Zernell Gillie is a Los Angeles-based DJ and record label founder originally hailing from Chicago, where he was a pioneer in the House music scene. Zernell's lifelong love of fragrance led him to create a collection of scents inspired by the iconic music genres he loves.
We were delighted to meet Zernell when he was in San Francisco for a gig and got a chance to smell his first fragrance, Disco, as well as the next release in his new collection. We knew right away it was a great fit for the shop and, as we love to do, asked Zernell to tell us about the founding of this emergent brand...
Q. We'd love to hear about your journey into music, how did you get started and where did it take you?
A. My journey into music and my journey into fragrances happened around the same time. I started to learn the craft of deejaying at the age of 15 in Chicago. House music was just getting its legs and was still raw and fresh. Back then most up-tempo dance music fell into the category of house music and Disco was a major part of it.
My early DJ experience was mixing disco records together with two turntables and a DJ mixer. Learning to DJ with disco records is why my first fragrance release is called Disco.
Since then, I've traveled the world playing an authentic Chicago style of Deejaying with combinations of disco and electronic dance music. I've deejayed in Paris, London, Italy, Berlin, Amsterdam, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Stockholm, Norway, Budapest... I could go on and on, but the main thing is I am fortunate to be able to share the music I love with different people around the globe.
Q. At what point did fragrance enter your life in a notable way?
A. This is a great question. I've always had an attraction to fragrances since I was a kid dipping into my father's cologne. But, I'd have to say fragrance didn't become a focal point of my routine until I was 16 and bought my own cologne with my own money. It was a bottle of Halston Z-14 that I purchased at Marshall Field's in downtown Chicago.
Q. What inspired you to create a fragrance collection at this stage in your career?
A. I've been into fragrance for a long time and I got into higher-end designer and niche scents in the late 90's early 2000's. Over the last 10 years I've traveled to Europe a lot doing DJ tours and got a chance to expand my palate and knowledge of fragrances. I got into Roja and Xerjoff and other houses that weren't accessible in department stores.
When the pandemic hit and everything closed down and my residencies and tours were no longer an option, I thought what could I do. What do I love? Wearing fragrance during the lockdown got me through and sparked the idea to start my own line.
Q. How do the notes in Disco represent that iconic style of music?
A. Disco music is a collaboration of musicians coming together creating a vibe with Bass, Mids, and Highs. My fragrance, like the music, is not any one singular note but the combination of them working together to create a mood with the Base, Mid and Top notes.
Q. What was the creative process like in coming up with the formula for Disco?
A. The process was pretty straightforward. I knew what notes I wanted to use for Disco. Working with my perfumer was pretty easy. We talked a lot about the head and heart of Disco prior to diving in on the build, and then went back and forth a little bit on the details to produce a few different drafts which were all amazing.
I knew I wanted a gender free all-around fragrance. One that could work in multiple environments, from the gym to the club. While testing one of the drafts my wife commented that whatever I was wearing smelled SOOOO good, and I knew I had a winner because she hates most perfumes.
At the same time I was working on the fragrance I was also working on the brand. Sourcing materials and deciding on the aesthetics of the line. My goal was to keep it minimal with clean lines, but still capture the sophistication and movement of music.
Q. Will all of your perfumes be about music genres?
A. For now, yes. But In the future I can see doing a line inspired by other things I love.
Q. Any music or artists that are really moving you these days? We always love recommendations...
A. I get a lot of promos/demos sent to me. One that I'm really enjoying is this new release by El Payo called In Motion, which you can listen to here.
Q. Any upcoming Zernell Gillie projects or perfumes you can tell us about?
A. Yes, my second release TECHNO will be ready at the beginning of the year. I'm also working on the release after Techno which will be HIP-HOP.
I'm collabing with my son to develop a youthful offshoot line to Hip-Hop with releases called Trap and Drill, which are sub-genres of hip-hop. The line will be ZGII for Zernell Gillie II. My son is 19 and is currently a Business and Entrepreneurship major at Loyola Marymount University.