By Evie C.
Regular readers of this blog may remember reading Portia’s March review of EdTS II from Australian perfume house Tommi Sooni. Portia was so impressed that we sought out the creator of the Tommi Sooni brand – Steven Broadhurst. Steven is another one of Australia’s ‘perfumers-to-watch’ and he was kind enough to share his thoughts with us about his perfume journey.
Could you tell us a little about the catalyst for your creation of a perfume brand in Australia? What were you doing at the time you decided to launch Tommi Sooni and how long did it take you to get Tommi Sooni off the ground?
I was in Paris in 2004 and experiencing the wonderful perfumes of this great city. It struck me that Australia did not have a perfume of the same artistry and quality. I then became determined to fill the Australian perfume void. At the time I was working as a photographer but looking for a new career direction. Our first perfume, Tarantella took 4 years of banging my head against the wall, plus a few breaks until it was released in 2008.
Could you tell me a little more about your life before perfume and why you decided to pursue a different path?
As a photographer I had worked in New York as an assistant on Vogue shoots and then for Andy Warhol’s ‘Interview’ magazine. In Australia some of my clients included: Australian Ballet, Opera Australia, Penguin Books and various fashion labels. I still do the images for Tommi Sooni and love creative the freedom I have. Why the career change? The perfume bug bit hard!
Did you have a formal education in perfume or are you self-taught?
Completely self-taught. Basically I pushed my way in but I was passionate (and I think I have a natural talent for inspiring talent in others) so doors opened for me.
Could you tell us a little about the process by which you work with Brett Schlitter to create Tommi Sooni fragrances?
A perfume brief takes at least a year for me to create. I spend serious research time developing the character of the perfume I can smell in my head but then I need to inspire others to formulate the perfume.
The brief is then presented to Brett and his team and we discuss possible directions for Brett to take. Available ingredients, budget and a time line all come into the discussions. A creative director needs to allow for change and flexibility while focusing on the end product. A lot of juggling goes on over the months and it is my responsibility to manage the direction of the fragrance.
Why did you decide to launch a perfume brand in Australia where the culture of ‘perfume’ is somewhat limited?
‘Why not!’ is the simple answer. As I live in Australia I wanted to have a perfume brand with ‘made in Australia’ on the bottle, something we could all be proud of.
How do you think the culture of perfume in Australia has changed since you launched your brand in 2004?
Certainly niche perfume has come into focus since 2004 but there are still very few retailers who are willing to take on brands that are not household names. The lack of visionary retailers here has forced us to focus on the overseas market. We would love to have a higher profile here at home but without the support of journalists and retailers the choice of Australian perfumes will remain limited.
Do you have any mentors/inspirations in the perfume world?
Certainly I admire Joe Garces of Robert Piguet. He brought the brand back from the dead and remained honest to the brilliant work of Germaine Cellier. His new perfumes are also to be admired.
Do you have a favourite mass-market perfume?
Joy – its brilliance is beyond its imitators.
Do you have a favourite independent perfumer?
Andy Tauer is a non-stop rocket of energy and he is a lovely guy to boot. He has done a lot to bring attention to indie perfumers. He has broken into the mainstream through a combination of talent, luck and intelligence – a pioneer.
Do you have a signature scent?
My signature scent is the scent I am working on. I wear it to bed, the office, dinner parties and the gym. Today I am wearing Eau de Tommi Sooni 111
What is your philosophy regarding the use of natural ingredients as opposed to synthetics?
For me the ideal perfume is a combination of both. Naturals alone can often seem a little flat and I’ve yet to smell a totally synthetic perfume I’ve liked. I have no problem with including synthetics in Tommi Sooni fragrances. We only use safe ingredients in our perfumes. We also use a very high percentage of naturals. Our perfumes are very expensive to produce because of our insistence in using only top quality ingredients.
What do you see as the most important trend in perfume currently?
A trend towards vintage. Better quality perfumes with quality ingredients. I’m not talking about smelling like our grandparents but echoing the qualities of the great perfumes and giving them a contemporary twist.
Do you think it’s financially viable to be a perfumer in Australia?
Yes, but do your homework and don’t just concentrate on the domestic market.
Could you describe a typical Tommi Sooni customer?
Generally female, someone who insists on quality and artistry in perfume and is not afraid to stand out from the crowd. Our male customers also have strong characters and are happy to wear a fragrance that reflects their individual personality.
How significant is the international side of your business?
It is very important to us and we are concentrating on markets that appreciate an Australian perfume brand that is every bit as good as those from Europe or the USA.
How significant is the online side of your business and do you think it is viable to run a perfume business entirely online?
Online is both good for sales and for presenting the personality of your brand. I would recommend a combination of retail and online for selling perfume.
Could you tell us a little about your upcoming release Passarelle?
This Australian-inspired eau de parfum was a tough project but the results are very beautiful and I am extremely proud we were able to reflect an aspect of Australia without having to fall back on the clichés we all know. Passerelle is a bouquet of Australian native florals and woods surrounded by a scattering of exotic golden flora.
When you wear Passerelle close your eyes. An elegant armful of beautiful flowers with freshly cut green stems will engulf you. Passerelle is a very feminine perfume with a distinctive Australian character. Inspired by the French explorers who came to Australia in the early 19th century who took back native flora and fauna to France, Passerelle translated means bridge or catwalk and is the fragrant bridge between the cultures of Australia and France.
Are you able to tell us anything about your tentative 2013 release?
All I can say is the eau de parfum you refer to is our longest project to date and is inspired by an Armenian artist. The results so far are outstanding and I can’t wait to try Brett’s next submission.
Steven’s fragrances are available online at Tommisooni.com