We first fell in love with Josh Meyer's work back when we featured The Soft Lawn in our Vignettes of Spring collection. And when we smelled Cape Heartache, the follow-up scent to his debut collection, we fell a little deeper. (Check out our Cape Heartache How to Smell guide and you'll start to understand why.)
Like all of the scents in the Imaginary Authors line, Cape Heartache is based on a made-up author and a made-up work of fiction. In this case, the imagined novel Cape Heartache—by the imagined author Philip Sava—is based on that most painful of all human experiences: lost love. Here, Josh shares his real inspiration for the perfume that has captivated so many and more details on what makes it tick.
O: How did you get the idea for Cape Heartache? Did you know that you wanted to make a Pacific Northwest woodsy scent?
Josh Meyer: Everything starts with a vision for what something could smell like. It wasn’t so much the woods; it was conceptual. With Cape Heartache, I wanted something foggy and smoky, something that felt like being in the mountains in the fog. It’s a super-distinctive experience because it’s almost like you can smell campfire when there’s no campfire. So then I had to figure out how to make something out of this concept. That was so fun, and the concept came together pretty quickly. It took quite a bit more time really dialing it in.
O: Did you draw inspiration from an actual place?
JM: We have a huge, beautiful park in Portland called Forest Park. It’s stunning—you can hike or have a picnic or just get lost. Being in the forest helped me build the scent, and the inspiration for the smoke and fog was being on the pine-filled Oregon coastline. The landscape there is unlike anything else. It’s hazy and foggy and evergreen everywhere. It’s really mind-blowing, and the fog is sitting up there all the time.
O: Talk to us about the composition. Where did you find your inspiration for the individual notes?
JM: The backbone is a cedarwood, and this particular material in Cape Heartache is just exquisite. And then we have hemlock and spruce, which are similar. Most perfumes aren’t appealing to me when they’re forest-based, so I wanted something that was appealing and didn’t smell like Christmas cookies and Christmastime, because that’s what a lot of folks associate with pine needles.
O: Your lists of notes are always a joy to read because they tell a story. They include literal ingredients but also conceptual notes that just evoke sensations or emotions. Why do you construct them that way?
JM: The components themselves aren’t that interesting. If you just tell someone that a scent has pine resin, it doesn’t give them an idea about what it smells like. But if you talk about being in a forest with trees that are 100 years old and mountain fog in the air, that's something they can wrap their minds around. And that’s really the perfume—it’s more than the sum of the components.
O: Cape Heartache has both vanilla leaf and vanilla. Can you tell us about the differences?
JM: Vanilla leaf is something we have in the forest. It’s not vanilla pods; it’s a leafy green and it smells green. The vanilla—perhaps the way people think of vanilla—is also in Cape Heartache, and the richness comes from that vanilla, but it’s very soft. It doesn’t scream vanilla in any way. I didn’t want Cape Heartache to smell like strawberry vanilla. I wanted it to be much more subtle and much more green.
O: Speaking of strawberry, it’s such a surprising note. Where did you get the idea that strawberry and pine could be so sublime together?
JM: I knew it needed something special, something precious that would keep it from being just a forest scent. Something to make it distinct and interesting as a perfume. Up here, we have wild strawberries. And in Cape Heartache, the strawberry cuts through the sharpness of the pine and the deep, resinous aspects. And really, the only way the scent works is with the strawberry. It changes the entire dynamic—makes it sweet and kind of yummy and completely versatile as opposed to a forest accord. The strawberry accord is made with plums and strawberries and that, along with the vanilla, creates a base that is rich and rounded to counter the sharpness of the Pine and Hemlock.
O: Was strawberry challenging to work with?
JM: Oh yeah. This was the first time I’d ever played with the strawberry accord, and it was really hard because only a handful of drops makes a significant effect. It’s probably less than 100th of the perfume. So there was a lot of trying to double it, and then halve it again and again, and using other elements to enrich it.
O: What else are we smelling here? I really do sense that campfire upwind, far away.
JM: There’s a fair amount of oakmoss and a little guaiacwood, which helps give that soft, sweet, smoky accord. Those are predominant. Then there’s vetiver, benzoin, a touch of norlimbanol, which is a really powerful, woody, dry scent.
O: We cant’ get enough of it. Thanks for allowing us the honor of debuting it.
JM: It’s the most fun I’ve had making a scent. It really captured the different aspects of this concept I started with, and I'm really excited about it. It's such a wonderful fall/winter scent.
To learn more about Josh's background, creative process, and path to becoming a perfumer, check out our first interview with him.
For more insights into Cape Heartache, read the How to Smell guide.