Desert Island Sniffs – Episode 2: Sarah McCartney

Desert Island Sniffs
Desert Island Sniffs

Desert Island Sniffs may only be a fledgling series on The Candy Perfume Boy but it is already becoming this blogger’s absolute favourite. Exploring a life through scent is a fascinating way to understand what makes an individual tick and those that are working within the perfume industry live perhaps the most fragrant and intriguing lives of them all.

If you’re not familiar with the series (you can find other episodes here), the concept is simple; each month one prominent member of the perfume industry is asked to select 5 perfumes that they would take with them should they unfortunately be marooned on a desert island – their ‘Desert Island Sniffs’.

The perfumes they choose should be those that have had a significant impact on their scented lives and map specific points in their journey of olfactory discovery. In addition to their 5 Desert Island Sniffs one is kind enough to allow them to take a luxury item (only one, mind) and a ‘perfume bible’ to keep them company. By the end of this series there is going to be some rather fabulously smelling desert islands out there!

Let’s meet this month’s castaway…

Sarah McCartney
My Castaway This Month is Sarah McCartney

My second cast away in the Desert Island Sniffs series is Sarah McCartney, a woman of many talents. Not only is she a writer, having spent a large portion of her career writing copy for the fragrant empire that is Lush, but she’s also a qualified yoga teacher, a marketing whizz and to top it all off she’s also a pretty nifty perfumer too.

You name it, Sarah’s done it and the latest of her projects – the truly wonderful indie perfume brand ‘4160 Tuesdays’ – is a prime example of how she has a natural talent for creating all that is interesting, unique and beautiful.

TCPB: Sarah, it is an absolute pleasure having you here on this desert island and I’m very much looking forward to hearing about your five ‘Desert Island Sniffs’. How did you find having to pick your fragrances?

SM: Although I wear them most of the time, I didn’t choose any of my own because they haven’t influenced me, I’ve influenced them. It’s different. I love them, but I didn’t have to discover them. I formed them.

It’s a bit like being asked to choose the great loves of your life and picking your children. Just not quite right. What I’m describing here is my romantic relationships with perfume. Those I’ve encountered by chance and fallen in love with from the 70s to 2010. What’s wonderful is that I can still be in love with all of them, and none of them mind about the others.

Diorella by Christian Dior
Diorella by Christian Dior

TCPB: Your first Desert Island Sniff is ‘Diorella’ by Christian Dior. Tell me about your choice.

SM: I’ve told the story before but I’ll happily do it again. It was the long hot summer after I’d done my O Levels. We went on our holidays to Scotland and I’d saved up my money to buy a proper perfume. We went to a department store in Dumfries, Barbour & Sons, where a wonderful lady treated me like a proper grown up customer and introduced me to Diorella. She told me in a gentle Scottish accent that it reminded her of overripe peaches. Me too. I loved its fruitiness. For years after that I was told that it didn’t smell of peaches at all – by people who read the press releases instead of following their noses – but I still think she was right. I wore it for years and then one day I couldn’t find it. I have some of the rereleased version now, and the vintage.

TCPB: How would you say the rereleased version compares to the vintage?

SM: Ah, well I have this thing where if I listen carefully, I can hear the note that a perfume sings to me. It’s not as if a perfumery sounds like an orchestra, I do have to concentrate, but the two different versions of Diorella are a minor third apart. It’s what my chums in neuroscience call cross-modal perception and people sometimes call synaesthesia. So they do smell the same, but the older one sounds deeper and feels darker to me. It’s a very odd sensation to smell them both together. We were sniffing them one day at Perfume Lovers London and people could tell them apart, but couldn’t judge which was which. I could do it by musical tone.

It goes to show that the new perfumer has done a pretty good job on Edmond Roudnitska’s original, I’d say, that they can’t be separated on scent alone.

I dabbled with quite a few fruity chypres after that, then went on another hunt to track down a new favourite. That was later. First came the 80s.

Poison by Christian Dior
Poison by Christian Dior

TCPB: Ah yes, the glorious 80s. No other era has been as equally synonymous with fragrant excess, and you’ve chosen perhaps the most excessive of them all as your next perfume, another by Christian Dior – Poison. What is so special to you about Poison?

SM: I do not care what anyone else says. That was one heck of a scent. Loved it from the first day I smelled it. Like crème de cassis, intoxicatingly concentrated, forcing itself out of the bottle and getting everywhere. Everywhere. You’d smell it wafting down the escalators as you came out of the London Underground. I like mine fruity, I really do. I wore Poison for a good few years, the years when I was probably at my most selfish, unreasonable and thin. I worked at an ad agency. I have no excuses.

TCPB: That’s an interesting point. It’s very much a perfume that takes no prisoners and I can really see it playing the role of the ‘boardroom bitch’. Do you think there are any equivalents to this style today?

SM: I do. I’d say that Lady Vengeance by Juliette Has a Gun is one of them, and a couple of Stendahl scents I picked up at the wonderful Burgin’s of York. I’d say that it’s the niche chaps who are going for it; the huge brands don’t dare.

At this time, I was wearing one bottle of perfume at a time until it ran out, then I’d get another one. I got through quite a few that I was very fond of: Chanel Cristalle, Eau de Rochas, Eau de Lancome, Choc de Cardin, Trophée Lancome – supposedly for men, but I didn’t care then and I don’t care about such stuff now – all citrus chypres.

Then I discovered Guerlain.

Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat by Guerlain
Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat by Guerlain

TCPB: On that note, your next perfume is Guerlain’s Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat, How did you discover it?

SM: I was in Dickens & Jones exploring the make up hall. At the Guerlain counter a tall dark young man went into raptures about someone from Guerlain who was visiting that day and could advise me on my perfect scent.

“We’ve got Roger Dove, coming in!” he said in awed tones.

“Who?” said I?

“You haven’t heard of Roger Dove?” he replied, quite shocked.

Well of course it turned out to be Roja not Roger, shame on me, and he talked me through the larger than usual Guerlain range that Dickens & Jones stocked. None of them moved me particularly. So he asked what I liked and I told him grapefruits. From under the counter he brought the tester.

“You’ll LOVE Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat!” he said, all typically Roja-like with enthusiasm and intensity. He was quite right. I did. I still do.

TCPB: It certainly is a complete contrast to your previous choice of Posion and beside the grapefruits, what is it about Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat that you love?

SM: I’ve got to say that I don’t think it is a complete contrast to the other choices, in that it’s the fruity thing that does it for me. Yes it’s lighter and fresher, but I’d still put it on the same shelf as Diorella; It’s got a chypre spine supporting it too, I’d bet my best shoes on that.

I think it’s a natural progression in the Cristalle and the “Eau de…Everyone” route I was taking at the time. It might be some distance from Poison but it’s still on the fruity spectrum.

Deci Dela by Nina Ricci
Deci Dela by Nina Ricci

TCPB: In terms of the volume it’s a contrast but I agree that there is indeed a ‘fruity theme’ that links these choices together. Nina Ricci’s Deci Dela, another fruity floral is your next ‘Desert Island Sniff’, is this your favourite within the genre?

It’s a toss-up between this and In Love Again. I do love blackcurrants, but this is more like warm Ribena than the toxic alcoholism of Poison. I was astonished when I found out it was one of Jean-Claude Ellena’s but rather pleased that I’d chosen it just with my own nose.

Every new YSL scent at the time seemed to push perfumery one step forwards. These days all the big guys seem to be shuffling along in a parallel line, with no one wanting to take the lead. I’m pretty fond of Paris too, while we’re on the topic.

Now there are so many of them, but this was the era of the first great fruity florals. I hope I’ve recaptured it in Says Alice, one of my own scents. I’d be tempted to claim Says Alice as one of my five, but I wanted to pick my strongest influences, not my own work.

Deci Dela, stunning bottle, bring pink packaging; all Nina Ricci’s make-up had the same packaging style at the time. Red-orange-yellow-pink with gold lines and dots. A masterpiece of loveliness. I had matching lipsticks too. It’s like walking into the kitchen when chef and the assistants are cooking all the deserts at once. It’s rose syllabub scent.

TCPB: You most definitely handle fruit and flowers well in your perfumes. Where mainstream brands opt for sickly sweet syrups you have a knack creating accords, which allow the juiciness and transparency of these notes to shine through. How do you do this?

SM: Oh you are kind. I like to think they smell good, but you can’t really tell until other people start buying them.

I think it’s partly practise and partly because I use some very expensive materials. I don’t have to work to a budget. I don’t worry about making them commercial so I can go for a strong reaction. If a few people adore one of mine that’s enough. I don’t have to have 10,000 people liking them just enough to buy them.

I don’t have a bank of my own accords, just a few. I prefer to build perfumes piece by piece, with the individual materials – not necessarily from the bottom up. I start with an idea and add materials to keep me on track and take me where I want to go.

It turns out that this is the way many perfumers worked in the 40s and 50s, which is perhaps why my scents get described as “vintage” even though they’re brand new. When I put in a complex natural material, I often give it an olfactory partner that’s simpler and lighter. Or the other way around. I like to make a perfume with a deep soul, and a delicate shadow flitting around it. (I hope that doesn’t sound as if I’ve disappeared up my own back passageway.)

I tend to use materials in matched pairs – the soul and its shadow.

So I might start with my beloved grapefruit and use weirdly fruity gamma undecalactone with it, then if I use honey absolute, I’ll stick in a little vanillin with opoponax; I’ll use raspberry leaf absolute plus raspberry ketone. I like cedarwood and jasmine to make a slightly dirty skin scent, and to use cedramber and hedione as their perfumery dancing partners.

This is nothing new or unusual these days, most companies can’t afford to use the naturals and have to opt only for the light shadow; perfumes lack soul. Even when modern commercial perfumes are powerful and long lasting, there’s something one dimensional about them. If I had to sell through a distributor and a wholesaler my scents would end up on the shelves at £500 a go.

If I ever get bigger, I might have to have a rethink. (Invest now, before it’s too late.)

Lipstick Rose by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle
Lipstick Rose by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

TCPB: Your first four perfumes have all been relatively bombastic in their style and your fifth and final ‘Desert Island Sniff’ is no exception. Tell me what you love about Frederic Malle’s Lipstick Rose?

SM: Me, Mrs Bombastic! Now I can’t get the daft tune out of my head.

If it wasn’t for Lipstick Rose I’d probably never have become a perfumer. I wanted to create something of my own that I love this much. And I wanted to create things that other people will love as much as I adore Lipstick Rose. Fortunately, that seems to be happening.

Nick Randell, my lovely husband, discovered Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle and took me to the Rue de Grenelle shop in 2003. The assistant asked me what I liked to wear and I told her grapefruits, but she didn’t produce anything that made me want to reach into my pockets at first. I mentioned that I was hoping for something with red fruits too, so she told me about the raspberries in Lipstick Rose and put a squirt in their tuboid thing for me. (I was so disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to get inside it.)

TCPB: It’s definitely an anti-climax when they don’t let you get inside the tubes, I agree. Perhaps we’d all be tempted to yell ‘beam me up Scotty!’ What are you wearing these days?

SM: These days, when I go to choose my morning’s perfume I’m pleased to find that I reach for one of my own, usually Urura’s Tokyo Café or Says Alice. I also wear Lady Rose Lion (Monkey Unicorn) and I’m about to launch my quest for the perfect blackcurrant rose peach grapefruit sorbet scent. It’ll probably have oakmoss and opononax in it too.

But I’ve got stock of all my favourite five, for days when I’m staying in, drinking chocolate milk and watching Stargate SG1.

Sarah's 'Perfume Bible' and Luxury Item
Sarah’s ‘Perfume Bible’ and Luxury Item

TCPB: I cannot wait for your sorbet scent, I’m sure it will be fabulous. In addition to your five ‘Desert Island Sniffs’ you have the option to take one luxury item away with you to your desert island, what would you choose?

SM: I’ll take my digital camera with a solar powered battery charger please. I’ll take sunrises on one side of the island, and sunsets on the other.

TCPB: I think we can arrange that, we’ll give you some wifi too so you can upload your pictures to Twitter! You also have the choice to take a book of your choice (i.e. your ‘perfume bible’) with you. What would you choose?

SM: I’ll take Scent and Chemistry please. By the time I’ve understood and absorbed everything from that I’ll have been rescued, or eaten by ants.

TCPB: Hopefully it will be the former! Finally Sarah, before I sail away and leave you deserted on your tropical island with your five perfumes, luxury item and perfume bible, I have one last question: if you had to choose just one of your ‘Desert Island Sniffs’ to take with you, which would you choose?

SM: I hadn’t realised that this would be so hard, but I think I’ll take Deci Dela because that’s the one I can’t buy in any form at all these days. It’s gone. After my rescue the others will still be in the shops.

TCPB: Sarah, please believe me when I say it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you and discovering your ‘Desert Island Sniffs’. I thoroughly look forward to all that you and 4160 Tuesdays will do in the future. I hope that many others get to discover your brand and wish you every success!

SM: As I write, I’m surrounded in piles of boxes ready to move into my new workspace. The first thing I do when I unpack will be to start work on the blackcurrant rose peach grapefruit sorbet scent, then I’ll invite you over to sniff it. Thanks for inviting me.

TCPB: I will look forward to that!

Sarah’s perfume line 4160 Tuesdays can be found at Les Senteurs, Roulier White, What Every Girl Wants, Burgins of York and on her website

Image 1 via Sarah McCartney. Image 2 via Image 3 via Image 4 via Image 5 via Image 6 via Image 7 via and Links are not affiliates.