Name: Tomas Hempel (38)
The history of perfume is as old as ancient history itself, with the world’s first perfume maker, a chemist named Tapputi, recorded in the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. Since then, fragrances have constantly evolved, turning from the frivolous and extravagant accessory of the rich, into an affordable “feel good” factor, which complements someone’s personal style. However, no matter how wide the range of choices might be today, finding the right scent can be a very difficult task. Collect & Bottle is a young, innovative Swedish company that can help you achieve the task, by creating bespoke scents to reflect a customer’s needs and requirements, gathered from consultations lasting from one hour to several months.
Here’s an interview with Tomas Hempel, the perfumer who, together with his team, will help you find what you’ve been looking for all along:
TheShortcutsBubble: When and how did COLLECT & BOTTLE come into existence and what was that you were doing before that?
TH: I think every person, at some point during their life, ask themselves the question, “what do I really want do with my life?”. At the time I asked myself that question I was an Art Director at an agency in Stockholm, a fun and creative job, but it was not for me. I had been intrigued by the sense of smell as long as I could remember, my first memories going back to when I was a child making my own ”perfumes” with my sisters, consisting of different crushed flowers from our garden. So for me the answer was not that complex, I just knew that I had to explore it. I asked my friend, Martin, whom I studied design with a few years earlier, if he wanted to join me on this journey. So we started to research the topic in different forums on the web, ordering books, ingredients and eventually Collect & Bottle and Stora Skuggan were born. C&B is a platform where we create cosmetic products, mainly perfumes and scented candles, for other brands, whilst Stora Skuggan is ”our own brand” for which we launched our first perfume, Fantôme de Maules, last December. Before the year is over a second perfume, Silphium, is planned to hit the shelves. For both brands everything is made by hand in Stockholm which is something that I´m very proud of. Before my perfume career I tried many different trades such as working at a chocolate factory, being a bicycle messenger, delivering post and being an administrator at an insurance company. To make a long story short, it took a while but finally I hit the jackpot.
TH: We are four persons, excluding myself: Martin, Jonas, Olle and Andrea. All of them treasures in their own way. Andrea has worked as a compounder and assistant now and then. In just a few days she will do it full time. She´s what I would call a raw talent and my hopes is that she will be a perfumer one day. Jonas does a lot of the design, he´s extremely tactile and from my point of view brilliant in everything he does. The cap for Stora Skuggan is just one of many things he created. Olle is the general wizard, whatever is put on his table he transform to something astonishing. He works on the second perfume (Silphium) together with me. Martin is an international renowned illustrator (he won´t like that I said that) and does a lot of the design too. He´s a big part of the third perfume (Mistpouffer) that is planned to launch in the beginning of 2017. I know, a lot of superlatives you say, but I think there could be many more. These five individuals forms one unison nose, it´s something beautiful about that.
TheShortcutsBubble: What’s the meaning of the (COLLECT & BOTTLE) name chosen for your brand?
TH: The name summons up the beginning and the end of what we do, two parts of the entire process. A project always starts with collecting information and it ends with a finished creation. If we had included all the steps in the process it would have been a very long name. I think Martin was the one coming up with it so I have to give him credit for that. And Stora Skuggan is a Swedish name which means Great Shadow.
TheShortcutsBubble: Why bespoke scents?
TH: Bespoke scents is just a small part of C&B. Our bread and butter is the collaborations we have with other brands, scenting their space or products. And above that we work with Stora Skuggan on a daily (and nightly) basis. But to answer your question, we defined a gap in the Scandinavian market: tailor-made perfumes for the ordinary person. It was the perfect starting point for us.
TheShortcutsBubble: What does the process of creating a perfume involve, from the moment of selecting the scents up to the point when the customer is handed the pretty bottle with their own signature fragrance?
TH: We take our clients on a journey by smelling over 50 selected ingredients. The outcome is a combination of the client’s taste, concept and our expertise. It includes other steps too but it has to be experienced.
TheShortcutsBubble: What makes a good perfume?
TH: The standard answer would include parameters such as good longevity and projection, but for me it depends on what you want to achieve. An interesting perfume for me is something that´s pushing the boundaries, it does not not have to be brilliant in the ordinary way, but it has to be innovative.
TheShortcutsBubble: Even the most horrid scents can appeal to a “nose”. Taking into account that some people seem to like scents that others are totally put off by, would you say that there’s such thing as good and bad scents?
TH: As a perfumer, I don´t think there are good or bad scents. When I started doing this I smelled ingredients I thought I would never use. Of course I was wrong. In perfumery one of the corner stones is dosage, an ingredient that to many smell horrific can make the difference between a good and a great perfume. The cherry on the cake.
TheShortcutsBubble: What kind of ingredients do you use in creating a perfume and what are your “no go” ingredients? What’s your opinion on synthetic notes?
TH: I might sound like a scratched record here but it depends on what you try to create. For me there is no “no go” ingredients as long as they are of good quality and suitable for a cosmetic product. A lot of perfumers limit themselves to a palette of, let´s say 200-300 ingredients. I´ve chosen not to do that, there are many reasons why.. but one of them is curiosity. As every project has new challenges, I try to see them as a blank piece of paper that needs to be filled with different shapes and colors. If I would throw away the blue and the pink pen, I would not be able to finish the drawing. Of course you can mix different colors to get a third one, but if you have all the pens it will still be possible. I´m just at the beginning of my career, maybe I will change my mind when I´m older and wiser.
When it comes to synthetic notes they have such bad reputation, as the word “synthetic” is filled with negative associations. I can´t speak for every perfumer out there but synthetics are irreplaceable and one can´t make a brilliant perfume without them, it´s simple chemistry actually.
TheShortcutsBubble: What’s the weirdest ingredient that you have ever used?
TH: Some of the weirder smelling ones would be Skatole, Marine pyridine or perhaps Geosmin. It´s a hard question to answer as they are all very useful materials, but I guess they can tend to be strange to someone who does not work with perfume.
TheShortcutsBubble: Is the package at least half as important as the content?
TH: I have no certain figures to rely on, but I would say that the packaging is more important than the smell of the fragrance in mainstream perfumes. People are mainly buying brands and not content, at least that´s what I believe. However I´m quite sure that the juice has a more important role for the connoisseurs that are into niche perfumes and for perfume nerds overall. So it depends on who you ask.
TheShortcutsBubble: Can we wear the same perfume in any moment of the day or in any season?
TH: Of course, a person can wear whatever they want, whenever they want.. at least that’s my opinion, I´m sure not everyone agrees. However I think you should wear perfume with respect for others. It all depends on how much perfume you apply and where you apply it. And the characteristics of the perfume of course.
TheShortcutsBubble: Is it suitable to offer perfumes as, let’s say, birthday gifts?
TH: I can´t come up with a reason why you could not do it, other than the risk of buying the wrong perfume. That´s probably a big risk though. For example, I’m very selective with clothing, as many others with me. So if someone gives me a piece of garment as a gift, the risk is that I won’t wear it. The same goes with perfume.
TheShortcutsBubble: I imagine you create your own perfume as well. What are your favourite notes?
TH: I have never created a scent for myself in that way. It might sound strange but for every fragrance you make, you have to leave a piece of yourself in there. Fantôme de Maules took about two years to create and a lot of me is in that bottle. So with that said, I kind of create every perfume for myself even if it´s aimed for others. I like some notes more than others but in the end it´s the functionality of each ingredient that´s important. But just to name one, the other day I received samples from one of our suppliers and one of them were a pine absolute which I found smelling truly amazing, I have not worked with it yet, but it´s standing there, waiting to be a part of a suitable project. Being a perfume ingredient much reminds me of the school discos as a child, everyone sitting there in the corner, waiting for someone just to see you.
Thank you Tomas.. and thanks for the patience 🙂 Lovely to collaborate with you on this interview. Wish you the very best of luck with the new projects!
Article by: Andreea R.