The Sweet Smell Of Success
By Bailey Beckett | Photography Bailey Beckett | Hair and Makeup Amina Mitchell
I love what I do,” says Sue Phillips in an impeccable South African accent on a warm Spring afternoon. “I want people to have a beautiful experience and enjoy the magic of fragrance. I also want them to reflect on who they are by having their own fragrance.”
Sue Phillips would know. A veteran of the fragrance business, she created the “Tiffany” perfume as well as its men’s cologne. She also dreamed up “Society for Burberry” as well as other aromas for Trish McEvoy, Avon, Diane Von Furstenberg and Lancaster, among others. Along the way Phillips has held top level positions with the biggest brands in beauty before opening The Scentarium. It’s there she is doing some of her most intimate and inspired work for clients including Jamie Fox, Katie Holmes, and Zendaya, to name a few.
One need only look around her laboratory, which could double for a designer atelier, to see Phillips takes this seriously. After greeting each visitor warmly, she has them do a personality quiz which she says is 99 percent accurate in reading her clients.
MAKING SENSE OF SCENTS
Then 2020 hit and like most businesses in town, COVID-19 took the scent maker off the map. After all, who was looking for a custom perfume during the pandemic? The veteran beauty executive temporarily closed her “scenterprises” where she created bespoke fragrances. Phillips turned her attention to launching her book and made plans for what she hoped would be an eventual return to glamour and the world she helped create. “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” Coco Chanel famously said. They are words Phillips has always lived by, and she was ready to put the past year behind her.
The virus had other plans. Months later and just as she opened a new studio on the Upper East Side, Phillips met a client who had lost her sense of smell as a direct result of the pandemic. The veteran “Scent Whisperer,” had a sneaking suspicion her signature fragrance journey, featuring 18 scents she hand-makes from ingredients like musk, lavender, and oils, might help. On a rainy day in April, the woman came to see Phillips at her new space on the Upper East Side, and together they made history.
“I said, ‘Let’s just be present, just concentrate, smell with your brain.’” Phillips went on to explain that it’s okay if you can’t smell anything, but just allow the vibrations and the frequencies to come in. “I’m not a doctor, and I’m not a chemist, but I know the extraordinary powers of fragrance.”
HITTING THE RIGHT NOTES
Mid-way through their session, the woman suddenly recognized a deeper woodsy and vanilla scent. Her eyes filled with tears, and she was overcome with emotion. As a “long hauler” still battling symptoms of COVID, she hadn’t smelled or tasted a thing in 14 months. Until now.
“She couldn’t really smell the top notes, she couldn’t really identify the middle notes, but then suddenly there was a flicker in her eye, and she said, ‘I can smell something. I don’t know what it is, but I can smell something.’ It was so palpable that she welled up crying.” So did Phillips.
Through the magic of social media, the news spread like a wildfire. First through New York, then across the country and a month later it was global. Phillips has seen dozens of clients whose smell was affected by COVID, and her “fragrance journey” has helped more than 20 regain their ability.
“Smell is such a big part of life’s pleasures,” says Phillips. “It is our most powerful sense because it connects memory and emotion. After COVID, people began to realize how crucial it is to our lives. When it is out of reach, it affects many realms of life, including eating and taste. People get very depressed. It’s devastating. The fact that I’m able to help them rediscover their sense of smell and get back to enjoying life again is one of the best parts of my job. I’m so happy that I’ve been able to help people.”
Phillips, whose private sessions start at $850, has been offering specially priced scent healing consultations and is developing a fragrance kit with scents to help clients “smell with their brains.”
THE NOSE KNOWS
Phillips has been doing that for years, since she first began her extraordinary career in beauty and fragrance. She steadily climbed to the top of the industry, powered by her near Super Woman ability to recognize scent, a chemist-like understanding of ingredients, extraordinary instinct in how scents will trigger reaction, and a psychologist’s intuition in how different smells can affect a person’s mood and memories. She’s been called “The Nose that Knows,” and her track record speaks for itself.
“All the fragrances I have developed and created are like my children,” says a modest Phillips. “I love them all because they were all different, and it was a distinct honor to be associated with iconic brands and companies. Tiffany was so memorable. I was able to capture the heritage and history of Tiffany & Co. in one unmistakable scent, which is still one of the most in-demand perfumes even though it’s no longer made. If you had told me that growing up in South Africa, I would be involved in the creation of so many global brands, I would not have believed it!
Her 12-year-old company, is where Phillips creates fragrances for clients, consults with brands and, yes, has finally published her long-awaited book The Power of Perfume: How to Choose It, Wear it and Enjoy It! which has become a best seller. “It’s an homage to perfumes and scents and how it really helps people gain confidence, reflect their individuality and create a signature,” she says. “I always ask my clients, ‘Why wear what everyone else wears when you can create your own?’”
The 280-page book is filled with highlights from Phillips’ career, myths about perfume and little-known-facts about the intoxicating effect of fragrance on all your senses. “My mission,” she says, “is to diffuse fragrance out of the bottle and to create memorable experiences.”