Your favorite perfume has the ability to turn your day around, evoke a memory and finish off a look.
But even your favorite perfume isn't truly yours. That Dior, Chanel, Marc Jacobs in your bedroom - they're made for the public - mass produced and widely distributed. While they're wonderful - they're not unique to you.
Sue Phillips, who started her career with Elizabeth Arden, then went to Lancôme, and then on to Tiffany as VP of Marketing - having grown within the industry ranks - realized there was an opportunity to go out on her own and tailor scents to your liking. "Being in the industry, and being a woman in an industry predominantly run by men, I felt it was very important to make a statement and to start doing one on my own," she says. "Now, customization is everywhere."
We met with Phillips in her "Scentarium" where she walked us through her formulation techniques and how our personality quirks would come to define our custom scents.
“For fragrance, much like in life, in food, in music, there’s a beginning, middle and an end," she begins. "In food you have your appetizer, main course and dessert. In music, you have your overture, your main theme and your finale. In fragrance there’s a beginning, middle and end. So when you first spray a fragrance you smell the top note for the beginning and usually they’re the light, bright citrusy notes, and you can smell them from about 10-15 minutes on the skin. And then it mixes with your body chemistry and then come the middle notes: the florals, spicy and fruity. And then, after about two hours, the base notes begin to kick in and it should last for about 4-8 hours.”
The session with Phillips in her Scentarium (a magically-lit room filled with the potions, perfumes and scents of the world) is intended to be both engaging and educational, during which we build our perfume from beginning, to middle and end. We discover that the biggest difference between men and women's fragrances is the base notes are much more prevalent and bolder in men's. Where a woman's fragrance is lighter, more floral letting the top agents do a lot of the work - the big base notes of men's cologne define their scents.
Sue Phillips. Photo credit Crains New York
She also informs us as we roam through her collection of bottles that one of the world's most beloved perfumes - Chanel No.5 - was created entirely because of a perfumer's mistake. Coco Chanel's perfumer's assistant, Jacques, put too much of the ingredient "aldehydic" (a powdery scent) in the perfume and with that, became the most profitable mistake in fragrance history. It will celebrate it's hundredth anniversary in three years, and is still in the top ten best-selling scents every year.
“This is all about you and your DNA and what matches your personality” she says.
Upon arrival, we take the scent quiz. “I do the scent quiz for several reasons," she says. "It’s to determine your olfactive personality. It’s a lifestyle quiz: it has nothing to do with fragrance, I’ll be able to tell from the answer whether you like fresh, floral or oriental.” And that she does. After collating our answers she's able to direct us in the path of our preferred flavors and intuitively points out what these answers mean for our taste profile.
There lay 18 different perfumes with which she uses to create our scents. Each of them are individually hand-made by her with an array of flavours falling into eight different categories: citrus, fruity, oriental, ozonic, chypre, woodsy, lavender and musk.
Phillips's title is that of Perfume Designer - rather than perfumer (which involves a little too much chemistry and not enough personal interaction for this entrepreneur), which means that she can deconstruct your favorite perfumes into these 18 different flavor profiles and explain them back to you. For this reason, she has been commissioned by an array of corporate companies for events that invite an audience to participate in perfume deconstruction or creation.
Using scent strips, we co-ordinate our formulas. She informs our decisions based on how robust or round the collection of aromas are to her. If our top note is too sweet, she adds a musk, if bottom is too spicy, she adds a lavender note, all while keeping in mind our tastes and likings from the quiz.
"Isn't it amazing how out of these blends you can find something that totally fits your personality, and out of these 18 we can find millions of scents."
Phillips's "Scentertaining" experience is really just that - a fun ay to understand what your nose likes and why it likes it. Your personality is fully reflective in the vial of liquid you walk away with.
It's no wonder that her scentarium has played host to guests such Katie Holmes, Zendaya and Jamie Foxx among others - this really is a most unique and fun experience for anyone that loves fragrance.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.