Scents and sensibility – Glass interviews leading British perfume designer Azzi Glasser

I WOULD love to live in Azzi Glasser’s atelier in north London, with its walls lined with mementoes, candles, precious ingredients and perfume bottles – her own creations as well as many others. Glasser describes herself as a “perfume designer” rather than a perfumer, as she is not just interested in making new fragrances but in all the details that surround them: the flacons, the packaging, and, more importantly, the stories which inform her unique approach.

Grey Myrrh white Azzi GlasserGrey Myrrh from The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi

A perfume expert, and in her unassuming, modest way, the warm and friendly Glasser wears her great knowledge very lightly. She has worked in the business (or is it an art form co-opted by business?) for 27 years now, since her teens. “When I was younger, I was a bit of a rebel in the industry, or rather I was perceived that way, as I didn’t follow the system particularly well. I thought the system is there if you want to use it but you don’t have to use this man-made system which anyone can make up, so this was when I decided to branch out and do my own thing which was the first fragrance for Agent Provocateur,” she tells me.

Azzi Glasser PortraitAzzi Glasser. Photograph: Gianluca Pantaleo

This perfume, the soi-disant Agent Provocateur launched in 2000, the now famous “pink egg”, she based on the personalities of Joe Corré and Serena Rees (the founders of the brand) “very sexy, very provocative, very confident” and it was a runaway hit. After this, Glasser became “their in-house perfumer, the first for a fashion company since Chanel had one”.

Sequoia Wood white Azzi GlasserSequoia Wood

Following this success, she went on to make fragrances for other beauty and fashion houses, like the ever cool Bella Freud and the award-winning Freak for Illamasqua, and expanded into creating exclusive bespoke perfumes (which cost £15,000) for personal clients including royalty, actors and Hollywood stars, such as Johnny Depp – (“He didn’t wear perfume until a few years ago and so it had to be right – I wanted that fragrance to be when you smell it, ‘Oh my God, this is sexiest smell around’,” she explains to me) – Helena Bonham Carter, Orlando Bloom and many more, soon becoming the go-to person for unique stylish one-off perfumes. And over time she evolved this unique approach of creating stories in scent form.

“The way I work is, as I told Tim Burton, who was fascinated by what I do, that it wasn’t that dissimilar to how you make a movie. I come up with the idea and concept of the story of the person, or the brand. Ingredients are my characters. I know how certain ones go together and then form a different character. So even if you like rose, it doesn’t mean you are going to smell the rose in the perfume because then I would do a whole rose perfume. So, a pretty little rose, you could make into a dark dangerous character by adding saffron, vetiver, oude or some smoky notes to it,” Glasser continues.

Figue Ambrette Azzi Glasser The award-winning Fig Ambrette candle

Her perfumes, made with the best, and often, very rare and unusual ingredients) are intelligent, sophisticated and very carefully thought-out, evocative, distinctive but not flashy – they don’t grab and overwhelm – but subtly grow and enchant. They are delectable.

“My main thing, in terms of fragrance, is that I like creating molecules, or accords. The perfume industry, or houses, are dictated by the marketing people, saying, ‘We want all the fragrances around fruity florals because that is the trend’. But not everyone is a floral fruity type,” she explains.

Amber Molecule Azzi GlasserAmber Molecule

“So they create a million fragrances around that. Whereas for me, it’s not about the ingredients that are the latest trend. It’s about the accord you can create when a group of ingredients come together. Which is like music. When people create different music, they try different notes and different rhythms which are transformed into music. This is very like writing a story or a perfume formulation,” she explains to me.

Glasser approaches perfume making, or “making accords”, like the way that a musician writes a song, or a painter paints and, appropriately, she has collaborated on many intriguing art and music projects at places such as Somerset House, the V&A and the Meltdown festival.

Azzi Glasser Black MossThe Perfumer’s Story Black Moss candle

“I am creating a vision that I have,” Glasser says. “A story that I am telling, in the same way a writer or painter works. For me, it is always to be on that creative journey because I love what I do because it takes me out from the outside world, which can be so harsh and disturbing. If you can’t change something, the best that you can do is to create your own world and be happy in that.”

In 2015, to coincide with being appointed the in-house bespoke perfumer for Harvey Nichols’s concierge service, Glasser decided to launch her own line in the store, entitled The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi, (basically her back catalogue) comprising 11 fragrances each based on a character because “everyone has their story. They have their own character, their own persona, their own style. And I tell their story through perfume, through the sense of smell, sense that is like a DNA print,” she says.

This collection which she carefully maintains includes Twisted Iris, Old Books (which Stephen Fry loves) C (Kate Moss’s favourite), Sequoia Wood (Glasser’s signature fragrance) and Amber Molecule.

She maintains the integrity of the line by adding to it very selectively but has augmented it recently by introducing a line of candles, one of which – her Fig Ambrette – won Best New Home Fragrance in the British Fragrance Foundation awards this year. Her bespoke service is now available for Net A Porter’s EIPs too. Her plans continue apace and this year she is collaborating with another department store and a very famous actor and director (“a big one”) to be announced in September. “It’s very exciting,” she says.

I, for one, can’t wait to see (and smell) the next chapter of The Perfumer’s Story.

by Caroline Simpson

The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi is available from  Liberty, Harvey Nichols and here. The fragrances retail at £95 for 3oml (EDP). The candles (180g) retail at £49 are available from here.

For more details about Azzi’s bespoke atelier service, please visit this link

Azzi will be launching two new fragrances in September –  After Hours (exclusive to Harrods) and Kingsman TGC created in conjunction with the release of Matthew Vaughn’s new film Kingsman: The Golden Circle