Interview with perfumer Shelley Waddington

by Irina
I ‘met’ perfumer Shelley Waddington on the yahoo perfume making group as a very knowledgeable and warm hearted perfumer that also generously shares her experiences. The news on her latest course on ‘natural isolates’ intrigued me so much that I thought it was time for a personal interview on her work and dreams.

1. Hi Shelley, I read on your website  that you began perfume making in 1999 and also received training at Galimard  in Grasse, France. Please elaborate on your perfume making journey: how did it all begin and evolve?

My interest initially stemmed from a general fascination for learning and experimenting  in  various media (plus affection for fragrance).  But my early experiments with making perfume were primitive and frustrating.  I couldn’t locate any information or anyone who could teach me. The internet later enabled me to network with others who shared my interest in perfuming and I learned to work with natural perfume materials.  My experience in France at Galimard reinforced my identity as a perfumer.  It also helped me expand my range of perfume materials so I could incorporate additional floral and musk notes into my creations.
2. Your perfumes tell us more about your muse: the small town of ‘Carmel-by-the-sea’ where you were raised. Do you still live there? What inspires you so much in Carmel? Do you have other sources of inspiration?
Art and raw beauty are the singular wild heart of Carmel.  Everything else -  tourists, teachers, shopkeepers, the wealthy, famous, and nouveau riche, the gossips, the guilds – are auxiliary.      
It followed that my first perfumes would be based on the fragrances native to the Carmel area (the Carmel-by-the-Sea Collection),  and then would  encompass broader  horizons (the Odyssey Collection).
The EnVoyage Perfumes platform is a perfect fit for continuing to expand the scope of my offerings, which are hand blended  fragrances and global perfume education.
3. I had the privilege to smell some of your creations, my hands down favorite being Poete de Carmel (to my nose a wonderful fresh and joyous floral). What is your favorite creation and why?

Thank you, Irina.  Poéte de Carmel was recently awarded best natural scent of the year by Mais Que Perfume in Brazil.  I wanted to make a perfume that both men and
women could wear to express their personal success and achievement. 
My own favorite depends on the mood I’m in and what personality aspects I want to strengthen and express on a given day.
4. Besides making perfume you also teach (like the course on natural isolates), how did you decide to do so? What is your incentive behind teaching perfume making? What is your opinion on studying perfume making? Do you think that enrolling for a perfumers course (like you followed in Grasse) have an advantage above self study?

To understand something fully and multi-dimensionally is important, and I place high value on sharing knowledge with like-minded others. 
I agree with Michel de Montaigne that “Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known.”   We’ve all seen arguments erupt that are caused and fueled by incomplete knowledge on both sides.   My incentive for teaching is to promote dialogue and collaboration that benefits everyone.
5. From what I’ve smelled and the description of your perfumes you use botanical materials as well as aroma chemicals. Do you have any favorite materials and why? What is the material that proved to you to be the biggest challenge or cost most time to master? What would you say gives your creations your personal signature?
You’re correct, Irina, I do continue to compose all natural perfumes, and all of my mixed media creations contain a high percentage of naturals. 
My favorite material is ambergris, which to me is the sun, the moon, and the stars.  Its history is so rich, and the effects are magnificent.
 My biggest learning challenge was that sometimes it’s better to put something away for awhile and come back to it at a later time.  For instance, I’ll be launching a perfume in 2011 that has taken nearly 2 years to complete to my satisfaction.   So in answer to your question, I’d have to say that learning to trust the process has been more of a lesson than any of the challenges presented by specific materials.
My personal signature results mostly from using my own tinctures, enflerurages, and accords.  I’m selective about choosing alcohols and fragrance materials so that may also factor in.

6. You studied Psychology (Master in Existential-Phenomenological Psychology), does your study have a link with perfume making and your current business? Why didn’t you pursue a career linked to that initial education?
My interest and goal was a little different than becoming a psychologist in any contemporary understanding of the term.
A liberal arts undergraduate education made me aware of the aesthetic relationship of art to thoughts and emotions. This realization awakened the desire to continue to philosophically, psychologically, linguistically and metaphysically investigate and analyze the relationship of art with human experience on both individual and generational levels.
It was more of a natural progression and fulfillment that perfume became my chosen vehicle for expressing my own art.  I try to deliver recognizable aspects of a universal experience within each finite fragrance. 

7. Something many perfume artists struggle with is selling their art. Would you please share with us any tips or advice on running a business that evolves around designing and selling your own fragrance line?
Art and business are two distinct skill sets and, as you mention, transitioning from a hobby into a business isn’t always a natural flow. 
For perspective, I like to remember that several of the early perfume houses were initially existing glove, harness making and couturier businesses that later expanded into the perfume channel by bringing in talented perfumers.
For those of us artists and perfumers who don’t have much business experience and who are going about it in the “opposite” way, a mentor, business consultant, or savvy business partner can be a valuable asset. Business classes are time consuming but can also help.

      8. If we look at perfume as the result of the modern mass-produced fragrance/cosmetic industry it’s hard to see it as a form of art. What is your personal take on this? 

An interesting topic, Irina!  
I had to think hard about how to answer this tough question.
If one is to believe that there is no such thing as art, only artists, it should be acknowledged that there are many skillful, trained, experienced perfumers employed by major perfume companies and that some are considered by many to be artistically original and courageous. 
On the other hand, the cost restraints of an externally imposed brief can limit artistry.  When the end product is industrial, it would be at best considered as commercial or applied art, as opposed to fine art.  A commodity seems to me to be a qualitatively different animal than what can be produced by an independent artist with the luxury of working according to their own lights.
It may be, as Robert De Niro pointed out at the Golden Globes, it's up to the audiences to decide if it's enjoyable, up to the critics to decide if it's good, and up to posterity to decide if it's art.
9. I remember reading that you are planning on releasing a book. On what subject, would you care to share more?
My small book about the Bohemian artists of Carmel is available on my website
I’m currently researching and writing on a perfume topic, and this new book will be released by summer.  I hope you understand the need for keeping the specifics under wraps at this time, but we can talk more about it soon if you like.
10. Any future plans and dreams? How do you see yourself and your business in the next 10 years?

I’m very excited about the upcoming new launches for 2011 that include two new collections – they will be firsts of their kind.
I also continue to accept students into my natural isolates class, which is now an individual tutorial,  and I will be teaching again in the Fall at Nature’s Nexus Academy of Perfuming Arts. 
In February I’ll be taking up residence in Carmel again for a short hiatus to relax and work out some new ideas.
Thank you so much!