“Rubbing Noses is a series, in which I, The Candy Perfume Boy, grill the most important members of the perfume industry – the perfumers. These are the brains and noses behind the perfumes we know and love, and their unrivalled insight into one of the world’s most ancient of arts is something to be treasured, enjoyed and shared.”
In chaos theory, it is said that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can cause a hurricane in another. Small actions have big repercussions and can cause a domino effect across the globe. With Papillon Artisan Perfumes, perfumer Liz Moores flapped her talented wings and created three fragrances that burst on to the scene and made a big impact on the industry. With her initial trio of scents, a small and muted launch, Liz showed the perfume industry that independent perfumers are a force to be reckoned with.
Liz is soon to be releasing her fourth perfume, the evocatively named Salome (swing by on Wesnesday for a review) and I caught up with her to discuss this new launch, her creative process and her inspirations, amongst other things. During our rubbing noses discussion we talked Flapper Girls, classic Guerlains, and most importantly, we chatted filth, lots and lots of filth. I think you’ll find Liz to be a fun, fascinating and fragrantly talented character who really brings something new and intriguing to the age-old world of perfume!
So, you’re about to launch you fourth perfume, and the first following your debut trio. With the first three being so well received, how do you feel? Are you nervous?
Thank you, Thomas. When I launched the initial trio there was a huge degree of naivety on my part. I didn’t know how the perfumes would be received but I felt that I had nothing to lose.
This time around I think I piled the pressure on myself and I felt I needed to go back to the place in my head when I created the first perfumes. This eased the pressure as it left me free to create the way I’m used to creating, rather than focusing too heavily on people’s reactions.
I have to admit that I’m still terrified particularly with releasing Salome as I think it will be a perfume that divides the crowd.
Salome certainly is a bold character and I want to grill you on how she came to life. Firstly, I’d be intrigued to hear about the creative process you use. How do we get from the inspiration to the final product?
When I create a perfume the name always comes last. I have an idea of how I anticipate a perfume is going to take form; it may be a material where I find my inspiration but largely I find my creative side is sparked by the people around me, nature or literature.
With Salome the name came first as I find her to be one of the most compelling femme fatales ever depicted in history.
She was demanding, dangerously powerful, spellbinding and dark. Salome demanded a perfume that could match her untameable nature and I challenged myself to create a perfume that I felt reflected these aspects.
I have an original vintage photograph of a 1920s flapper girl in a state of undress; she’s positioned side on to the camera with her breasts bared and the lower half of her body only slightly covered with ostrich feathers. The woman in this photograph fascinates me; I have often wondered who she was, where she lived in the world and what her name might have been. In my head I called her Salome, a name befitting such a beautiful and daring woman of her time.
Starting the creation process was much harder than I could have imagined. I never find it easy making a new perfume anyway as I’m never fully satisfied that I have done my very best but Salome was a really tricky formula for me to balance.
I knew I wanted a backdrop of rich animalics to set the floral notes against but I struggled to get the animalic aspects to merge seamlessly in the formula. Salome had to have a vintage feel too and the task I set myself seemed impossible at times particularly with IFRA regulations.
I started the Salome mods using a hyraceum tincture (also known as Africa Stone) but this material was very quickly drowned in amongst the floral section of the perfume. There were endless modifications until I tried hyraceum absolute along with a different rose absolute from a different supplier.
The formula still felt too thin, not rich enough, so Salome was placed in the mod drawer never to see the light of day. Three months later I decided to have one final sniff of the final mod before I ditched the idea completely and in that time something alchemical had happened. Salome was suddenly everything I wanted her to be.
I don’t know what magic the hyraceum works in a formula but it does something very special in the formula, but it takes its time doing it! It is now one of my favourite materials for this reason.
Salome’s vintage feel is particularly fascinating. The composition is bold and richly textured, in a way that the classic Guerlains are. Did the picture of your flapper girl inspire you to use certain ingredients?
Yes, absolutely. Carnation and oak moss were the materials that gave Salome a vintage vibe. Carnation doesn’t seem to be a material that features very much in modern perfumery but I really like it. I also used a little tobacco as I imagined my flapper girl smoking!
Naturally! She is very much a rebel. An elegant one, at that. Lots of perfumers talk about creating for a specific consumer. Did you think about what type of person would wear Salome when creating it?
She certainly is! I really didn’t think about that at all. Because I don’t see any boundaries when wearing a perfume I never think about the person who ‘should’ be wearing it.
The driving force behind each perfume is my own inspiration and beyond this, as soon as the perfume is released I have no control over the fragrances and who will be wearing them. I love this and I find it very exciting.
You unleash it onto the world and let it work it’s magic, I like it. I suppose the question I have to ask, the elephant in the room as it were, is what exactly makes Salome so darn filthy?
That will be the filthy hyraceum!! There is also some castoreum to add a subtle leather note. They are both obviously very animalic notes but I find castoreum slightly raspy and butch whereas the hyraceum has a richer, almost feminine aspect. The jasmine absolute I used for Salome is very heavily indolic and this adds a little more filth to the formula!
A trifecta of filth!
There’s so much filth it’s a disgrace!
All filth aside, you also have one other fragrance in development, White Moth. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
White Moth was going to be the next perfume from Papillon but there were a few reasons why I’ve put it to one side for the moment.
I started creating White Moth when I was halfway through my pregnancy with Daisy and had the formula finished by the time she was 16 months old. I thought it was beautiful, very delicate and sheer and loved it so much I knew it was going to be the next perfume I released.
The orders were placed for the materials to make up the first batch and there seemed to be one issue after another. Materials that were being sent from France disappeared into the ether, orders had to be placed again and I was fighting against the time that the compound needed to macerate and to get everything ready.
By the time the issues with missing materials was resolved I had fallen out of love with White Moth, it didn’t move me anymore and I realised that by the time of its completion a lot of things had changed for me. I wasn’t pregnant anymore, I was no longer breastfeeding and smelling White Moth when my body was back to my normal state was like smelling a different perfume. I couldn’t connect with it anymore and I felt that the formula had nothing to say.
I will never release a perfume that I don’t love because how can I expect anyone else to fall in love with it if I can’t?
White Moth is now a ‘work in progress’ although for a moment I have stepped away from it. For me, this is the easiest way to reconnect with it when the time is right.
I occasionally smell it and I have ideas of how the formula will develop and I’d really like to release the version I’m happy with one day but only when I’m happy with it.
As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”, which sort of applies here. Your four perfumes are all so very different. If you had to describe your style as a perfumer in three words, which would you choose?
RuPaul knows where it’s at! Three words? That’s a really tough one! Honest. Considered. Passionate.
Interesting choices. Three very admirable qualities. You mentioned IFRA earlier. As an independent perfumer, does IFRA make your life harder?
Not really because when I started making perfume IFRA were already there and a lot of the restrictions on certain materials had already been implemented.
For me personally I find it frustrating, probably because I don’t like being told what I can and can’t do, but also because I have made perfumes for myself that are totally non-compliant and I know they will only ever be for my personal use.
There were lots of materials I would like to have increased in the formula for Salome but couldn’t. When I made the early mods for Salome they were totally non-compliant. This was a deliberate act on my part because it allowed me to then dissect the formula and rebuild it compliantly. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried this method but I wanted Salome to smell like a perfume created long before IFRA came along!
Did the non-compliant and compliant versions end up being very different?
Well, interestingly they didn’t. They were very, very close indeed. The non-compliant version is a little richer with a shade more depth but the biggest difference was the longevity. The non-compliant version lasted over 30 hours on my skin and was still there after repeated scrubbing!
It’s probably a saving grace you went compliant then! You’ve spoken about Salome’s vintage feel, and it’s clear that there is some classic inspiration going on. What classic fragrance would you have loved to have created and why?
It’s got to be Shalimar by Guerlain as my love for it has remained constant throughout the years.
In my opinion the mark of any great perfume is in its ability to captivate the wearer. I would love to have been around in the roaring 20’s, drenched in Shalimar and dancing a Charleston in a smoky jazz club.
I’m sure we could find a smoky jazz club somewhere. Let’s get drunk on Shalimar and cause a riot. What say you?
I say we do this!!
It’s a date.
I’m getting my flapper dress on now….
Me too! Finally, Papillon is now one year old. You’ve released four perfumes, three of which were shortlisted at the Fragrance Awards. In short, it must have been a whirlwind of a year. What’s next?
It certainly has been and I’m still slightly in shock with the speed at which everything has happened with Papillon, it almost feels longer than a year since we launched.
I’m really excited for the official release of Salome, once the nerves have dissipated it’s always interesting to hear what other people think of a fragrance.
We are beyond thankful that Papillon is slowly building a loyal customer base that is reaching all over the world right now and I hope this trend continues.
I want to keep doing what I love and that is making perfume and allowing Papillon to continue at its own pace.
The past year has been amazing and we are so grateful for the positive response we have received. I feel very, very lucky.
Other plans involve eating lots of cake. And getting into mischief.
I for one, will look forward to seeing where Papillon goes in the future and what fragrant mischief you get yourself into.
Liz, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. Papillon has been such a refreshing addition to the world of perfume and I wish you and the brand every success!
It’s always lovely talking to you Thomas. Thank you so much for your kind words.