Q. It feels necessary to cut to the chase – how are you? We’ve read that the UK has been hard hit by COVID-19 (though perhaps not to the extent of the US). You work on the frontlines of this battle, as an emergency physician in London. How are you keeping yourself and Rook moving forward these days?
A. To be honest, we as doctors and nurses and in fact all other medical staff have always worked as hard as we can. It seems that this pandemic has suddenly made the world realize. That being said, the hospital environment does feel less “familiar” and hours are longer.
Rook has been light relief for me. With the lockdown the normal means of socializing aren’t possible, so I have taken great respite in creating scent and engaging with the fragrance community.
Q. Your triangle logo represents the core structure of perfume (top/middle/base) but also the equilibrium your three professions (medicine/performance/perfumery) bring to your life. Can you elaborate on how you find balance with these seemingly disparate areas of focus?
A. Creating a scent is like creating a piece of theatre in a glass beaker. Each note is a character in the scent’s journey. There is a lot about scent creation that takes me back to my days studying science to get me into medical school. I feel very comfortable working with pipettes and chemicals and performing the necessary calculations. In this way perfumery somehow sits perfectly between my scientific and artistic careers.
Q. Does your work in medicine and theater influence your perfumery?
A. I have had a few people tell me they sense something “medicinal” in a couple of my fragrances. I love working with natural ingredients and supporting them with synthetics and I do take inspiration from the images I have seen of old-fashioned apothecaries. I don’t know if theatre has influenced my perfumery directly but it does allow your mind to open and I am very used to the notion of storytelling. I have recently been asked to fragrance a new play which I am excited to do when the pandemic allows.
Q. How did you find your way into perfumery and how did you learn the “tricks of the trade”?
A. A failed holiday romance in Lausanne [Switzerland] started this journey. I discovered a fantastic perfumery out there and started to learn about raw ingredients. The rest was about reading and trial and error. I was always passionate about buying scent but somehow the available options started to bore me. The only way to solve that problem was to make my own!
Q. Your fragrances are noticeably bold and creative. How would you describe your overarching aesthetic as a perfumer?
A. I’m led by my nose and my gut. My scents don’t seem bold to me – they just seem correct. I am very much inspired by nature because it creates scents much braver than any niche perfumer. I like to smell notes that would align in the real world.
I think the most important thing about being a niche perfumer is having a point of view and trusting it. Even if you don’t sell thousands of bottles.
Q. You seem as comfortable creating hyperreal nature-inspired fragrances, like Forest, as you do with an edgy perfume like Rook. What inspires your creative ideas?
A. Sometimes I’m inspired by a single ingredient and produce a scent around it. Sometimes I am inspired by a plant I smell on my way to work or when traveling. Rook and the three scents in the dark collection definitely take inspiration from my Middle Eastern roots. There is far more to the east than oud.
Q. How did you achieve that realistic woodsy vibe with Forest, your top seller?
A. Forest was a difficult scent to make. Many pine scents can remind people of cleaning products and often only the opening is reminiscent of a forest walk. I wanted that journey throughout the scent. One of the ways I achieved this was by juxtaposing the dryness of the woods with the dampness of the air and the earth. I think this is why so many people have fallen for its charm.
Q. Can you tell us about your collaboration with the notable photographer, Rankin?
A. Rankin is a huge fan of fragrance and became a fan of a Rook right back when I started in 2018/19. During the lockdown he took a lot of pictures of flowers, including an image of a dandelion on fire. I asked the fragrance community what notes that image conjured and then created a scent called “Flaming Dandelion” based on their responses. It was an extremely popular scent which we released as a limited edition and which I hope to add to the main collection later this year.
Q. We appreciated your last blog post, Perfume Isn’t Easy, which explains the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to create, release and sell a perfume. Why was it important for you to communicate this to your audience?
A. Perfume is an expensive commodity and often customers feel like you are trying to rip them off. The reality is I would probably make a lot more sales if I halved the price of my scents but customers don’t realize that retailers and distributors also need to make a profit and that the production and shipping of small batches of scent is extremely expensive.
Customers want you to remain niche but also want to pay the least they can. That is unfortunately why many niche brands sell out to large cosmetic brands or simply shut down. When you explain this it really changes the way people think.
Q. What would you like us to know about your three newest releases — Amber, Suede and Thurible?
A. Amber was never designed to be another amber scent. It has nuances of amber but for me amber is also a color and a texture. You will note the amber resin dripping from the bark on the box. This is what inspired the scent. If you’re expecting a classical amber fragrance, look elsewhere.
Suede is perhaps the most divisive of my scents. It is a level of animalic that some can’t cope with but I encourage people to be brave and they will end up loving it.
Thurible was my ode to incense-based fragrances but without that commercial olibanum scent we have sniffed over and over again. It is earthy, mossy and divine. You might have noticed I am very attached to these three scents.
Q. What can we expect next from Rook Perfumes?
A. My next Rook Scent Experiment! I like to turn the scent-buying experience on its head. Either by getting the community to commission the scent or by creating a scent and asking the community to write its story! Keep an eye on our Instagram account.
Q. Any parting words of hope or caution, given your experiences working in healthcare during this pandemic?
A. The world has changed due to this pandemic and in some ways for the better. Take the time to reflect on your quality of life and what you value. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Get tested. If this is the worst thing our generation goes through we are very, very lucky.