Ruth Mastenbroek: A Working Nose

‘Scent is my life.’  Says perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek. Quite simply, she explains that ‘The fragrance is the essence of my art.  It is my signature…’

Ruth Mastenbroek was born in England and graduated with a Chemistry degree from Oxford University. Having trained in the late 70s and then worked as a perfumer in the UK and Netherlands with Naarden International (who later became Quest and is now Givaudan – one of the largest perfume suppliers in the world); Ruth worked in Japan and in the perfume capital Grasse before returning to England to work for a small compan. There she created fragrances for up-and-coming brands like Kenneth Turner and Jo Malone – including her now infamously successful Grapefruit candle. But finally Ruth knew she wanted to set up her own perfumery company, Fragosmic Ltd., in 2003 – the year she became president of The British Society of Perfumers.

In 2010 Ruth launched her capsule collection of scented products featuring her signature fragrance – RM – and also became the first to use the ground-breaking micro-encapsulation technology… in a scented bathrobe!

Ruth launched her second fragrance, Amorosa, in May 2012 at Les Senteurs in London. Her range is now sold in more than 25 exclusive shops in the UK, as well as in the Netherlands and Nigeria. Her fragrances are astonishingly well composed, but more than smelling beaituful, they capture whole worlds and stories in every bottle.

We’re thrilled to be stocking this incredible discovery set of fragrances in the Ruth Mastenbroek Collection for you to try at home. From the smoulderingly sensual to the classically chic, with sunshine, smoky green unisex to travel memories and joyous moments captured in every bottle, we truly believe there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Why not treat yourself (or a loved one) to a whole new world of exploration…?

Ruth Mastenbroek Collection £17.95 for 4 x 2ml eau de parfum

Ruth has long been a friend of The Perfume Society, so we thought it was about time we caught up with her and found out exactly how she goes about making her fragrances, as part of our series of exclusive interviews with perfumers, called The Working Nose

Is there any such thing as an average day for you? What’s your routine?

Ruth Mastenbroek: It’s not quite as rigid as that. What tends to happen is that I get ideas overnight, and then I can try them out in the lab the next morning. I do enjoy writing out my formulas then, and feeling that then I’ve got the rest of the day to work through them. The way that I like to work has evolved over time. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a chypre, and the basic structure, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it – there was a lot of trial and error and going back and forth between versions, but eventually I did get there with Signature.

With Amorosa, I knew I wanted to create a tuberose fragrance, because it was so incredibly different from what I’d done, so I wanted to explore. But it had to have something else, which became the ambery woody part of it. With Oxford and Firedance I had a starting point, but then I’d take a chunk out and try something else, to see how that affected the performance and character. It’s not as though I know exactly what’s going to happen when I put two things together. Obviously after forty years I know a lot, I have the experience, but you can never absolutely be sure until it’s done!

Do you keep a notebook with you to collect ideas – how do you keep a track of everything you imagine?

Well it honestly tends to be all in my head, the ideas are very vivid and I like to start working on them immediately, but over the years I’ve made so many different formulas, it’s all written down and I keep a note of every single addition or subtraction I experiment with. That way you have this back catalogue of things that you might not have a use for immediately, but which you know will prove vital at some point! My daughter thinks it’s hilarious that I still write everything down by hand. I still make a note of everything on the computer, but I prefer writing by hand. I do tend to have a lot of Postit notes around, scraps of paper with things that have occurred to me – an unusual combination that worked surprisingly well.

Are you inspired by pictures, textures or sounds at all?

For me it’s a very visual thing – I know some perfumers are synaesthetic and also inspired by sounds, and I can imagine that being very creative working with music, but I see them visually. I think of them texturally, too – very touchy-feely. When I think about my fragrances this way I can then sense what else I need to add to extend that feeling.

Do you need to work in complete quiet – do you shut yourself away when you’re working?

I very much prefer to be alone. I love working and creating on my own. Working from home a lot of the time I can do that. If you’re in a bigger office it’s much harder to do that, but I will always go and find a room where I can go and have some solitude. Otherwise there are too many distractions. I mean, sometimes it’s nice to be distracted, but I like to work methodically through something and just get it done.

When you’re composing a fragrance, are you strict about keeping everything very neutral around you? So not wearing any scented products at all?

Oh yes, you have to really. I mean you end up trying them on your skin of course, because you need to know how they perform, but other scents are very intrusive. Actually, I had one moment that really awkward – I was working for a company where they invited several perfumers to on a day trip to a bluebell wood, with the idea that each perfumer would then create a fragrance based on their personal impressions of it. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of wearing a sweater I’d worn previously had perfume on it. I just didn’t think. But when everything else is un-fragranced (and everyone else there!), boy do you become hyper aware of it. I learned my lesson that day.

What do you think of the rise in self-taught niche perfumers? Do you think it’s a shame they aren’t being trained in that strict way you were?

I think it opens up other routes. But, from what I understand, those who are self-taught are learning about ingredients they can get hold of. And actually that becomes a very limited palette. Whereas, because I had the great fortune to work for a big company, I had access to thousands of materials and had to learn them inside out. On the other hand, Im sure it’s making them really consider what they’re using and how they use it, because they don’t have that luxury. I am a great believer in training, but there just aren’t the places or opportunities for everyone to train the way I did. I guess I’m just glad I did it, you know, a hundred-million years ago, and so I can now rely on that breadth of knowledge and experience. Because in the end, that’s what colours every single fragrance I create…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

How to build your Fragrance Wardrobe

The elusive search for a ‘signature scent’ has befuddled many an otherwise perfectly level-headed person; that one true love who will supposedly meet your every need, match your every mood and mark you out as uniquely ‘you’ wherever you go.

I am here to tell you the existence of such a perfume is poppycock, and that unless you’re a tomcat you really shouldn’t require one smell to identify yourself to those around you.

Nowadays it’s far more acceptable to acquire a wardrobe of fragrances catering to your many moods (hopefully you have more than one) and the multitude occasions that make up your busy life. Just as jeans and a white shirt are a great fashion basic, but may not be deemed acceptable for a high-powered meeting or a glitzy cocktail party; one solitary perfume is unlikely to express every facet of your personality. Moreover, perfume should be fun – a hushed whisper of intriguing hints rather than a name tag sewn to a uniform.

Casting off the shackles of feeling enslaved to your comfy old favourite is quite another matter, of course, and like any wardrobe worth having, it takes a bit of self-reflection, a lot of research and above all else, time. But the best place to start is by smelling a range of differing perfumes from the various ‘families’ (types) of fragrance.

Have a read of the tips below, and let the hunt begin…

Do a bit of research online and find out name of the nose who designed some perfumes you already like – this is an excellent starting point in your quest for tentatively branching out. Just as top chefs and fashion designers have a signature style or cut, many perfumers stamp their mark in the scents they create.

Never imagine you know exactly which notes you love and hate, though. For many years I laboured under the misapprehension that I simply could not abide rose and lavender in any form; now several of my favourites contain those very ingredients – it all depends on the quality, quantity and how they are used.

When trying something completely new, allow yourself to fall under the spell of the smell alone, without heeding the notes at all. Focus, instead, on how it makes you feel, the images it conjures in your mind. Think of the roles you play, at work, as a friend, a mother, a lover – the infinitesimal masks you wear or perhaps would like to try on for size.

Throw a Bring a Bottle perfume party for your friends, get everyone to bring all their perfumes – especially ones they were given as gifts and are currently languishing on dusty shelves. Try them, swap them, critique them – surprise yourselves. Be brave!

With all this in mind, we curated a perfect starting point for anyone wishing to expand their perfumed horizon with the Fragrance Wardrobe Discovery Box – eleven scents spanning florals, chypre, oriental, fresh and gourmand, to give you a taste for something new and exciting to wear. From designer names to new niche and with a fabulous classic we’re swooning about all over again, it’s a great introduction for those of you nervous to splash out on scents before getting to know what you like – and therefore need in your Fragrance Wardrobe…

Fragrance Wardrobe Discovery Box £19 (£15 for VIP Club Members)

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Collectively obsessed with scent: you have to see this mega mini perfume collection!

Obsession isn’t just the name of a perfume – it’s a very good description of the fragrant madness that creeps in to every perfume collector’s life sooner or later. And there are many differing types… The completists – those who absolutely must have every single version of  particular scent; the vintage fans who insist on owning (and sometimes wearing, if they’re in good enough condition) history, bottled. Talking of bottles, perhaps the largest collecting community within the perfume world are those who fill their homes (and garages, and sheds) with particular types of flacon – from ultra rare examples that reach eye-watering prices to retro scents in charmingly bizarre shapes – for these collectors, the perfume itself is actually secondary: they’re alllll about the bottle.

For the latest edition of The Scented Letter magazine, we focused on the mysteriouly enticing world of collectors and their collections – and one of the main images we used was kindly supplied by a VIP Subsciber, Phoebe Tan, who happened to mention ‘Oh yeah, my mum collects minis. She has quite a few…’ For “quite a few” please see the featured photo, above, and you’ll understand why we just had to interview Phoebe’s mum, Lindsay Yeo, to find out more.

Lindsay: ‘I first became interested in perfume when I went shopping in a department store about 30 years ago. There was a promotional event for Lancôme where I did a questionnaire that proposed one of their perfumes to match my personality. The winning one was… Magie Noire. I really loved it. Before this, I used to hate perfumes because people around me wore very heavy fragrances (this was in the 70s). But this event made me discover that I just hadn’t found a perfume I truly liked! That same day I bought my first full size perfume which came with a miniature bottle that caught my eye…’

Once the fragrant bait has been taken, it’s a short step to full-on perfumista status, we’ve long known. And Lindsay mused how it was ‘…funny I still have the full size bottle long after it was emptied.’ Of course we had to know how many she had stashed, and Lindsay confessed: ‘I just went to count and I currently have close to 500 bottles (most of them are minis!). This is the first time I’ve counted and I am quite shocked, actually.’
When asked what set her on this miniature-perfume collecting path, Lindsay explained ‘I really only wanted to collect the miniatures so initially I would buy full-size bottles for the minis. The first few I bought were: Magie noire by Lancome, Paloma Picasso , Lou Lou, Anais Anais by Cacharel, Ysatis by Givenchy, Ruffles by Oscar De La Renta, Gucci No.3, Beyond Paradise by Estee Lauder. Years later I found shops that sold the minis on their own – without the need to buy the full-sizes – and that is how I started collecting. It’s kinder on the pocket!’

So what exactly does a collector look for in a bottle – what catches their eye and makes them think “I MUST have that!”? For Lindsay… ‘I look out for interesting designs. [NB: The “lighter” shaped bottle, above, is a particular favourite of Lindsay’s.] To me, perfume bottles are pieces of art! They are so beautiful. Miniatures are not easy to come by so I really treat them all as treasures.’

Phoebe Tan with her miniature-bottle collecting mum, Lindsay Yeo.

Clearly, the passion for perfume runs in the blood, as Phoebe Tan first became interested in chemistry and then – when she made the connection between science and the art of perfume – she was totally hooked. Now setting her heart on a career in fragrance, Phoebe has been studying (and is soon to graduate from) for her MSc Cosmetic Science’ at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London. And having sniffed some of her “course work” examples, we’re pretty sure Phoebe’s own fragrances will be added to future collector’s scent stashes…
Written by Suzy Nightingale

For National Perfume Day, show off your ‘shelfies’ to The Perfume Shop… we’ve shown them ours, now let’s see yours!

In celebration of National Perfume Day on Thursday 14th April, The Perfume Shop are urging fragrance fans to show off their ‘shelfies’ – photos of their scent collections – by posting images on Twitter, mentioning @theperfumeshop and using the hashtag #wherewillittakeyou.

We know many of you have cabinets simply groaning with the weight of your collections (some of whom we feature in our #ShareMyStash section of our award-winning magazine, The Scented Letter!) or perhaps are begining to build up a more moderate, carefully curated perfume wardrobe and still want to show that off, too.

Well of course we wanted to get involved and took a snapshot of our very own in-office ‘shelfie’ to post them – something we add to and update constantly as we never know what mood our noses will be in on any given day. Fancy a sneak-peek? See below…

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Having shown you ours, we’d love to see what you share with them – and please do get in touch if you think we’d like to come and sniff out your very own scent collection – we’re always on the look out for more to feature in the magazine!

The Perfume Shop will be celebrating National Perfume Day with in store activities, a 10% discount in store all day and a fragrance giveaway for the best shelfie with the hashtag #wherewillittakeyou.

For more information, visit The Perfume Shop, on Twitter @ThePerfumeShop, or via their Scents blog.

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Written by Suzy Nightingale