We first got to know Stephan Matthews when he rocked up to one of our ‘How to Improve Your Sense of Smell’ workshops. To be honest, it was a challenge to figure out what we could teach this very knowledgeable perfume industry insider, who’s worked across many areas of the business including co-ordinating events, and acting as a highly knowledgeable in-store fragrance advisor. His nose is pretty much like a sniffer dog’s.
Readers of The Scented Letter may recognise Stephan: he featured with his extensive personal perfume collection in our #ShareMyStash section. But you may not know that he also writes a very readable blog, stephanmatthews.com, sub-titled ‘Putting the fun back into fragrance’.
As he observes: ‘Perfume has always been a great passion of mine and I am lucky enough to work within this fascinating industry. Every day brings new challenges, experiences and delights to a workplace that is crammed full of new releases, evergreens and fading classics.’
As a regular feature, ‘Stephan’s Six’, he interviews fragrance ‘faces’ (and ‘noses’) as well as famous figures from the wider world: Lorna Luft, actress Carol Drinkwater, actor James Dreyfus, the mysterious ‘Monsieur Guerlain‘, Chandler Burr and more.
But since we know you always like insights into perfumers, in this Blogger of the Month slot, we’re featuring Stephan’s interview with the talented British perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek.
Writes Stephan: ‘After leaving Britain at the age of four Ruth Mastenbroek’s fascination for perfumery began to show itself. This led to a career creating fragrances for many famous companies, before she took the decision to release her own range of perfumes. Taking a clear influence from classic styles, but with a modern interpretation, what would she reveal of her own perfume history during “Stephan’s Six”?
What is the first smell that you can remember?
My Grandpa would never have worn fragrance or aftershave, but I will never forget the smell of his shaving soap. He used to use one of those old-fashioned shaving knives, and he often used to have bits of tissue stuck to nicks, which was fascinating. The smell was slightly fresh, but also sweet, and with the benefit of hindsight predominantly lavender. The memory of it makes me feel nostalgic, and a bit sad. We left for the States when I was four, leaving my grandparents behind.
What perfume do you remember your mum or dad wearing?
My mother adored perfume, and her favourite was Youth Dew by Estée Lauder. I wonder if it epitomised the liberation she must have felt, leaving England and everything she had ever known? Just a whiff of it, even now, transports me back to visions of her wardrobe of 1950s-style party dresses, full skirts of taffeta with velvet bodices. My mother would also have her hair done once a week, so the scent of Elnett hairspray also featured large.
What was the perfume of your twenties?
In my early twenties I was a sales manager in the perfumery department of Selfridges. Can you imagine how many perfumes there were to tempt me? I had already discovered Guerlain Mitsouko as a teenager, with its promise of experiences like those of the chic women who had worn it, and a tiny dab would surely make me a woman of the world! For everyday, I wore the carefree, just-minted Charlie by Revlon. So seventies, so hip!
What was your biggest perfume mistake?
I started training as a perfumer at Naarden International in Northampton and in January 1979 set off for Holland to continue my studies. My Northampton colleagues asked me which perfume I would like to take with me. Rochas had just launched Mystère, and at first I liked it a lot, but in time I began to find its sweetness too cloying. It didn’t have clean enough lines for me. I wish I had chosen a better fragrance to remember my early perfumery years and my colleagues by.
If you could only choose one perfume?
My Signature fragrance is the essence of me, in its creation as well as in its execution. Since falling in love as a teenager with Guerlain‘s Mitsouko, I knew I wanted to translate it for myself into my own perfume. I could wear this fragrance day or night, it is such a happy fragrance. It lifts my spirits and makes me feel like a whole woman – it’s indispensable!
What perfume should I try?
I created Oxford to appeal to both men and women. It starts out with top notes of basil and galbanum, then mellows a bit under the influence of clary sage, before softening as the vanilla warms and melts. Oxford started out as a homage to my days at the University, when I first noticed the piquant notes of Gitanes wafting from some subversive undergraduate’s room. It could express and enhance any woman or man’s desire to be subtly different.
Follow Stephan on Twitter: @StephanTweets