Sarah McCartney | Winter 2019
First of all, what was the inspiration behind the collection of perfumes you curated for this quarterly box?
We were thinking about the time of year - what could people wear to feel warm and cosy - and then which of our fragrances would best suit the mood of Bokan’s beautiful swirly artwork.
Going through each of the three fragrances, what makes them special to you? (e.g. What story do they tell, what mood do they evoke, do they have a specific personality?)
Captured by Candlelight
The first accord came into being when Professor Barry Smith, our philosopher friend, called to say that he would be on a cooking programme the next day and could I please make him the smell of Christmas pudding. We had a studio open day, so I whipped up the aroma in front of visiting customers, Barry’s assistant arrived to take it away, and my customers insisted that I make it for them too.
This is a rose in Wonderland, inspired by Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole and out into the magical kingdom of the living chessboard. I made this for ÇaFleureBon, the online fragrance community run by Michelyn Carmen, who wanted a rose fragrance she could enjoy wearing and to celebrate her organisation’s 9th birthday.
Take Me To The River
The inspiration was the song of the same name written by Al Green, but the slower sexier Talking Heads version from 1980. I wanted to make the aroma of a small club where there’s been live music every Saturday night for the last 70 years. At the time we were planning to move our whole perfume studio to a building close to the Thames, and so the song kept playing in my mind. You need to listen to the lyrics.
What kind of activity or occasion do you imagine is best suited to each scent?
Captured by Candlelight - friendly times, dinner, occasions you’ll be dressing up for.
Red Queen - a little boost of personal power, upping your self-confidence a notch when you’re heading into the unknown
Take Me To The River - date nights, gigs, anything that starts after 9 p.m.
Can you talk about the keynotes and accords in each of the three scents? In other words, what might jump out at our subscribers when they wear them and how do the notes work together to form this perfume?
Captured By Candlelight
This became a woodsy gourmand fragrance. Following on from the Christmas pudding aroma, I wrote a lighthearted 1930s style mystery story about a stolen painting, “Captured by Candlelight”, which featured a huge pudding, brandy flames flickering, in the wood-panelled candlelit dining room of an elegant country home. To make the complete fragrance, I took my original fruit, brandy and molasses accord, surrounded it with woods, and illuminated it with a light candlewax note.
It is a spicy incense rose, with a base of rich deep notes, patchouli and vetivert for the feeling of falling down the rabbit hole, with parsnip, blackcurrant and raspberry for the White Rabbit himself. I adore working with rose and I don’t ever think of the aroma as being just for women; rose absolute has both rich softness and light elegance. Here we clothe it in ambery labdanum, musk and spicy davana to set it in an alternative world of mathematical mystery. It’s for everyone especially those who imagine that they don’t like rose fragrances.
Take Me To The River
Leather, tobacco, a mass of soft smooth musks, cognac and wine, with one red rose at the heart. I wanted Take Me To The River to feel like a night out with someone in one half of a relationship. (When you think you’re in a relationship, but you know it’s going nowhere because they think they’re single, although you’re not quite ready to give it up as it’s irresistible.)
Why is Perfumery so important in the modern world?
Scientists are finding out more all the time about how the sense of smell works and how important it is to humans. For centuries fragrance it was seen as frippery and vanity, for dandies and fools. In literature writing that someone is wearing “cheap perfume” is a shortcut to describe a character of no merit, even though it’s difficult to tell what perfume costs just from the smell. In perfumery, we suffer from the leftovers of this belief. I meet people, mostly academics, who believe that wearing perfume indicates a lack of intelligence or intellectual rigour. Because men of the Enlightenment thought that smell, taste and touch were mere animal senses, perfume got labelled as an inferior area of interest. Now though, neuroscientists can’t get enough of it. Smell is an essential tool to tell us if we’re safe or in danger.
When it comes to wearing perfume, we choose something that makes us happy, that our unconscious mind feels comfortable with whether we can smell it or not. We can detect aromas that warn us of danger and give us an uncomfortable feeling too, even though we don’t perceive this as a scent. All this I find totally fascinating. The point is that perfume and the sense of smell are far more important than we’d ever imagined.
Who or what inspired you to become a perfumer?
I was a copywriter for Lush Cosmetics, and a course leader for at universities and for business, and I wrote a novel about a perfumer who made perfumes to remind people of happy times (The Scent of Possibility). I was aiming to give readers a list of perfumes which smelled like the ones I’d described in the book, so I hunted for them but found that they didn’t exist so I decided to make them. I was discovered by Lizzie Ostrom (Odette Toilette) and encouraged to give it a go by Jo Fairley, founder of The Perfumer Society. I rather idiotically plunged straight in then discovered it was really difficult to make a perfume that’s ready and legal to sell. Taking it up as an interest is difficult; as a career, it’s nigh on impossible, but here we are.
What’s the story behind your brand? How did it come to be?
I named the brand 4160 Tuesdays because I owned two spare domain names, sarahmccartney.com and 4160Tuesdays.com. I didn’t want to name the company after myself because one day I won’t own it any more as nothing lasts forever especially people. 4160Tuesdays was a blog I was writing about not wasting your life, and always remembering to do something interesting on Tuesdays. There are only 4160 Tuesdays in 80 years and that thought was inspired by an 80-year-old yoga teacher I studied with. Life is short but she didn’t waste a moment of hers. I went with that.
What do you think makes your brand special or unique?
I create everything with imagination and we handmake it with care, and a little of this slips into every bottle. I think you can smell it. I have no desire to run a huge company, take over the world or get bought. I just want to keep bottling new ideas.
Describe your brand’s perfume personality or style in 3 words
Adventurous, witty, friendly
What has been the most exciting moment in your perfume career?
I got a handwritten letter from Sir Paul Smith saying that he would love to stock Tokyo Spring Blossom but he can’t. (He can only sell fragrances under the Paul Smith brand.)
What has been the toughest moment in your perfume career?
They just keep coming. The first and most devastating was when the UK decided to enforce the UN dangerous goods shipping ban on perfume because flammable goods had caused too many aviation accidents. (One is too many, so that is fair.) It was really early days, and I had no idea that this was coming; I lost 50% of my business overnight.
Are there any irritating beliefs about perfume that you wish would just go away?
People imagine that natural materials are safer than synthetics; essential oils are made by plants for their own defence, using hundreds of natural chemicals. We have to use them really carefully, and they are heavily regulated. In the EU, including the UK, nothing goes into perfumes unless it has been tested and approved for safety. I could write a whole book on this, in fact, I probably shall.
Finally, what advice do you have for people looking for a new fragrance or a signature scent?
Never go on looks alone - some of the best fragrances aren’t expensive and don’t have fancy boxes and caps. Don’t let people rush and push you into it. Only spend what you can afford, because you want it to make you smile each time you spray it on.