Nina Friede had a pretty cool job: creative-directing the production of luxury hotel amenities—the kind that most of us would undoubtedly pilfer before checkout time. She worked with some perfume heavy hitters like Annick Goutal and Jean Patou. But when the creative bug bites, it doesn't let go, and Nina Friede began wondering what it would be like to create her own line.
A few years later, she's the head of Friedemodin, a London-based perfumery that has—no surprise!—impeccable branding, a romantic aesthetic, and a devotion to storytelling. (We featured one of our favorites, Jardin Mystique, in the British Invasion! collection.)
We spoke with Friede about her journey to perfumery, why and how she makes use of narrative in the creative process, and what it's like to be a perfumer in London today.
Olfactif: What does it smells like right now where you are?
Nina Friede: I’m in my neighborhood park and it smells like blue skies, sun, the spring flowers coming out, and you know when the bushes and trees are starting to get green and the cherry trees are blooming. It smells flowery, fresh, but with a hint of warmth from the sun. It smells like everybody’s happy. There’s a wild garden in the back, and you can lie on the grass. All the little birds are flying around, and the Thames River is straight next to it, which fills the air with a metallic and fresh note I really like it here.
O: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and how did you end up in London?
NF: I’m from Germany, from a little town called Worpswede. It’s a little artist village, and I came to London seven years ago for another job. I worked in the hospitality industry creating luxury amenities for hotels and airlines—all the branded miniature shampoos, lotions, and soaps in the five-star hotels. That’s how I came to London for a job, and then I wanted to create perfumes for myself.
O: When did perfume become important to you?
NF: I think that for me, smells were always really interesting. My mother collected perfume bottles, and I liked the perfumes inside. I can remember when I was a teenager, I had a miniature bottle of every brand—I had a chest of miniatures in my room. Also, through this artistic village where I’m from, there’s a lot of nature. And I always loved being outside with the flowers and the scents of everything.
O: How did Friedemodin begin?
NF: I had six months off between jobs, and a friend and I would meet for our coffee every day. We talked about perfumes a lot and got this idea to create them. It got under our skin and we were really interested in this idea of fragrance and storytelling intersecting. So we started to think about what would be different from any other perfumes. We said the perfumes would have to be classic but with a contemporary twist, and had to revolve around a story. When we kicked it off, we wrote the story first. That was really important. And then we talked to several people about the concept and the story and how to translate the smells in the story into perfumes. I wanted to create collections around stories, and each perfume in a collection would represent a different part in that story.
We then came in contact with Francois Robert, a legendary nose, and he loved the idea of creating this concept. That’s how we created first Jardin Mystique and then the other perfumes that are a part of our first collection.
O: You call Friedemodin a “combination perfumery.” What does that mean?
NF: It means that you can layer the perfumes from each collection on the skin. They harmonize. Some of the base notes are a common thread through each perfume in a single collection. So Jardin Mystique, Vertine, Rosée Nuit, and Feu Follet all work together on your skin, and you can layer them however you like.
O: Do you have some favorite combinations for how to layer the Jardin Mystique collection?
NF: All combinations are very nice, and it really depends on your skin or maybe the mood you are in that day. The exciting bit is that because they all have ingredients and accords in common, but are strong individual perfumes at 20% concentration, the ingredients play on your skin. Even if you layer one perfume in the morning and you like to refresh it with another in the evening, the ingredients of the first perfume come even more alive again and mix with each other and you discover new notes in the combination.
I like the combination of Feu Follet and then on top to layer the Jardin Mystique. Both bring a bit of a unique freshness to the combination and the jasmine works very well with the warm notes of Feu Follet.
O: Why was it important to you to approach your collections as stories?
NF: I like stories. Everybody likes to hear stories. Why not find yourself in one of those stories through a beautiful scent? Be carried away and let your imagination guide you? I like to tell stories of what I have either experienced myself or of what fascinates me. Something I like to share with others. A scent is the best way to translate those mystical stories. For me, it’s important that perfumes are always something personal, something passionate. When I create perfumes with my perfumers, I want them to understand and bring their own imagination to that story’s smells. So that’s why I create the story first and then sit down with the perfumer so they can experience the story.
O: Tell us about the story of the Jardin Mystique collection.
NF: The Jardin Mystique collection is all about a wild, enchanted garden that you open with an old key, and that’s where the key in our logo comes from. You open the gate to that garden, and you’re in this wild scene of green with ivy branches creeping around. There’s a little waterfall, and that’s the first impression you get through Jardin Mystique. Vertine then represents the morning in the garden, when the dew is still on the grass and you’re walking around barefoot. Rosée de Nuit, is the evening dew, when the sun sets down in the garden after a hot day, so you get mostly the woody notes and spice coming through. The last one is Feu Follet, and that means “dancing flame.” It’s midnight in the garden on a sleepless night. There’s still a garden fire burning, so you get the smokiness and dancing flames.
O: That’s lovely. Did you create a real-life version of the story for creative inspiration?
NF: Yes! We sat in Francois’ garden at different times of the day. And his garden is really a wild garden with a lot of flowers and herbs. For example, for Vertine, we sat at six o’clock in the morning starting with the sun coming up, the dew still on the grass. For Rosée de Nuit, we were in the garden again and when the sun went down, we had a glass of wine, lit candles, and experienced how the garden smelled. We did that for various times of day, and then we started to develop.
O: You really don’t compromise on your process.
NF: No, and that’s why it takes a little bit longer sometimes to develop these fragrances. For the new perfume in the next collection we’re working on, I was in Jordan and other parts of the East so I would know how that feels for me and smells for me. I like to translate this and bring it to people who also love perfume so that once they read the story and then smell the perfumes, they feel immediately in that place or in that story. That’s really important for me.
O: What’s the London perfume scene like right now?
NF: Everybody normally looks at London as having really good-quality perfume brands, but we don’t look at it as being in competition with each other. We’re friends. I’m very fond of the Grossmiths—I love the Grossmiths!— and we are always sharing and supporting each other. And Sarah from 4160 Tuesdays, I’m always sitting in her lab, and we always chat. I actually need to meet her in the next couple of days or weeks to have a catch-up! That’s the way we do it in London. The London perfume scene is getting more and more interesting to the world and people are coming to London to buy British luxury goods. So I am proud to be a London perfumery.
O: What are some things you’ve heard from fans that have really stuck with you?
NF: Once in Germany, Francois joined us for a sales training. And we told the story of Jardin Mystique and each perfume in that story, and then we let everyone smell afterwards. And they all had to close their eyes and smell, and one lady smelled Vertine and told us a story about she was a child and experienced that scent, running over the grass. It was amazing. I’ve heard it from other people, that they can imagine the story and when they smell the perfumes it triggers memories.
I never received bad feedback, more that people, even from the industry itself, call me and tell me how great the fragrances are and that they love the classic perfumery with the contemporary feel and touch to it.
O: Tell us what you’re working on next.
NF: I’m working on my new collection, which is a completely different story about a mystical walk through the east, starting in the desert. It’s a collection of four perfumes again, and I’m launching the first fragrances very soon.
O: We smelled the first one in Milan at the Esxence, and it’s fantastic. Can’t wait to smell the rest! Thank you, Nina, for letting us feature the beautiful Jardin Mystique.
NF: Thank you!