Scents good enough for 007 and Jaded Emperors: An interview with Agatha Brown
10th January, 2006
Name: Agatha Brown-Marder
Current Location : Oranjestad, Aruba
Place of Birth: Borger, Texas
Current Occupation: Fashion designer/retailer/manufacturer
Proudest Moment: There have been many, but I suppose the one that stands out in my mind most of all is the day I opened my own showroom on Seventh Avenue in New York to present my designer sportswear collections. This was January 2, 1983. Prior to that I had worked as a designer for many well known New York manufacturers, but all designers eventually want their own design house.
Fragrances that intrigue you (brands, scents, or essential notes): This is difficult to answer without comparing other fragrances to those in my collection, and of course I would be hopelessly biased. A hint however is that I am drawn to scents that dry down "powdery" and often become classics.
Hi Agatha! Thanks for talking with me about your "Agatha" fragrances. I remember my friend Chuck's excitement at having discovered your boutique and his earnest praise about the two men's scents. Though both scents are exquisite, my personal favorite of those two is Imperial Jade Emperor as I love the muscat and blackcurrant notes. After visiting your website and enjoying the Imperial Jade advertising, I was wondering how designers go about choosing names and ideas for their fragrances. Can you tell me about your choice of "Imperial Jade" as a source of inspiration and focal point for the Emperor and Empress fragrances?
I had the incredible experience of living in Hong Kong in the early 1970's for six months in the elegant Peninsula Hotel and during this glorious time I came to appreciate and fall in love with the jade stone, in particular Imperial Jade. The translucence of the color jade appears to be a bottomless pool of cool green water, and once seen is unforgettable. So I decided years ago to name a fragrance "Imperial Jade" if I ever created my own fragrance collection.
Agatha, how does a designer choose a fragrance company to create signature scents and what is that process like? Many people assume that the actual designer creates the scent, and though some are intimately involved in the process, many designers merely give final nods of approval.
I asked a friend that works for a company that produces perfume flacons for a recommendation. I asked if there was any company he knew of that was very avant-guarde that would be willing to work with me to create a fragrance unlike any other on the market. He recommended Drom Fragrances International and this was the perfect marriage.
At the very first meeting I told them that I wished to create a fragrance in honor of my namesake, Agatha Christie. I had written a poem and asked them to match the fragrance to the words. I demanded that the fragrance be original, unique, and unlike any other fragrance on the market because Agatha Christie was such a remarkably unique woman.
Drom introduced me to the nose with whom I would work and I made a big hit with her the first words out of my mouth. I told her "you have carte-blanch, don't worry about price, don't worry about restrictions, just be creative and do your thing. She was thrilled since so many perfume houses ask the nose to make a version of the most popular scent of the moment. This, of course, results in too much sameness in the perfume world.
You know, so many of my favorite scents have similar evolutions - a designer allows the creator freedom and voila!, a true masterpiece is born ... Frederic Malle is doing it to wonderous effect. And look at the results of the partnership between Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake! Good for you for trusting "the nose"!
They say that to create a fragrance totally different than any other on the market is impossible, but in this world if one does not demand, one does not get. It took the "nose" over a year to develop "Mystery of Agatha" because she had to search out such rare and unusual ingredients to meet the criteria that it must have a unique smell unlike anything else on the market. This is the one fragrance that we do not reveal the scent oils used.
This has been an enormously successful arrangement. Each fragrance has a poem or a saying that I wrote that serves as the inspiration for the fragrance and the perfumer matches the fragrance to my words. As a result, this is why my fragrances are so different than any others on the market and puts us light years ahead of what everyone else is doing. Besides it is great fun.
These days, women's fragrances are truly all over the map with regards to styles and compositions, but generally, men's fragrances are more reserved. There seems to be a set of unwritten rules regarding men's perfumery, such as "not too floral" or "not too sweet." What rules did you think you had to "stick to" when creating your men's fragrances?
First, I did a great deal of research on men's fragrances before I approached it. Aruba has at least a dozen perfume stores on the island with every known brand in existence. So I believe I smelled every one. And in my opinion, they were too strong and many smelled bad to a woman. My premise was "if it does not smell good to a woman, why would a man want to wear it?" So my first instruction to my "nose" at Drom was that the men's fragrances must not only smell masculine but also smell good to a woman.
I can't tell you how many of our readers are going to be happy that you've said this - there's been an ongoing debate about the importance of a men's scent smelling good to a woman. Most of us feel that the character of the man makes the scent, not the other way around. But I think I understand the genre of scents you are referring to! Tell us more.
Imperial Jade Emperor shares the same color with Imperial Jade Empress but the ingredients are totally different. They are companion fragrances but not the same. These fragrances are designed for romantic evenings and are very exotic and sexy and are what I consider a new category of scent that we call "modern oriental." Jade Emperor is designed to make a man smell absolutely delicious to a woman and they find it irresistible. This is why we recommend that women do not allow their husbands out of the house alone wearing this scent unless they are with them to protect them. This is no exaggeration, trust me. Since this fragrance along with all my fragrances are Eau de Parfum, 18% perfume oils, they are inclined to stay on until they are washed off. The men's fragrances really get rolling in about three to four hours and become more and more masculine as they dry down.
It's true, I did find that the scents had changed and developed over time. It's a wonderful effect in fragrance to find new notes appearing as others fade. And from my experience, both scents had good lasting power. How about Conquest?
Conquest came into being because Jade was too "HOT" to wear to the office or the golf course. Conquest is designed with the 007 type guy in mind. I told my perfumer that it must be elegant, sophisticated, suave, debonair, sexy and DANGEROUS. It is truly an elegant men's fragrance and every man deserves to have both fragrances in their wardrobes: Conquest for daytime wear and Jade for romantic evenings.
And the women's fragrances?
Imperial Jade Empress begins cool, calm, still waters run deep and then in a few moments on the skin, it becomes "hot, sexy, and erotic." It is a light modern oriental. There is rather a lengthy poem I wrote about the Jade stone and this fragrance that appears on the back of the box.
Finally my signature fragrance "AGATHA". The nose and I worked on this fragrance for some time since it had to be special. We finally settled on a fragrance that was well rounded and quite beautiful, but it was missing something. I asked her if we could change the top note to something that would give the fragrance opening more "PZAZZZ" and a "WOW" factor.
Since she had an open ended budget, she used night blooming jasmine and French tuberose as the top note, the two most expensive perfume oils extant. And then the fragrance became spectacular and I believe destined to become a classic. To my knowledge, the only other fragrance on the market with a top note of night blooming jasmine is Joy [by Jean Patou] but that is where the similarity ends. The French tuberose added to the jasmine and the spicy persimmon, passion fruit, a selection of exotic woods, and amber and myrrh round out the fragrance to be its extravagantly beautiful self. As the jasmine and tuberose settle down and blend with the other scents, this fragrance becomes divinely beautiful and very sophisticated. My customers reorder this fragrance again and again and many jealously guard as a secret what it is and where it can be purchased. A woman lawyer in Pasadena, California has reordered it over a dozen times and tells me that when she enters a room, everyone always says "Here comes the lady who always smells so wonderful" She said it was a "red letter day in her life when she discovered
"AGATHA" on a cruise that stopped in Aruba and made me promise to never change it.
Hmm, I understand. Sometimes when I find something truly amazing I don't want to talk about it with my Basenotes buddies because I want the scent to be ALL mine...but after about 5 minutes that feeling passes and I feel it's my duty as a scent-a-holic to give in and give up! Then I usually can't stop talking about it. So, Agatha, please tell us about your first experiences with fragrance - What was the first scent you owned?
While still in high school, my mother gave me a bottle of Emeraude for my birthday and I wore this fragrance exclusively for many years.
Aside from your own fragrances, what other scents do you currently enjoy?
Since I am usually in my flagship store Agatha Boutique most days to meet my customers naturally I must wear my own fragrances. And I love them so much I am reluctant to become involved with others. Also, I do not want to be influenced by other fragrances on the market since it could compromise my creative approach which enables me to be more original and unique.
Any favorite "scented memories"? Yes, my mother always wore Chanel No. 5 and this scent with her body chemistry was magnificently beautiful. She lived to be 96 years old and wore this scent every day to the day she died. Sometimes when I dream of her I can smell the scent as though she is in the room.
How do you think these scents influenced those you created for your boutiques? I like elegant powdery scents!
Me too! So, you currently have 5 fragrances available, three for women, and 2 for men. Any plans to launch additional fragrances? Absolutely. Sometime after the first of the year I will launch the fourth women's fragrance for summer time wear and then the collection is complete. It is named Hearts & Flowers of Agatha and it is just as romantic as it sounds. Of course, it has a poem I wrote as inspiration for this fragrance that I borrowed from a birthday card I gave to my husband to be years ago when we were lovers. And the poem ends "Storm clouds part and the sun shines through, turning the shower into rainbow hues. And suddenly....... its raining hearts and flowers."
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your stories. I'm sure Hearts and Flowers of Agatha will be a hit. I wish you continued success with your fragrances and boutiques, and many wonderful scented memories to come!
I thank you so much for taking your time to review my fragrances.
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