Clayton Ilolahia is an Australian based perfume collector and writer. He founded the olfactive blog What Men Should Smell Like. Educated in New Zealand, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts before migrating to Australia. It was there his interest in the visual arts broadened to olfactory arts following a serendipitous encounter with the world of niche perfumery in 2004. He currently resides in Sydney, Australia and his interests include perfume, art, photography and travel.
EN: The first smell that you remember and your first fragrance memories?
Clayton: Smell has always been a part of my life. I grew up on a farm in New Zealand so there was never any shortage of things to smell like the warm coumarin odour of a hay barn, the animalic smell of horses and the odour of mud, which there was never any shortage of. The first experience I had that made me appreciate the beauty of scent was when I was about seven years old. I remember smelling the jonquils and jasmine flowers, which grew wild on our farm. A couple of years later I smelled my first perfume, which was Tweed by Lentheric. My great-grandmother wore it. Around eleven or twelve I became interested in wearing cologne. Yves Saint Laurent Jazz and Kouros were some of my favourites. When Chanel launched L’Egoiste it was love at first sight.
EN: Which olfactive notes and olfactive family represent you best?
Clayton: I love woody perfumes. Sandalwood, vetiver and also orris are themes I am drawn to. With the exception or Egoiste, I am not normally attracted to sweet or oriental perfumes. I like it when they are made to feel transparent, clean and radiant. I generally prefer eau de toilette to eau de parfum. I also love flowers. I like to pay attention to perfumes marketed to women and I am always happy to find a floral perfume that I think men can wear. Muguet, jasmine and orange flower are my favourite floral notes.
EN: Do you have perfume shop of your heart?
Clayton: It depends on where I am in the world. I always have a good time shopping for perfume along rue Saint Honore in Paris. I like perfumeries that are independently owned and the perfumes they offer are a reflection of the owner’s own taste. Peony Haute Parfumerie is a great example of this here in Australia. I’m less inclined to shop for perfume in big chain stores where the experience often feels generic. Globalisation has been great for increasing product accessibility but on the downside, I think retail has lost a little bit of its soul.
EN: How did you start working in this field?
Clayton: After studying fine arts I was introduced to the world of niche perfume. These perfumes opened my mind to the idea of communication using the sense of smell. Although most perfumes are created with a commercial intention I could appreciate that the process of creating the perfume formula is very artistic. It’s similar to the creative process a visual artist would follow. When I started learning about perfume making, writing a perfume blog was one way I could engage with the perfume industry.
EN: Your latest projects and collaborations in the world of perfumes.
Clayton: Perfume making has always been my dream, even before my blog. I knew I could design a brand and commission a perfumer to create my formulas for me but I felt very passionately that I didn’t want to go down that path. When I decided I wanted to be a visual artist I went to art school to learn how to work with different mediums to express my ideas. I didn’t write my ideas down in a design brief and approach a painter to paint for me. I’ve taken the same approach with perfume making. It’s a very long and slow learning path because I am not learning through an established perfume school like ISIPCA and Australia is so far away from Paris, Grasse and New York where so much of the industry is based. Gradually I am learning how to manipulate the medium, in this case, natural and synthetic raw materials to express the ideas I have in my head. For me the next step is to launch a line of perfumes.
EN: Which olfactory events you never lose?
Clayton: Some of my most memorable events are meeting and interviewing perfumers. Talking with them about their work is something I really enjoy. Niche perfumery in 2015 is fixated on storytelling and unless a brand has worked with a well-known perfumer, the perfumer’s own story often goes untold, which I think is a shame. The first perfumer I ever interviewed was Lorenzo Villoresi. I visited his atelier in Florence and there was no marketing involved, just the man behind his desk with his raw materials. He talked with me about his work and ideas on perfumery. He was so generous with his knowledge. I’ll always remember that day.
EN: What scent are you wearing now?
Clayton: As a blogger I receive a lot of products from brands so if I buy something it is because I really like it and the perfumer has made me look at a raw material or perfume note in a new way. In September I was in Paris and I purchased a bottle of Ex Nihilo Vetiver Moloko from their boutique near the Place Vendome. It’s a beautiful quality of natural vetiver and the milky accord with vanilla gives it a silkiness that softens the tart grapefruit edge of Haitian vetiver. It’s understated and original. Eau de Cologne is always my reset button when I just want to wear something simple and timeless. Chanel Eau de Cologne and Guerlain Eau de Cologne Imperiale are my favourites.
photo credit: Atelier Villoresi, Odile Im