Editor’s Note: Sue Phillips can meld ingredients into olfactory master-works that result in high-quality premium fragrances. With virtuosity, she knows just how to create unique fragrances on request and for particular occasions
We had the opportunity to meet Sue Phillips, internationally recognized perfume expert, in her atelier near Madison Avenue in New York. Sue, who comes from an artistic family in South Africa, spoke with us about her passion for the world of fragrances, her unbelievably successful career, and new projects.
EURO COSMETICS:Sue, first we would like to thank you very much for the great invitation and the interactive fragrance presentation at your beautiful atelier in New York, and that you’ve taken the time for this interview. Please tell our readers how you discovered your profession. What inspired you and did you always have a passion for fragrances? Sue Phillips: Thank you for the opportunity to meet you at my new Sue Phillips Fragrance Boutique and I was so thrilled to take you all on a “fragrance journey”! To answer your question, I would say that everything that has happened to me in the USA has been “serendipitous”! The only thing that was planned was to emigrate to America, and I am thrilled I did. My inspiration for fragrances comes from the fact that I came from a very artistic family; my mom was an amazing artist, singer, calligraphist, homemaker. Her two sisters were also artists and singers, and so I was always exposed to the arts. At 12 years old, for a parti-time holiday job, I was hired by a cosmetic buyer at a Department store (similar to Bloomingdales) in the fragrance department. I absolutely loved being surrounded by beautiful perfumes. One day I reached into the counter to get a very expensive perfume for a customer. Accidentally, one of the perfumes spilled, and I was so upset and offered to pay for the damage. By the end of the day, so many bottles had been sold, because the fragrance had wafted in the air and people loved it! That was my first exposure to “ambient” or “environmental” scenting!
EURO COSMETICS:Where does the term “perfume” come from? Sue Phillips: The word “perfume” comes from the Latin “per fumum” or “through smoke”. In the ancient Egyptian rituals there would be religious rituals and sacrifices to the gods and they burned incense or Kyphi wood to create a mood and “sacred” atmosphere for their religious rituals and ceremonies. As the fumes wafted through the air, the word “perfume” literally means “through smoke” and is derived from the Latin word “per fumus” meaning the very act in which the incense “fumes” scent the air through smoke. The sweet, pungent aromas wafted through the air, giving the ceremonies a certain reverence and sacredness.
I call myself a Scentrepreneur™, I am able to multi-task and always bring fragrance into every project I work on.
EURO COSMETICS:And what is every perfumer’s basic framework? Sue Phillips: I believe that perfumers must be an observer of all things sensory: food, art, music so that when he or she is creating a perfume they can convey a beautiful painting, a piece of music, or the sensory touch of sculpture. Naturally he or she must have the scientific knowledge and expertise to know which chemicals and ingredients would reflect the beautiful art, music and even the delectable taste of food. Therefore, they have to study organic chemistry for many years and have an excellent memory. Fragrance is both an Art and a Science and perfumers should have a passion for the Arts and need to study for many years to become knowledgeable and proficient in organic chemistry.
EURO COSMETICS:You have had an outstanding career in the cosmetics and fragrance industry. Which milestones in your career stand out for you in particular? Sue Phillips: There have been quite a few but one of the first was being recruited to be the Divisional VP of Tiffany & Company to develop their first fragrance. Later was promoted to Executive VP and it was one of the honors of my life to work with the renowned Jacques Polge, chief perfumer of Chanel, to ultimately develop the iconic perfume which was an exquisite orange flower/jasmine/tuberose perfume. Another was after I had my child, when I started my own consulting company, Scenterprises Inc., and developed and launched “Society by Burberry” perfume and went to London to present the fragrance to the chairman Lord Wolfson – a quiet, unassuming man. Being hired to be Adjunct Professor at FIT and LIM colleges (at different times) to help mentor young students who wanted to learn about fragrance. I have always been optimistic and resilient, so when challenges arise, I navigate and find a solution. For eg: after the 2008 recession when all the consulting projects stopped I started the Bespoke Perfume initiative and ultimately opened my first fragrance boutique The Scentarium in 2013 where I created fragrances for A-list celebrities and presented corporate teambuilding and bridal programs. When the pandemic began, I had to close the boutique and wrote my book “The Power of Perfume”. And last year opened my second boutique after the pandemic in August.
EURO COSMETICS:And with which brands have you worked over the course of your career? Sue Phillips: I began my career at Elizabeth Arden in Training, Product Development and Marketing, then to Lancôme as Marketing Director on fragrance and Men’s skincare; Tiffany & Co as mentioned above. When I started my own consulting business I worked with Royal Brands on Burberry, Trish McEvoy and developed her fragrances; Avon, on several different campaigns over 5 years as Project Leader on so many initiatives – Home Fragrances; Candles, Air Fresheners, Avon Wellness; Lancaster and developed programs for Magie Noire; Marketing programs for a Dutch brand Oilily. I also have become an “Expert Witness” and have been retained to represent the plaintiff in various Legal Disputes for Fragrance companies and Celebrity brands, where there are issues on trademark, counterfeit and Distribution issues. It’s been an amazing and varied career, and I have loved having have my own business for 34 years!
EURO COSMETICS:Many companies use your expertise and knowledge to make their brands more individual and recognizable through the power of fragrances. How exactly does this work and how is the feedback? Sue Phillips: When companies want to expand their customer reach and generate greater awareness one of the aspects they consider is fragrance as a compelling way to achieve that. So ambient or environmental scenting has become very important to raise their profile, and I have worked with hotels in Las Vegas and retail stores in NY to develop fragrances that reflect their brand. This has become a strategy that is being used more and more for non-fragrance brands to create memorable experiences for consumers.
I love fragrance and it’s beauty and complexity and the fact that I have been able to develop so many brands, and help so many people restore their sense of smell through fragrance brings me such joy!
EURO COSMETICS:By founding your own company, Scenterprises Inc., you have created exquisite and high-value fragrances for many cult brands. What was your greatest success? Sue Phillips: At Scenteprises, my first consulting project was to create a female fragrance for a traditional men’s brand – Burberry. We created and launched Society by Burberry at Bloomingdales, Saks and around the country. Working with Trish McEvoy on developing her fragrance business was fun and she now has a thriving business. I have loved working on all of them and they become “family”!
EURO COSMETICS: At company events, for birthdays, weddings, etc., you introduce people to the world of fragrances and allow them to experience these at Scenterprises’ Perfume Bar, The Scentarium™. How do you proceed here and how to participate? Sue Phillips: At our Custom Perfume Salon, our “Fragrance Bar” is a showpiece and we invite guests to take our Scent Personality Quiz to determine their Olfactory Personality and they arrive at their own “scent persona”. They explore our high-quality perfume blends, where they get an introduction to 18 exquisite natural blends, which consist of a range of Citrus, Fruity, Florals, Spicy, Oriental, Woodsy and Musky ingredients. People take our Scent Quiz and we discuss their Olfactory preferences. We have also helped over 200 people regain their sense of Smell after Covid Anosmia. Guests take our “fragrance journey” and evaluate the blends with our blotter strips,and decide which 3 or 4 they prefer, and select their “formula”. They name their creation, and we complete their formula card and receive a Certificate of Registration and their custom fragrance in a lovely sachet. We store their formula in our data-base for future reordering! Its fun, interactive, educational and “Scentertaining”™.
EURO COSMETICS:What has inspired you for the creation of personal fragrances for prominent people and what were your experiences? Sue Phillips: Again, Serendipity! When I opened The Scentarium, we were the first to open the “By Appointment” fragrance experience, and through word of mouth we created fragrances for A-list celebrities, Jamie Foxx, Katie Holmes, Zendaya, Laurence Fishbourne who all met with me and made their own personal scents, as well as hundreds of fragrance lovers. Again, by asking questions, and giving them our Scent Personality Quiz, we were able to discern their “scent persona”, and the response was accurate and amazing. They were all delighted with the response and their Custom Perfumes.
EURO COSMETICS:What is an olfactory moment? Sue Phillips: An example is when you’re walking to a meeting (perhaps on Madison Avenue,) or wherever you might be, and suddenly you encounter a familiar aroma. What happens is that suddenly you stop dead in your tracks and you are transported back to the first moment when you encountered or experienced that aroma. It is so powerful and the memory floods back. It has happened to me quite frequently – and sometimes the aroma transports me back to moments in South Africa. It might be the change of seasons, or a gust of wind – but once you have experienced that you will understand how powerful the olfactory moment is.
EURO COSMETICS:How long does it take you to create a fragrance? Sue Phillips: When I first started my Custom Fragrance initiative it took me over 2 years to create all of my perfume blends and worked with a perfume lab to achieve that. Sometimes it can take several years to develop a particular fragrance, and there are other times, when everything comes together and the fragrance reveals itself within a few months! Inspiration, dedication, perseverance and expertise are all required with starting this endeavor.
EURO COSMETICS:The quality of the ingredients plays a big role for exclusive perfumes. What have your experiences been here? Sue Phillips: I have witnessed a lot of changes over the last few years. I have never heard so many complaints by consumers saying they get headaches or allergies from fragrances today. In all my years of being in the business, this complaint seems more prevalent than ever. Whether their favorite perfume has been discontinued or reformulated, consumers are very upset that they are no longer able to get their signature scent, and complain of negative physical reactions if the fragrance has changed. Quality ingredients are vital when creating perfumes so does that mean “naturals” or “synthetics”? Even though there are chemicals that are really expensive, I believe that quality ingredients are vitally important and must strive to develop unique beautiful perfumes and not just the “flavor du jour”!
EURO COSMETICS:What fascinates you the most about your profession? Sue Phillips: I love the fact that everyday is different. There is not a boring moment during the day. Whether it’s creating proposals, being interviewed, creating custom scents, helping people with Covid who are struggling and suffering with Anosmia, writing my book, I love the fact that I am able to navigate between all of these activities and projects. Being an entrepreneur, (I call myself a Scentrepreneur™, I am able to multi-task and always bring fragrance into every project I work on. The downside is that finding the time to do all these things is challenging and I know that in order to be effective I must learn to suppress some of the projects that come my way. However, I am so thrilled that I am in this industry. I love fragrance and it’s beauty and complexity and the fact that I have been able to develop so many brands, and help so many people restore their sense of smell through fragrance brings me such joy!
EURO COSMETICS:What fragrance do you yourself wear? Sue Phillips: I wear my own and have created my own signature scent which people have complimented me on when they are near to me. I love all my perfume blends but I do have my favorite. I like a bold floral with notes of Sandalwood, Vanilla and Chypre. It’s complex, sophisticated and sensual – I love it!
EURO COSMETICS:How has the perfume business changed over the decades, also with regard to emotions surrounding the topic of fragrance? Sue Phillips: There are so many to choose from and I think these days more consumers want a certain “brand” that has taken off and everyone wears – and it’s not about the emotion, it’s more about the status of wearing that brand – whether it suits them or not.
EURO COSMETICS:Your book “The Power of Perfume,” which appeared for the first time in November 2021, is an homage to the world of fragrance and reflects your passion for fragrances. Please tell us about the journey on which you take us in this book. Sue Phillips: It is a summation of everything I have learned and experienced over the years. It is an easy book to read but filled with a great deal of content and information. I have been told that it has helped budding fragrance lovers to understand the world of fragrance and inspired them to become perfumers. While I am not a perfumer, I greatly admire the work that they do and think it is so important to interact, communicate and reach positive conclusions when developing a fragrance. Many perfumers are not markers and so a symbiotic relationship between perfumer and brand marketers is important. I am a “story teller” and with this book tell the story of the wonderful, magical world of fragrance. I say all the time, “perfume is the signature of my soul”.
EURO COSMETICS:Sue, what’s your mission? Sue Phillips: I’m passionate about helping people with various disorders, such as Anosmia and Alzheimers through fragrance, when people lose their sense of smell and they become Anosmic they realize how devastating it can be. It affects every aspect of their lives: socialization, health, wellness and the only positive thing about Covid was it raised awareness about our Olfactory sense and how it also affects Taste. Sadly, so many people are affected by Alzheimer’s and when sufferers encounter a familiar aroma it triggers their memory and their eyes light up! The connection between memory and emotion to scent is palpable and to help people with Alzheimer’s through the power of fragrance can be a great source of comfort! My mother suffered from dementia, and I’d like to establish a Foundation to help people with Alzheimer’s and all Olfactory disorders through our most powerful sense.
EURO COSMETICS:And what other projects do you have planned? Sue Phillips: Thank you so much for the opportunity to tell my story here and am so grateful to have met the EURO COSMETICS team! My future plans are that I shall continue my custom fragrance business, however, I am excited to say that I am in the process of creating my own Sue Phillips brand. With all my years in this industry, and brands I have either created or helped market, it is time for me to create my own Sue Phillips perfume collection. I don’t think the world needs another perfume, but innovation, creativity and passion can never be quelled, and I am not just another newcomer developing a fragrance, I am authentic and have the experience, expertise and single-mindedness to achieve my goal! So, look out world, here comes Sue Phillips!
EURO COSMETICS:Sue, thank you very much for the conversation and the many inspirations with which you have provided us. We wish you great success with your future projects.
Sue Phillips, born and raised in South Africa, is an author, Motivational Speaker, Fragrance Expert, Women owned business and Scentrepreneur®. Sue shares her expertise and knowledge to help individuals and organizations accelerate growth, promote wellbeing and empower their clients and employees to be the BEST they can be, through our most powerful sense! Sue has appeared on television and is a motivational and inspiring speaker. Ideal for Sales Meetings, Teambuilding, Corporate Events and Keynote Speaking engagements.
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