I’m featuring myself in the MUSE because it is a big ask, and I can’t ask you to do something that I won’t do myself. I’m glad I gave this a try but the process was intensive. As I rediscovered my carefree inner child I also admitted uncomfortable home truths. But that honesty with myself is what made my first ever fragrance what it is today.
I started CELIE & COUCH during a nervous breakdown. I’d felt a staunch shame and sourness in my life from bad actors and decisions, for a good long while, and it had finally caught up with me. I was severely agoraphobic (even now I prefer the outskirts and margins), anxious, jobless, and desperate. For one whole year, almost nobody saw me.
Three things kept me going. My adorable niece, shy and retiring, was and always will be the first thing. The second was that same sour feeling, often giving way to a seething and silent rage. At myself and at the world for allowing this to happen to me.
The third was beginning to see the beauty in myself, flaws and all. It didn’t matter whether I was liked, or knocked off the path I was ‘supposed’ to be on. To get anywhere, on a path I’ve chosen, I need to trust and like myself.
This is always possible, even in the face of a self or a world who disagrees. I started CELIE & COUCH for anyone needing to realise this for themselves. When you tell your truth, no matter how uncomfortable, you remember your flaws but also your assets and gifts. Those are yours.
What made me take the first leap into fragrance was a Channel 4 Documentary. It was about luxury homes, and the lives were completely divorced from my own. Not because of the money (though yes, that too) but because of the entrepreneurship I saw, and the independent strength and creativity it inspired.
What struck me particularly was a dandyish man who appeared out of nowhere, chatting animatedly about fragrances. They showed him making a personal fragrance for a client and I’d never seen perfume made before. I’d always thought fragrances were just the domain of factories. It’s why, after a formative class on esters in high school, I’d told myself “that’s not for your sort” and put the dream out of my mind. I still remembered how peaceful the classroom was that day, and the ranging scent memories each ester invoked from my peers.
But I could see the vials. I could see how he mixed the ingredients, again and again and again, making infinitesimal changes, until he got it right. I could see the lady lean forward each time to sniff, poker face relaxing to elation then touchingly trembling, betraying she was truly moved. An expat and self-made woman, the scent had brought back humble and happy memories of her childhood back home.
I want to make people feel that way about themselves, I thought.
Because I don’t feel that way right now and I’m not sure I can, I realised very sadly.
Who are you kidding? You’re not good enough, added my doubt.
But I’m going to try, finished a last, small but defiant head voice. I do what I can to amplify it.
I’ve never really felt I’ve been approved for who I am as a person, and it may be that I never will. So I learned to crave approval from the wrong people for me.
I’m slowly unlearning that now.
TOP NOTE: BERGAMOT
HEART NOTE: GERANIUM
BASE NOTE: VANILLA
It has been used for centuries in perfume making, enjoying huge popularity in the scents of the 16th Century French Courts.
Even two centuries later its use in Aqua Admirabilis (one of the court’s most popular scents of the time), would lead to the first Eau de Cologne.
From the 1700s, Geranium began to substitute rose in perfume making. Hailed as the ‘Attar of Roses’, it helped popularise and democratise the luxury of scents.
Despite a decline in popularity during the Second World War, Geranium remains a staple of perfume making.
In perfume making, Vanilla has proven essential to some of the oldest and most iconic modern fragrances. This includes Shalimar, inspired by Mumtaz Mahal for whom the Taj Mahal was built. Habanita is “the longest-lasting perfume in the world.”
We may take it for granted then but Vanilla, with its homely and worldly history, is something timeless and beloved.
The Prince's Pear.
The Attar of Roses.
The Little Sheath.
This was my first real effort in perfume making, and by no means was I a prodigy. It took weeks of itchy skin, streaming eyes and self-depreciation to get the basics. But I tried and tried until I got it.
I wanted something floral and sweet to buffer the citrus and amber notes. This was crucial to allow the nose to lead itself to 'gourmand' in its conclusions; the notes had to work together like the spices in a a freshly baked biscuit.
I put myself into this perfume too, more than I should have as I wanted the collection to focus more on setting. I’m happiest on my nights out, Soho and overpriced cocktails… my five wardrobe changes, my silver pants and shoes… the crazy dancing then burger on the long bus home, full of strange and interesting people... The childlike joy and freedom I feel. That’s why I started with Geranium. I smell lychees and roses and purple, expensive and rare treats for me as a child.
I’m otherwise mostly a homebody; after meeting even my friends I need to recharge, alone. I chose Vanilla because I spend some of this time in the kitchen, pouring as much as I can in my apple crumbles. Same thing with Lemon, for my handmade strawberry ice cream.
I was rereading ‘The Secret Garden’, so I chose Bergamot. I know it's not native to Yorkshire but I thought I might smell something like it in the Sowerby cottage, a place that feels so safe to me. I thought it might travel on the winds of the moor’s gorse and heather.
Lavender’s not a huge favourite for me but it's the likeliest thing in this perfume that you'd find on a Yorkshire moor. It protects the Geranium from sickly sweet. and underlines a rustic reminder of Yorkshire.
I chose Patchouli on instinct; I’d never actually smelled it before. But I knew of how its pungent odour had tempered so many scents before mine. I was just learning perfume making, I had all of these samples and vials. I wanted to experiment. I wanted to pay homage to the earth. I now smell the warm wet earth among the winds of gorse and heather, something I didn’t even know I wanted.
I wanted to wholly capture my aesthetic in this fragrance, and that of CELIE & COUCH. This scent is my introversion when I'm on the defence and childlike glee when I feel carefree. It's a duality, my good traitss and bad, who I am versus how I might be perceived first glance. It's the first fragrance I ever made and I hope you'll like it.