Imaginary Authors, the delightfully innovative perfume house out of Portland, Oregon, has won a lot of fans around the world. That's undoubtedly due to the scents, which are always polished but feature a weird, unexpected note that somehow works perfectly. (Check out the fresh tennis ball note in wonderfully springy The Soft Lawn.) But it's also because of the aesthetic of the creator, Josh Meyer, and the way he crafted a company around the allure of stories. Every perfume is based on an imaginary book by an imaginary author, and it's all fictional—Meyer creates the entire words-plus-scent narrative.
Mosaic, the third Imaginary Authors scent featured on Olfactif, is a cooling wash of mineral water, petitgrain, citrus, and flowers. We talked with Meyer about how he approached this perfume, what he didn't want it to be, his next release, and the crazy story of how he once ended up making a scent inspired by actor James Franco. (Yes.)
Olfactif: How did the idea for Mosaic come about?
Josh Meyer: I was approached by the owners of a couple of design-based shops here in Portland who wanted to do an exclusive scent for their apothecary. These guys are phenomenal and their stores are flagships for the best in Portland. So being approached by them was a great honor for me.
Mosaic as a scent structure started as an idea inspired by an old German aftershave that has a prominent petitgrain note. I wanted to use petitgrain as the main focus with a traditional cologne structure with some flowers and additional citrus, but the trick was to make something with a lot more longevity. The magic turning point was when I started experimenting with different base accords and suddenly got this unprecedented, weird, mineral-water accord. So I decided to focus on that rather than the aftershave concept.
I’ve done a couple of these exclusive scents, and it can be 20 concepts before we choose the one to move forward with—here’s a miniscule change, here’s a drastic change. But when I made Mosaic, I did only one, and I didn’t have anything else to do to it. I was excited about it so much as it stands, and they agreed.
O: Everybody comments on how the perfume really does smell like mineral water. How did you achieve that?
JM:I used some bergamot and cedar to get a salty, briny feel, and then I used a lot of hedione, which is a fresh, green, airy jasmine. I used that along with ethyl linalyl acetate, and that gave it a floral-aquatic vibe. But Mosiac in particular doesn’t have any lavender, which is what many niche fans don’t like in aquatic accords.
O: Aquatic and oceanic perfumes have a bad reputation among perfume lovers. Was it important to you to avoid that?
JM: I wanted nothing to do with blue aquatic. This was about having a cologne structure that lasted a long time, not necessarily about the ocean or sea. But in the niche world, oceanic or sea scents are heavily salty, not like the sweet lavender aquatics of the ‘90s.
O: Those always smell like fabric softener to me.
JM: I can’t think of any better way to describe many of those other than to say they smell like a headache.
O: How do you describe the mood of Mosaic?
JM:It’s very bracing and fresh. “Fresh” is a bad term in general because it has so many meanings to so many people, and after a while it doesn’t mean as much. But when I say “fresh,” I mean that it’s bracing and invigorating, rather than “sporty” or “spicy.”
O: And, of course, every Imaginary Authors scent has a backstory that you invent—a book and author that you imagine to the be the inspiration for the perfume. What’s the imagined backstory here?
JM: The shop owners wanted it to be about Baden-Baden in European-style spas, and the two characters are following each other through the pools of this spa all in one day, with the chapters alternating between their points of view. So it has a vintage, European feel. The story came about as an artful way to convey the creative brief that I got from them when we started. It was fun to use the imagery of the salt and the tiles from the spa floors. And the name of the author, Warren Hahn, is based on one of the shop owner’s grandfathers.
O: You seem to really like doing collaborations like this.
JM:Well, I just love making perfume, all the time. I like talking about it and trying to come up with something that I wouldn’t necessarily make on my own. I’m also a humble, a patient dude, so it’s not hard to take a step back from my own ego for the sake of creating something new and interesting.
O: There’s a really cool story of a collaboration you did sort of involving the actor James Franco. You have to tell us this one.
JM: Yes! There’s a blogger who writes perfume reviews that are kind of off the wall and really fun. She’s just great. She reached out to me because she had this idea to make a scent for James Franco, and she knew exactly what she wanted it to smell like and she asked whether I would do it. The ludicrousness of this project was just so cool, so I was all in. So she flew out to Portland and we hung out, smelled perfume all day, did some blending and a few different mods. And we made a great fragrance, all from concepting in a single day.
O: Best story I’ve heard all day. What’s next for Imaginary Authors?
JM:I have a new scent coming up called Yesterday Haze. The notes are fig, iris, cream, tonka, tree bark, walnut bitters, and orchard dust. I think a lot of people have done fig, and it’s hard, but it’s one of my particular favorites. And now I’m addicted to this perfume personally, which doesn’t happen often. It’ll be out for summer and fall. It’ll work great for the heat of summer and the cooler fall with the changing weather and colors.
O: You also recently re-released L’Orchidee Terrible. Can you tell us about that?
JM: When I made it the first time around, it was an extremely avant-gardealdehyde scent. I still like it—it’s fun and super weird. But I don’t think it was the best use of the concept, so my goal with the new design was to simply make the same concept prettier. That was my only goal: prettier. It’s still avant-garde and lovely—almost more interesting, really—but it’s easier to smell and wear.
O: Can’t wait to smell both. Just promise us never to give up on the weird.
JM: Never! Thanks.
Mosaic by Imaginary Authors
Interview with Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors (Part I)
Interview with Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors (Part II)
A Walk in the Woods: Josh Meyer on Cape Heartache
How to Smell: Cape Heartache from Imaginary Authors