Photographs by Sinéad Deane
Sue Phillips wants to take you on a fragrance journey.
Even if you’re not exactly sure what that means, we bet you’re intrigued.
And it’s with good reason since what the founder and president of Scenterprises Ltd. does reaches beyond passing fads.
The fragrance journey includes stops to learn about perfume history, properties of ingredients and client preferences before arriving at the final destination – the creation of one’s very own scent.
“People love having something unique, something that represents them,” Phillips says. “It can give you a sense of purpose, a sense of pride, confidence.”
Phillips, you see, bypasses the overhyped and seemingly endless parade of “signature” celebrity perfumes – “They’re all starting to look the same, smell the same”– to help people understand the real power of perfume and create one that speaks to their very soul.
Clients have been enthusiastically responding.
“They’re tired of what they do in the stores,” Phillips says. “People don’t really get that sense of allure or education.”
Phillips, an elegant South African-born woman who fully embraced America upon her arrival here in 1976, offers by-appointment workshops and also conducts events for corporations (she was off to David Yurman after chatting with WAG) and groups. She hosts these sessions in her Manhattan fragrance studio or takes the sweet-smelling show on the road. Greenwich is a popular station stop, with another event planned there this month.
It’s all part of spreading the word, which she has been doing particularly well in this, her company’s fourth year. Highlights have included a mention on Oprah Winfrey’s famed “O List,” and a guest appearance on Martha Stewart Living Radio.
Closer to home, she got rave reviews in a blog post by Laura McKittrick, better known as “Greenwich Girl.” As McKittrick’s wrote of her fragrance journey, “I not only got a deeper sense of how important our sense of smell is, but I embraced an entirely new perspective on what one’s personal preference of scent truly means.”
Coming to America
Phillips’ rise to becoming a globally recognized fragrance expert was a steady, if unexpected, climb.
She came to this country to further her singing and acting career, following her brother who had already relocated here.
“I always had a feeling I would live elsewhere,” Phillips says. “I fell in love with the energy of America.”
While she did find work in entertainment, she knew she needed something steadier to secure a green card. A job as an executive assistant at Elizabeth Arden was her unwitting entry into what would become her true calling. There, she advanced to training director, then to product development and soon transitioned into fragrance marketing, working with brands such as Chloé, Lagerfeld and Burberry. Next stop was a position as marketing director for fragrance and men’s skincare for Lancome Paris. There, she launched Programme Homme and developed the fragrance introduction for Tresor. Soon after, she was hired as vice president of fragrance marketing for Tiffany & Co. and developed the first iconic Tiffany perfume, created for the firm’s 150th anniversary.
“That was an amazing opportunity,” Phillips says. “It has this incredible heritage and history.”
Phillips went on to create Tiffany for Men, Society by Burberry and Burberry for Men and also developed fragrances for Trish McEvoy. In home fragrances, her work has included collaborations with Diane Von Furstenberg for Avon, as well as other lines for the company. Today, she also helps places create environmental scents. She has been an adjunct professor of cosmetics and fragrance marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, is a contributing editor for GLOW Beauty Magazine and works with others such as Vuvuzela, an online South Africa-themed effort.
The sweet smell of success
Phillips’ background plays out during the workshops, which are noted for their depth of knowledge and interactive approach. People just love the chance to learn more about the power and mystique of fragrance.
“It can stop you in your tracks when you walk down the street,” Phillips says.
She explores the art and science behind fragrance, the allure of fragrance blends and relies on fun questions, plenty of sniffing – and a lot of sharing of impressions, memories and preferences to come up with each signature scent.
“I like to think of fragrances in terms of adjectives, how they evoke a feeling or word not just ‘top note, middle note, bottom note.’”
She continues, “A fragrance palette is very much like music. You have the same words… harmony, symphony, notes.”
Giving an informal mini-demonstration for WAG, Phillips’ table includes materials from sources such as the spice markets of Morocco and the gardens of southern Spain. Typical fragrance journeys travel through 18 options that represent different categories of scent.
“Along the way we talk about what the ingredients are made of,” Phillips says. “Today there is really nothing new in perfumery. It’s how they’re combined.”
Through trial-and-error, participants eventually decide on three to four blends that will determine their scent. In the end, each person’s fragrance is mixed then named, with the formula stored for refills.
Zuzana Miserova, a licensed aesthetician with the Christopher Noland Salon and Beauty Spa in Greenwich, had “a great experience” when the salon hosted Phillips.
“You don’t even know how three to five scents can make an amazing perfume,” Miserova says, adding she was inspired to be a bit daring.
She loved the way Phillips was so hands-on as she explained the ingredients’ history and properties and quickly found herself considering “a scent I would never choose.”
She was exploring the combination of woody notes with citrus, and more.
“I would never have thought about it, flowers with spice,” Miserova adds. “I never thought I’d like that.”
But she certainly did and bestowed a one-of-a-kind name to her one-of-a-kind creation.
It not only pleased her, she says, but elicited warm laughter from those also in attendance.
After all, who wouldn’t be charmed by “Zimply Zuzana”?