5 minute read. Interview by Fiona Cooke in 1,300 words.
Lots of people work in the perfume industry and you could be one of them! Lizzie Ostrom, a perfume lover, had a quirky idea – an event where people could get boozed and have a journey through perfume – that turned into a career!
February 2010, a beautiful idea was born – Scratch+Sniff; Olfactory Adventures. Five years on, her schedule is jam-packed with scent sessions. Lizzie’s events are amazing and great fun; the multi-sensory workshops have your head swimming with all sorts of creative ideas (and it’s not just the wine talking). Here’s an insight into how she got started and what keeps her going.
The events have been going since 2010 in London. Explain the events and how they came about;
I host scent events which focus on the discovery of perfume, just as you might have experiences based on whisky tasting, literary talks or a film screening.
The events are a mix of public, ticketed nights where anyone can come along, through to private parties, corporate workshops and brand collaborations for press and bloggers. They always have a theme or hook beside fragrance (I’m currently planning a ticketed event called the Aroma Ritual Night, all about ancient aromatic ceremonies) because I think if you just talk about perfume in a purist way, you risk alienating people with a more casual interest, and you also restrict the terrain. Humour is incredibly important to me; in terms of making sure everyone has a fun, light time.
Perfume is after all, about pleasure, and often I think it’s taken far too seriously when enjoyment should be the watchword.
It’s quite hard to talk about how they came about – in that at the time, it seemed like an accident, but looking back you can see it as serendipity. I basically pitched an idea to a new venue called The Book Club about doing a creative event about scent at which people could get quite boozed and have a journey through perfume. There definitely was a mist-clearing moment at which the notion started to crystallise. At the time I just had this feeling it had potential. It’s a funny thing, and looking back was a bit like dropping a stone into a flowing river at exactly the right time for it to flow, although I didn’t know it then.
Have you always had an interest in perfume. How did you find other people – your ‘tribe’ so to speak?
Perfume is absolutely something I’ve been interested in since childhood – though when I was eight, it’s not like I was spending my pocket money on the stuff. Pick’n’Mix was SO much more important.
But I did have a ridiculously early interest in the Avon catalogue and in particular the fragrance pages. I used to think those scented strips were thrilling! Then later on in my early teens, my dad got dialup internet and I used to lurk about on the perfume discussion boards of Beautybuzz – Makeupalley came along and you had perfume reviews which I gobbled up.
There were also the typical yearnings for LouLou and in fact anything from Cacharel, along with early forays into niche (Premier Figueur marked me out as precocious). But I never really felt like I identified with a tribe – it’s not like I’d been blogging before the events started or contributing to the industry in any way, it’s more that I’d spent so long thinking about perfume in a particular way, that when I started, it slipped into an eddy. Early on I contacted Grant from Basenotes who was very supportive and has been ever since.
What were you doing as a day job? Did you do this on the side while you were still working?
Yes – it was definitely moonlighting at first, which worked ok because I was a consultant anyway and so could fit the events in around clients and contracts, especially because they were in the evening. Quitting (my job) to focus on my business was more about being available for clients. It just got to the point where I was getting enough interest and bookings to go for it.
At the events you ran for me in Dublin (Adventures in Scent, 2011) you did blind smells of fragrances where people go on a journey rather than try to think what is in the perfume. For me, this is the fascinating part as people stop wondering about how expensive they think it might be, and just appreciate it as a scent.
What are the best moments you can remember over the years – what are the big takeouts – what do YOU learn from people who attend?
I learn so much from attendees. I’m incredibly lucky to be in a position of hearing so many peoples’ poignant memories which they are often happy to share with complete strangers – about their childhood antics, or their misspent youth…
There’s something about the events that means people let their guard down and can be quite uninhibited. You never know which scent is going to get that going.
I might bring out Rive Gauche and someone will start giggling. I remember particularly doing a 1980s event and talking about New Romantics while bringing up some images of the Blitz Club. Louise Constad, a makeup artist who was there, suddenly proceeded to talk us through the personalities, the outfits and the perfumes she used to wear – whenever that kind of thing happens, I LOVE it.
As part of the Scent Sessions, you often do perfume through the ages. It’s a really fun way to look at perfume – like big powerhouse perfume from the 80s etc. Tell us more about this
So much fun. I have a dedicated series on Saturday afternoons called The Vintage Scent Sessions – we take a decade each time, and over cake and fizz, I’ll take people on a tour of the era. This contextualises the fragrances alongside fashion, food, music, movies and social change. Every decade has a different feel. So for example the Belle Epoque one, where we cover the early twentieth century, is a bit more studious because it’s a more remote and a bit like trying to access the past just beyond us through scent. Then as we advance through the century, and into living memory, it gets really personally nostalgic for participants, until we get to the 1980s and it basically becomes an excuse to talk about Romcoms in conjunction with perfume. They’re such a great chance to wallow in your favourite era and just soak everything up.
Off the back of these events, I’ve recently been recording a weekly series for RTE Lyric fm’s Culture File segment, every Friday at 5.40pm. They’re like a whistlestop version of the events.
Is this where the idea for your book came from?
So the book is definitely a written version of the Vintage Scent Sessions, albeit in a lot more detail and with room to really go in depth. It’s an utter geek-out! There are ten essays per decade, each one on a different fragrance, and the book covers everything from the scarse and obsolete through to the everyday – think Chanel to Lynx.
Essentially it’s a potted history of the 20th century through scent. What I’ve done is to pinpoint 100 perfumes that have a tale to tell about their era, or about the culture in which they were developed. It’s not about the best; it’s about the most interesting.
Some of my favourite chapters to write covered the bonkers entrepreneurs who have gained entry into this industry – in the 1940s they included pranksters who ‘bombed’ cities with perfume, and a pick-up-artist arrested for staging saucy shows as his marketing strategy for flogging his scent. There’s a lot about pop culture and fads in there, because perfume along with any other consumer industry does love to jump on a bandwagon. It’ll be out in October, and it’s called A Century of Scents in 100 Perfumes.
For the latest events have a look at odettetoilette.com and I’m also on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest etc as @odettetoilette
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