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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

picking up the scent

Like many women I love the theatre of fragrance. The seduction of the packaging, the complex way it can govern our emotions and the allure of the advertising.  Highly polished imagery can promise everything from romance to seduction to confidence. Who can’t resist spritzing? But what really interests me about the world of fragrance are the noses behind the juice.

English Perfumer, Cath Collins is acclaimed in creating unique compositions that instantly blast away jaded spirits and deliver aromatic notes that represent pure olfactory escapism. Each of her fragrances captures her skill to take the familiar and embroider it with an olfactory twist.

Just launching three new fragrances, here I caught up with her to tap into her expertise and uncover her inspirations.

Dolly Mixture (DM) What was the first fragrance you remember wearing and how did it make you feel?   
Cath Collins (CC): Chant d’Aromes by Guerlain.  I was about 15 and remember the excitement of buying it on the ferry, duty free.  It made me feel incredibly glamorous and... broke. But the fragrance was so intoxicating and the bottle so beautiful that all my common sense went straight overboard!

DM: How did you start out in the world of perfumery?
CC: I bought a book about aromatherapy and some essential oils in the local health shop.  The top of my piano became my ‘laboratory’ and I used to stand for hours mixing things drop by drop, mostly very unsuccessfully, except for one blend which formed part of my first range. I was very determined and soon discovered the benefits of endlessly questioning the supplier of the oils and gradually found myself talking to real experts in the field. 

DM: What qualities do you need to make a good perfumer in terms of smell? Do you believe this skill is intrinsic or can it be cultivated?
CC:  I think you need an aptitude for seeing a ‘global picture’ of the scents you are creating.   But the vital thing for a good perfumer is an acute olfactory memory which can only be developed by a combination of inherent talent and experience.

DM: Any funny anecdotes about life as a perfumer?
CC: One of my very first fragrances was called Lemon, Clove and Geranium and after we’d had a piece in the press a customer rang up to request some Lime, Clemon and Gymnasium! 

DM: Having interviewed you before, I know your garden in Devon is a huge inspiration to you – viewing it as an outdoor room. What flowers are your absolute favourite and why?   
CC: There are so many, but Jasmine is a favourite. It’s a plant whose heady fragrance wafts you away on a magic carpet.   The Daphne Odora are tiny starry flowers which belie their exotic and slightly citrus-y scent; just a sprig brought into the house in winter is utterly delightful.  This has been a great inspiration for my Winterflower fragrance. A stunning orchid called Zygopetalum Mackayii smells like hundreds of hyacinths. Roses and freesias of course, and velvety dark purple petunias which smell of a combination of chocolate and vanilla!  I grow them beneath the summer Jasmine under my office window.  Bliss when all the windows are open!

DM: Do you believe fragrance has to be age appropriate?
CC: I like to create with a real person in mind and having a large family, covering just about every age group, provides a rich seam of different types. It’s very interesting testing a new scent on them and all their opinions are immensely valuable. Scents react differently on every skin type but I think a girl in her 20’s will always like something lighter than someone older.  Mature people definitely go for more complex and often far heavier perfumes.

DM: What do men find appealing in women’s fragrances and why? 
CC: Scent sends powerful messages, it says so much about the woman who wears it.   If a man likes the scent his girlfriend is wearing I think, subconsciously, it makes him confident of other men’s approval.

DM: You’ve created three new fragrances – can you just give me a brief overview of each and the stories behind them?
CC: Evening Flowers has a wonderful blend of exotic sophistication with a base of rich heliotrope. All my favourite English florals are packed into this fragrance. I think I had the headiness of romantic Mediterranean summer nights in mind.  Morning Flowers indulges my passion for citrus fragrances especially when combined with flowers and woods.  A waft of freesias and zesty lemon were the inspiration for this vibrant and flirty fragrance. It’s really young at heart.  Flowers of the Orient came from wanting to create something different from anything I’d done before. The opening hint of citrus leads you to flowers and spice and ultimately envelopes you in rich and seductive folds of Patchouli, Vetiver and Vanilla.  An adventure drawing you deep into the Medina.

DM: Where should a woman wear her fragrance?
CC: That is a secret she should never give away!

DM: Finally, if you could have created any perfume in the world, which one would you choose and why? 
CC: This is such a difficult question!  Maybe Diorissimo or Parfum d’Hermes.  Both so completely different from each other, and both exquisite.

Cath Collins’ Eau de Toilette costs £35 for a 50ml glass atomiser. Available from or call 01803 813064 for stockists.

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