Andrea Karr is the Associate Editor, Fashion and Beauty at…
Bad Girls Perfume is the book scent-loving women didn’t know they needed.
When we first heard about Sarah Colton’s book Bad Girls Perfume, we were intrigued. What do bad girls have to do with perfume? According to Colton, everything. The book details the author’s own relationship with scent and begins with the premise that women have used perfume since the beginning of time to get their way—hence the bad-girl reputation.
Don’t believe us?
Colton’s book includes histories from Cleopatra, Catherine de Medici, Madonna, Florence Nightingale and even The Little Mermaid.
Since the book was published in 2016, Colton has travelled and hosted perfume events. Her book has grown into a community, and a pretty international one at that. Though we’ve yet to join in IRL (there is yet to be an event in Canada), we’d say we’re definitely unofficial members of the Bad Girls Perfume Club. If you want to be too, and if you happen to be in New York on February 13, 2017, make sure to head to Joya Studio in Brooklyn to hear Sarah Colton speak about her book.
In the meantime, enjoy our first (of two!) Q&A’s with the perfume lover-turned author.
Can you tell us a bit about Bad Girls Perfume? What is it? Why did it start?
I was inspired to write Bad Girls Perfume because perfume changed my life—not once, but several times—in crucially important ways.
I recognized perfume for what it was: a secret code for power. I started doing some research on the power of perfume and immediately discovered another important thing: 95% of women who use perfume are “bad girls.” I came to this conclusion after studying the reasons women wear perfume—seduction, subterfuge, deception, creating multiple identities, sending coded messages, driving people crazy, pleasing oneself. Need I say more?
Following all this, it didn’t take long before I discovered a third essential thing about perfume: Bad girls invented perfume, and the savviest among them have been using perfumes since the beginning of time to carry out their objectives.
I figured this was important information to share with my friends, and decided to write Bad Girls Perfume. I wrote it to remind women of their “bad girl” nature. To remind them that women like us invented perfume, and that we shouldn’t let anybody keep us from finding and using the perfume or several perfumes that speak most deeply to us and to help us become the person of our dreams.
What does the name reference?
I deliberately do not define “bad girls” in Bad Girls Perfume beyond saying that bad girls define their own destiny by doing what they want instead of what other people want them to do. Is there any other way to live?
How did you get into perfume?
I had moved to Paris because I simply couldn’t stand it another second without being a Parisienne. I had quit my job, left my boyfriend, crossed the Atlantic—the whole thing. Of course, once I got here it was hard to get a job as a non-French citizen with limited French, so I began sending articles to American magazines about anything French—food, wine, travel, fashion. When Beauty Fashion Magazine (based in New York) asked if I could be their Paris correspondent, I accepted even though I knew precious little about perfumes or the perfume industry.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the entire perfume industry, and I stopped writing about everything else. It was then that I began to realize how important perfume had always been in my life, to the point of transforming it entirely (which I explain in the Bad Girls Perfume book), and I haven’t looked back since.
What are trends you’ve seen come and go, or emerge after being the business for so long?
The growth of niche fragrances is one of the most important and exciting trends I have watched develop over the past 17 years. Already, when I first began writing about perfumes in 1999, I learned about pioneering alternative fragrance brands, which—in opposition to large industrial main-stream fragrance brands—focused on creating artisanal and small-batch fragrances based on quality, creativity, and individuality. Their clients could find themselves in these scents, rather than a reflection of a celebrity.
There were pioneering brands such Diptyque (founded in 1961), L’Artisan Parfumeur (1976), Annick Goutal (1980), and Patricia de Nicolaï (1989). Plus pioneering perfumers such as Jean-Claude Ellena and Patricia de Nicolaï.
The first time I encountered niche fragrances as a group though was when I visited one of the first Paris niche fragrance trade shows called “Les Parfums,” organized by David Froissard. There were perhaps 25 niche fragrance brands (like Amouage, Lubin, Etat Libre d’Orange, Robert Piguet, Linari, Memo, Nobile 1942, Parfums DelRae, Parfum D’Empire), most of which I had never heard of. I was totally bowled over by the edgy and creative energy I felt there.
After that, I began focusing more of my writing on niche fragrances. Interestingly, David Froissard was somewhat ahead of his time in envisioning a niche fragrance show, and although there was another edition of Les Parfums the following year, there was not yet enough critical mass in the sector for the show to survive, and there was not a niche fragrance trade show in Paris for at least another 5 years. In the past 5 or 6 years, however, the niche fragrance trend has grown exponentially. There are many niche fragrance trade shows—notably Esxence Milan, Tranoï in Paris, Alternative Fragrance & Beauty in Paris, Elements Showcase in New York, and Pitti Fragranze in Florence.
About the time of the Les Parfums show in Paris, the large mainstream fragrance houses began paying serious attention to niche fragrances because of their growing popularity, especially with young people. The niche fragrance trend was at least partially responsible for the creation of more creative and original exclusive fragrance lines within the major houses. Think of the Les Exclusifs collection from Chanel, and La Collection Privée of Dior. Recently, several niche brands have been purchased by large groups—Frédéric Malle and Le Labo were purchased by Estée Lauder, and L’Oréal acquired Atelier Cologne.
What are some things you’d like to see, smell or happen with perfume?
I’d like to see more brands highlighting the name of the perfumer (nose) on the bottle. Frédéric Malle was the first person I saw doing this and I think it’s very important. To me, it’s as basic as writing the name of the author on a book in addition to the name of the publisher. Can you imagine reading a book published by Random House, but without knowing the name of the author? Of course not. But that’s not dissimilar to what happens in perfume. I love knowing who the perfumer is and it seems important. After awhile, similarly to a literary writer, you can begin to recognize a perfumer’s personal style across his or her fragrances—even if they have been created for different brands.