note is this Sequoia wood, from red trees which grow in California. And then you’ve got vetiver woods underneath, so there’s a lot of depth in there. Perfume should a sense of confidence and spirited energy which attracts those around you and this one certainly does that."
"Now we have Tuscan Suede; I don’t really like leather fragrances that are out there – they don’t do the ingredient any justice at all. To me, what leather and suede means is something that's expensive, luxurious. And what typifies that is white 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 beautiful. The type of person who would wear this is very chic but they know quality in life, you can’t fool them. They know their art, they know their books, it's tricky to give them something they haven’t discovered yet - it’s that kind of interesting thing."
"We’ve got Amber Molecule which is more of a female one. Victoria [her assistant] wears this one. This is based on that loyal friend, someone you can rely on - you know they’re always going to be there for you. There’s something addictive about them, you always want them in your life. You never not want them to be in your life, ever! There’s something about the longevity in it, you think It’s so beautiful and so comforting! You just want to smell it and give the wearer a hug."
Does Azzi see herself as a British perfumer? "I do. I like Britain, I like the fact I was born here. I travel a lot and you miss Britain when you travel, it’s nice coming back to my sanity! Even though I've spent most of my life here, I learn something new every day, there’s always something to discover. You can’t keep up!"
Is there anywhere in London she likes the smell of? "I can’t stand the smell of Knightsbridge, it smells ‘cheap’ - of Duty Free shops! I love walking through Camden, as you get so many different smells: the pizza place, the kebab shop, lots of hairdressers when you walk past - plus, people are smoking constantly, so you get all of that. It’s buzzing and busy, but full of life - and when you do smell a really nice perfume of a passer-by, you really notice it. Primrose Hill [next-door to Camden] smells of parks; there are blossom trees on the streets and everything has a 'greenness' coming through. But somewhere like Knightsbridge, there are so many strong perfume smells you just want to get out of there, I can’t stand that sort of thing. "
An antidote to the many 'fruity, floral sweet' scents which are geared at the young girl-about-town is Twisted Iris. "It's for a girl who likes mixing clothes from Topshop with a bit of Marni and Balenciaga. She likes partying in London but also loves going to the countryside. I’ve called it Twisted Iris, as all iris fragrances have a similar powdery iris smell. I’ve twisted this as I wanted to make it a bit more edgy, so I've added fig to it." The way Azzi speaks, you can tell it's a woman designing a perfume for other women, as opposed to a committee of (usually male) perfumers who have a more one-dimensional girl in mind. "I wanted to capture that kind of girl who frequents Portobello Market, who loves partying and wearing pretty dresses, but also converse and leathers - that sort of weirdness!"
And from the young Portobello girls to the sophisticated disco queens of 70s New York: "Fever 54 is a tribute to the beautiful, exotic, gorgeous women who went to Studio 54. You can imagine someone partying through the night with this one. She comes in with this beautiful dress on and you think ‘wow!’ The rose I've used becomes really naughty and dark! It’s a rose but sexy and playful – think Bianca Jagger..."
"Master Cedar I would say is more of a male scent, but there are women who wear it. Rather than going on the Lynx, this should be every boy’s first fragrance. (Saying that, my son likes Old Books!) It’s that character who mixes Commes Des Garcons with trainers – very cool and modern but loves his gadgets."
There's something about the way Azzi manages to deftly capture the nuances of female sexuality with many of her fragrances, especially the frustrated, grubby kind of teenage longing we can all relate to. "Grey Myrrh is 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, I wanted to recreate that scent with the bottle, a lot of women like it and are buying it. There's something addictive about it."
"Mr Vetivert is one of our bigger sellers - it's one of actor Douglas Booth’s favourites actually. It typifies the Alpha Male in that sexy, expensive kind of smell. It's the kind that makes you want to get closer and nuzzle someone's neck. I think with a lot of vetivers, they smell too much like colognes, they’re too fresh. Yet when you smell this, you can really smell the vetiver. It’s got a smokiness to it as well as that darkness.
Does she have any ingredients she particularly likes to work with? "I love working with myrrh – it’s very gooey and thick, it’s like a resin. And I love neroli. Saffron is a very sexy note, as is vetiver, they’re not sexy on their own, it’s just how they come together that makes them sexy. Animalic notes like musk and castoreum are very sexy [which were originally extracted from animals, but now are synthesised] which I love using as well, especially castoreum. I think it smells like blood, there’s something quite 'bodily' about that one."
As well as her bespoke perfumes for Hollywood actors, Azzi is well known for collaborating with artists. "I did a collaboration which was Ditch with [director] Jonas Åkerlund. We did a candle and a fragrance. The thing that was great about Ditch is that Jonas normally hates perfume. He wanted me to create the smell of a ditch, literally. Yet the one I've created is more like a Mulholland Drive/David Lynch-type ditch, an LA ditch as opposed to a Camden ditch... It smells very earthy, yet clean at the same time."
"I met Jonas at this dinner party and the first half hour was quite awkward, as he kept going on about how he hated perfume. But he said he did like smells - like the smell of a ditch. So I said I did too - so we spent time talking about how ditches smell different in different parts of the world!. Anyway, he came over to see me when he was in London and we became really good friends - he’s like a teddy bear! He’s adorable - one of my favourite people to work with, I’m so glad I collaborated with him. He was so adamant not to have anything to do with smells or anything around him. It felt great to convert him! Ditch actually sells really well in Manchester – it’s a best-seller in their Harvey Nichols store."
Azzi is a delight to chat to, and after spending an hour in her company it's easy to see why she attracts notable figures to her like a magnet, mesmerized by her many stories - and the scents which are inspired by them.
The Perfumer's Story by Azzi fragrances are £95 for 30ml (Ditch as a candle is £45) all available at Harvey Nichols