In Part I of our interview with Josh Meyer, of Portland-based Imaginary Authors, Josh talked about his fascinating journey from perfume-averse to perfume-obsessed to perfume creator in just a few years. Now, in Part II, Josh shares the origins of his innovative Imaginary Authors concept, his inspiration for The Soft Lawn, the role of beauty in art —and even where he got those awesome photos of his made-up auteurs. (It's not where you'd guess.)
Q: What did your childhood smell like?
JM: My first few years my family lived a block and a half from the ocean, and there’s just a scent that is cool-green that I remember from being a kid in Southern California, and I think it’s linden blossom. I’m not 100 percent sure, but that’s what triggers the memory for me now. Linden is really heavy in The Soft Lawn. And what’s interesting is that it’s not just me who gets it from their childhood. It seems a lot of people, when they smell The Soft Lawn, recognize it from somewhere, more so than any of the others, The Soft Lawn is the one that they say, “Oh, that!” It really triggers something. So my childhood smelled like that, as well as the salty, foggy sea air in the mornings.
Q: What does your environment up in Portland smell like?
JM: We get a lot of rain, and I think it’s very salty. It’s hard to put that into notes, but it’s kind of reminiscent of the foggy air of the sea in the mornings. But it is also a little bit greener than that too, a coniferous green and not a fresh green. It’s pretty special. The air here is distinctly clean.
Q: When you created the Imaginary Authors concept, you essentially created your own inspiration—but maybe it didn’t go in that direction. Which came first: the perfumes or the concept?
JM: The perfumes came first in every instance. Most of my early ideas for a company concept were really bad because it's pretty tough to find something that is really cohesive, so it wasn’t until my friend Ashod Simonian came on to help with the design, and suggested Imaginary Authors in which every scent has a story. It couldn’t have been more perfect, as well as a little bit esoteric, which is how I think the scents are.
Q: They’re all very wearable, but they do all have that dose of weirdness to make them intellectually engaging. I think a lot of mainstream perfumes expressly try not to be intellectually engaging.
JM: I agree completely. If you have a scent that’s unmemorable and non-descript, that’s the epitome of non-engaging. And nothing is worse than having something that doesn’t even register or find any emotion at all.
Q: So let’s talk specifically about The Soft Lawn. Can you tell me about its development?
JM: I love the idea of an austere weekend scent, something that’s very upper-crust and casual, unlike a boardroom or evening scent, which Creed's Bois du Portugal could be described as. The Soft Lawn was created for spring and summer, not to mention it was really fun for me to create something slightly tennis related, a fragrance to wear to Wimbledon as opposed to many “sport” scents which give the impression of wearing them while sporting. This one isn't something that you would want to garden in. It’s for the country club, for having a sandwich on a sunny day, with lawn tennis going on in the background.
Q: That sounds snobby, but your use of an author who supposedly lived in a very different time from ours—in the upper-class ranks of early 1900s New England—keeps it from being in any way pretentious.
JM: I’m glad you think so. I agree. The hope is that they're all human enough that they don’t ostracize anybody.
Q: By the way, where did you get the pictures of the imaginary authors?
JM: A lot of those came from 1950s nudie magazines.
Q: No way.
JM: Yeah, they are just amazing. And then some of the shots are from old yearbooks. Claude LeCoq, the imaginary author of The Soft Lawn, he’s from a yearbook from the 1920s.
Q: So how are you achieving clay court and tennis balls? You know those are going to be the notes that everybody lingers on.
JM: Well, I wanted it to have something that would be more than the sum of its parts. When I would hang out with my friends and explain to them what was going on with these perfumes, it was really crystal-clear to me that you can’t use the word “citrus,” as an example, because no one knows what that means exactly, unless you are somewhat familiar with perfume. Almost everybody wants to think they like citrus. I can say the scent has lemon and sandalwood, but the notes alone don't have an impact. And so I realized the fun part about the perfumes is not the notes themselves but making something more than the sum of its parts, and that’s what I hope will resonate with people.
I love the scent of a freshly opened can of tennis balls. I want people to know the tone and vibe of the scent from the graphics on the bottle, I want people to understand exactly what we’re trying to make.
Q: What else are we smelling in there that’s not in your list of notes?
JM: Right up front is a bit of lemon and a little bit of grapefruit. I really needed something to cut that initial blast of green. It’s hard to tone down some of those green notes, and grapefruit does that and it helps maintain the sporty vibe. And lemon is very diffusive, especially in the top notes. Then there are lots of woods. The woods really help make that tennis ball accord—cedar and vetiver together with a little bit of oakmoss really helped. There’s a little bit of smoke in the tennis ball idea, too. The cedar I am using in particular is very 'pencil-shaving and smoky,' it's excellent. And there’s also a little bit of the component called methyl laitone, which is a creamy coconut note, which helps the green note thicken up as opposed to being quite so sharp. Then the clay court accord is a hefty dose of benzoin with some light florals. The benzoin and vetiver add a depth of warmth.
Q: That's what I enjoy about the artistic side of perfume: It’s interested in what lies on the margins of beauty rather than what’s safely within the confines of it.
JM: I really love that idea. There’s no such thing as perfect beauty. Maybe there are moments when something is absolutely perfect, but it’s not going to be perfect all of the time. And so beauty is finding those moments—and those scents, if we’re going to use the scents as an example. The Soft Lawn is perfect for one particular moment in time, and part of that is because it’s not perfect.
Q: So now that you’ve had this successful launch, what’s next for you?
JM: My main goal is simply to keep doing this. I love it. I love talking about it. I love creating these fragrances. As long as I can keep doing it, I think I’ll be really happy.
Q: Your first collection is based on authors. Are subsequent ones going to be based on authors, too?
JM: Well, I love the authors and I want to keep doing authors. We’ve played with different ideas of books, like having one author write a trilogy of three scents, but I’m not sure what will come next. The scent will always come first, and then we’ll play with the concepts after.
Q: Are you wearing any fragrance today?
JM: I’m actually wearing Oud 27 from Le Labo. I wore it yesterday, too. I totally love it.
Q: Last miscellaneous question: What are some of the misconceptions about perfume that drive you crazy?
JM: The idea that synthetics components are "bad" really drives me up the wall. What else would drive me up the wall? I guess not too much. My whole aim is really to have fun, so I don’t get too upset about much.