Say hello to Barry Southers, founder and perfumer of Olfactum Fragrances!
Discover how his "day job" as a professor & MRI researcher provided an opportunity for him to work with Givaudan (one of the big fragrance houses) on a research project and how watching "The Amazing Race" ultimately tipped him over the edge to get his hands into perfumery.
Q: Tell us the story of how you got into the fragrance business. How long have you been interested in scent and perfume? How did you start learning about it?
I have been fascinated with scent for as long as I can remember and have always worn fragrances. This is probably a very unique way of getting into making fragrances, but one night several years ago I was watching “The Amazing Race”. They were in Grasse, France visiting the House of Fragonard. The contestants had to smell a bunch of perfumery materials in an attempt to recreate a basic formula. I was fascinated! I immediately began researching fragrance materials, studying notes, reading tons of old publications, and finally diving in by purchasing a slew of natural and synthetic materials to practice with.
My first formula was a terrible attempt to mimic Royall Mandarin after shave. I will never forget purchasing a material called mandarin aldehyde and using about 500 times the recommended usage level – it smelled so bad I had to throw the bottle away but by then I was hooked. Fortunately, I found the Basenotes DIY forum and The Good Scents Company database shortly after that, which I found extremely beneficial, especially when learning about recommended usage levels and restricted materials. I honestly had no clue there were so many others interested in developing fragrances, whether it be for themselves or eventually to start their own house. It is a fascinating field and I have not looked back. I also have to thank Phil Koeghan for them doing such a cool contest on the show.
Q: What was the hardest part about starting your business? What obstacles did you face and how did you conquer them?
I found learning how to develop fragrances to be fun, interesting, work, but the idea of starting my own business was pretty daunting. I have not started a business before, so I had to do a lot of research in that regard. The largest obstacle was actually deciding when to launch. At that point, I had developed two fragrances that I felt were really nice – Barbae and Kerala – but me thinking they smell nice and the general public thinking they smell nice are two different things.
That was when I began reaching out to others in order to get samples of my scents in front of people who could provide feedback in a non-biased manner. One of the first to smell my creations was Hans Hendley from Hendley Perfumes. His advice and feedback was invaluable. Hans creates some amazing fragrances and I really respect his work, so receiving really positive reviews from him was definitely a confidence booster, but more importantly, it made me realize it was time to take the leap and launch Olfactum Fragrances.
Q: You are a professor and MRI researcher, so cool! Can you tell us more about that and how does it work with/incorporate with your fragrance brand?
MRI is a great field and teaching others what I know and have learned over my career is very rewarding. I worked in hospitals for years and eventually started to work in a research lab performing functional MRI, MR spectroscopy, and other MR techniques on research subjects. One of the coolest research studies I worked on was with Givaudan. A team of researchers worked on olfactory responses in the brain and how it can be used in associative learning. Givaudan bought in a device called an olfactometer, which pumped in several different smells via a cannula while the subject was inside the MR scanner. We gave them a computer paradigm to perform while measuring hemodynamic brain responses. I was so intrigued that I volunteered for the study myself. Somewhere out there is a published study involving measured brain responses to smelling banana and other scents and my brain is a part of it. (So cool!)
As of now, I have not incorporated brain research with my brand, but this is definitely something I am planning to do at some point. Learning about the materials that evoke the highest brain activation would be a very interesting research study!
Q: We featured Bavard in the March Collection, a new launch for you. How did you settle on the idea for this scent? Can you tell us the story behind it?
As mentioned above, I have participated in the Basenotes DIY forum for several years, and last year I entered a fragrance into a fun contest involving members that wanted to submit a fragrance. One of the judges really enjoyed my entry – his screen name is Bavard.
Subsequently, he gave the sample to his significant other who really loved it – so much that she eventually purchased every one of my fragrances. As a thank you for being there at the very beginning I reached out and asked what type of scents he liked and Bavard (the fragrance) was born. I remember wearing loud, bold fragrances back in the 1980s, such as Drakkar Noir and Polo, so when I was working on Bavard I used that style as a marker. I researched several of the aromatic fragrances from that time period and incorporated a lot of herbal, citrus, and spicy notes, as well as a base of oakmoss, labdanum, leather, and cedar. After the first few attempts I realized this could be a very unique take on that style while still feeling somewhat reminiscent of vintage aromatics. So interestingly enough, a one-off fragrance developed as a thank you to a fellow fragrance enthusiast will now be featured through Olfactif! Pretty cool stuff.
Q: When you are formulating, what is one note/scent you keep coming back to? Why?
Bergamot! It is so versatile and can go into a seemingly endless number of ways.
Q: Do you remember the first perfume/cologne you wore? How old were you?
The first one I remember is Jovan Sex Appeal and couldn’t have been more than 10. My grandfather used Hai Karate and as a kid I loved splashing that on too. Even at a young age I knew I was hooked!
Q: What do you want someone who wears your fragrance to know about you and your brand?
I want them to know I work really hard to develop fragrances that are unique, wearable, and affordable. These are the types of scents I buy for myself and I strive to do this for my customers.
Q: What are you most proud of with your brand or your fragrance compositions?
I am proud that I developed these all by myself. I read books, smelled a ton of materials, researched fragrance notes, and then went to work on creating scents.
Q: What’s your favorite scented memory from your childhood?
I have always loved the scent of spring air, which is why I tend to be drawn to scents that are perfect for spring and summer. Some of my best scent memories are from the times I was outside in the country just playing and being a kid. Occasionally, I will catch a smell of something that transports me back. There is nothing else like it in the world.
Q: Tell us something that most people don’t know about you?
I have a twin brother who loves fragrances as much as myself! He makes shave soaps so we are planning a collaboration!
Q: Where do you consider your happy place?
On the basketball court. I have coached either played, coached, or watched basketball for nearly all my life. Coaching is a passion of mine and it truly makes me happy.
Q: What is your favorite word?
Q: What is your least favorite word?
That is difficult to answer, since there are a lot of words that aren’t my favorite. I really do not like derogatory words that hurt people.
Q: What turns you on?
Things that smell good!
Q: What turns you off?
Mean, spiteful people.
Q: What’s your favorite note?
Leather all the way
Q: What are you smelling right now?
A new release of mine called “I Stood In A Meadow” which is a woody, green floral. My fave of anything I have developed thus far.
Q: If you could describe your brand in 3 words, what would they be?
Eclectic, affordable, handmade
Q: What’s next for you?
Q: Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
I truly appreciate your support. I am no different from all my customers in the sense that I carefully spend my money and expect high quality. I try my hardest to create interesting scents that anyone can enjoy.
The best way to experience Olfactum Fragrances is right here! We featured Bavard in the March Collection and Barbae in the June Collection. Subscribe by June 15th to try Barbae in our subscription box. Subscribe HERE.
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Photo credits: Olfactum Fragrances; Deon Black
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