I’ve always been fascinated by the art of perfumery and was so excited to discover Meredith Tucker on the Etsy homepage last year. I hadn’t realised perfume sellers existed on the site and within ten minutes of entering her store, Sweet Anthem, I was choosing the notes for my bespoke perfume – a dream come true! I’ve been gifting myself with treats from Meredith’s shop ever since, and if you’re a perfume nut like me, you’ll love her elegant and complex scents – as I type this I’m wearing my current favourites, Catherine and Anton… to. die. for!
I was thrilled when she agreed to do an interview for the blog, so ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the very fragrant, Meredith Tucker!
SC: So, how does a graphic designer become a perfumer? What was your path into this world?
MT: This is always a tough question for me to answer, as I’m not always sure. :) The easy answer is: I was working my first real job out of college as a designer at Microsoft. I was living in a tiny room in a house in Seattle and had an embarrassing amount of money to burn as a result. I’d say $1000/month went to perfume for awhile. I was buying every fragrance from every brand (I’ve since eBay’d much of it) in order to find my One True Perfume and it was mostly for naught. There are some really intensely lovely things out on the market, but I became obsessed with the hunt to the point that one day, I sat up, and in my DIY mainframe, said, “Surely this can’t be that hard.” (It is, by the way, that hard.) When I moved into the apartment where I am now, I found that I was a block away from an Indian trading company and they carried a small selection of essential oils. I started out with three – black coconut, jasmine, and violet – and now my collection is over 160 raw materials, some 5 years later, and has taken over my entire home. I began experimenting and collecting and amassing bottling equipment and making contacts in the scent world. Finally, some friends encouraged me to just “list stuff on Etsy and see what happens” – that was 2007. Lots has happened, to be vague, and I’m intensely grateful that this is now the only thing I do.
How do you begin to create a new scent? Do you start with smells, or is it more abstract that that?
It depends, really. A lot of the time, I have an inspiration going in and I try to create a scent that I feel embodies that ideal. Many of my fragrances are based on something – songs, historical figures, fictional characters, people I know – there are hardly any that were just pulled out of thin air because I needed to fill a hole in my line. When I work with lyrics, I try to think about the colors that the lyrics convey – it’s something called synesthesia, where an idea is paired with a color. This works very well with fragrance design as much of it can be synesthetic – jasmine is purple, myrrh is red, vetiver is green, etc. – there’s even a fragrance/flavor color wheel. This resonated with me a great deal coming from a design background. When I work with characters, I do some storyboarding in my brain and try to play out a scene with my fragrance. That’s a bit harder to explain, but it’s a lot of what goes into fragrance composition as well – you have to figure out the story the inspiration tells, moreso than just the setting you picture the wearer in (like in fashion a lot of times).
Again, it comes from a myriad of things – songs, historical figures, fictional characters, people I know. Anton and Catherine [SC: my faves!], for example, were inspired by Anton Chekov and Catherine the Great – two particular points of inspiration I found on our honeymoon to St. Petersburg, Russia. There’s no secret that there are a handful of Peter Pan and Little House on the Prairie inspired fragrances in my line. Probably the most-used source of inspiration for me is music, though, especially The Velvet Underground (one of my top 10 favorite bands). I don’t necessarily “record” things, but I do try to track it. I don’t have a mood board or anything but I have a database program where I keep my recipes on my computer, and there’s a “source” label. I try to include lyrics in the DB for my own personal reference, though I don’t normally spell out which fragrance is based on what – I feel that may take away from some of the loftiness of wearing a fragrance as a personal trademark.
You now run Sweet Anthem full time – could you share some of the pros and cons of running your own biz?
• Pros: I love being my own boss. I am a total homebody and it’s so nice being home during the day while my husband is at work. I get a lot more done that way – and I don’t have to worry about working after 5 pm when I’ve been working all day. I can quit when I need to and shut things off. I also love that i’m the only one I have to answer to. While I do tend to seek approval for new scents from fellow local perfumers, I can toss out a project or kick something under the proverbial rug anytime I need to if I’m just not satisfied with it. I can work until it’s right for me.
• Cons: I won’t lie – it’s money. I’ve cut back on my personal spending a great deal since leaving Microsoft this spring. I don’t take unemployment because I’m technically self-employed, so when I want to, say, buy a new perfume, I have to make sure it’s something I really need. It’s been a hard lesson to learn as I’m something of a closeted fashionista. I’m not paying myself yet so 100% of my profit margin goes back into the business right now as we’re trying to create a buffer so we can potentially buy a place next year.
Mostly any place seaside in the summertime – in particular, I love being in Seattle in the summer. I’ve loved both my summer visits to Russia. I like the salty sea air mixed with the city smells and the greenery. St. Petersburg, particularly, has droves of blooming wisteria trees plus loads of garlicky food carts. I love active kitchens and the smells and sights in gourmet restaurants. More sentimentally, I have a big love for the smells in my hometown bakery. Many fond memories of Saturday morning trips to get fresh doughnuts, pastries, and cookies.
What’s the best way to wear scent?
It depends on the format – I personally prefer alcohol-based sprays, which is not something you’d have heard me say when I first became obsessed with fragrance. I like that they are airy enough to diffuse around you, and different notes come about in alcohol vs. coconut oil. I was sort of anti-alcohol for awhile, but when Blue Marble contracted me to make Eos, a carbon neutral eau de parfum (edp’s are always alcohol-based), I fell in love with spritzing on fragrance vs. dabbing it on your pulse points.
Otherwise, it depends on the fragrance. I’ve found that I’m a big fan of earthy/musky/leather type scents in solid perfume more than gourmand type scents. To me, the feeling that those notes are more tangible than not is pretty exciting. In oil-based perfumes they come out in the ether (as they should) but when they come out closer to the skin it really resonates with me for some reason.
I’ve been too busy for a lot of blogging and reading lately, but, I’ve been loving Mouse Guard, a very adorable comic that is just what it sounds and have been re-reading The Hobbit (I’m a closet Tolkien nerd; yes, I used to know some Elvish) – next on my re-read list is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before the movie comes out (there is nothing closeted about me being an HP fangirl). I do tend to read a lot of fashion blogs (if you can call browsing for eye candy “reading”) and follow quite a few Tumblrs. I also read ittybiz coaching blogs – Scoutie Girl, Crafting an MBA, Seth Godin’s blog, and I’m sure there are others. I get sick of reading fragrance blogs to be quite honest. Unless it’s Octavian Coifan or Nathan Branch, I tend to stay away from fragrance blogs these days.
Out of all your scents, which is your favourite and why?
If I had to hang my hat on any scent, it might be Sophie. I created Sophie especially for a red carpet promo event last year and felt that it was a truly sophisticated, well-balanced fragrance that embodied an ideal of old-world, vintage Hollywood. Sophie is based on a vaudevillian actress, Sophie Tucker (no relation). It contains many of my very favorite notes – again, another self-indulgent moment on my end – and yet doesn’t smell like them at all in a way that I find endearing. It isn’t a perfume that has a progression, but more a perfume that is a bouquet of many things, and together they smell like something otherworldly (which in the end is the whole point of perfume). It was my first luminescent fruity/floral and a genre I’ve come to really love working in (even though they were never something I thought I would wear myself until Sophie).
I’m gearing up for the holiday season right now. I’m hoping to launch my “Home and Hand” line in time for holiday delivery – soaps, candles, etc – based on 8 of my top fragrances. I have 3 shows this season and that’s all I’m going to do; I did way too many last year and I don’t want to put myself through that this year. Other than that, we’re starting to look for a live/work space – someplace in Seattle where we can hang our hat and sell our fragrances at the same time.
You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?
• Hunter S. Thompson – one of my favorite authors ever, and I think he has a pretty unique outlook on life
• Lou Reed – one of my favorite musicians, it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for anything Velvet Underground related;
• Stephen Colbert – my favorite non-pundit, every time I see him appear outside of his show realm I respect him even more
• Leo Tolstoy – yes, I read War & Peace. No I didn’t agree with all of it, but I do think his philosophy on life is a nice contrast to Thompson’s (Tolstoy’s more in the “river of life” school of thought, meaning, we’re all just passengers here)
• Annick Goutal – perfumer and creator behind the niche line of the same name, Annick Goutal is one of my favorite modern perfumers for her sensibility and taste; her daughter Camille is also wonderful in her own right. I couldn’t make this list without at least one perfumer
• Matt Damon – I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for some man meat on a occasion, and if I were still 12, his posters would probably be plastered all over my wall. When Tolstoy starts droning and Colbert is dropping acid with Thompson and Reed, I’ll have something pretty to stare at.
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Thank you so much for sharing your answers with us today, Meredith! Is there room for one more at the dinner table? :)