Being an independent perfumer is by design a solitary existence. Especially since each of the individuals behind your favorite brand must do it all. They are no less a perfume lover than any of us who spend time wearing their creations. There are some rare times when the community does find the time to get together. One date on the calendar since 2014 has been the annual The Art & Olfaction Awards. This past year for the third edition the founder of the awards, Saskia Wilson-Brown, also had a two-day curated event called the AIX Scent Fair at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Talking to those who were chosen to participate it was a fabulous opportunity to share their unique perspective on fragrance with a different audience. If it was just the camaraderie which was produced it would have been enough. Except I think it is improbable to believe a room full of creative minds wouldn’t find ways to collaborate. This is what happened when Sam Rader of Dasein and Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors met there. Six months after the meeting the two of them have produced one of my favorite perfumes of the year Dasein Winter Nights. I was so interested in how their collaborative process led to Winter Nights that they graciously answered a bunch of questions I sent them via e-mail. It is a story of two imaginative fragrant minds working on a similar wavelength; amplifying each other’s strengths.
AIX Scent Fair 2016
I started by asking if they had ever met prior to AIX, both had not. Which lead me into the follow-up about Ms. Wilson-Brown having AIX be this opportunity for collaboration. Ms. Rader exclaimed, “That is genius. I never really thought about Saskia’s big picture plan…I always imagined it was a way to introduce independent perfumers to the public. Saskia is a buddy of mine and of course that would be her agenda. She is so good at witchy community building skills.” Mr. Meyer opined on the value of AIX to him as well, “You're very right, Saskia is able to curate a tone of creativity that's pretty unparalleled, and last year’s AIX fair was unlike anything I've ever been a part of, it was incredible how much fun and vibrancy there was with all the great lines and people involved.”
With that sense of community firmly in place Mr. Meyer was looking to meet others, “Mark, honestly, it may have been a Colognoisseur post or two that put me on to Sam's projects. We also share some outstanding stockists, Twisted Lily in Brooklyn, Beam & Anchor here in Portland, and a handful of others, I feel like it didn't take too long for me to start following along when Dasein started putting perfumes out there. I was super excited to meet Sam when I saw her setting up at AIX.” When Ms. Rader walked past Mr. Meyer she recounts him reaching out to her this way, “I had only heard of Imaginary Authors and had never smelled them until the AIX. I was walking by Josh’s table and he called out to me—“Are you the chick from Dasein? I love your stuff! Let’s talk.”
Talk they did as Ms. Rader describes the meeting, “We later made time to powwow and discovered we were both self-taught indie perfumers, both only interested in avant-garde unisex scents, also both serious foodies. We rattled off our favorite LA and Portland restaurants (Jon & Vinny’s, Clyde Common) as I sniffed and fell in love with his line. We vowed to stay in touch.” Mr Meyer also responded to the easy chemistry that was evolving, “We're both small business owners in a niche world that's pretty specific, so we had a lot in common immediately, we had a lot to chat about and simply just got along really well really quickly. I think the idea stemmed from my inserting that she should continue the Dasein line with new projects, and it wasn't long before a flood of ideas were flowing between us just as an easy conversation.”
That conversation would begin the process which would produce Winter Nights. It came together as they communicated after returning home. Ms. Rader talks about those early conversations, “Over several texts and phone calls Josh proposed the idea of a reimagining of each season so that I could expand my line while staying true to the initial concept. He came up with the concept of WINTER NIGHTS, and we were both super jazzed. As I went into the preparations for the new scent, Josh and I continued our virtual friendship and decided it would be really fun to create the scent as a collaboration.”
Together they came up with the brief for Winter Nights. Mr. Meyer remembers the process this way, “I always felt like WINTER was the fragrance of a winter down in Southern California, I grew up down there in Hermosa beach as a little kid, and feel like the winter I experience up the coast, here where I’m at now, in Portland has a darker feel to it. So, as we chatted we came up with the idea of using a Northern California winter beach bonfire as the inspiration. Sort of a meeting spot between us… It was my idea to add a touch of smoke and resin to the project.”
As they moved into the actual composition part of the process they had to figure out a way to work while being separated geographically. Ms. Rader found their connection formed at AIX helped overcome any artificial barriers, “I have loved working with Josh because he has this infectious joie de vivre while also being totally strong and no nonsense. There was a really great yin / yang balance of our energies in the process. Mostly Josh came up with the ideas and did the initial sketches of things, and I would be receptive and fine tune the ratios to get the right cohesion. We were like the band The Postal Service…we did all our blending via shipping each other formulas in the mail, and communicating via phone and email. It was pretty easy to say yes to everything Josh sent me because he is a truly masterful nose. We also seem to share an aesthetic vocabulary. We always understood where the other was coming from, we agreed easily on where we wanted to get to, and had an almost effortless process of getting there. I think this scent is by far the best of my collection, which I owe to Josh’s ingenuity and precision. I have never made a blend so fast and so painlessly.”
I was curious if either of them thought there was a linchpin ingredient to Winter Nights. Mr. Meyer was more equivocal in his answer, “I wish I could say there was a single note or accord that makes it what it is, but I really feel it's different elements coming together to become more than the sum of the parts. The cade oil, the numerous pine elements, and resins… not to mention the underlying sweetness used in the first iteration that we used as a balancing point for the other notes really ties it together and makes it complete.” Ms. Rader was unequivocal in her answer, “Yes! The cade oil. Josh suggested it as the basis for our smoke accord. It has a really beautiful authentic smell of woodsmoke. So many other smoky oils and molecules have this sickening sweet hickory-ish smell that comes off like smoked meat. Cade is a dark, rich, woody ashy fire smell. And the best part is that cade oil is made from Juniper tree tar, and Juniper trees grow all along the coast of California. So if we were making a bonfire in Big Sur there is a good chance we’d be using Juniper branches. Pretty poetic, right?” I agree with Ms. Rader the cade oil feels like the keynote and even more so now that I know the story behind it.
After the success of Winter Nights I had to ask if there was a chance for more collaboration. Mr. Meyer replied, “I hope so! It is so much fun to work on fragrance creation, and working with others in a particularly solo creative environment is thrilling.” Ms. Rader is equally enthusiastic, “I would be delighted to work with Josh again. I have no idea where the future of Dasein is headed, but I do have a feeling that Josh’s advice and input will have a great deal to do with the direction. He’s become a fast friend and trusted advisor. I am very lucky we met, thanks to Saskia and the AIX.” Based on what you both achieved with Winter Nights I would love to see more.
I want to thank both of these very busy people for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. The behind-the-scenes story is as fascinating as the fragrance.
Editor's Note: Winter Nights is a limited edition of 400 bottles meant for the 2016 Holiday season.