There are so many fascinating people in the fragrance and beauty community. From the creative minds that bring products to us to the critics who tell us what to buy, you can learn so much by asking a few questions. In this series I send a list of questions to individuals I look up to and share their answers with you.
This week we have distinguished New Zealander blogger and Indie perfumer Clayton Ilolahia from What Men Should Smell Like. I’ve enjoyed Clayton’s blog for a few months now, and know that when he writes I will always learn something new. Two things that set Clayton apart from the masses of bloggers out there are his beautiful photography and exciting interviews. Recently he spoke to Erwin Creed, the company’s eventual Master Perfumer, about Creed’s new Acqua Originale collection. You can check out the piece here.
Below are his thoughts about respectful blogging, his first ever cologne, and making his own perfume.
1. How did you get started in blogging, and what made it attractive to you?
My blog, What Men Should Smell Like, began as a New Year’s resolution in 2011. For years I had been interested in fragrance and the fragrance industry. I thought a perfume blog would be a good vehicle for learning.
2. What has been the best thing that’s come out of your blogging experience, and why?
I really value the connections I have made. Living in Australia, I couldn’t be further away from Grasse, Paris and other fragrance capitals of the world. Through my blog I have had the opportunity to speak with some of world’s most respected Noses and industry insiders. I couldn’t have done that without my blog.
3. If you could do it all over again, would you change anything? What is it, and why?
If there is something I want to change, I can change it straight away. I love that about blogging. It’s very flexible and you can react immediately. It’s not like a magazine or a newspaper where there would be lengthy meetings to rebrand or make a change. The next major change I am working on is a site redesign. It’s been 2 years since my last one, so it feels like it is time for a fresh look.
4. Think back to any particular event in your blogging experience that stands out, negatively or positively. What was it, and what did you take from it?
I love interviewing perfumers. I am an aspiring perfumer and I am mostly self-taught so these conversations help me. Plus, I am talking with artists that I have looked up to for years. I got a chill down my spine when I got a phone call and I heard a man with a heavy French accent on the other end say, “Hello Clayton. This is Bertrand speaking, Bertrand Duchaufour the perfumer.”
5. What is your blogging process? Does it start with a product, an idea, or something else?
I don’t always have a planned structure for how a post will turn out. Particularly when it comes to writing up an interview. I never know what I am going to get from the interviewee, so I’ll make an audio recording, transcribe it and then I figure out the best way to present what I have. When I write about a fragrance, I like to do research. I’ll go through my collection of books to see if I can find any relevant information, and I will research online. I also prefer to wear the fragrance for weeks and sometimes months so I am confident I know the fragrance and how it evolves on skin. I don’t think you can adequately review a fragrance from a 2ml sample spray, which will only last 2 to 3 wears.
6. How do you manage the administrative side of your platform?
I’m a WordPress.org user. I started my blog on WordPress.com but I migrated because I wanted to have more freedom to customize my site design. If I had more free time I would learn web design. I write my content and 99.9% of the photography is mine. I’d love to have the freedom to also build my own website design. For me blogging is a visual experience as much as it is about the words on the screen.
7. What advice would you give to aspiring bloggers?
I think it is important for bloggers to write responsibly and respectfully. What we publish is accessible to everyone so the facts should be well researched and any criticism of a product should be fair and respectful. I am less inclined to read a blog that feeds gossip and speculation. It is also important to make your content unique. I think successful blogs have a good balance of research that doesn’t come straight off a press release, the writer’s own opinion, and their words make readers consider new ideas, changing the way they appreciate fragrance.
8. You mention that Yves Saint Laurent’s Pour Homme was your first fragrance. Does it still inspire you today?
Yes, absolutely. I am constantly going back to fragrances I wore many years ago. Aside from the memories I get from wearing these old fragrances, as my knowledge of perfumery increases, I discover new aspects of the fragrance that I previously didn’t recognize. Also, Yves Saint Laurent Pour Homme belongs to the aromatic fougere family of fragrances, which is a family I never get tired of smelling.
9. Any product you’re currently obsessed with? What makes it stand out?
In niche perfumery, perfumers have a celebrity-like status, but the creative director receives fewer acknowledgements. Some brands are less hands-on with their direction and this shows in the result. Products that interest me are usually the result of close collaboration between a talented perfumer and an equally talented creative director that has passion and vision. I don’t think good creative direction necessarily equals good storytelling. For me it is as much about the director’s ability to push the perfumer to find new and innovative combinations of raw materials to convey the fragrance’s story. When the pair achieve this that is where the magic happens. Some brands I respect for this are Frederic Malle, Arquiste and Amouage. I also enjoy brands like Parfumerie Generale, Tauer Perfumes and Maison Francis Kurkdjian, where the perfumer and creative director are the same person.
10. A product you hated in recent memory? What made it so horrible, and does it have any redeeming qualities?
I never hate a product and there are always redeeming qualities. If I don’t like a fragrance, it’s usually because it wasn’t designed with my demographic in mind. I’m most disappointed by a product when the brand, or in most cases a marketing team, are promoting the product inaccurately. The press release or brand website is quick to use words like luxurious, artisanal, unique, using the finest raw materials, or made by perfumers in Grasse etc. but when you smell the product, it doesn’t smell too different from other fragrances past and present. A decade ago, brands could get away with this, but because of the Internet and blogs, consumers are more informed and less tolerant of lazy marketing.
11. Can you please explain a little bit of your own perfume making experience?
I’ve dreamed of creating my own perfume line for a number of years. From the beginning, I wanted to be the nose behind my collection. I didn’t want to write a design brief and go out to find a perfumer to create my fragrances for me. I knew that working this way would be a big challenge, and take a long time because I would need to learn how to blend raw materials. It is a long journey but it is slowly coming together. There is a healthy Indie scene emerging. In some ways I think Indie is the new Niche. Fingers crossed you will see something from me in the very near future.
12. What does the future hold for What Men Should Smell Like?
Well this might sound a little uninspiring but I just want to continue writing about the things I love. This is the age of the start-up and the entrepreneur. When I talk about my blog, the inevitable question is, “how are you going to commercialize it?” My blog isn’t earning me any money, in fact it costs me money, but I am happy to continue this way. If I turned it into a business, I think I would lose interest very quickly. In the immediate future, I’d like to write more posts about the creative and technical side of perfumery. In 2012 I wrote about my studies at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery and I still get a lot of readers emailing me for advice on perfume training.
13. Any up and coming fragrance bloggers to watch for?
I think the culture of perfume blogging is shifting. These days more people are writing blogs. I’m not sure if the scene will continue to produce influential bloggers like Denyse Beaulieu and Victoria Frolova who attract a large following. I see blogging becoming more like Facebook or Instagram, where everyone has a blog page, which creates pockets or communities of friends that discuss the perfumes they find interesting.
14. If you could talk to anybody in the perfume industry, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
From the past I would love to interview Jacques Guerlain and Edmond Roudnitska, who were visionaries. From the present, I would love to talk with Jean-Paul Guerlain before he leaves this world. His contribution to 20th century men’s perfume is very important. I also have great respect for the work of Jean-Claude Ellena and Jacques Polge. I would love to interview them along with my long list of others.
15. Do you ever look at your collection and think ‘that’s enough’? Do you think that you will ever?
Even though a lot of people are upset by IFRA restrictions, I think we are living in a very creative period. New aroma molecules are being invented in the lab and advances in the science of scent extraction has resulted in some amazing new qualities of natural raw materials being released to perfumers. For me, there is always something new to be excited by or a new fragrance that I want to add to my collection.
I would like to thank Clayton for taking time to share his ideas with me. You can find him at his blog.