The scene was set for Olivia da Costa‘s fragrance house Olfactive O, in her childhood. Read her fascinating journey from petite perfume-lover to creator of her own personality-driven scent brand…
As a child, Olivia da Costa simultaneously infuriated and amused her grandmother by sneaking into her bedroom and ‘…dousing myself in copious amounts of her precious Houbigant Quelque Fleurs. I think I still smelled of it for weeks after!’ The scene was set for a full-on obsession, and by eight years old she’d already ‘built up my own little collection of vials and bottles I’d feretted away and still have to this day’ – a favourite being ‘the Disney perfume which I’d spray on everything including my pillows and bed. Even though it’s long been discontinued its scent profile is imprinted on my brain forever more!’
From such early signs of a perfumista in the making, Olivia carried her love of perfume into adulthood, ‘but perfumery was never suggested as a career, so it didn’t occurred to me as something I could pursue as more than a passionate hobby.’ The world of fashion and design called, and she studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art, while paying her rent by working as an independent make-up artist for weddings and events.
After art college, Olivia’s creative hunger led her to study English Literature, during which her sense of smell became unusually engaged as she noticed scent was often used as thematic device within the novels she most loved. ‘I developed a new appreciation of scent through turn of the century literature, especially Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair,’ she explains, ‘all of which have a strong theme running through them of the power, romance, hedonism and excitement of scent.’ Reading Luca Turin’s The Secret of Scent propelled her further along this perfumed path, because ‘I believe strongly in the subconscious power of scent and the importance of wearing perfumes which compliment and enhance who you are to others.’
With the concept of the psychology of perfume burning within her, Olivia began working at John Lewis in their Beauty and Perfume department and started to ‘understand the inner workings of the beauty industry and how to create fragrance and develop products from scratch.’ Working her way up to become their Buyer, Olivia says she discovered ‘how I could combine my deep passion for perfume with my job,’ and indeed she remained working as a Fragrance Buyer for various big-name fragrance brands for many years.
But somehow, it just wasn’t enough. Having become increasingly frustrated with some aspects of the industry being ‘…dominated by big advertising campaigns and images of models which detract and confuse what scent is and how it should be worn,’ Olivia wanted to find a way to encourage people to try new fragrances, ‘and get back to the deeply personal and almost animal elements of scent.’
A friend held the key to Olivia’s fragrant future – introducing her to a distinguished perfumer and creative chemist. Keen to start her own personality-based collection, Olivia discussed her ideas with him, eventually spending many hours together, building a strong connection and friendship that led to him actually co-founding the house of Olfactive O. And the name of the nose? Well, that’s kept confidential. ‘He is a very private man,’ explains Olivia, and because of his closeness to the house and his professional integrity, he prefers to remain anonymous – allowing Olivia to speak for herself.
‘We now share a deep understanding of each other’s scent preferences and compliment each other so well. He is an ultra perfectionist,’ Olivia enthuses, clearly very excited about their working relationship, explaining how his expertise complements her ‘psychological science of fragrance, as well as a passion for scent personality profiles.’
Personality types are integral to choosing the perfect perfume, Olivia believes, because it’s such an emotional connection. So each of the Olfactive O fragrances is formed around a distinct character profile, allowing the person choosing to have a strong idea of where to begin sniffing – and we urge you to read each description (helpfully printed on the bottle labels, too) to begin your journey. ‘I Am Elegant, Effortless and Romantic.’ Or perhaps, ‘I Am A Dark Horse, Secret Keeper and Thinker.’ Fascinating stuff – and spot-on, we’re finding, for identifying which fragrances in the collection we’ll love, love, love.
So does Olivia now unconsciously ‘scent profile’ people she meets? ‘Yes all the time! If they’re wearing scent I will be thinking about who they are based on their smell, or if they’re not, what I think they should be wearing…’ she laughs, musing that ‘Everyone does this at a subconscious level without even realising it, I’m just so aware of it everyday that I can’t help it!’ Dinner parties these days become impromptu scent-matching sessions, Olivia says, and we feel sure that when you discover these wonderful fragrances for yourself, you’ll be more than ready to join this scented banquet of personal discovery…