Azzi Glasser and the Aladdin’s Cave of Fragrance

Sunday, October 12th 2014 0

An interview and a lesson in life

One of my all time favourite fragrances is Illamasqua's Freak.

I love it because it reminds me of when I first started working for them; a really cold winter and a very happy time. Whenever we talked about it in the office (we all loved it, male and female, old and young) the same name came up again and again – Azzi.

Azzi Glasser, a legend of perfumery, was the lady behind my favourite scent. I didn’t know much about her, but from what I could gather she was somehow involved with all of the coolest launches you could think of and was the lady to know when it came to fragrance. Everything she had her name to had a slightly different story; she was linked to things like bespoke fragrances or signature scents for exciting brands.

Azzi 5

I reached out to her one day to see if she might answer a few questions for me over e-mail, partly because I thought it would make a lovely story and partly to satisfy my own curiosity. What returned was an invitation to her home, to see the space that she works from, so that I could truly get a sense of her craft. Shortly thereafter ensued a journey into the narnia of fragrance and the most sensory room I have ever embarked upon.

I can’t quite describe it but there was simply a very positive aura around Azzi’s impossibly tall house. She was situated in a discreet square, and as I worked my way up her turquoise mosaic footsteps and rang the doorbell I felt a distinct change in atmosphere from the busy London road I’d come from. (She bought it from her friend Pearl Lowe, she later told me. I saw Pearl at one of Sali Hughes’ Beauty Project talks earlier this year and now feel as though her tranquil, hippy vibe had worked it’s way into the house.) When her assistant walked me through her living space I was hit instantly by a heady, warm candle, and she lead me into what can only be described as an Aladdin’s cave of fragrances. There, in a Bella Freud sweatshirt, leather skirt and Converse, sat Azzi.

Azzi had a real impact on me because I perceived her as both sensible and whimsical all at once. On one hand she was sensibly taken by the power of hard work, believing that with time and effort anything could be achieved. At the same time she was innately positive, and I felt as though this perhaps had just as much power when it came to her realising her goals. There was something very raw about her take on life – I didn’t once feel as though she censored herself as we spoke. As I asked her tales about her journey I found it fascinating that she focused more on her thoughts and feelings at any given time than the professional steps themselves; she fed herself on instinct.

Azzi 4

The beginning of Azzi’s story was quite a funny one. “I fell into being a perfumer. I didn’t even know the word”, she told me when I asked how it all began. She didn’t go to Uni, insisting that she was too impatient for it. “School was good for discipline; not for subjects”, she explained. “You determine your success depending on what you bring. I’ve always believed that the world is what you make of it.” Azzi was consistent in telling me how she viewed the world and in reminding me that anything was possible.

After taking her first fragrance innovation to Boots at 19, she embarked upon a journey with CPL Aromas who soon contacted her after hearing of her work. She found herself “shocked and disappointed” when she worked behind the doors of fine fragrance. “It was all marketing led. Why wasn’t it more creatively led?” she wondered. “To me it wasn’t about how you see the industry, it was about how you see the world.” Two friends that saw the world as she did were Joe Corre and Serena Rees, then founders of Agent Provocateur. “You have to lead, and they were leaders”, she said of them. On holiday they discussed the possibility of collaborating on the first AP fragrance and little did they know their vision would translate into one of the most iconic fragrances.

Azzi 3

One of Azzi’s first memories of fragrance was the trail of scent that her mother left behind her before a night out. She said that when she was little she vividly remembered watching her mother get ready, apply her make-up, throw on her coat, and spray her favourite scent before she left the house. She noted that even though her mother had left, the scent left a trail behind her. “The most important thing was to leave that trail behind”, she said of the AP fragrance. Determined to house it in a porcelain bottle, she embarked upon a journey through the porcelain doors of Stoke-on-Trent with Joe. Everyone had warned them that no one would make a bottle in porcelain for them, but their back-to-basics approach paid off. They found their supplier and their porcelain fragrance bottles were the first of their kind in over 200 years. She recalls bringing AP to Daniela Rinaldi, then Fragrance Director at Harvey Nichols and now Group Concessions and Beauty Director, who said that it would be a big hit. Soon thereafter it went straight to number one, gracing the pages of every monthly glossy along the way.

As we talked my eyes were drawn to all of the nooks and crannies of this little room. Shelves upon shelves were lined with fragrance bottles and candles, tall and short, bright and dark, from every brand and name you could imagine. Alongside these trinkets I noticed stacks of small, labelled boxes. Names of bespoke fragrance clients – from supermodels to actresses to singers – were present, and thus we began a discussion about Azzi’s bespoke fragrances. “It normally hits me straight away”, she said when I asked how she knew where to begin with a bespoke fragrance. She will spend some time with the person, “almost like a therapy session”, she quips, and she goes a lot on energy and instinct.

Azzi 1

And then of course I had to ask her about my favourite Freak. Her description of the fragrance was so succinct, it was the most memorable part of the day for me. “I wanted to surround a delicate heart with much stronger ingredients, like Illamasqua itself.” A celebration of the night, all of the flowers bloom at night or have some connection to the twilight.

It was funny, but what I took from meeting Azzi was nothing at all to do with fragrance. What I left with was a surge of motivation. This was a lady that didn’t seem to hear the word, ‘how’, instead only hearing, ‘when’. I mean did you ever think a fragrance as widely available as Agent Provocateur could have used a tiny porcelain manufacturer in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent to operate? She really reminded me that behind huge success stories are people, normal people, and that any one of us could be one of them. She made me feel that I could be one of them.

Me and Azzi Glasser

I’m fortunate to have met a lot of beauty authorities along the way so far, but in terms of spirit and story, none of them have held a torch to Azzi.

Next time you visit Liberty of London, be sure to explore Bella Freud’s new fragrance line, one of Azzi’s latest masterpieces. My favourite is Ginsberg is God.

For bespoke fragrance enquiries, contact Rachel Rotland at Family Three: [email protected].

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