“My mission is to take fragrance out of the bottle and to create exquisite experiences, drop by drop,” Sue Phillips tells Cosmetics Design.
Phillips is a fragrance industry veteran, having created scents for Burberry, Tiffany, Trish McEvoy, and Avon. She’s an entrepreneur, leading a company called Scenterprises for nearly 30 years. And she could rightly be called a tour de force in the business of scent.
But she’s not a conventionally trained perfumer or a typical startup founder. Despite, or perhaps because of this, she keeps busy running a business and making perfume one bottle at a time. Here, Phillips shares insight into how she continually blends pitch-perfect scents for actors, singers, luxury corporate clients, and everyday consumers seeking truly artisanal scents.
An intelligence AI can’t match
The fragrance industry wouldn’t exist without the passion and wisdom of countless creative professionals. And while digital scent technologies are advancing, they haven’t supplanted perfumers by any means. (Read here about IFF’s recent scent tech partnership with Aryballe.)
Describing her own nose for the business of scent, Phillips acknowledges, “I never trained to be a perfumer and have never professed to be one. However, I have been blessed [with] an innate sensibility as to how ingredients evolve and can be combined to create magnificent aromas.”
She thinks of herself, rather, as a fragrance designer: “I design fragrances and blends to enhance someone’s persona, reflect their personality, help build confidence and positivity, and reflect their individuality.”
“Having a good sense of smell is important,” she admits, “but what becomes tangible is the visceral reaction someone has when they find a custom fragrance that they absolutely love and can’t live without. My years of exposure in training, product development, marketing, art, music, all the senses: colors, flavors, and wines have all helped me to understand the power of fragrance and the enormous impact that it has to memory and emotions.”
Describing her process a bit further, Phillips says, “Recognizing and understanding someone’s olfactory or olfactive personality comes from looking at the clues – what colors they wear; how they dress; how expressive their gestures are; their vocabulary. These clues help me determine the type of fragrances they wear. So many people have a vast number fragrances in their collection, e.g. 10 or 20 different fragrances and flankers, yet they still don’t know the type of fragrance [they like].”
An online, hands-on approach
And while Phillips hasn’t shifted her business to incorporate AI or machine learning, her customers can find her online and complete a simple questionnaire to get a custom scent.
“The reason my questionnaire works so well is that it is deceptively simple, yet it encompasses so many aspects of their lifestyle – including seasons, music, time of day, the drinks they prefer, vacations they want to enjoy, female and male icons they admire, architectural designs, colors,” Phillips tells Cosmetics Design.
“So many people comment that they find it so interesting and, in some cases difficult, yet at the end, after we analyze their results it absolutely reflects their fragrance personality. I like to say that my questionnaire is 100% accurate, but we do have to leave one or two percentage points in case of error. In most cases, they absolutely concur with our analysis!”
A business built before indie arrived
Phillips sees her business model as a precursor to the current indie beauty movement; and to be fair, there have always been individuals behind the empires, the brands, the formulas, and the fragrances that comprise the industry. As Phillips notes, what “really helped grow the cosmetic and fragrance business in the early years was having founders who lived and breathed their businesses: Coco Chanel, Helena Rubinstein, Estée Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, Charles Revson.”
“When I launched my custom fragrance business 10 years ago,” Phillips tells Cosmetics Design, “people scoffed and said, ‘Are you doing Tupperware parties for perfumes?’” And in a way, maybe she was; but as Phillips see it, “The fact is that the indie beauty movement has followed my path; and more and more companies are getting into customization.”
Deanna Utroske, CosmeticsDesign.com Editor, covers beauty business news in the Americas region and publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands.