We’ve a had a wonderful conversation with my favourite perfumer Neil Morris, the founder and fragrance designer at Neil Morris Fragrances - about skin and perfume, radiance, some favourite ingredients and fragrant hugs, of course. Enjoy!
Anastasia Denisenkova: Dear Neil, you’ve been creating custom fragrances for such a long time, you’ve seen and smelled so many skins — so you definitely have something to say about body chemistry! When a client comes to you for a bespoke perfume — what do you have to consider about his or her skin/skin type? Are there any typical nuances here?
Neil Morris: Hi Anastasia! Yes, when a client comes to me for a custom perfume I always insist they not wear any scented perfumes or lotions because I want to smell their natural skin scent. Some people smell milky to me, or hay-like, or salty, or a little like sour fruit. Those are the people I know instantly will NOT be able to successfully wear fruity perfumes because they will turn sour on their skin.
Also, if someone is very light skinned or a natural blonde or redhead, I know that fragrances probably have a difficult time staying on their skin. I usually suggest layering to these people; applying an unscented body lotion or one scented with the same scent as the perfume they want to wear. Then spray the perfume onto the skin. This way the lotion will help hold the scent longer.
Anastasia: Our fragrances tend to change on our skin with the change of seasons, or at least many people think so. Did you notice any typical patterns?
Neil: I don’t think they change on our skin. I think our perception of them changes. The aroma remains the same. But a fragrance that is fresh and fruity may be more appreciated in summer when the heat makes us look for something to refresh us. A heavy Patchouli based perfume would be more appropriate in winter since its scent is warm and cozy, something we look for during the cold winter months. Also, skin tends to dry out in winter so heavier, denser perfumes will tend to last longer.
Anastasia: As you use both natural and synthetic ingredients in your perfumes would you please tell us about some of your favorites?
Neil Morris: I do love both natural and synthetic ingredients. Actually, I prefer to call synthetic ingredients “Art Essences” because they are artfully created to mimic fragrances that the perfumer would otherwise not have access to. Gardenia and Lily are two examples of fragrances that do not work as essential oils. So a chemist artfully combines the correct molecules to create these fragrances for us.
One of my favorites is an Art Essence called Iso E Super, which has a gorgeous musk/woody effect. It can really add depth and body to a composition and blends beautifully with Naturals such as Sandalwood and Cedar.
Anastasia: I know you used it in Me and Rose Tattoo, where else?
Neil:Burnt amber, Gotham, Cathedral, Earthtones #1 – Dark Earth, Earthtones #3 – North Woods, Leather Garden, Le Parfum D’Ida, Midnight Forest.
Anastasia: I was captured by the Smoky Musk note that was detectable both in Vision in Black and in Obsidian, where else did you use it? And what is it actually — the smoky musk?
Neil: Smoky Musk is actually a creation of mine that is a combination of several Musk molecules blended with Birch Tar and Cade.
Anastasia: Amazing! I’m guessing there are some other creations of yours?
Neil: I’ve actually created too many to name. One is called Blonde Amber and it’s a blend of several ambery molecules with Vanillin and Virginia Cedarwood.
Anastasia: An animalic, warm and ‘live’ undertone that is often present in your fragrances always makes me believe that we are a single whole — me and my perfume. I think you’re really good at that animalic ‘subject’. What is the most impressive for you in these notes?
Neil: Thank you, Anastasia! Animalic notes are the hidden jewels of perfumery. They add mystery, seduction and allure to a composition. But they have to be used carefully! Too much and it will overtake a blend. Civet and Castoreum are two favorites. Of course I only use Art Essence renditions so no civet cats or beavers are harmed.
Anastasia: Can we say that some ingredients or their combinations tend to be the most uncertain on skin? Do you notice some strange metamorphoses on your clients’ skin?
Neil Morris: The beauty and mystery of perfume blends is that they work differently on different people. There are no scents that are uncertain in and of themselves but have to be tested on individuals. We’ve all had the experience of trying on a perfume that smelled wonderfully on a friend only to discover that it just doesn’t work with our own chemistry.
I have had instances where a fruity note, for example, would suddenly turn sour on a client’s skin! Fruity notes can be difficult in this way. Black Currant is wonderful on my skin but I recently tried it on a client and it started smelling like burning rubber!! Obviously, we didn’t use it and switched to something else.
A well-constructed perfume should go through many different phases on someone’s skin; much like different movements in a symphony, yet always with the same basic them running throughout.
Anastasia: Sometimes it’s kind of hard to find a verbal way to explain what do we want from a new perfume, what do we want to express through it. How do you cope with that when a client comes for a new ready-to-wear perfume?
Neil: When I work with a client I first interview her by asking her a series of questions. What is you favorite scented flower? What is your favorite time of year? Favorite color? So after the interview, I have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with her/his fragrance. I always ask a client how they want their fragrance perceived when someone hugs them.
Anastasia: Oh yes, I rememberer that question, too!
I am not that kind of person who demands loudness of her perfume but for some people the radiance is one of the most important criteria. Any perfumer’s tips or tricks on that? Which scents do you prefer, Neil?
Neil Morris: If a fragrance contains lots of basenote ingredients such as Patchouli, Vanilla, Orris, etc., then it will project more than a scent with a lesser basenote concentration ratio. Also, some florals, like Rose, will help give a perfume radiance. A really classy, well-designed perfume should not project across the room! It shouldn’t project more than 3-4 feet out from the wearer.
Some scents just naturally stay close to the skin, especially if it’s a perfume in oil form. The oil hugs the skin. Perfumer’s alcohol added to the oil allows the perfume to “bloom”, lifting the fragrance off the skin and into the air.
Some people with loud personalities want loud perfumes. To each his own. But I prefer a fragrance to be what I call a “Hug Scent”. You know, you walk up to someone and give them a hug and suddenly you are embraced not only by them but by their perfume!
Anastasia: Love that you call them “Hug Scents”! Hugs make our life happier, don’t they? Thank you so much, Neil, for taking the time to answer my questions! Such a great pleasure to talk to you, as always!
Neil: We need more hugs on this planet! I am so happy to have such a wonderful friend in Russia, Anastasia. I’m very grateful to you, and all my Russian friends, for your enthusiasm and support. Fragrant Dreams!