October 25, 2013

INTERVIEW: Briony Wright

The former Vice magazine guru talks to me about her latest undertaking, which follows her long-time crush on perfume.

Olfaction is so habitual that we often don't notice when our brain attaches strong emotions to particular scents. Only when a smell unexpectedly elicits specific memories and feelings do we realise the importance and power it holds.

A case in point is this anecdote. I think it was in early 2001, I moved out of home and into a super cute workers' cottage with my friends, Justine and Jacqui. Although our house was located a mere ten minute walk to my work in the CBD, Spring Hill at the time felt like only a short economic step above an urban ghetto. Populated by struggling artists, musicians, and junkies. But, I couldn't've been happier and still look back on that period with the fondest of memories.

The hodgepodge bathroom area in our small rented house was the result of an extension done many years earlier. The toilet and shower were individual entities, while the basin and mirror section was completely open with no door. Every morning at the basin, Justine would do her hair and put Angel perfume on. Jacqui'd have a shower, get dressed and leave before I'd finished eating one piece of toast. I'd then brush my teeth and stroll down the hill at least 20 minutes late as Justine headed off to school.

Three months later Justine moved to London. In the weeks subsequent to her departure, I'd walk down the street and suddenly smell—Justine! It happened a number of times. Strangers wearing the same perfume walk briskly by me, leaving a lingering fragrant trail. I loved the feelings it conjured up. So, I began wearing Angel perfume everyday. I still occasionally wear it to this day and now friends say whenever they smell someone wearing it, they think of me.

Another case in point—my dear friend, Briony has started an entire blog dedicated to perfume and good smells called, Ode.

KATIE: So, tell us a little bit about yourself.

BRIONY: A little over a decade ago I launched the Australian edition of Vice magazine (vice.com) with my partner and spent eight crazy years running and editing that from our Melbourne office. I took a break a few years ago to have a couple of beautiful babies in quick succession and realised then that I needed to act on my long-time crush on perfume. I began making my own simple scents and learning all sorts of fascinating things about fragrance and the industry, which I figured needed to be channelled into an amazing blog.

The Internet is awesome. But, it is also an inodorous medium. Until affordable scratch’n’sniff screens become available, what are some of the benefits of a site like Ode existing?

It’s a veritable jungle out there when it comes to perfume and my intention with Ode is to provide some clarity in an interesting, non-o.t.t. way. There are so many people doing really great things in fragrance and I want Ode to be a go-to destination for the most current and relevant information and reviews. There are bazillions of fashion-focused websites but not that many devoted to scent so I think we have the capacity to do something really different with Ode.

Out of all five senses, it’s smell that is best known for evoking memories, both good and bad. What is it about olfaction that made you dedicate an entire blog to the subject?

I feel like most people have a soft-spot for scents and good smells, which I’m sure has a lot to do with the part of the brain that’s stimulated and the fact that they can remind you so clearly of a time, place or person. It’s just really fun and interesting and appealing to me as it’s exactly the opposite of what I’m used to writing about.

It seems that androgynous style fragrances are becoming more and more popular. Why do you think we’re seeing this shift towards unisex scents? Is perfume and cologne merely old-fashioned, gender specific terms, or is there a distinct difference?

A lot of perfume critics and experts are adamant that there shouldn’t be such a thing as individual scents for men and women. They believe that a good smell is a good smell regardless of who wears it. It’s true that certain scents have been marketed as masculine so that guys feel comfortable buying themselves perfume and these smells have come to represent male scents. It’s funny but I think that everyone should kind of forget about what gender a fragrance is being targeted towards and wear whatever they love. I guess a trend in this kind of thinking is responsible for a rise in unisex scents. There are also totally new smells being released like a brand called Escentric Molecules who’ve released a series of perfumes with limited ingredients that react with the wearer’s skin to bring out their distinctive scent. It’s a great idea and entirely breaks down any notion of gender specific fragrance.

In your opinion, what makes a good perfume? Is price usually a good guidance?

Honestly, yes. It’s actually very difficult and expensive to extract oils from petals, leaves and bark so generally you’ll pay the price for the good shit. There are instances where companies like Chanel or EsteĆ© Lauder will buy the entire world’s supply of a particular flower so that no other perfume will smell like theirs. This generally means that their perfume is incredible but it’s also very Doctor Evil and consequently very expensive.

Is it best to apply perfume at pulse points (e.g. the nape of the neck, the insides of wrists), or is that an old wives’ tale?

There’s maybe some logic to it. I also read recently that it’s good to put it between your thighs because it’s released as you walk. I’ve also heard that it’s best to spray it in an arc above your head but I found it kept going in my eyes this way. I just spray it wherever it goes and it seems to work fine.

What perfume do you wear?

Chanel – No.19, Frederic Malle - Vetiver Extraordinaire, EsteĆ© Lauder -Youth Dew, Lanvin - Reumer, Cacharel - Anais Anais, Comme Des Garcons – Jaisalmer, Miller Harris – Tangerine Vert, Undercover – Holy Grace, Creed – Love in White, Hermes – Jardin sur le Toit, Nasomatto – Black Afgano, Bulgari – Jasmin Noir plus a few more here and there. I still don’t feel like I own the perfect fragrance for me though. It’s a work in progress.

A signature scent, or a miscellany of fragrances to correspond with your mood, the time of day, or the occasion. How many perfumes should one own?

I like having a few from each food group. I stand in front of them every day and there’s always something I feel like wearing or that’s right for the occasion. There are so many great new perfumes as well as the classics and I think the more the merrier.

I think perfume, like jewellery, is a very personal reflection of the wearer’s own taste. I also think perfume, like jewellery, makes for a very thoughtful and personal present. Do you have any advice for gifting perfume, or is it best to be avoided?

I like giving perfume as a present and I’m sure most people are into the idea of owning a perfume that they didn’t choose. It’s probably not the time to get too creative with it—stick to something safe and amazing—maybe a fresh or floral number by Byredo or Diptych or if you’re on a budget one of the classics from the Chemist Warehouse is a good idea.

What should we keep in mind when choosing perfume for ourselves?

Anything that makes you feel happier is a winner.

Originally, perfume was mainly worn by the wealthy, to mask body odours as a result of infrequent bathing. Whereas today, most of the population shower daily. And yet, we still insist that our bodies be redolent of floral bouquets or citrus sunsets. Why do you think perfumes are, not just still worn, but are so popular?

I guess the original idea with perfume was that it harnessed the most incredible smells from nature and delivered them in a perfectly balanced and concentrated dose. These smells operate on us and on parts of the brain that make us feel great and then when science and technology become involved, the scope of scents that can be created is insane. People are inherently into wearing nice things or things that make them feel good and fragrance is easily a part of this.

What is currently trending in the fragrance industry this season? What are some aromas you think we can expect to sniff in the future?

It’s the million dollar question. There are so many perfumes constantly being released that are really great new versions of something that’s been released thousands of times before—a new rose or tobacco scent for instance. Every now and then though a scent comes along that is entirely different and that changes the landscape forever. Thierry Mugler’s Angel smelt like nothing before it and inspired a new genre, which has since been imitated and reworked over and over. I’d love to be able to tell you what the new game-changer was going to be, but I’d have to kill you.

If you could capture any smell and turn it into a wearable scent, what would it be?

My baby’s breath. ♦

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