An often underrated sense- scent. We talk to Annabella Fasano-Leslie, founder of Contradictions In ILK, who wants to inspire others to use their perfume to experience significant moments more deeply, to capture vivid emotions, and to help tell stories by engaging all the senses.
We are delighted to be partnering with ILK to offer one lucky winner a beautiful ILK fragrance: Infatuated, and a HANX hamper of goodies too.
Also, have you ever wondered what a HANX scent would smell like? Read on to find out. Annabella nails it 👃
HI, ANNABELLA! WHAT FIRST DREW YOU TO FRAGRANCE?
For as long as I remember, I have used perfume as a medium to experience significant moments more deeply, to capture vivid memories, and to help tell stories by engaging all the senses. There is something so inherently personal about how you experience a scent - yet the act of wearing it can equally be singularly about satisfying yourself, or communicating with others. I find that duality - that contradiction (!), fascinating. Can you see a theme emerging!
My obsession started from a young age like many do - from my equally fanatic mother - as passed on from her mother, probably because growing up in Rio de Janeiro in the 60’s and 70’s imported perfumes were like liquid gold! I picked up on the fact that my mother would frequently wear perfumes for different moods or occasions - citrus if she needed a moral boost, delicate white florals for bedtime, and her wedding perfume for romantic dinners with my father; so, I started to do the same. Then as a teenager studying psychology at school, and later at university, I was studying things such as the human memory, identity, and awareness - when it occurred to me that smell doesn’t simply have to be a happy incidental bookmark in a memory, it can be consciously harnessed to help you feel or even act a certain way. But there was no brand out there encouraging this, or developing a collection with this intention.
WE LOVE YOUR MISSION TO ELEVATE PERFUME AND MAKE IT MORE THAN ‘A FOOTNOTE IN YOUR BEAUTY REGIME’. WHAT ROLE DOES SELF-EXPRESSION PLAY IN THE ILK ORIGIN STORY?
It means everything. The scents we’ve created aren’t complete without the person wearing it, expressing it, making it part of their scent story. We unthinkingly express ourselves through a multitude of ways - why not with our olfactory tag?
It took a while for me to realise that all my friends weren’t also matching their perfume to their outfit (it’s intuitive, give it a go if you don’t already!) or specifically choosing their scent to encourage behaviours or emotions. There’s so much scope to build a fragrance wardrobe around more than a simple ‘day and night’ profile that many of us have been taught. For example, when I go to a job interview or in a situation where I need to be more composed, I wear perfumes with notes that make me feel grounded and confident such as vetiver (a deeply rooted grass) or sandalwood. Partly also to avoid wearing overtly gendered scents - top tip apparently there are studies to suggest that a woman’s ‘overt femininity’ can be used against them in an interview! Or if I feel a bit flat, I’ll douse myself in a sunny fresh scent normally reserved for summer, or the scents I’ve collected from my travels for this very reason; to jolt my mood to a higher place and trigger the associated mood and experience of that specific trip e.g., adventurous spirit, open-mindedness, relaxation, to achieve the mindset I want to harness for that day. We truly believe that there’s a power in perfume to alter or communicate someone’s mood, environment, their intended actions - but this all boils down to one thing, the individual.
The ‘human condition’ is a fascinating and endlessly inspiring reserve - but what is so beautiful and unique about it - is both the predictability and the individuality of it all. The one thing that i missed more than anything during the last years' numerous lockdowns was the opportunity to be in the presence of someone else's ‘art’, of their unconscious or conscious moments and expressions that signal to the world ‘this is me; this is how I feel, this is how I do’. This expression can be as accessible as people watching, decoding someone's style, body language, or listening to people talk in the queue or table next to you - their accent, timbre, and the words chosen. Or more purposeful interactions like going to a play, live music, or visiting an art gallery - it’s interesting when you consciously deconstruct and compare the experience, we’ve had without much of this external stimulus and living life largely from your own reference point.
It made me appreciate and consciously consider what I love about people expressing themselves - it’s a gift, it makes you feel more connected to others, and in doing so you grow more aware and comfortable in yourself, it colours your world. Of course, we’re so lucky to have been able to remain connected to others during the last year via digital means, and there’s an endless number of books, poems, tv shows, films - you name it, at our fingertips. But there’s something about the physical, coincidently the bridge that perfume provides between bodies and spaces, that I think we can all agree creates a deeper resonance for most things. It’s this powerful potential, to communicate something about yourself and shape your presence (both physically and mentally) - that I want people to enjoy exploring and using with their scent, the anti-footnote in your beauty regime approach!
FROM PODCASTS TO PLAYLISTS, WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED WHILE YOU’RE WORKING?
There are a few things that keep me focused and inspired - the first and most important foundation of it all - being the position of my desk. Never EVER have I had a successful day's work with a dense blank wall behind my screen. It’s as if it creates a black hole for my focus and ideas! When developing scents, creating content, marketing materials, and even the less ‘creative’ bits of my day like emails and business development - I find a view or window means that my mind is able to go elsewhere. A window is like a green screen for your imagination!
Other than this it has to be the environment in general. I need some fresh air, and a diffuser or some kind of room scent (unless I'm developing, in which case it’s wayyy to distracting!), art on the walls, books or papers literally spread all over my desk or close by, and an open pad for scribbling in, and ideally some greenery or flowers within sight. Gosh this is making me realise just how particular I am! I’m also a big fan of noise and movement - all the creative agencies I’ve worked in have been an absolute hive of pure chaos, people running around, loud music, laughing, meetings interrupting your flow every hour or more. So now I'm working from home and alone (although my business partner Holly is only a phone call away and boy does she know it!), sometimes I need to find a busy cafe to replicate this energy and spark new ideas or conversations. As our collection of fragrances is inspired by human nature - I feel very grateful that there’s a seemingly endless supply of inspo from people watching, talking with friends and strangers, reading and just living purposefully.
WHAT DO YOU THINK A HANX SIGNATURE SCENT WOULD CONSIST OF?
Excellent question - I love this so much. Well, we’d make sure that your signature scent, like all of ours, comes in two opposite and contradictory layerable scents - to capture the different frames of mind that people can typically approach or enjoy an intimate moment.
One scent would look to capture the blood rushing, tongue curling, hair-pulling experience of simply ‘NEEDING’ that other person - with dirty (in a good way!) animalic tones of musk or civet - rancid in smell if used straight, but surprisingly heavenly when used sensitively with florals. These animalic notes get to the core of our instinctive animal selves - our limbic system is afterall the hotbed for those sex and emotion hormones! We’d then add a good lick of velvety indolic Rose - which is conversely both a stimulant for men but also a natural relaxant to diminish those inhibitions. We’d then add a crush of pink peppercorns to keep things bitey, and a slick of ginger to ensure the smell is rounded out with those all-important curves and edges - there’s also scientific proof that this sturdy root has libido boosting qualities.
Now not forgetting the equally important second scent - the ‘LANGUID NUZZLER’ - all stroking skin, deep kissing and fingertips. This would be a creamier and altogether warmer version - with a vanilla and tonka bean thrust (these notes are comforting and generous), and a gentle but firm presence of saffron which is both spicy but sweet, with an almost honeyed tobacco quality. Sandalwood, which is long appreciated in ayurvedic medicine for its mood stimulating aphrodisiac properties, would provide a creamy delicious woody presence (no pun intended!). Finally, we’d like to capture the effect of skin left damp from passionate kisses - with ambroxan (a man-made version of the highly prized and delicious smelling sperm whale cough up - yes really) which has an incredible capacity to provide a ‘breath space’ in a perfume's composition, with a silvery mineraly and somehow woody skin quality.
DESPERATELY SEEKING SERENITY: WHICH BALANCING MEDIUM NOTES WOULD YOU SUGGEST TO HELP US RELAX?
Oooo yesss indeed. We can all do with some Zen from time to time - I like to think of our nose as a direct door into our brain and down into our heart and stomach, where we tend to experience and feel things. There are a few different notes that can help you engage with different types of calm and centering.
For example, Jasmine, not only is this absolutely divine but it can soothe nerves and is even used in aromatherapy as an antidepressant as it can produce a feeling of confidence, optimism and rejuvenated energy.
Another I'd suggest is basil - this bright, crisp and slightly spicy aroma can both relieve stress and energize - winning combo! Or if you’re partial to a slightly sweeter, more floral, even fruity, vibe - then ylang-ylang can provide a beautiful feeling of joy and comfort. Like a nice big hug.
WE’RE ALMOST OUT OF LOCKDOWN AND IT FEELS SO GOOD! CAN YOU TELL US WHICH CELEBRATORY TOP NOTES ARE TURNING YOUR HEAD RIGHT NOW?
**HANDS UP HIGH** Gawd damn freedom smells so sweet! There are a few note combinations that have caught my nose recently - especially as I'm in the process of developing a new limited edition layerable pair of scents. For me at the moment it’s all about two things - contrasting notes that you wouldn’t immediately pair (this is the cornerstone of our layerable fragrances) and exploring more earthy notes in fragrance that create an almost umami effect for the nose.
The contradictory personality traits and moods explored in our scents, are reflected in the contrasting notes present across the two layerable perfumes. For example, one contradicting pair is Devious and Sincere. I wanted to communicate the mood of each backstory and the tone of each trait. Devious needed to be dark and cloying just like the experience of battling with possessing dark and deceitful thoughts. So, it has notes of cherry liqueur, bitter almond (like cyanide!), nutmeg, and sandalwood. Sincere is inspired by the profoundness of a mother's love so we have comforting notes such as peach, ylang ylang, sweet almond, saffron, and breast-milk. Together you get something similar to an Amaretto Sour but apart they’re very different. Within the individual scents themselves we’ve played with opposites too - such as Fantasist which contains the earthy, herbal and almost apple/lemon quality of dried cannabis which works in striking contradiction with the creamy indulgence of the tonka bean, coffee and jasmin - all balanced and connected by the sparking bitter sweet grapefruit and tart green-apple.
So, I'd say that for me personally the key to a head turning combination is about providing the nose with a game of expertly balanced contradictions to keep things surprising, and to ensure that over time on the skin it plays out every ‘act’ of the scent by exposing its different facets over the period of 12-15 hours.
In terms of these woody and earthy scents I mention - there are some beautiful niche fragrance houses out there (such as Neanderthal, Rook, and DSOL) exploring the more undergrowth, forest and even sunshine energies that can be captured so beautifully in fragrance, something I find is rarely captured with such elegance in mainstream perfume brands. The olfactory profiles that independent niche perfume houses get to play with is incomparable to many mainstream brands that have rigid marketing and NPD teams and mass customer profiles targets to meet. The more sustainable, plant and animal friendly practices expected and practiced across independent perfume brands is no longer a unique point of difference, luckily this is now expected. So, it’s more about creativity and self-expression - sea kelp, rubber, soil, cyanide, breast milk...it’s a story in scent, and when you find the fragrance that tells your story - that’s worth celebrating.
OK, WE’VE JUST MISTED OURSELVES WITH A LIBERAL DOSE OF INFATUATION… HOW DO YOU PLAY ON THE INHERENT LINKS BETWEEN SCENT AND NOSTALGIA?
Great choice - this is a tribute to the all-consuming experience of first lust, a roll in the grass so to speak (and it does have wet grass and rubber notes in there too!). This transportive quality of scent is definitely something many of us do consciously or otherwise, bear with me here while I go all psychology on you, but smell is proven to be one of our strongest senses and best able to influence brain activity. Our olfactory bulbs are part of our limbic system (our mammalian reptilian brain) which directly connects us to areas of the brain that process emotion, memory, and learning - which is why this experience is so universal and strong.
Whilst the connection between the past and scent has a firm place in our hearts, has inspired some of the scent compositions, and will play an inherently important feature of peoples experience with our scent - a key feature I’m exploring here actually plays to the opposite of our memories. Specifically, our current and future behaviours and emotions, by encouraging people to adapt and layer their perfumes depending on their environment, mood or caprice!
I felt that no one was really talking about how perfume can be used to evoke something in the moment or indeed the future. Nor taking the opportunity to make a person's daily experience adaptable or personal to the wearer’s scent experience.
AND WHICH COMES FIRST: THE CONCEPT OR THE COMPONENTS?
For me, and why I'm so so happy to be the olfactive and creative director of this brand, it’s absolutely key that the concept comes first. Not just for perfume - but all things. I think having a background in advertising (in my ‘old life’ aka - until a year or so ago, like many people there was a long period of overlap between the day job and the dream job) i am keenly aware of how many brands and products simply slap on a ‘marketing story’ or a ‘concept’ at the end of the whole damn process and expect people to care or connect with it. It’s so wrong, and we’re all way too savvy for that shit now, especially with luxury products - we don’t need to buy something, we need to want to buy into something!
I simply hate seeing the holes and inconsistencies in the brand or product story and how it seeps back into the product itself, I feel like our customers deserve more. To create your own brand and product you need to keenly believe in it (because there will be times when you need to lean hard on that enthusiasm!) and be the most passionate person you know (ideally) about said thing. When you have those two things nailed down - you can’t help but want to ensure that everything has a purpose.
In our case this ‘purpose’ is “a collection of scents that allow you to express yourself, contradictions and all”, and filters directly into the lens that the scents themselves were themed (human nature). Both in the scent narratives and the notes themselves - our characteristics or moods that have been brought to life in scent by a character or moment e.g. an imagined meeting with Casanova, in Josephine bakers dressing room, or a scent that captures the feeling of sincerity, This also filters down through to how the product was developed to be worn - as layerable pairs so you can adapt and shift your scent over the course of the day, season, or event.
FINALLY, WHAT’S NEXT FOR ILK?
It’s been a roller coaster of excitement since we launched last September, and whilst launching online during a pandemic wasn’t the environment we planned, we were so lucky to have had the support of family, friends and even strangers who were bored at home during the first lockdown and needed creative distractions!
We’re now stocked in over 30 retailers across the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East - my business partner and I had to get matching scratch off maps so we can keep tabs as our geography isn’t the best! In terms of retailer’s the next big thing that we're gearing up for (read - absolutely pumped about), is our official UK launch in one of the top progressive yet historical department stores with beautiful spaces in London, Birmingham and Manchester. But we’re having to be mysterious about this for now.
As self-expression, artistry and craft is a key part of our raison d'etre - we are always looking for exciting partnerships. We developed the olfactory narrative with a fantastic artist, Loreal Prystaj, for her latest piece of work exploring the boundary between the body, the space it inhabits and food. This work, alongside others, can be seen at No 20 Arts in London until the 26th of June. We are also going to be found later in the year (date tbc) at a poly-sensory exhibition hosted by Runway Gallery and Aspects Beauty called The Perfumus Affair - that allows the artistry of fragrance to be viewed through the lens of painting, photography and mixed media. We teamed with the artist Salley Whelan who has brought two of our scents to life with her exploration of polarity, sexuality, gender, enlightened states of being, embodiment, and the integration of one's shadow self.
I think there’s a real opportunity, especially after the sensory deprivation many of us have experienced the last year, to really embrace olfaction and scent more closely into our lives - and we hope to be a part of making that possible.