Rasei Fort is a perfumer who continually surprises us with his beautiful, original and fully-realized fragrances. We truly appreciate the thoughtful responses Rasei gave to our many questions, the best of which are here for your enjoyment.
Q. You’re a self-taught perfumer yet your work feels somehow both indie in aesthetic and classical in execution. You’ve been described as preternaturally talented. What did it take to attain this level of skill?
A. Prior to creating perfumes, I was an avid collector therefore I would smell a lot of fragrances. I felt a strong passion to experiment with creations of my own. What began as a hobby quickly turned into an olfactive form of art. Family and friends would often compliment my work and would even request bespoke fragrances, however in the back of my mind I never felt my creations were on par with the luxury brands I had in my collection. With the abundance of fragrances on the market already, I decided in order to produce a product that was truly exceptional I would need to source only the best raw materials in existence.
Initially I wasn’t satisfied with my creations. My aim was to achieve the seamlessness and translucency which I admired in most contemporary compositions. As a self-taught perfumer it was no easy feat, however six years later (and a lot of experimentation) I finally felt confident enough to launch my brand.
Q. It’s often said that indie perfumers “break the rules”. Can you tell us about a time when breaking the rules resulted in something surprising?
A. As I am not classically trained, I don’t even know what the rules are and therefore I’m not entirely sure if I’m breaking them. However, perfumery has enabled me to express my own inspirations, impressions, personal experiences and explore my creativity. I believe that being confined to a set of “rules” can limit that creativity.
Q. What inspired you to become a perfumer?
A. I discovered my passion for fragrance in 2005 whilst visiting Saudi Arabia. During my stay, I explored many perfumeries which specialized in attars (fragrance oils) and agarwood (oud), and thus my fervent love of fragrance was born.
Upon returning to Melbourne, I decided to sell imported attars from Saudi and started my own business named “Desert Rose”. The business wasn’t very successful, so after selling off my inventory, I began to delve into the world of niche fragrances. I began collecting perfumes from many niche houses and worked odd jobs to support my addiction. Without any creative fulfillment working dead-end jobs, I felt a strong passion to experiment with creations of my own, which began my journey into perfumery.
Q. How do you approach fragrance creation and where do your ideas come from?
A. It usually begins with an idea, a concept or at times an inspiration, otherwise it would feel forced. I envisage what the final product will smell like and begin by creating the base that embodies this concept. I then build upon this theme, meticulously blending heart and top notes accordingly. This will often require many variations of the fragrance, adding different notes as the fragrance develops. I particularly enjoy the challenge of pairing contrasting materials and creating a harmonious balance between them.
Inspiration comes via different means. Sometimes it is from personal travels, experiencing different locales and cultures. At other times, I fall in love with a raw material and want to build a fragrance around it. However, often my favorite references come from history. I enjoy creating a fragrance that will transport the user to an exotic locale or an opulent ancient era.
Q. We love the names of your perfumes, especially Confessions of a Garden Gnome and Mr. Bojnokopff’s Purple Hat [now Bojnokopff]. What are the stories behind these wonderful names?
A. I’m pleased to hear that, sometimes naming a fragrance can be the most difficult part! Both of these fragrances are fictitious figments of my imagination.
The concept for Confessions of a Garden Gnome was to create a fragrance that will change and evolve on skin like four seasons in a garden as experienced by a garden gnome. Plus, it’s a fun and quirky name!
For Bojnokopff it was to create the smell of the theatre as experienced by the audience on the evening the great Russian illusionist performed his final act.
Q. We’re excited about your limited-edition osmanthus fragrance, Meraki. You’ve said this scent pays homage to the Shiseido unicorn, Nombre Noir, which you’ve never smelled. What possessed you take on such a challenge?
A. I was always intrigued by the story. Being a big fan of Serge Lutens, I purchased an unopened bottle of Nombre Noir pure parfum in its original packaging. I always imagined the scent to be a dark and decadent Osmanthus, but not having the courage to open the bottle to smell, I thought it was an interesting concept to dedicate a fragrance to it. It was also an opportunity to highlight the work of perfumer Jean Yves Leroy, as many people aren’t aware of the history of Nombre Noir.
Q. How did you conceive of your gorgeous packaging?
A. Starting out as an unknown brand, I needed to create an aesthetic that would set me apart from everyone else. I’ve always loved vintage perfume labels and was also inspired by medieval history, which created the theme for the brand. Initially all the artwork for the labels was to be printed on paper labels, however I decided in order to really stand out I would take it a step further and have them embossed onto metal plaques.
Q. Your cologne, Kolonya Rasei Fort, made a big splash (pardon the pun) in the fragrance community when it was released. The story behind the scent refers to your grandfather’s garden in Cyprus. Can you tell us about this?
A. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather as a young boy. He was always impeccably groomed and smelled great. In the words of Luca Turin “either his granddad was an epic dandy, or Cyprus an embassy of heaven on earth”. Well, granddad was definitely what you’d call a dandy!
I remember he always wore a splash on cologne from a green bottle, but to this day I have no idea which cologne he wore. He would often put me on his shoulders and walk around his garden which was filled with lemon, grapefruit, orange and mandarin trees. He also had jasmine shrubs and roses growing along the fence. We would play for hours on end on the makeshift swing, which was really only a thick rope hung from a large tree. Kolonya is my interpretation of these fond memories, it is a deeply personal scent and I’m very pleased with the outcome.
Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring independent perfumer?
A. I would advise them to persist, experiment with raw materials, be unique, express yourself in your work, enjoy the process and most of all, be patient.
Interviewed July 2020.